Luke 7:11–17 . . . Bible Study Summary with Photos
Jesus Resurrects a Widow's Son
No sooner did we learn, last week, the seven critical features behind Jesus' healing of the centurion's servant, today we'll learn how Jesus resurrected a young man and how the large crowd that witnessed that miracle viewed the Lord as a great prophet. Then we'll compare and contrast both miraculous healings.
Resurrecting a Widow's Son (7:11–17)
Shortly after the healing of the centurion's slave, Jesus was traveling toward the city of Nain, accompanied by a large crowd. Heading out of town, in the opposite direction, was another crowd, of a very different disposition. The crowd with Jesus was joyful, jubilant, expectant; everyone in the crowd was upbeat (except for any "sad sack," tag-along Pharisees wanting to spy on and test Jesus). The other crowd was the opposite; they were mourning the death of a widow's only son. There was no joy, hope, or expectation.
The two crowds met head-on, outside Nain, putting Jesus face to face with the widow, whose grief was evident. We don't know if she knew who Jesus was; actually, it didn't matter. She didn't ask for or expect anything, except perhaps that Jesus and his followers stand aside. All of the initiative was taken by our Lord, not in response to faith, but in response to grief and human need.
Having great compassion on the widow, Jesus told her not to cry. It was common then, as well as today, to encourage a mourner to stop crying; but only Jesus would be right in doing so. We tell others not to cry probably because it makes us uncomfortable. However, Jesus told her not to cry, because it was unnecessary and inappropriate. She wasn't to cry, because her son wasn't to remain dead; rejoicing was the appropriate response!
Jesus then touched the coffin, bringing the procession to a halt, likely catching the pallbearers off guard. Without a ceremony, Jesus simply instructed the son verbally to arise, which happened immediately when he sat up and spoke. Elijah and Elisha both raised individuals from death (1 Kings 17:7-24 and 2 Kings 4:8–36 respectively). But the more-labored and time-consuming resurrections that they both performed were greatly overshadowed by this instantaneous verbal raising by Jesus.
Now, look at v. 15: "The dead man sat up and began to talk." That will definitely break up a funeral. Wow! And Jesus did that at every funeral he attended. Several funerals are cited in the New Testament; every one that he went to broke up by his raising of the dead. Today's miracle healing account was all about a broken-hearted mother who broke Jesus' heart. He likely felt: You need your son back; here he is.
And so the people did the right thing (v. 16); they began glorifying God, which is another theme of Luke's gospel. Both crowds seemed to explode with joy and praise. The people feared God and acknowledged Jesus to be a great prophet, at least. This didn't exclude him from being the Messiah, neither did it acknowledge him as such. From the peoples' response, it seemed that they thought of Jesus as a prophet who might be or become Messiah. "God had come to his people," they said, and so he had. The reports of Jesus' greatness spread throughout the region.
This story in today's passage, like that of the healing of the centurion's son that we covered last week, suggests comparisons to the healings of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. Jesus' raising of the widow's dead son reminds us of a similar incident in Elijah's and Elisha's ministries. In the case of Elijah especially, we can see parallels to the raising of the son of the woman who lived in Nain: Both boys were the only son of a widow; both boys were raised from the dead by a "prophet of God"; both Elijah and Jesus presented the boys to their mother; and both resurrections proved that a true prophet of God had been present.
Remember that the people then were under Roman dominance. They prayed, in effect: "God, visit your people. God, come down and help us, show your concern for us." They've been praying that prayer for a long time. A prophet hadn't appeared for more than 400 years; there weren't any angelic visitors; there hadn't been any divine intervention; there hadn't been any miracles; they hadn't heard any words from heaven. God had been silent for centuries! So, there was this built-up longing for God to visit his people. In 1:78, Zechariah sang, ". . . the rising sun will come to us from heaven," meaning their Messiah will come. So the people wanted God to come down and visit them in their world and fix their world. And we understand that today, right? We'd love to see God come down and bring righteousness, establish his kingdom, and help his people.
Well, they knew that God was in their midst. They were terrified at his presence; it catapulted them into glorifying God and praising and worshiping him, trying to mitigate God's anger because of their sin. They realized that God had visited them, because there was no explanation for the dead coming back to life, except of course for the Creator, since nobody else can do that.
Finally, v. 17: "This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country." The news account headline: "God visited us today; a man had been raised from the dead through the power of Jesus." Regarding the news concerning Jesus that "spread throughout Judea," that would include Galilee, the full country of Israel. Regarding the news spreading "throughout the surrounding district," that would mean around the city of Nain and its region. The message went everywhere. And they knew that it was God, because the dead now live. (Add that to the blind seeing, the lame walking, the deaf hearing, and the demons being cast out.) "God is visiting his people!"
But it's a sad reality realizing how fickle and fleeting that attitude was and how the people underestimated it. They were right that God was present. But they didn't understand that God himself was actually there with them, in Christ, performing that miracle. When Israel didn't know that the Messiah had in fact visited them, when they didn't respond to his visit, God turned from Israel toward the Gentiles instead. So when the Jews thought about who raised the dead, they primarily remembered the prophets: Elijah and Elisha. In the Israelites' short-sightedness they said, Oh, this is one like Elijah...he's also like Elisha...he must be a new prophet. We've had prophets before with this kind of power.
Two Healings, Many Contrasts
Two miracle healings — the healing of the centurion's son and the raising of the widow's son — serve several purposes in developing the message of Luke's gospel. As we conclude our study and discussion of this second healing in chapter 7, let's make note of a few of the contrasts between the two healing miracles.
The Centurion passage: (a) The centurion himself was rich; (b) he had one or more slaves or servants; (c) he was a Gentile; (d) he was a man; (e) Jesus healed his slave; (f) the slave was dying and in severe pain; (g) the centurion pled for healing; (h) he exercised a significant amount of faith; (i) Jesus wasn't physically present at the miraculous healing; (j) no public response was mentioned.
The Widow passage: (a) The widow apparently wasn't rich; (b) no mention was made about her owning a slave; (c) she was a Jew; (d) she was a woman; (e) Jesus healed her son; (f) the son had already died; (g) no request was made for healing; (h) the widow exercised grief; (i) Jesus was present and touched the bier; (j) an awesome response was documented.
It Makes You Wonder . . . .
- Q. 1 Have you ever comforted someone who was mourning with the words "Don't cry"? Did your words remove the cause of the hurt or the reason for the weeping?
- Q. 2 How can a sense of compassion help you to pray effectively?
This Week's Passage
Jesus Raises a Widow's Son
"The Resurrection of the Widow's Son at Nain" (circa 1894) by Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836 to 1902)
James Tissot was a French painter and illustrator. In 1885, Tissot experienced a re-conversion to Catholicism, which led him to spend the rest of his life illustrating the Bible. (See many more of Tissot's paintings [a href="http://www.theworkofgodschildren.org/collaboration/index.php?title=Category:James_Jacques_Joseph_Tissot" target="_blank"]on this page[/a] that depict Bible passages.)
11Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. 12As 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. 13When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, "Don't cry."
14Then 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!" 15The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.
16They were all filled with awe and praised God. "A great prophet has appeared among us," they said. "God has come to help his people." 17This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.