YOUNG MAN, I SAY TO YOU, GET UP!
Luke 7:11-17, Key Verse 7:14
“Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, ‘Young man, I say to you, get up!’”
The gospels record three different occasions of Jesus raising people from the dead: Jairus’ daughter, Lazarus, and the young man in this story, which was recorded only by Luke. This event especially reveals that Jesus is the source of comfort and the life-giver. While living in this world, our feelings about life go up and down. Sometimes we can rejoice and smile. But often we are sorrowful, discouraged, fearful, despairing, and anxious. We try to be positive, but in the corners of our hearts there are shadows. When we carefully consider what bothers us, the root cause is the power of death. Not only are we aware that we have to die, but while living in this world we suffer under the power of death. In today’s passage we see a widow suffering under the power of death. This is not just her problem; it is the problem of all people, then and now. Death is so powerful that it rules people’s minds and hearts. Even Christians groan under the power of death and cry inwardly. The news reports one series of deaths after another until we can think life is just a procession of sorrow. Is there a way we can overcome this and live a vibrant and fruitful life? Yes, we do it when we listen to Jesus, who said to the widow: “Don’t cry,” and said to a dead man lying in a coffin: “Young man, Get up!” Let’s listen to Jesus’ words.
“Don’t Cry” (11-13)
In this event, we can find two different processions. One is a procession of death and the other is a procession of life. Through these we see the deep meaning of the gospel. The gospel is the good news. But in order to understand the good news, we must first face the bad news.
When the passage begins, Jesus is moving on from Capernaum, where he healed the sick servant of a Roman Centurion who had amazing faith in the power of Jesus’ word. Verse 11 says, “Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him.” Nain was about 25 miles to the southwest of Capernaum. As Jesus and his disciples approached the town gate, they encountered another group of people coming out. It was a funeral procession. Verse 12 says that the person who was being carried out, who had died, was the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.
When we think about this woman’s life, it seems to be just a procession of tragedies that would bring a person to a state of hopeless despair. First, she was a widow. Her husband had died, leaving her lonely and in what was in those days a very vulnerable situation, without any clear means of support or defense. But she had a source of consolation, which was the one child she had had with her husband, a son. This son must have become her source of hope, joy, and meaning of life. He grew and became a young man. As he grew, her heart was restored more and more. She might have started searching for the best marriage candidate for him and dreamed about the arrival of cute grandchildren.
But one day, this young man died. We don’t know how; these days, the leading causes of death among young men are traffic accidents (including from drunk driving), suicide, poisoning and homicide. This young man’s death must have devastated his widowed mother. She felt that she lost everything, including her reason to live.
When the other people in town heard about this, it was gut-wrenching. They all came out to support her, though no one could really say anything to her. All they could do was stand beside her and cry together. At first, they cried that the young man had died. Then they began to cry for the mother, and then for themselves, thinking of their own sorrow, and common destiny. In this way a dark power ruled over the whole town, and its cause was death.
Death can seem to us like a cruel tyrant, ruthlessly oppressing mankind and stealing all our hope and joy. It has been characterized by the Grim Reaper, a skeletal figure clothed in black who takes people away without delay or mercy. It does not matter whether they are rich or poor, wise or foolish, famous or unknown. No one can resist it, or cheat death. Ecclesiastes 8:8 says, “As no one has power over the wind to contain it, so no one has power over the time of their death.” Where did the power of death come from? The Bible tells us it is the consequence of our sinfulness. Romans 6:23a says, “The wages of sin is death.”
However, the Bible also teaches about God’s merciful desire to free us from the power of death. In the Old Testament, God taught his people in various ways to have resurrection hope. So David wrote confidently in Psalm 16, “Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay.” (Ps 16:9-10) Gradually, Israel came to understand that this hope would be fully realized in the coming Messiah. At the right time, God sent Jesus. Jesus in his earthly life was the very embodiment of resurrection hope. How did Jesus react when he saw the widow with her dead son being carried out of Nain? Verse 13 says “When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her…” The Greek word for “heart went out” means to have great compassion that comes from one’s inner self. Jesus felt her anguish as his own, and wanted to comfort her by any means. Jesus was not responding to a specific request; it was totally his initiative to reach out and help this woman. This is God’s heart for human beings who are suffering under the power of death. In this event God breaks into human history purely out of his compassion to work for good.
When Jesus’ heart went out to the woman, what did he say to her? He said, “Don’t cry.” Why did he say this to her? If anyone else said this, they would be accused of being very insensitive. The woman just lost her son, doesn’t she have a right to cry? Leave her alone! But Jesus has the authority to say “Don’t cry.” It’s because he was God, but he became fully human like us and experienced all of our sorrows and sufferings. Isaiah prophesied about Christ, saying, “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain…Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering…he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isa 53:3-5). Taking all our pain and sorrow on himself on the cross, Jesus nullified its power. Jesus could say “Don’t cry” to the woman first because he fully entered into and understood her sorrow, and because he was able to take that sorrow away.
