Luke and the Widow


Mourners turn out for a Jewish funeral.

Luke 7:1116

Of the four Gospels, only Luke records this incident.  It makes sense that a physician like Luke would take notice of a story that involves the restoration of life.  This is the kind of miracle that would serve to prove that Jesus Christ was the Messiah and is one of three instances where Jesus raised the dead during His earthly ministry.

It should be noted that so far, there has only been one, single resurrection: the Lord Jesus Christ.  In every instance where Jesus raised the dead back to life, He simply restored life to the old body.  They would die again.  Lazarus would eventually die.  Jairus’ daughter would die.  And the widow’s son would die.  The same is true of this type of miracle in the Old Testament.  The children that Elijah and Elisha raised back to life would eventually die, as all the living will.

The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ is the “first fruits” from among the dead.  It’s not that life was restored to Jesus’ dead body; it’s that He was raised from the dead in His glorified body.  One day, by death or by rapture, all believers will be similarly raised—resurrected:

For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.  And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.  (1 Corinthians 15:16)

 There is nothing worse than death.  Even among believers, when we lose a loved one or a friend, we are saddened and we rightfully grieve.  But Jesus has a way of lifting a grieving one out of that pit of despair.  Moody once said,

Jesus spoiled every funeral that He went to.

In the previous story, we see Jesus as the Savior of the sick.  The terminal sickness that had gripped the Roman centurion’s favorite servant was no match for power of Jesus.  As if that wasn’t enough, in this incident we see Jesus as the Savior of the dead.  Death had taken hold of an only son, but death did not stand a chance with Jesus near by.

1.  The sad widow

 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.  (Luke 7:12 NIV84)

 Crowds not only flocked to Jesus in the cities, but they followed Him from city to city.  This time, there were basically three groups of people following our Lord:  the Twelve, a lot of His disciples, and other interested people.  The town they were going into was Nain, situated on the hillside of Hermon, near Endor, about 20 miles from Capernaum.

 Now the scene must have been quite startling as the Prince of Life entered through the city gates, followed by His people, meeting Death, followed by his people.  Nobody likes a funeral, no matter how much free food there be served afterward.  But when you consider the circumstances surrounding this one, you can get idea of what true sorrow looks like.

 Here was the funeral of man, but not just any man, he was a son, but not just any son.  He was the ONLY son of a woman, but not just any woman, a widowed woman.  She had no husband and no other children.  No doubt this son was her only means of support.  So, this could be the basis of a country song, but it was the most pathetic of funerals.

This poor woman was in a hopeless present facing a helpless future with little or no resources.  This sounds like most people living apart from Jesus Christ!  They don’t know how bad off they are until something like this happens to them.  For many, it takes a tragedy to introduce the Savior to them.  Think about it:  this woman may never have met Jesus had her son not died!

 2.  Jesus

 When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”  (Luke 7:13 NIV84)

 Many, perhaps even the majority, of the miracles performed by Jesus were done so to draw attention to His Divinity or to confirm it; to convince onlookers – not necessarily the one healed – that Jesus was more than just a man.  But here is the rare time when Jesus was motivated by sheer compassion alone:  “his heart went out to her.”   His compassion was on the widow, not the dead state of her son.

There is truth in the old saying:

A friend in need is a friend indeed.

At precisely the most opportune time, Jesus showed up, as He always does.

 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:6 NIV84)

 Here is a good example, on an intimate scale, of what Jesus did on a universal scale on the Cross:  He met death head on and confronted it!

As His procession met the funeral procession, He and the widow would have stood side-by-side, and it was at that moment Jesus looked at her and commanded her to “stop crying.”  He was full of compassion, yes, but there was no reason for her to be crying.  Jesus knew what was about to happen.  Naturally she didn’t; but He did.  In an instant, her son would be restored to her and her upside down world righted.

