GOD'S BIG LITTLE PEOPLE - THE WIDOW OF NAIN KNEW THE FACTS OF LIFE
Dear Christian friends,
It has been said, “Why does it appear that the unbeliever has a life that is free of hardships.” The psalmist once asked, “Why do the heathen prosper?” If you it hasn’t appeared that way, then look around. There psalmist writes in Psalm 73, “For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human ills. Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. From their callous hearts comes iniquity; their evil imaginations have no limits. They scoff, and speak with malice; with arrogance they threaten oppression. Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth.”
Asaph, the one who wrote this psalm, got over those feelings. How? “When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.” He says he went to church. He learned a few things. The good LORD helped him understand a few things. “When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.”
He was taught the destiny of the believer and unbeliever. For him there would be in a few short years heaven. Not so with the unbeliever. That’s a fact of life. Today we continue our study of Big Little People. We turn our attention to an unnamed “Widow in Nain Who Got to Know the Facts of Life.”
When Judy and I lived in Orlando, the Chamber of Commerce advertised the city as “The City Beautiful.” There were certain parts that were definitely that along with others that weren’t so beautiful. As we read Luke 7 Jesus had just left Capernaum, his adopted hometown where he healed the servant of a Roman centurion. After that, “Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him.”
Nain was also the “City beautiful.” That’s what “Nain” means. Aptly so. It sat on a hillside overlooking a valley. When people went out their front doors they had beautiful landscape to see. Nowadays, people pay plenty to have a home like that. But as beautiful as the city was, the day that Jesus visited Nain the city did not live up to its name. “As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her.”
The beauty of the day was ruined by reality. A young man had died way before his time. What heartbreak for his mother! People who have experienced this have said there is nothing worse than losing a child. But this woman experienced even more. She was a widow. She experienced the death of her husband, the father of that son. An emotional, spiritual jolt times two.
This is the kind of stuff that leads people to wonder if there really is a God. This is the kind of stuff that leads people to shake their fist and question, “How can you say you love me when you don’t seem to practice it? Yet remember the real cause. Remember what God said to a guilty Adam and Eve, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” Humanity bearsresponsibility starting with our first parents.
On April 7, 1986 there was a catastrophic nuclear accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the city of Pripyat which is now Ukraine. An explosion and fire released large quantities of radioactive particles into the atmosphere, which spread over much of the western Soviet Union and Europe. Until that time it was the worst nuclear power plant accident in history in terms of cost and casualties. There has been only two level 7 events (the maximum classification) on the International Nuclear Event Scale. The other was the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011 following an earthquake that registered 9.0 on the Richter scale. In Chernobyl the struggle to contain the contamination and avert a greater catastrophe involved over 500,000 workers at a cost an estimated 18 billion rubles. During the accident, 31 people died, and long-term effects such as cancers are ongoing. Awful, isn’t it? But as bad as they are, the long term effects of Adam and Eve’s sin are far worse. That’s a fact of life too.
Besides the reality of death (“for dust you are and to dust you will return”), the unsettled consciences and shame that follow sin are awful to bear. When the During the time of Ezra, the Children of Israel chose brides purely on the basis of beauty outside instead of inside and were led to stray away from the Lord. Ezra prayed, “O my God, I am too ashamed and disgraced to lift up my face to you, my God, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens.” Someone once said that a conscience will warn us as a friend, but if we don’t follow it, it will bite you like a snake. Sin and an unsettled conscience is brutal. That’s a fact.
Sin unchecked leads to more sin. While a bad conscience bites and brings pain, over a period of time it can become calloused. When I shake hands with some of the kids who are gymnast like Chloe and Bella, I can tell they have been working on the parallel bars. A man in my son in law’s congregation in Colorado is a rancher. His hands are like sandpaper. If I had a tack taped inside my hand and shook his, I don’t think he would feel it. His hand are so calloused. A conscience can become calloused too by sins repeated. That’s a fact.
During the time of Jeremiah Judah had turned away from the Lord. They no longer knew what the Lord demanded from them and deserved from them. His people were “Like cages full of birds, their houses are full of deceit; they have become rich and powerful and have grown fat and sleek. Their evil deeds have no limit; they do not seek justice. They do not promote the case of the fatherless; they do not defend the just cause of the poor.” They don’t know what is right and wrong anymore. Their moral compass was gone. Their conscience became hard and has no interest in being accountable to the Lord. That’s a fact of life, a sad fact of life.
But then there is Jesus. He is Life. That’s a fact too. “When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” He had compassion for her. Jesus’ compassion is such a beautiful thing. In Greek it’s such ugly word - Splanxnos. The word means stomach. Compassion begins in the stomach. The widow had endured the two worst days of her life, the loss of her husband and the loss of her only child. She needed Splanxnos; she received Jesus’ splanxnos. That’s his nature. That’s a fact of life too.
That’s what is so great about Jesus becoming flesh. People make fun of that. God becoming flesh. God dying. That’s ridiculous. That’s foolish. No, Mister Skeptic, that’s compassion. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” That’s the beauty of his humanity. He walked in our shoes. He knows our hurts. He experienced the challenges we face with temptation. He certainly did that day in the city of Nain.
“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 dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.” There was no sleight of hand, no abracadabra. Jesus said, “Get up!” The young man got up! This is one of the four resurrection miracles that Jesus performed that are recorded in the Bible. There might have been more. The Scriptures say Jesus “did many other miracles that are not written in this book, but these are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing you might have life in his name,” This miracle along with all the others prove who he is. He gives life. He is life. That is a fact of life.
Many see loved ones die too early in life in our minds. We have had a few in this congregation. We would have liked Jesus to do the same here as he did by that coffin that day in Nain. “Get up!” If only it would happen! But it will! On the last day! When Jesus the triumphant one comes back.
The youth of Nain is a preview of what will happen when he will call forth everyone from the grave. The day in Nain was a minor miracle compared to the raising of all the dead which is to come. That’s a fact!
Luke tells us further, “They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.” The Greek word that is translated “filled with awe” is a word that includes the idea of fear. But then how can a person not tremble when a person is released from his sentence when Jesus spoke, “Get up?” How can anyone not fear and want to be at Jesus’ side who turns away our last enemy, death itself? How can we not simply drop to our knees and beg for mercy? A great prophet has appeared among us! God has come to help his people! God is here to help his people! That’s a fact.
John Wooden was probably the greatest basketball coach of all time. He was a good godly man, a Christian. He said that when it came to basketball, “I have always tried to make it clear that basketball is not the ultimate. It is of small importance in comparison to the total life we live. There is only one kind of life that truly wins, and that is one the places faith in the hands of the Savior.”
As death got nearer one of his players came to visit at the hospital. He heard Wooden say, “I want to shave, because I am going to meet Nelly soon.” Nelly was his wife who had died of cancer a number of years before. He knew where he was going. He was certain. He knew it was a fact! He knew Jesus. Like the widow of Nain, he by the Holy Spirit’s power knew the facts of life because Jesus is Life.