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JESUS AT THE BIER

‘And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not. 14. And He came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And He said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. 15. And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And He delivered him to his mother.’—LUKE vii. 13-15.

We owe our knowledge of this incident to Luke only. He is the Evangelist who specially delights in recording the gracious relations of our Lord with women, and he is also the Evangelist who delights in telling us of unasked miracles which Christ performed. Both of these characteristics unite in this story, and it may have been these, rather than the fact of its being a narrative of a resurrection, that found for it a place in this Gospel.

Be that as it may, it is obvious to remark that this miracle was not wrought with any intention of establishing Christ’s claims thereby. Its motive was simply pity; its purpose was merely to comfort a desolate woman whose hope and love and defence were lying stretched on her boy’s bier. Was that a sufficient reason for a miracle? People tell us that a test of a spurious miracle is that it is done without any adequate purpose to be served. Jesus Christ thought that to comfort one poor, sorrowful heart was reason enough for putting His hand out, and dragging the prey from the very jaws of death, so loftily did He think of human sorrow and of the comforting thereof.

Now I think we unduly limit the meaning of our Lord’s miracles when we regard them as specially intended to authenticate His claims. They are not merely the evidences of revelation; they are themselves a large part of revelation. My purpose in this sermon is to look at this incident from that one point of view, and to try to set clearly before our minds what it shows us of the character and work of Jesus Christ. And there are three things on which I desire to touch briefly. We have Him here revealed to us as the compassionate Drier of all tears; the life-giving Antagonist of death; and as the Re-uniter of parted hearts.

Note, then, these three things.

I. First of all, look at that wonderful revelation that lies here of Jesus Christ as the compassionate Drier of all tears.

The poor woman, buried in her grief, with her eyes fixed on the bier, has no thought for the little crowd that came up the rocky road, as she and her friends are hurrying down it to the place of graves. She was a stranger to Christ, and Christ a stranger to her. The last thing that she would have thought of would have been eliciting any compassion from those who thus fortuitously met her on her sad errand. But Christ looks, and His eye sees far more deeply and far more tenderly into the sorrow of the desolate, childless widow than any human eyes looked. And as swift as was His perception of the sorrow, so swiftly does He throw Himself into sympathy with it. The true human emotion of unmingled pity wells up in His heart and moves Him to action.

And just because the manhood was perfect and sinless, therefore the sympathy of Christ was deeper than any human sympathy, howsoever tender it may be; for what unfits us to feel compassion is our absorption with ourselves. That makes our hearts hard and insensitive, and is the true, ‘witches’ mark’—to recur to the old fable—the spot where no external pressure can produce sensation. The ossified heart of the selfish man is closed against divine compassion. Since Jesus Christ forgot Himself in pitying men, and Himself ‘took our infirmities and bare our sicknesses,’ He must have been what none of us are—free from all taint of selfishness, and from all insensibility born of sin.

But there is another step to be taken. That pitying Christ, on the rocky road outside the little Galilean village, feeling all the pain and sorrow of the lonely mother—that is God! ‘Lo! this is our God; and we have waited for Him.’ Ay! waited through all the uncompassionating centuries, waited in the presence of the false gods, waited whilst men have been talking about an impassive Deity careless in the heavens, over whose serene blessedness no shadow can ever pass. This is our God. No impassive monster that no man can love or care for, but a God with a heart, a God that can pity, a God who, wonderful as it is, can and does enter, in the humanity of Jesus Christ, into a fellow-feeling of our infirmities.

If Jesus Christ in His pity was only a perfect and lovely example of unselfish sympathy such as man can exercise, what in the name of common-sense does it matter to me how much, or how tenderly, He pitied those past generations? The showers and the sunshine of this summer will do as much good to the springing corn in the fields to-day as the pity of a dead, human Christ will do for you and me. In our weaknesses, in our sorrows great and small, in our troubles and annoyances, you and I need, dear brethren, a living Jesus to pity us, there in the heavens, just as He pitied that poor woman outside the gate of Nain. Blessed be God!, we have Him. The human Christ is the manifestation of the Divine, and as we listen to the Evangelist that says, ‘When He saw her He had compassion upon her,’ we bow our heads and feel that the old psalmist spoke a truth when He said, ‘His compassions fail not,’ and that the old prophet spoke a truth, the depth of which his experience did not enable him to fathom, when he said that ‘in all their afflictions He was afflicted.’

