The Tear Wiping God
July 8, 2007
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
A Story [We] Don't Relate To
1. The only son of a widow died. The coffin was being carried out of the town. They proceeded while a great number of the townspeople were right beside the grieving mother. The long funeral procession to the grave followed.
2. The story told in today's passage of scripture is very close to where we are. When we read it, [I] can recall the situation of a time when a coffin was ushered forward from this church. I remember times from the funerals of my relatives and scenes from the funerals of close friends. No doubt some of us here must have heard today's reading of the scriptures while recalling those scenes when a family [member] or even a close friend passed on and you were shedding tears as they carried out the coffin. The scene that is written here today in this text is the kind of scene where, if you live long enough, you will surely experience [it] personally.
3. But, on the other hand, what this passage of scripture is saying is no where near where we are at all. It is clearly different from our own experiences. When we have carried [our] caskets, Jesus did not come from beyond. Jesus did not come and bring our deceased back to life again. The person in the casket did not return to life. No, the person did not.
4. There was someone senior to me in the faith whom I respected from the depths of my heart. He was a sign language interpreter. He lived his life literally right beside many persons in their suffering, who had suffered from being discriminated against. While working as an interpreter for the deaf, he made preparations to become an evangelist by attending seminary during the evenings. I wanted to be like him. I wanted to live like he did. That's how I really felt in my heart. But, then a month before I entered into seminary, he died with a brain tumor. He was thirty-seven years old. I just couldn't take the fact that he died before becoming an evangelist, without fulfilling his life's ambition. I pleaded with God, "Oh God, this is so bizarre to me no matter how I look at it! Bring him back to life!" With this feeling I had that Jesus could bring him back to life, during the funeral, looking at the casket, I kept chanting in my heart, "Make him come back. Make him get up." But, Jesus never showed up, he didn't come back alive. The casket, unchanged, was carried into the crematorium.
5. Therefore, I have a strong desire to say, "The story written in today's passage is certainly different from what we have experienced!" But then when I think some more, as I read this passage [I suspect] that we weren't the first to think that way. It must have been the same [way] for the primitive church, the church at about the time this gospel was written. How was the church during the persecutions? The leaders were getting arrested. The fathers [and] the mothers were getting arrested. And then they were killed. They went home as corpses. I never heard a story that Jesus brought them back to life. Instead of that, while they all grieved and shed tears, perhaps they buried them as politely as they could.
6. [Listen] everybody, despite all of that, this very same church, these very same people told this story, that Jesus brought a dead man back to life, and they told it in a most cherished way. They never said, "What a downright lie!" Without a doubt this story was read out loud even in the services in the underground graves (the catacombs) which have the coffins of those who had been martyred. They had heard the gospel from this story. They used to hear hope and comfort [from it].
The Lord Feels Compassion
7. Please look at verse thirteen. There the text says, "The Lord looked at the mother and [had] compassion --". It is saying that Jesus looked at the mother and felt compassion. "To feel compassion or mercy" is the phrase, if translated literally, "[a person's] intestines are shaken up." It [means] feeling as if one's intestines are being torn out. It [means] feeling as if one's chest is being ripped open. That mother must have literally been feeling a sorrow as if her chest was just being ripped open. But she was not the only one who was feeling that pain and suffering. There was someone who was feeling her pain as his own pain with the same feelings like she had right there, the feeling of one's intestines being torn out, one's chest being ripped open. That's what "The Lord looked at the mother and [had] compassion" means.
8. The scripture says this mother was a widow. We don't know how long ago it was, but she had probably carried her husband's casket out of the village the same way shedding tears the whole time. She had an only son. I believe she had only her one son to depend on. But of all [the people who should] die [it was] her only son [who did]. Why did the widow have to lose even her one son? Why did she have to experience such sorrow? -- I sure don't know. [I] can't come to an explanation for it. At least [I] can't explain it to myself.
9. Indeed, I suppose there will be plenty of folks in the world willing to explain it. Back then there were some who tried to explain that when there was some kind of accident, it was divinely guided or karmic retribution. But, the Bible does not give an explanation for why this widow had lost her only son. Nor does Jesus say one word about this matter to her in this text. Jesus just felt the sorrow and sadness with her. He hurt in his heart with her. He suffered with her. Everybody, what do we all see in this picture of Jesus the way he is here? We are seeing nothing other than the heart of God.
