The Extraordinary Jesus
Jesus was often surrounded by crowds. This was particularly true of the early part of his ministry before it became evident that discipleship would be a costly matter as the opposition grew. It's not difficult to see why the crowds wanted to be near Jesus – he was, after all, such an extraordinary man.
You see recently (perhaps just the day before) Jesus had been in Capernaum, a fishing village on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. There he had performed a significant miracle in response to the impressive faith of a Roman centurion. This centurion had a servant who was seriously ill and dying but with a word spoken at distance this sick servant had been completely restored to health. Now that kind of thing didn't happen all the time and genuine miracle workers were very rare indeed! So it's hardly surprising to find crowds of people following Jesus – what else might they see?
Along with this group of inquisitive, curious people, there was also a smaller number of those who had already committed themselves to Jesus, his disciples. They would follow where he led eager not merely to see what he did but to hear what he said and to learn from his teaching.
As it was then so it is now and we may well be made of this morning of a similar mix of folk. In which camp would you put yourself? Are you I wonder fascinated by this man and curious to know a bit more? Or have you gone beyond the inquisitive phase and you've committed yourself to following Jesus? Yes, you're still fascinated by Jesus but now you're no longer an outsider trying to look in but by faith and trust you've become an insider – a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Well Jesus had left Capernaum-on-sea and gone a day's journey of some 22 miles to a backwoods town called Nain. We don't know much about this place other than that it was situated on the side of a hill and approached by a fairly steep path. Opinions appear to be divided about this place – some consider it a barren depressing place while others maintain that it had a pleasant outlook surveying green pastures.
The fact that we don't know much about the place does indicate that in the eyes of the world it was pretty insignificant. But being insignificant in the world's eyes does not mean that God is not interested in it and in the people who lived there. It became significant that eventful day when Jesus arrived and did something that was an extraordinary demonstration of power married to compassion.
What he did caused those who were present to react. What was going on here? How could they explain the events? Who was this man?
As we consider this short account that Luke, alone of the gospel writers, records we too must be ready to answer those same questions for ourselves.
The Events Themselves
As Jesus, accompanied by his disciples and a great crowd of other folk, drew near to the town he was met by a funeral cortege. We're used to the idea of the mourners following the coffin but on this particular occasion it was the chief mourner who was leading the way. And it was a woman, a widow, who was taking her dead son out for burial.
What a sorry sight this must have been! A widow's situation was precarious in Bible times and a widow was regarded as a vulnerable person. And now this woman was not only a widow but she had lost her only son and with him all natural hope of male support and comfort.
Those of you who have children will know just how many hopes are invested in them by their parents – you'll understand something of this lady's sense of loss.
She was not on her own however as she too was accompanied by a sizeable crowd too. We're not told anything about the make-up of this particular crowd but it was the custom of the day to hire professional mourners so the presence of a crowd with this widow does not necessarily signify that she had a good deal of personal support in her grief. Appearances can so often be deceptive can't they? And people are good at putting on a front when inside they are hurting and so, so needy.
Back in Capernaum it had been the centurion who had taken the initiative in drawing Jesus' attention to the condition of his sick servant now in Nain it is Jesus who takes the initiative. Perhaps the people there had never heard about him; or perhaps they had no idea he was close at hand; or perhaps they simply thought there was no point in calling for him – they may well have reasoned that there was hope while there was life but once life had ebbed away no hope was left.
Jesus did not think that way at all – he was the Prince of Life and was about to demonstrate that fact!
But the first thing we are told is that when Jesus saw what was going on and observed the desolate widow he was moved with compassion! There is an old hymn written in the 16 th century that puts this so well:
Thou hast the true and perfect gentleness,
no harshness hast Thou, and no bitterness;
Jesus was far from being indifferent to the suffering that he encountered then and we can be encouraged by this knowledge because this Jesus whom we are talking about is the same yesterday, today and forever.
And so moved by compassion Jesus spoke her. She was weeping in her grief and sorrow and Jesus said something that seemed so strange:
"Do not weep." Or "Do not go on weeping".
But what else was she supposed to do? Didn't this man understand she had just lost her only son?!
Words can be comforting but sometimes they can be trite and only serve to increase our pain. We long for more than mere words, we long for the person who speaks to be able to do something for us too. Jesus was about to show this poor widow that he was able to back his words with actions in a way that no-one else possibly could! She need not go on weeping because he was about to intervene on her behalf!
Having spoken briefly to the woman Jesus stepped up to the men who were carrying the corpse on a stretcher. He put his hand up and touched the stretcher – the men got the point and stopped – something unusual was happening here!
Before anyone might start to question what was going on Jesus spoke again. And how strange! How odd! He addresses the dead young man and issues him with a command!
v.14 "Young man, I say to you, 'Arise'".
Now it's not unusual for people to speak to the dead body of a loved one – we call this saying our final farewells. Some will write poems addressed to their departed friend. But no-one expects the loved one to respond.