 Looking at the text carefully, Jesus’ concern was not for the dead son, but for the living mother.  This is a good example of how the Lord works sometimes.  He is infinitely more concerned about us than the circumstances in which we may find ourselves.  That’s not to say He can’t or won’t deal with those circumstances – he certainly dealt with the widow’s – but we, like the widow, are His primary concern.

Then Jesus did a truly remarkable – and risky – thing:  He touched the coffin.  This was risky because for a Jew, this was close to ceremonial defilement.  Not only that, what Jesus did – touching the coffin and speaking to its occupant – must have seemed crazy!  What kind of kook goes around talking to corpses?

Jesus is good at that:  doing the things that surprise us most; the things that other people wouldn’t dare do.  Jesus doesn’t particularly care about expediency or social customs.  Jesus does whatever He has to do; whatever is best for all concerned.

 Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it 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.  (Luke 7:14-15 NIV84)

 Who was this Person speaking to the dead?  It was the One with authority over the dead!  Just as the light causes the dark to retreat, so Life causes death to retreat.  Immediately, the dead son sat up, totally alive.

 The way Jesus dealt with the widow’s son is in sharp contrast with similar miracles in the Old Testament.  Consider this:

 Then he cried out to the Lord, “O Lord my God, have you brought tragedy also upon this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?”  Then he stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried to the Lord, “O Lord my God, let this boy’s life return to him!”  (1 Kings 17:20-21 NIV84)

 When Elisha reached the house, there was the boy lying dead on his couch.  He went in, shut the door on the two of them and prayed to the Lord. Then he got on the bed and lay upon the boy, mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes, hands to hands. As he stretched himself out upon him, the boy’s body grew warm.  Elisha turned away and walked back and forth in the room and then got on the bed and stretched out upon him once more. The boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes.   (2 Kings 4:32-35 NIV84)

And all Jesus did was quietly and with authority command the dead to return to life.  Why no great struggle?  Why no great prayers and pleadings with God?  Because Jesus was no mere prophet.  He is God.

 3.  The results

 A dead person coming back to life is likely to produce startling consequences.  It’s not every day a thing like this happens.  Let’s consider what happened.

 First of all, what was the effect on the son?  Who can know?  These days he would write a best-seller about drifting into the light and meeting all his dead relatives.  Oprah would interview him; Piers Morgan debate him, and so on.  But what about the son in our story?  He sat up, simply obeying the command of Jesus.  Beyond that, we have no idea what he felt or what he did.

The effect on his mother must have been as immediate as the miracle.  One moment she was full of despair and bereft of hope.  Now everything was changed.  Her whole world was coming back to normal.  Jesus returned to her what death had stolen.

 The crowd, though, exhibited the most obvious effects:

 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.”  (Luke 7:16 NIV84)

 Those who saw this miracle were awestruck.  They instinctively knew that only God could raise dead, so they naturally credited God.  But the people saw more than just a miracle; they saw more than just God’s power.  They saw something more profound:  the loving concern and compassion of God.  By restoring the widow’s son to her, God showed those who had eyes to see that what causes us pain, He notices; what grieves also us breaks His heart.  God is concerned with His people.

And yet, the people didn’t quite get it.  They saw God in action, but they saw Jesus as a prophet, not as the Son of God.


Concluding thoughts


In all the instances where Christ returned life to the dead during His ministry, each instance was unique.  There are instances in the early church where, for example, Paul raised somebody from the dead.  But, generally speaking, when people die, they stay dead.  In the Old Testament, we have accounts where life had been restored to the dead.

All these instances, though different, are similar:

First, God was at work in each of them and God was acknowledged in each instance.  See 1 Kings 17:22; 2 Kings 4:33; Luke 8:50; John 11:40, 41; and our story today.

Second, in each case a family was restored.   In the Old Testament, the children who were raised back to life were given back to their mothers.  In the New, the same thing.

What does this tell us?  At the very least it shows how much God values the family.  He wants families to remain intact; a closely knit unit.  And we learn that children belong to Him; God has a special claim on children.

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