Then, note that the pitying Christ dries the tears before He raises the dead. That is beautiful, I think. ‘Weep not,’ He says to the woman—a kind of a prophecy that He is going to take away the occasion for weeping; and so He calls lovingly upon her for some movement of hope and confidence towards Himself. With what an ineffable sweetness of cadence in His sympathetic voice these words would be spoken! How often, kindly and vainly, men say to one another, ‘Weep not,’ when they are utterly powerless to take away or in the smallest degree to diminish the occasion for weeping! And how often, unkindly, in mistaken endeavour to bring about resignation and submission, do well-meaning and erring good people say to mourners in the passion of their sorrow, ‘Weep not!’ Jesus Christ never dammed back tears when tears were wholesome, and would bring blessing. And Jesus Christ never said, ‘Dry your tears,’ without stretching out His own hand to do it.

How does He do it? First of all by the assurance of His sympathy. Ah! in that word there came a message to the lonely heart, as there comes a message, dear brethren, to any man or woman among us now who may be fighting with griefs and cares or sorrows, great or small—the assurance that Jesus Christ knows all about your pain and will help you to bear it if you will let Him. The sweet consciousness of Christ’s sympathy is the true antidote to excessive grief.

And He dries the tears, not only by the assurance of His sympathy, but by encouraging expectation and hope. When He said, ‘Weep not,’ He was pledging Himself to do what was needed in order to stay the flow of weeping. And He would encourage us, in the midst of our cares and sorrows and loneliness, not indeed to suppress the natural emotion of sorrow, nor to try after a fantastic and unreal suppression of its wholesome signs, but to weep as though we wept not, because beyond the darkness and the dreariness we see the glimmering of the eternal day. He encourages expectation as the antagonist of sorrow, for the curse of sorrow is that it is ever looking backwards, and the true attitude for all men who have an immortal Christ to trust, and an immortality for themselves to claim, is that not ‘backward’ should their ‘glances be, but forward to their Father’s home.’ These are the thoughts that dry our tears, the assurance of the sympathy of Christ, and the joyous expectation of a great good to be ours, where beyond those voices there is peace.

Brother! it may be with all of us—for all of us carry some burden of sorrow or care—as it is with the hedgerows and wet ploughed fields to-day; on every spray hangs a raindrop, and in every raindrop gleams a reflected sun. And so all our tears and sorrows may flash into beauty, and sparkle into rainbowed light if the smile of His face falls upon us.

And then, still further, this pitying Christ is moved by His pity to bring unasked gifts. No petition, no expectation, not the least trace of faith or hope drew from Him this mighty miracle. It came welling up from His own heart. And therein it is of a piece with all His work. For the divine love of which Christ is the Bearer, the Agent, and the Channel for us men, ‘tarries not for men, nor waiteth for the sons of men,’ but before we ask, delights to bestow itself, and gives that which no man ever sought, even the miracles of the Incarnation and Crucifixion of Jesus Christ our Lord. If heaven had waited until men’s prayers had forced its gates ere it sent forth its greatest gift, it had waited for ever, and all mankind had perished. God’s love flows out of its own expansive and diffusive nature. Its necessity is to impart itself, and its nature and property is to give. A measureless desire to bestow itself, and in itself all good, is the definition of the love of God. And Christ comes ‘to the unthankful and to the evil,’ bringing a gift which none of us have asked, and giving as much of Himself as He can give, undesired, to every heart, that thereby we may be led to desire these better gifts which cannot be bestowed unless we seek them.

So here we have the compassion of the human Christ, which is the divine compassion, drying all tears and giving unasked blessings.

II. Note, secondly, the further revelation of our Lord here as being the life-giving Antagonist of Death.

There is something exceedingly picturesque, and if I might use the word, dramatic, in the meeting of these two processions outside the city gate, the little crowd of mourners hurrying, according to the Eastern fashion, down the hill to the place of tombs, and the other little group toiling up the hill to the city. There Life and Death stand face to face. Jesus Christ puts out His hand, and lays it upon the bier, not to communicate anything, but simply to arrest its progress. Is it not a parable of His work in the world? His great work is to stop the triumphant march of Death—that grim power which broods like a thundercloud over humanity, and sucks up all brightness into its ghastly folds, and silences all song. He comes and says ‘Stop’; and it stands fixed upon the spot. He arrests the march of Death. Not indeed that He touches the mere physical fact. The physical fact is not what men mean by death. It is not what they cower before. What the world shrinks from is the physical fact plus its associations, its dim forebodings, its recoilings from the unknown regions into which the soul goes from out of ‘the warm precincts of the cheerful day,’ and plus the possibilities of retribution, the certainty of judgment. All these Christ sweeps away, so that we may say, ‘He hath abolished Death,’ even though we all have to pass through the mere externals of dying, for the dread of Death is gone for ever, if we trust Him.

