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Lesson 4: The Widow at Nain (Luke 6:17-7:23)

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Editor’s Note: This article is the lightly edited manuscript for the accompanying audio message that Vickie delivered.

Jesus was now very active in His public ministry. He was traveling through the villages and towns proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand and His ministry was authenticated by the many miracles He performed. He had chosen His 12 disciples and they traveled with Him. They were back in Galilee and crowds were increasingly following him from all over Israel and neighboring countries

Luke 6:17-19

No one had ever seen a man do the miracles He did or heard the words He spoke. Yet busy as He was He always had time to stop and care for that one person with a special need. The crowd was not just a faceless mob to Him. They were individuals in whom He had a personal interest. They were like sheep without a shepherd and He had come to be their Shepherd.

Luke 7:11

Jesus left Capernaum where He had healed a centurions servant from a distance, without even seeing him. Now He and his disciples traveled on down to Nain, a town about 25 miles southwest of Capernaum.

Luke 7:12

Try to imagine the scene. Jesus and His disciples were approaching the town gate, followed by a large, excited crowd. Suddenly a hush fell on the crowd. There was a funeral procession coming out of the town. A litter with a dead body on it was being carried out to the cemetery. A weeping mother, dressed in widow’s clothes followed. She was accompanied by a large crowd of friends mourning with her. This was a noisy crowd in a different way. They were wailing, weeping and some had torn their clothes to indicate their grief.

The dead man was the only son of his mother and she was a widow. (NIV)

This poignant sentence tells a sad story. This woman had lost her husband, now her son was gone. In that day, parents depended upon their children to care for them in their old age. The death of her only son meant that she would not only be lonely but possibly destitute. Now the Mosaic Law provided for widows, orphans and the poor. They could glean in the fields after the reapers and gather their grain and fruit. There was also a special tithe taken every third year to be distributed to the poor. God warned his people that they were never to oppress or exploit the poor or the widows and orphans.

Ex. 22:22-23 (NIV) Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry.

Deuteronomy 10:18 (NIV) He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow.

It was the responsibility of the community to care for the poor in that day. Jewish people today still care for their own to a greater extent than other ethnic groups usually do.

Now Jesus knew all this. He could have just passed by and assumed that this town would rally around the widow and see that she at least had food and clothes.

Luke 7:13

When the Lord saw her, His heart went out to her and He said, “Do not cry.” (NIV)

Cannot you picture Him? He leaves His followers, walks up to her and with tenderness and compassion says just two words. They would have been unrealistic and unkind coming from anyone else. She had plenty to cry about. To me there is something very comforting in knowing that when I am in pain, Gods heart goes out to me. He is the One who really feels my pain, He cares for me and wants to comfort me. He is not a cold, distant, helpless deity. He is a loving, compassionate Father.

Psalm 103:13

As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. (NIV)

In 2 Corinthians 1:4-5 He is called the “Father of mercies” and the “God of all comfort.”

But that is not all Jesus said and did. Now He walked over to the litter and touched it. The pallbearers stopped. Imagine what they must have thought. Touching the dead made a person ceremonially unclean. Here was a rabbi, a teacher, doing it. But that still was not all. Jesus then spoke directly to the dead man.

“Young man, I say to you, get up” (NIV)

Jesus stood and faced our worst enemy, Death. And with the ring of divine authority He exercised His power over it. This is the first time He raised a person from the dead. In each of the three recorded cases, He spoke to the corpse. And the dead heard His voice and obeyed. John 5:28.

Luke 7:15

The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother. (NIV)

Cannot you sense the gentleness, the understanding, the personal interest in her that these words reveal? Can you imagine the joy Jesus felt being able to do this for her. I wonder if we realize what it meant to Him to reverse in a tangible way, the curse which is the result of human sin. I think He smiled as He saw her tears turn to unbelievable joy. Her son was alive. She would not be left alone. She would see her grandchildren, her future was secure.

What impact did this miracle have on the crowd?

Luke 7:16-17

They were filled with awe, reverence, fear of God. They praised God. (NIV)

Surely they were reminded of the dead child that Elisha raised from the dead over 800 years before in the town of Shunem which was just on the other side of the hill from Nain. But did they actually realize that God really had come and was living among them? They may have remembered the Scripture:

Isaiah 35:4-6 (NIV) Be strong, do not fear; your God will come...He will come to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.

This was what the Messiah would do when He came. And that was exactly what Jesus was doing! This miracle also illustrated some important truths. We have seen that God is deeply concerned with our grief and pain. Jesus actively did what He had the power to do to alleviate this woman’s suffering. In this he modeled for us what we are supposed to do to relieve human suffering today.

All around us are people who are hurting, without the essentials to sustain life, lonely, or disabled. Some have suffered broken marriages, or estranged children. Some are homeless, jobless, hopeless, and lost. There is something each of us can do. It may be very small in comparison to their degree of need, but that is not the issue. We can bring a meal, make a visit, bring clothes, blankets, listen to their troubles, pray with them and for them. We can counsel and support women in crisis pregnancies. We can give money so that ministries like Union Gospel Mission and Salvation Army who minister to the down and out so they can continue their work. We can share the Gospel. Remember we are Christ’s Body on earth. He works through us to show God’s love and concern.

We all can and must do something. We cannot close our eyes and pretend there is no one out there that needs our help.

We find the next effect of this miracle in the following verses. John the Baptist had been in prison for quite a long while and he may have expected that Jesus coming would have different results. In his uncertainty he sent directly to Jesus.

