We see three very different people and situations, but in each case Jesus taught us something wonderful about compassion, faith and hope.
There are 37 recorded miracles of Jesus in the Bible; 37 times that Jesus did something inexplicable in any other way than that God had powerfully acted.
And of course, the writer of one of the Gospels, the Apostle John, tells us that “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written”. (John 21:25)
But of all the miracles that we know about, those that were written down, surely the most extraordinary, the most astonishing, the most amazing, were the three times that Jesus gave life back to someone who was dead.
Three times when Jesus refused to accept that death was irreversible, final, and gave someone another chance at life.
And in looking at those three occasions, three very different people, three very different sets of circumstances, we can see that once again, as in so many of his miracles, Jesus is teaching us something each time too.
So let’s have a look at them, in the order that they appear, and think a little about what these most astounding of all Jesus’ miracles show us about him, about the person he raised from the dead and their circumstances, and maybe even about us.
Nain (also called Nein or Naim) is a village in northern Israel, located southwest of the Sea of Galilee, about 9 miles south of Nazareth. Only Luke records this miracle, in chapter 7 verses 11 to 17.
When a passage starts with something like “Soon afterwards…” it’s always wise to have a look at what precedes it. In this case, Jesus had encountered the faith of the Roman Centurion who had asked for Jesus to heal his servant.
The Centurion had spoken of the authority that he had, and the authority that Jesus had to heal his servant. This example of understanding and faith had amazed Jesus, and it was shortly afterwards that he encountered the widow and her dead son.
As a widow in 1st Century Israel, it is likely that she would have relied on her son, her only son, for support. Now he too was dead. Her grief would have been for her son, but she must have also been wondering what the future held for her now.
The passage says that Jesus’ heart went out to her, he was compassionate towards her. He would have understood her situation and perhaps remembered the Centurions words from v7b-8 of this chapter, “But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it”.
Jesus could have walked on by, but He didn’t; He chose to do more than just show compassion for the widow, He acted.
Just as he had healed the Centurions servant, he performed an even more extraordinary miracle by raising the widow’s son back to life. In one amazing act he gave a future back to the son and transformed the future of his mother.
What does this teach us?
Jesus and his disciples are in an area of Israel called ‘the Gerasenes’, which is to the south east of the Sea of Galilee. Luke records what happens in chapter 8 verses 40 to 42 and 49 to -56, but it is also recorded by Matthew and Mark.
Again, our passage starts with a link back to the previous part of the chapter, an account of Jesus driving out evil spirits from a man. The man had told everyone what had happened, so it was unsurprising that a crowd was waiting for Jesus when he returned.
Among them was Jairus, a synagogue leader, whose daughter was very ill and dying. It shows something of the gravity of the situation that Jairus was willing to risk his reputation and position to approach Jesus, who was someone the Jewish authorities were already becoming increasingly wary and suspicious of.
A parent’s only daughter, reminding us of the only son of the widow of Nain. Jesus agrees to come, and sets off, but is interrupted on his journey by a woman who had a condition that made her bleed and who had reached out and touched Jesus’ cloak to be healed.
The delay that resulted meant that the girl had died before Jesus arrived. This doesn’t stop Jesus though; he had set out to heal the girl and he means to still do so. His actions are now more urgent, he is giving out instructions.
“Don’t be afraid; just believe…” he says to Jairus, “Stop wailing” he says to the people. But the most powerful instruction is given to the girl herself “My child, get up!”; and she did!
What does this teach us?
So much that we can learn from this passage that it could become a book! Let’s limit ourselves in this blog post though to these key learnings:
The story of Lazarus takes place in Bethany, to the east of Jerusalem. This is a place that Jesus knows well and a family that he is particularly close to. Lazarus is the brother of Mary and Martha. Only John records the story, but in some detail, in chapter 11 verse 1 to 44.
Again, there is so much here that it’s hard to know where to start. One thing that really sticks out for me though is an almost throw-away line in v5-6 “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days…” What? Jesus loved them, but did nothing for two days when he heard that Lazarus was sick?
During the delay, Lazarus dies, something his sister Mary berates Jesus about when he finally arrives, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” You can imagine how, as Lazarus was approaching death, Mary must have been wondering where Jesus was, why he wasn’t there.
But Jesus knew what was going on, he knew that Lazarus would die and that he would raise Lazarus back to life again in another spectacular demonstration of the power and glory of God. This wasn’t about Lazarus’ timing, or Mary and Martha’s timing, it was all about God’s timing through Jesus.
Sometimes, often, we can be like Mary. Impatient for action, wondering where God is and why he isn’t doing what we want him to do… now! Note the subtly different response that Martha had had to Jesus’ seemingly late arrival; “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
She said the same thing Mary was also to say, but qualified it, she still hadn’t let even Lazarus’ death take away all hope. She will have known of the stories of the son of the widow of Nain, and of Jairus’ daughter; she still had faith, and hope!
What does this teach us?
There’s probably another book worth of learning here too! But there are some really important points for us to take away from this story, so let’s consider these:
In this series we see three very different stories, three very different people and situations, but what links them all is that Jesus chose them to be the three people whom he raised from the dead, gave new life to, transforming theirs and their families’ situations.
And in each case Jesus taught us something wonderful, including about compassion, faith and hope.
Whatever our situation, however hard things are for us, they are unlikely to be as bad as the situation of the son of the widow of Nain, Jairus’ daughter, or Lazarus.
That isn’t to diminish our own struggles and challenges in any way, far from it, it is to remind us that the Jesus who can raise from the dead, the Jesus who can bring transformation to the bereaved, the Jesus who defines compassion, faith and hope, can and does bring those things, and more, to us too. Why not ask him?
Mark Arnold, Director of Additional Needs Ministry at Urban Saints. Arnold blogs at The Additional Needs Blogfather. This article was re-published with permission.