The Miracle at the Gate of Nain Luke 7:11-17
The city of Nain lay at the eastern edge of the beautiful valley of Jezreel. Three miles to the north of the city was tree-covered Mount Tabor, and further in the distance was snow-capped Mount Hermon. Nain was about twenty-five miles from the city of Capernaum, where Christ had just been. But, on this particular day, Christ headed to Nain on an errand of mercy and power.
A Stark Contrast
Before Christ arrived, another visitor had already come to Nain and showed his power. The effects were visible in a funeral procession making its way out of the city.
Luke poignantly pictures two crowds meeting just outside the city gate. As Christ was approaching the city followed by “much people,” disciples as well as curious onlookers (v. 11), the funeral procession was leaving on its way to a graveyard outside the city (v. 12). What a contrast between the two groups! Those leaving the city were filled with grief and sorrow, while those coming toward the city were filled with excitement and wonder. A company of death encountered a company of life.
At the head of the funeral procession, men with somber faces carried a bier – a board with narrow sides on which lay the body of a young man. Beside the bier walked the young man’s mother. This woman was no stranger to grief. Luke tells us that she “was a widow” (v. 12). She must have leaned on this only son after her husband’s death. Yet death, the king of terrors, had struck again, snuffing out his life as well. Never again would she hear his feet coming in the door, home again after working all day to provide a livelihood for both of them. Never again would she enjoy reminiscing with him about his father at the dinner table. He was cut off early in life.
Christ had created this world without graveyards. But because of sin, death now reigns all over our world (Rom. 5:14). It takes away the old, but it can also take the young, leaving emptiness, loneliness, and grief. Perhaps inwardly this woman felt something like what the psalmist expressed:
I will say unto God my rock, why hast thou forgotten me? Why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?Psalm 42:9
However, she would find that God had not forgotten her. This day of mourning would turn out very differently for this woman than she was anticipating. The Son of God, who had come to meet her just outside the city, would show His power and mercy in her life in an unforgettable way.
A Remarkable Command
In verse 13, we read moving words: “And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said unto her, Weep not.” Absorbed in her grief, this woman may not even have noticed the approach of Christ. But He comes to meet her with His Word in her need. This verse anticipates what is going to happen here.
Luke gives Christ the title “Lord.” Clearly, he wants to draw attention to Christ’s power. Peter had confessed Him as Lord (5:8), as had the leper (5:12) and the centurion with the sick servant (7:6). Now this widow woman would come to know Him as the Lord of life and death.
Luke highlights Christ’s compassion. Christ was not only to prove Himself as a powerful King. He was also proving Himself to be a compassionate High Priest, who could be touched with the feeling of this widow’s infirmity (see Heb. 4:15). Christ did not turn away from this sad procession, content to revel in the attention people were giving Him. When He saw her sorrow, His heart was touched by the misery sin had brought into this world. And His heart in heaven is still the same towards needy and miserable sinners.
Luke records Christ’s command. Before Christ even performed the miracle, He called this widow woman to live in light of it. “Weep not” (v. 13), He told her. This is remarkable; this woman had every reason to weep, and yet He told her not to. Essentially, He was calling this woman to exercise faith in Him as the resurrection and the life.
This is similar to what the Lord does to His people today. It’s not that we may not weep when our family and friends die. Even Christ wept at Lazarus’s grave (John 11:35). However, when their loved ones die in the Lord, believers are taught not to weep as those who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13). The resurrection gospel needs to impinge upon all of our lives. This is what the Lord wanted the woman to know, even before He performed a miracle before her eyes. He anticipated for her the resurrection joy that comes when we see His resurrection power at work. The day is coming when God will “wipe away all tears” from the eyes of His children (Rev. 21:4).
A Glorious Conqueror
Verse 14 reads so majestically:
And he came and touched the bier, and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.
In the original language of this passage, Christ only spoke six words – two to the mother, and four to the young man. The most important of the words was the last one: “Arise.” Each time Christ raised someone from the dead, whether it was Jairus’s daughter, Lazarus, or this young man, He spoke, as one commentator says, with a “powerful brevity.”
It is important to notice that Christ raised the young man by speaking to him. To the skeptical onlooker, His words may have sounded ridiculous. It looks like folly to speak to someone whose ears death has closed. Yet death can’t keep anyone from responding to the Lord’s voice. As John 5:25 says, “the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live.”
Christ didn’t draw back from the bier on which the young man lay. The Holy One of Israel could not be rendered unclean by touching the bier. Instead, death was forced to retreat in the face of Him, who would hold the keys of death and hell through His death and resurrection (Rev. 1:18).
Thus this widow discovered that she could safely trust in the Lord of the widows (Jer. 49:11). Christ added to the miracle this tender touch: “He delivered him to his mother” (v. 15). He scooped the young man up in His arms and gave him to his mother again. He had been a gift from the Lord when she had received him from the Lord at his birth. Now she received him a second time, as evidence of the Savior’s power and compassion.
We read: “And he that was dead ... began to speak” (v. 15). No longer would the widow’s home be morbidly still; resurrection speech would fill her dwelling. The day that had begun with such misery and sadness turned into such gladness and rejoicing. That’s what Christ’s grace and power do.
The conquering Lord had driven away death from the young man, darkness from this widow’s life, and despair from those who lie in the shadow of death. One of those people was John the Baptist, who was imprisoned in the dungeon of Herod (see Luke 7:18-19). Somehow, through God’s providence, this miracle reached into the prison cell of John. He would soon lose his life through the cruelty of Herodias and the cowardice of Herod. What a comfort it could have been for John to hear the tidings of Him who was the resurrection and the life.
Many others heard the reports that emerged from this miracle. The whole of this valley region was abuzz with the truth that “God hath visited his people” (7:16). The truth of Psalm 89:12 was fulfilled: “Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice in thy name.”
A few short years later, Mount Calvary and the Mount of Olives witnessed a far greater miracle near the gate of another city. Just outside of Jerusalem, death retreated from before this ultimate Conqueror. Not a word was spoken; He who was the Word arose with the power of an endless life (Heb. 7:16). And now, amid crowds of cities and villages all over this graveyard called Earth, the same Prince of Life speaks His Word, and death must relinquish its prey (John 5:24). Christ has brought life and immortality to light in the gospel (2 Tim. 1:10).
- Christ raised three people at three different stages of death: the daughter of Jairus, still lying on her bed; the young man of Nain, on his way to the grave; and Lazarus, four days after burial. How did this prepare for His own resurrection and in what way was His resurrection different than these?
- The woman didn’t ask for this healing, yet Christ observed her grief with great compassion. Could this comfort the Lord’s people when they feel at times unable to pray? How does Christ’s compassion to this woman show that He is the friend of sinners?
- How was Christ’s word to the woman, “Weep not,” implicitly a call to faith? How might we apply this to the sorrows and grief we suffer?
- What parallels are there between this physical resurrection and spiritual resurrection?
- Verse 16 says that fear came on all and they glorified God. Why is this an appropriate response?
- Why do you think Scripture indicates that this report reached John in prison (7:18)?