THE NEED FOR CHRIST’S COMPASSION
If there’s ever a need to show compassion to someone, it’s at a funeral. The grief that one feels over the loss of a loved one can be softened by the compassion of family and friends.
In this passage in Luke, we find a widow who had just lost her only son—she was in desolation. The village had turned out for the funeral procession, many out of a sense of cultural duty, but many, to show this woman compassion.
If anyone had a need for Christ’s compassion that day, it was that widow woman. And guess who shows up to crash a funeral with compassion?
But the need for Christ’s compassion goes deeper than just wiping away a widow’s tears. The need for Christ’s compassion has to do with our sin and it’s consequence—our death.
A Widow’s Tears
Luke 7:11 And it came to pass the day after, that he went into a city called Nain; and many of his disciples went with him, and much people.
“Nain” was a small village about 25 miles south of Capernaum and only about six miles southeast of Nazareth. Today, it is called Nein and is a town of about 1,800 people.
It’s interesting that Jesus is so popular at this point that people drop what they were doing and follow him for miles and miles.
Luke 7:12 Now when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her.
There was a funeral procession coming out of the gates of Nain. In Jewish culture, the body would be wrapped in cloth (although this young man’s body doesn’t appear to have been wrapped). The body was not embalmed, although they would use perfumes and spices to help with the smell and to temporarily hinder decay.
The body placed in a tomb or a cave or perhaps a shallow grave. A tomb would have either a wooden door on hinges, or a large stone that was rolled in front of the entrance.
Later, the relatives would come back and collect the bones and place them in a small box called an ossuary.
This sort of burial may sound strange to us in the United States, but it is still used in different parts of the world. At Bible Camp this last summer, Jesse Parnell, a missionary to Uruguay, told us about the burial customs in that country.
The funeral is conducted quickly, within 24 hours. After the death of a loved one, the family meets at the funeral home four or five hours later. The body, not embalmed, is put in a shallow grave in a simple box. Two years later, the family will return and put the bones in a small box that went to a large warehouse-like building.
In New Testament times, when there was a funeral procession, people would usually drop what they were doing and join the procession. It’s much like the custom in our area where drivers will pull off to the side of the road when a funeral procession comes by.
The fact that the woman was a “widow” and this was her “only son,” made it all the more tragic, and so many “people of the city” came out to join the procession.
This would have been a very sad funeral. This woman was a widow already and now she had lost her “only son.”
One of the saddest funerals I was ever involved in had a wife and mother who had lost her son and her husband. The son had committed suicide and was found one morning by his father. Later that evening, as the family gathered together to grieve, the father died of a heart attack. I remember this poor woman at the funeral shaking like a leaf. In one day, her world had crashed all around her.
That’s what I imagine it was like for the widow in the passage here. Every ounce of security and support had been ripped away from her. In those days, there would be no Social Security and no pension. Her last means of any sort of comfortable life was gone. She would now struggle just to survive.
Death Is The Consequence Of Sin
Death is only a moment away for anyone of us—our death or the death of someone we love. Death is a constant reminder of the human problem—sin. God gives life, but by our choices we come under judgment.
12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (Romans 5:12)
Death began with Adam and Eve, but by our sinful choices we confirm our judgment. The biblical worldview says that the source of our problems in our lives and our world is because of sin. It also tells us that the consequence of our sin is death.
Death defined is not the cessation of life as the evolutionist believes.
Death, biblically, is separation—and there are two kinds. Physical death is the separation of the body and the spirit—the body going to the grave and the spirit remaining alive. Where the spirit goes depends entirely on what we do with Jesus Christ.
Spiritual death is the separation of the person from God. In this life, even an atheist enjoys some of the grace of God. God causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike.
But at his death, the atheist will experience total separation from God for all eternity. The Bible says that he will…
9 …be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; (2 Thessalonians 1:9)
Since the atheist (or anyone who doesn’t believe in Christ) wants nothing to do with God in this life, God will give him what he wants—separation from God—for all eternity. This is the essence of Hell. This is the consequence of sin.
What can we do about this? Really, there’s nothing we can do by ourselves. We can’t not sin. We can’t not die. We need help from someone greater than we; we need to call out to our Creator, “Lord, have mercy on me! Show some compassion!” We have a need for Christ’s compassion.
Next, in Luke’s account of the funeral at Nain, we see…
THE DEMONSTRATION OF CHRIST’S COMPASSION
At this funeral procession, the mother would have been out in front of her dead son, so Jesus coming to Nain would have met her first as the procession came out of Nain.
Luke 7:13 And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not.
Jesus had “compassion (σπλαγχνίζομαι) on her.” What does it mean to have compassion on someone? It’s to show concern for and empathy with someone else. We can pick up some important practical details about showing compassion from this account:
1) You don’t have to know someone in order to have compassion on them. Jesus didn’t know this woman. In Luke 10, the Good Samaritan didn’t know the wounded man left alongside the road, yet, “when he saw him, he had compassion on him” (Luke 10:33).
Beware of thinking, “I don’t know this person, so I could care less.” And why do we say, “I could care less” when we really mean “I couldn’t care less”? Anyway, if you are a disciple of Jesus, showing compassion is what you should do, even to strangers.
2) Compassion should motivate one to action; it’s not just a passive feeling (“Oh, I feel so bad for them!”). Jesus will raise this woman’s son from the dead. The Good Samaritan spent time, effort, and his money to help the wounded man. In Luke 15:20 the father of the prodigal son had compassion on his returning son and ran to meet him.