And then note, still further, we have Christ here as the Life-giver. ‘Young man, I say unto thee, Arise!’ Christ took various methods of imparting His miraculous power. These methods varied, as it would appear, according to the religious necessities of the subjects or beholders of the miracle. Sometimes He touched, sometimes He employed still more material vehicles, such as the clay with which He moistened the eyes of the blind man, and the spittle with which He touched the ears of the deaf. But all these various methods were but helps to feeble faith, and in the case of all the raisings from the dead it is the voice alone that is employed.

So, then, what is the meaning of that majestic ‘I say unto thee, Arise’? He claims to work by His own power. Unless Jesus Christ wielded divine authority in a fashion in which no mere human representative and messenger of God ever has wielded it, for Him to stand by that bier and utter, ‘I say unto thee, Arise!’ was neither more nor less than blasphemy. And yet the word had force. He assumed to act by His own power, and the event showed that He assumed not too much. ‘The Son quickeneth whom He will.’

Further, He acts by His bare word. So He did on many other occasions—rebuking the fever and it departs, speaking to the wind and it ceases, calling to the dead and they come forth. And who is He, the bare utterance of whose will is supreme, and has power over material things? Let that centurion whose creed is given to us in the earlier portion of this chapter answer the question. ‘I say to my servant, Go! and he goeth; Come! and he cometh; Do this! and he doeth it. Speak Thou, and all the embattled forces of the universe will obey Thine autocratic and sovereign behest,’ they ‘hearken to His commandments, and do the voice of His word.’

Then note, still further, that this voice of Christ’s has power in the regions of the dead. Wherever that young man was, he heard; in whatsoever state or condition he was, his personality felt and obeyed the magnetic force of Christ’s will. The fact that the Lord spake and the boy heard, disposes, if it be true, of much error, and clears away much darkness. Then the separation of body and soul is a separation and not a destruction. Then consciousness is not a function of the brain, as they tell us. Then man lives wholly after he is dead. Then it is possible for the spirit to come out of some dim region, where we know not, in what condition we know not. Only this we know—that, wherever it is, Christ’s will has authority there; and there, too, is obedience to His commandment.

And so let me remind you that this Voice is not only revealing as to Christ’s authority and power, and illuminative as to the condition of the disembodied dead, but it is also prophetic as to the future. It tells us that there is nothing impossible or unnatural in that great assurance. ‘The hour is coming when they that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth.’ There shall be for the dead a reunion with a body, which will bring men again into connection with an external universe, and be the precursor of a fuller judgment and an intenser retribution.

Brethren, that Voice that raised one poor bewildered boy to sit up on his bier, and begin to speak—broken exclamations possibly, and stammering words of astonishment—shall be flung, like a trumpet that scatters marvellous sounds, through the sepulchres of the nations and compel all to stand before the throne. You and I will hear it; let us be ready for it.

III. So, lastly, we have here the revelation of our Lord as the Reuniter of parted hearts.

That is a wonderfully beautiful touch, evidently coming from an eye-witness—‘He delivered him to his mother.’ That was what it had all been done for. The mighty miracle was wrought that that poor weeping woman might be comforted.

May we not go a step further? May we not say, If Jesus Christ was so mindful of the needs of a sorrowful solitary soul here upon earth, will He be less mindful of the enduring needs of loving hearts yonder in the heavens? If He raised this boy from the dead that his mother’s arms might twine round him again, and his mother’s heart be comforted, will He not in that great Resurrection give back dear ones to empty, outstretched arms, and thereby quiet hungry hearts? It is impossible to suppose that, continuing ourselves, we should be deprived of our loves. These are too deeply engrained and enwrought into the very texture of our being for that to be possible. And it is as impossible that, in the great day and blessed world where all lost treasures are found, hearts that have been sad and solitary here for many a day shall not clasp again the souls of their souls—‘and with God be the rest.’

So, though we know very little, surely we may take the comfort of such a thought as this, which should be very blessed and sweet to some of us, and with some assurance of hope may feel that the risen boy at the gate of Nain was not the last lost one whom Christ, with a smile, will deliver to the hearts that mourn for them, and there we ‘shall clasp inseparable hands with joy and bliss in over-measure for ever.’ ‘And so shall we’—they and I, for that is what we means—’ so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.’

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