I think it’s very important for us that Jesus told this woman “Don’t cry” before he raised her son from the dead. Of course, she would stop crying soon enough, when she received her son back alive. But Jesus wanted her to first accept his word. She needed to know that it was Jesus himself who took away her reason to cry. We know that not everything is always restored to a happy ending in this life. But regardless of that, we may truly accept Jesus’ words, “Don’t cry,” with faith that he is the healer of our souls. Jesus is the source of true comfort who wipes our tears away and stops our inner crying. When we receive the comfort Jesus gives, we can also comfort others who are suffering under the power of death.
“Young man,… get up!” (14-17)
Next, in order to demonstrate that he really does have authority to say, “Don’t cry,” Jesus took action. Jesus went up and touched the bier they were carrying the young man on (14a)—it’s like a cart that they would use to roll his body to the burial place. This action by itself was actually shocking. According to funeral protocol, no one should interfere with a burial procession. Still today, in many places in the United States, if you see a funeral procession coming the other way down the street while you’re driving, you should pull over and stop to let it through and show respect. Furthermore, according to the law of Moses, touching the bier like this would make a person unclean (Nu 19:16). This is true of ordinary people. But Jesus is different. It is impossible for Jesus to become unclean; instead, whatever he touches becomes clean. At Jesus’ action, the bearers stood still. They probably didn’t know what to do; Jesus’ action was highly irregular. But the spiritual significance of it is that Jesus has power to stop the procession of death.
Then, Jesus spoke to the dead man. Jesus said, “Young man, I say to you, Get up!” (14b) At that moment, the dead man sat up and began to talk: “Good morning everybody! Wow, I feel so refreshed. Oh, hi Mom. Why are you dressed like that? For that matter, why am I taking a nap in a parade?” Then Jesus gave him back to his mother. In this way Jesus turned her sorrow into joy. Now she had a reason to live, an even better one than before, because now it was not just about her son, but about Jesus. When the crowd of people heard Jesus’ words and saw the young man get up, they were filled with awe and praised God. They said, “A great prophet has appeared among us. God has come to help his people” (16). God was making his presence known through Jesus, bringing salvation to his people. This news about Jesus spread to the entire region like a YouTube video gone viral. Let’s think more about what this shows about Jesus.
First of all, Jesus has authority to give life. In the Bible we can find several instances in which dead people were raised to life. Elijah raised the son of the widow of Zarephath (1Ki 17:23), Elisha raised the Shunammite woman’s son (2Ki 4:35), and Peter raised Tabitha (Ac 9:40). In each of these cases, the servants prayed earnestly and depended on God, who is the source of life, and God raised the dead to life. But Jesus’ case is different. Jesus’ authority to give life comes from within himself, as shown by his raising this young man with his own command.
Jesus is the author of life and the life-giver. His words have the power to give life, not just after we die but at any time when we hear them with faith. In John Chapter 5 Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live” (Jn 5:24-25). Once when I was despairing and feeling trapped in a life that seemingly would never become stable, Jesus’ words came to me, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” At that moment, I felt that my life was re-established on solid ground. May Jesus’ words work among us with life-giving power.
Secondly, Jesus gave a preview of his own resurrection. We said that God sent Jesus to fulfill the resurrection hope he had planted. The miracle of raising the widow’s son is one revelation of this, but it was truly accomplished, as we just studied for Easter, through Jesus’ own death and resurrection on the third day. Through this, God proclaimed liberation from the power of death for all people. We could even say that’s the real reason for saying “Don’t cry.” And so, in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul quoted the words of the prophet Hosea which were now filled with even greater certainty: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
Finally, Jesus has hope for young men. The initial condition of the young man in this passage, lying dead, is symbolic of the spiritual condition of many young men in our time. Young men should be dynamic, passionate and visionary. They should work hard and study hard and dream about a better future. They should grow to do good works with a positive impact on the world. But sadly, many are confined in a room like a dark box. They like to watch “The Walking Dead,” and to play video games in which they usually die again and again. Deep in their hearts, they really want to be great and to serve God in holiness and righteousness, without fear. But in reality they are too powerless to do anything. It is because they are under the power of sin and death. The older generation may lose hope for such people. The mothers of such young men are grieving inwardly just like the mother in this passage. These young men may not even have hope for themselves. They cannot get out of bad habits, guilt and self-condemnation by themselves. But Jesus has hope for them to become strong enough to fight against their sinful nature and grow to be godly. Jesus’ word has power to change them also. Jesus can say to them, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” I can testify that when we take even one action in obedience to this word of Jesus, new possibilities for life can open up.
Today we see how Jesus can take away the power of death from our hearts and give us strength to get up and serve God. Let’s pray for many young men to hear Jesus’ words and get up! Let’s pray for older people too, to “Get up!” and be alive in heart and spirit, like an evergreen tree, and serve God fruitfully.