Jesus could see, perhaps, that this woman was without any family beside her. No husband holding her as she walked. No other sons with her. As a widow without sons in that culture, she was in great trouble.
Jesus walks up to her and says, “Weep not.” We might tell someone not to cry because it makes us uncomfortable, but Jesus told the woman not to cry because she would, in a moment, have absolutely nothing to cry about.
Luke 7:14 And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.
A “bier” (σορός) was a simple wooden frame to carry the body on. They did not use coffins in Jewish culture.
By touching even just the bier, Jesus would become unclean according to Jewish law. Only the closest relatives of a dead person were expected to touch the body. Of course, if the dead person comes back to life after you touch him, wouldn’t that nullify the law? It has to count for something!
Jesus commands the young man to “Arise.” When he raises Lazarus from the dead, he also simply speaks a command. Back in the Old Testament, when Elijah or Elisha were in involved in raising the dead to life (e.g., 2 Kings 4), they prayed. Peter in Acts 9:4 prays and then tells the girl to rise.
But when Jesus raises the dead, he only speaks a command to the dead person (cf. Mark 5:41; Luke 8:54; John 11:43). When the Creator of the universe speaks, he can cause dirt to become a human being, so he can certainly make a dead human being (on it’s way to becoming dirt) to be alive again!
Luke 7:15 And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother.
Here’s something fascinating: when Jesus spoke to the dead young man, the man heard him! What does this tell us? It tells us that, even though his body was dead, he was alive somewhere else! For humans, the death of our body is not the death of us…our spirit will still be alive.
Next, we see Luke’s background as a doctor come out. The son “sat up” (ἀνακαθίζω). This Greek word is a medical term for recovery. In Acts 9:40 (also written by Luke), when Tabitha was raised from the dead, she also “sat up.”
We can also see that his recovery was complete because he “began to speak.” I don’t know if Luke was there, but you can see him observing the situation with his doctor eyes and saying, “Yep, he’s really risen from the dead!”
The mother and the people at this funeral were given a sneak preview of the resurrection power of Jesus Christ. One day, we who are Christians will all experience what this young man experienced, but in a better way. We will not arise in our old bodies, but in new, better versions of our bodies.
51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. [the young man was raised corruptible, but if he believed in Jesus, one day he will be raised incorruptible] 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? (1 Corinthians 15:51–55)
When we read in the Gospels about Jesus raising the dead to life, we can rejoice because it’s a preview of what is to come for us! Next, we see…
THE SPREAD OF CHRIST’S COMPASSION
Luke 7:16 And there came a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited his people.
Luke 7:17 And this rumour of him went forth throughout all Judaea, and throughout all the region round about.
The people there that day realized what had happened—it wasn’t a magic trick that they had seen—no, “God hath visited his people.” And indeed, Jesus is God, so he was quite literally visiting his people at that time.
14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt [set up his tent] among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
And because they had seen what Jesus—God—could do, two things happened.
1) A “fear” came on all of them. This is not the fear you might have when someone threatens you with a gun and you think you are about to die.
This is the fear you have when you are standing in the presence of something that is much more awesome than even you are! I’ve looked over the Grand Canyon and felt very small—I think that’s the beginning of this kind of fear. Just imagine the feeling of awesomeness you would have standing in front of God himself!
We need to live out our Christian lives in this sort of fear. When we do, it motivates us to tell others about Christ. When you see something that inspires that kind of awe in you, you just have to tell someone about it!
This is what happened to the people at that funeral. They beheld Jesus’s glory, the “the glory as of the only begotten of the Father” and godly fear came upon them. They then went out and told others.
2) A rumour of him went forth into the surrounding communities. We think of rumors as being unreliable, and that’s not what this means. This word, “rumour,” (λόγος) is just the ordinary Greek word meaning word or an account of something.
They told others about what had happened and those people told others and those people told others. It was news…it was Good News! Christ’s compassion was too good to keep to themselves!
God isn’t visiting us in the same way as he did in Jesus’s ministry on earth. Jesus tells us that we are to be the agents of compassion in this world so that others can see God’s glory for themselves.
16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)
Are we showing compassion to others? Are we speaking the Gospel? We are responsible for the spread of Christ’s compassion today.
Is there someone that you can show compassion to this week? Is there someone that you can share the Gospel with?
The Gospel begins with the sad fact that we are all sinners. That’s why the world is in such a mess. Sin is the cause of murders, rapes, and rebellions. Sin is also the cause of natural disasters like tornados and hurricanes. It all goes back to the sin Adam and Eve committed by disobeying God.
Because of sin, God, as our Creator, has every right to destroy everything and start over. But instead he chose to redeem us out of sin. Sin, because it is treason against the Creator God, carries a stiff penalty—eternal death in Hell. Obviously, we can’t pay that penalty and go to Heaven!
So God showed us compassion when he sent his only begotten Son to pay for our sins on the cross.
Then Jesus was risen from the dead as a validation of his sacrifice, but also to be the firstfruits of whole group of believers who would also be raised on the last day (1 Corinthians 15:20). This story here in Luke is a sneak peak of the numerous resurrections that will happen one day.
Who will be resurrected to eternal life? Those who reject the idea that they are good enough for God to accept. Those who accept that they are sinners who need a Savior. Those who, in faith, come to Jesus and trust his work of mercy and compassion on the cross.
This is the Gospel. It’s simple at the same time that it’s overwhelmingly glorious. I ask you: what have you done with the Gospel and Christ’s compassion for you?