Sunday, June 5, 2016

Sermon -- 3rd Sunday after Pentecost (June 5, 2016)

1 KINGS 17:17-24


In the name + of Jesus.

     There was a woman who was doubly grieved.  She was a widow which means that she already had the grief of having lost a husband.  After her husband died, then her only child also died.  The widow lived in a day when there was no social security, no welfare, and no life insurance policy to cover expenses.  Her means of support was supposed to be her one and only son.  But since he had died, she had no means of support.  Not only was she devastated, she was also suddenly destitute.
     It is interesting how the widow responded to Elijah in the midst of her grief.  She did not express concerns about who would take care of her.  She did not even wail that her only surviving family member was gone.  She said to Elijah, “What do you have against me, man of God?  Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?” (1 Kings 17:18)  The widow of Zarephath was not only stricken with grief, but was pricked in her conscience by this untimely death.  We do not know what her sin was.  Perhaps she was haunted by one particular infraction against God's law.  Perhaps it was a lifetime of regrets.  We don't know.  When she said she was reminded of her “sin,” that Hebrew word is usually translated “iniquity,” which refers to guilt.  So perhaps the death of her son simply underscored her own sinfulness and, therefore, made her fearful of God's displeasure against her.  One part of the widow was protesting, “My son and I did not deserve this!”  Another part of the widow acknowledged, “I am a sinful being.  This is God's judgment.  I had this coming.”
     You may feel similar pangs of conscience.  It especially gets your attention when death comes around—either facing your own death or seeing the death of a loved one.  When death looms, you may get angry and think that God owes you better than you are getting.  Satan wants you to think that God is good only when you are happy, but that when you are unhappy—which is inevitable in a sinful world—it is because God is not good.  Satan sows seeds of bitterness so that you would conclude, “If this is how God treats me, who needs him?”  Be warned: Satan is not interested in giving you anything good.
     Or the pendulum may swing the other way.  You may be like the widow who recognized that this sin brings trouble, and that we all deserve to die for our sins against God.  While that assessment is true, it does not bring any hope either.  That is why the widow lashed out at Elijah, “What do you have against me, man of God?  Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?” (1 Kings 17:18)  She was convinced that, if Elijah had not come and if God would have left her alone, life would have been better.  But it would not.  She and her son would have had to face death all the same.  If the Lord had not intervened, they would have had to face death in their sins, with no hope of relief, and with no chance to be saved.  Be assured: The Lord is eager to give you only what is for your good.  Therefore, the Lord sent a man to help.  Behold!  A man who raises the dead!
     Elijah took the lifeless body of the widow's son.  He prayed to God on behalf of the widow.  “Lord my God, have you brought tragedy even on this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?”  Then he stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, let this boy’s life return to him!” (1 Kings 17:20-21)  Elijah did not presume to say that God owed this to her because her life had been so hard.  Elijah prayed that God would have mercy, and that God would bring a remedy for death.  Even though God did not owe her, and even though the widow did not deserve it—for she was a sinner—God restored the life of her son through his prophet.  God had mercy.  He returned to this widow her son and rescued her from being both devastated and destitute.  Behold!  A man who raises the dead!
     Perhaps you find the account of Elijah raising the widow's son to be practically useless to you since you don't expect the Lord to restore your dead to you.  While the widow's son was given back her, you bury your loved ones and are left with the grief.  Do not be too hasty with your conclusions.  The Lord is your merciful Father in heaven, and he does not leave you to grieve without hope.  In fact, he does not leave your loved ones to die so that they are lost forever.  Granted, he does not restore your loved ones to you here and now, but that does not mean you have lost them.  That is because Jesus has redeemed them.  Behold!  A man who raises the dead!
     Jesus of Nazareth came to deliver mankind from death once and for all.  The boy from Zarephath was, indeed, raised from the dead through the prophet Elijah.  The young man from Nain was personally raised by Jesus.  But after the joyful reunion, we don't know what happened to them.  We do know that they are not on earth any longer.  Though they had been restored to life for a time, they eventually died.  Death still had mastery over them.
     But Jesus Christ has done much more for you.  Jesus made himself the sin offering for you in order to deliver you from your guilt.  He was consumed under God's wrath so that you would be spared the justice you deserve for your sins.  For Jesus, it was no mere slap on the wrist.  Rather, it was nails through his wrists, a spear in his side, and a gruesome death by crucifixion.  But even more brutal, it was dying under God's curse for the sins of the world.  Therefore, when Satan haunts you with your sins, you have a reply for him.  Tell him, “You must take this up with Jesus, because he has taken my sins from me, and therefore my sins do not condemn me and death cannot harm me.  What's more, Jesus has given his righteousness to me, and therefore God cannot be displeased with me.”  That is what Jesus did for you.  He died and has risen from the dead—not like the man from Nain or the boy from Zarephath.  Jesus raised himself from the grave never to die again.  Death no longer has mastery over him; rather, Jesus of Nazareth has mastery over death.  Behold!  A man who raises the dead!
     Jesus lives, forever victorious over death.  And since Jesus has redeemed you, he does not merely give you a few more years in a world of wars and disease, of deception and disappointment.  Rather, Jesus brings the resurrection from the grave.  He brings you to the Paradise of God in which no one is racked with pain, no one is plagued by guilt, no one is a victim of crime or cruelty, no one is a casualty of war or accident, no one is short-changed or empty-handed.  This is the kind of kingdom you long to live in, and that you long for your children to live in.
     Even if you must endure the inexpressible grief of burying a child, you still have hope.  For, though you must bid farewell to your loved ones who die in the Christian faith, they are not lost, nor is their life cut short—for eternal life can never be cut short.  They are with Jesus and they live.  And they live forever.  And they live in peace and joy and glory.  And they will also be raised from the grave to live as God created them to be—body and soul children of God for all eternity.  On the Last Day, the Lord shall raise up all the dead, and give perfected bodies and eternal life to all who believe.  Through the man Jesus Christ, man has relief from all guilt and a remedy from death. The joy the widow had on that one day in Zarephath shall be your joy for eternity.  And the glad reunion which was enjoyed for a while in Nain shall be an everlasting reunion among God's people.  Behold!  Jesus is the man who raises the dead and the Savior with whom we shall dwell forever!

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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