Luke 7:18-23

The purpose of miracles in the Bible is always to accredit the messenger and the message. Jesus was saying to John:

Remember the prophecies in Is. 35 and 61, see what I am doing, and put it all together.

Thus he reassured John that He was the Messiah.

But I believe this miracle also illustrated visibly what the Lord Jesus came to accomplish by His death on the cross and His resurrection.

2 Timothy 1:9-10

This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed (abolished) death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. (NIV)

How did death become a part of human existence. It was not part of God’s original design. Adam and Eve were created to live forever. In that beautiful garden God gave them every provision and perfect freedom to enjoy each other, to enjoy life and to enjoy their Creator. There was one prohibition.

Do not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In the day you eat of it you will surely die. (NIV)

We all know the story. Satan tempted them and they ate the fruit and experienced spiritual death immediately, which is separation from God. We know this because for the first time they were afraid and hid from Him when He came to walk with them in the Garden. Then their bodies began to die and death has been the expectation and experience of every human being since. The penalty for sin is death, both physical and spiritual. Since were each born with a sinful nature, we all sin and we all will die unless the Lord returns first and takes us home.

God commanded an approach to him that constantly reminded his people of that truth. Israel could never worship God without a blood sacrifice. When they sacrificed a lamb, goat or bull, they were offering a substitute to die for their sins in their place. When Jesus began His public ministry it was John who identified him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

He was the only substitute God would accept. When Jesus hung on that cross He took the full penalty for our sin in His own person. When he cried out, My God, why have you forsaken me? It meant he experienced spiritual death, which is separation from God. And of course, He died physically. But then he rose from the dead. If there was even one sin that could not be forgiven by the sacrifice of Christ, He would still be in the grave. His resurrection proved that every sin ever committed since the world began has been paid for in full.

But Jesus did even more for us.

Hebrews 2:14

Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death that is the devil and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. (NIV)

Jesus freed us from bondage to the fear of death

Destroy means to render powerless. Satan has no power over us who have trusted Jesus Christ. And death should hold no terror because for us death is just the doorway that ushers us into the presence of our God and Savior and a glorious eternity.

Are you afraid of death? None of us likes to contemplate the process of dying. But are you certain that there is life after death? Do you wonder what happens to the spirit when it leaves the body? Where does it go? Is there a holding tank, a period of waiting, a purgatory, a testing time to see if we are worthy? Do you think we cannot know if we are going to heaven before we die? If any of these questions concern you, it is entirely possible that you may be afraid of death.

Let us see what the Bible says happens to people when they die.

Remember what Jesus said to the thief beside Him on the cross.

This day you will be with me in Paradise. (NIV)

2 Cor. 12:2-3 identifies the third heaven as Paradise.

The spirits of dead believers go instantly to be with Christ.

Philippians 1:21-23, and 2 Corinthians 5:6-8

But there is still more.

Christs resurrection guarantees that believers will also be resurrected.

Resurrection always refers to the body because the spirit never dies.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, and 1 Corinthians 15:50-57

That is how Jesus removed the sting of death. Death is defanged. Jesus Christ conquered it by his own death as our substitute and His glorious bodily resurrection. One day He will come for us, both the living and the dead, and take us to be with him forever.

Remember this is only for believers. I hope there is no woman here who has not put her faith in Christ.

John 5:24

I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. (NIV)

No other nice place to go--it is either eternal life with God in heaven or eternity with Satan in hell. What does Jesus reveal about our heavenly Father in this episode?

He revealed our Fathers compassionate heart.

His tender compassion for the grieving mother tells us that God’s heart goes out to us in our grief and pain.

Psalm 10:14

But you O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand. The victim commits himself to you. (NIV)

His immediate help shows our Fathers availability and readiness to give us strength to cope and provide for us in our various needs.

His personal attention to each of us.

Jesus’ concern for one woman in the midst of the crowd convinces me that my heavenly Father knows me and I am important to Him, just as a mother with 10 children loves each of them personally. He knows every circumstance of our lives and invites us to let Him be involved. He is the only source we have of strength, patience and wisdom.

He reveals our Fathers mighty power, His omnipotence. God has a final purpose for the created universe and is all powerful. Satan is a created being and is subject to God’s authority. Jesus Christ triumphed over death and Satan in His death and resurrection. For all of us who believe in Him death has lost its sting. Death should hold no terror for those of us who belong to Him. That is what He came to deliver us from. This is the glorious future He has planned for us instead.

Revelation 21:1-4

Our Fathers desire is for us to be with Him forever

Our heavenly Father is preparing for us a home with Him that is so beautiful we cannot even imagine it. What should our response be to such a Father? To believe in the One He sent, Jesus Christ, the Revealer of the invisible God, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. That includes every sin that you and I have ever committed. Have you personally with an act of your will put your faith in Him alone?

In an interview Rick Warren helps to put our lives in perspective:

People ask me, What is the purpose of life?

And I respond: In a nutshell, life is preparation for eternity. We were made to last forever, and God wants us to be with Him in heaven.

One day my heart is going to stop, and that will be the end of my body but not the end of me.

I may live 60 to 100 years on earth, but I am going to spend trillions of years in eternity.

This the warm-up act, the dress rehearsal. God wants us to practice on earth what we will do forever in eternity.1

We were made by God and for God, and until you figure that out, life is not going to make sense.


1 Interview by Decision Magazine, November 1, 2004. Accessible online: http://www.billygraham.org/articlepage.asp?ArticleID=483.

Related Topics: Character of God, Christology, Women's Articles