How different it was in this instance when Jesus spoke! As Charles Wesley put it in his famous hymn, O, for a thousand tongues to sing:
He speaks, and, listening to His voice,
new life the dead receive
Jesus spoke and it was with a voice that he woke the dead! No sooner had he spoken to the dead young man than this dead young man began to live again! He sat up and he began to speak. I guess we'd all like to know what he might have to say but it is worth noting that in each of the three the instances where Jesus raised someone to life again none of their words are recorded. Interest in near-death experiences etc. are thus not to be encouraged – our interest is to be focused not upon this unusual experiences but upon the clear word of God written and the Word of God Incarnate, that is Jesus Christ.
What was left for Jesus to do? He gave the young man back to his mother who must have been absolutely amazed! But Luke did not focus upon her reaction but upon the reaction of the crowds that heard what had been said and saw what had been done.
It's now time for us to look at their reaction and to think about how we too react to this extraordinary man Jesus.
How the People Reacted
Before we underline how the crowds did react it is worth noting that curiosity did not figure. They didn't ask lots of questions of the young man or of Jesus. No, the events didn't make them curious or lead them into speculation. And you too should beware of merely becoming curious about Jesus, warning bells rather should begin to ring if you were to find yourself speculating about spiritual matters. The reaction that day was not of that order at all!
1. Fear seized them all, and they glorified God
Before this Jesus had performed a wide variety of miracles: he had healed the sick, he had exorcised evil unclean spirits, he had cleansed a leper. He had also demonstrated his power over the natural world by turning water into wine and by driving fish into nets. But, as far as we know, he had never done anything quite like this before. There will be two other occasions recorded in his ministry when he raised the dead to life again but those had not yet occurred. The folk who were present that day were confronted with something special and they recognised the fact straightaway!
When Luke tells us they were seized by fear he didn't so much mean that they were frightened but that they were awestruck. Although the event was so totally unexpected and impressive the crowd was not paralysed by it in any way but responded by ascribing glory to God, recognising that God was involved in what had taken place.
2. "A great prophet has arisen among us!"
As the people praised God they employed words and intelligent words. We read: "they glorified God, SAYING..." True worship is not about some form of unintelligible mumbo-jumbo. These people as they reacted to what had been done in their presence thought about the principal actor and came to certain conclusions as to just who he was. They described him as "a great prophet".
They were right and they were wrong!
They certainly recognised that Jesus was no ordinary, run of the mill, rabbi and they gave him the honour of regarding him as a great prophet. The Jews had many traditions and interpretations of OT Scriptures – many believed that one or other of the great prophets of the past would return to earth at the time of the Messiah. It would appear then from this accolade that the crowd were ascribing some such honour to Jesus. But how far short they fell of ascribing him the honours that were his due - they failed to recognise the true import of the sign that he had just performed and they failed to identify as God's long-promised Messiah.
I wonder what your estimation of Jesus is. Do you regard him as a great prophet, a wonderful teacher, a miracle-worker? You may think that in doing so you are honouring the Saviour but beware that you are not effectively damning him with faint praise! This is the Son of God, the Messiah, the Saviour of the World. This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, the Prince of Life.
3. "God has visited his people!"
And yet while the crowd failed to arrive at a clear view of who Jesus was they did nevertheless realise that what had happened amongst them that day could only be satisfactorily explained by reference to divine activity.
There were, then, some really positive things that these folk had understood but yet they had some way to go to arrive at a proper understanding of the truth as it is in Jesus.
Can the same be said of you?
Along with this reaction and response of God-oriented awe the people who were present that day didn't keep quiet about what they had heard and seen.
We're not told which crowd did the talking but word got out and it wasn't long before Jesus' renown had spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country. Maybe we're not told which crowd had done the talking because both crowds were involved and surely that should be the same for us too. As soon as we begin to understand something about the Lord Jesus, who he is and what he can do, we too should pass it on!
Jesus' miracles served to demonstrate a number of things which, once established, are not to necessarily going to go on and on endlessly being repeated. Indeed if miracles were to become an everyday occurrence they would cease to be miracles and would indicate that the Kingdom of God had been established in all its fullness which is not yet true.
Miracles do not set the pattern for what we are to expect every day in the here and now; rather miracles give us a foretaste of what is yet to come.
The miracles that Jesus carried out are meant to act as signposts for pointing us towards an understanding of:
The extent of his power and authority
His complete identity
The greatness of his love and compassion
The apostle John explained the miracles of Jesus which he had chosen as fulfilling the following purpose:
Jn.20:31 "these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name."
What a lovely little event this was. What a wonderful Saviour is Jesus! He spoke with a voice that waked the dead that day – he continues to wake those who are spiritually dead. May each of us hear his voice calling us individually to put our faith and trust in him for the salvation he freely offers us.