10. This unfortunate mother is not alone. Every day we observe situations in which we cannot help but wonder, "Why did that happen? Why did he meet up with that misfortune?" At times such things befall us, too. At those times some will think, "There is no God," and some will curse God.
11. But, when God sent Jesus Christ, God was not about to apologize through Christ for himself. Nor was he about to explain why there are misfortunes and accidents. Nor did he send Christ in order to blame a person's sins, saying, "Your sins invited the accident." Nor did he send Christ in order to urge us on to repent unless we wanted to be in some misfortune. That's not why, but instead God has expressed through the agency of Christ the kinds of feelings he has when he looks at the world and he sees each one of us.
12. This phrase "have compassion" is found in a parable we all know well. It is the parable of the prodigal son. The son leaves home, leaves his dad but comes back in tatters after getting worn out and starving in a famine. The father detects that son of his from afar. At that point the scripture says this, "However, even though he is still separated off in the distance, the father finds his son, has compassion, runs to him, embraces him around the neck and kisses him," (15:20). The father never said one word that had a touch of preachiness to it, like "You know why you encountered this adversity? You're evil is why." The father simply sees his son and "had compassion on him." He felt the pain of his chest just being ripped open and felt how [his son] had suffered, how hard it had been for him. "You know, that's God," Jesus tells us. And he just doesn't say that, but with God's feelings he himself looks at a person. He cares for a person with the heart of God. It is not just words from Jesus but the figure of Jesus himself is a manifestation of God's heart. Jesus had compassion on that mother. He did, and God had compassion on that mother.
13. And so since God feels compassionately for us in that way, then there is hope for us. The Lord showed that fact with his own body. The Lord says, "You shouldn't cry any more." They are the words from the Lord when he saw the mother and felt compassion. They are words of comfort. However, when the Lord feels compassion for us it does not end with mere words of comfort. It doesn't stop there. It goes forward. He doesn't just say, "You shouldn't cry any more," nor does he stop at wiping the tears completely away either. The story continues on as follows. "And when he drew near and touched his hand on the casket, those carrying it stopped and stood still. Jesus said, 'Oh young man, I am speaking to you. Get up.' Whereupon, the dead man got up and began to speak. Jesus returned the son back to his mother." [Her] tears were wiped away. It turned out that [she] no longer needed to cry any more.
14. What actually happened? Was the son only in an apparent state of death? Even if we investigated into that it would make no sense. The main thing is that this event had become one sign. It points to what God's compassion is. It is remembered as one sign, and it is being passed on to us [for remembrance]. And the truth that no one can stop God's compassion along its course will soon be completely revealed in Christ.
15. At this time Christ is at the village of Nain. But, that is not the final point of his journey. Where was Jesus ultimately headed? It was for Jerusalem. Jesus knew that. God's mercy does not stop. [He knew] that even though it would make the only son the atoning sacrifice for sin, it wouldn't stop until it grants forgiveness of sin to all. And further up ahead beyond the cross there is the resurrection. God's compassion will not stop until it crushes the power of death and smashes down the gates of hell. It will not stop until it completely delivers humankind which has been taken captive in sin and death.
16. And no one could stop Christ from being crucified. No one can stop the resurrection of Christ from the dead. No one can stop God's mercy along the way. What happened at the village of Nain became one sign. It became a sign that points to God's deliverance which is fully revealed in Christ.
17. God's compassion shown to that mother and God's compassion shown in Christ's cross and resurrection is also for us. Our lives will more than likely have many different aches and pains from here after. Suffering is not likely to go away until the last day of the world. Why do we have such things? Why will such things happen to me? God may not give apologies for this issue or explain the answer to this question. We may not be able to grasp it until the end. Yet, through today's passage of scripture, we are given some knowledge about it. God suffers with us. God is in sorrow with me. When my heart is almost ripping apart, God's heart suffers on account of it being ripped apart. My suffering always hits God personally. In this way then, God has compassion on us.
18. God does have compassion on us. Just to know that is enough. Because of it we're more than fine because God's compassion does not stop until it saves us completely. We have probably shed tears thinking about a lot, that things will never get back to the way they were. We've probably shed tears while blaming ourselves, at times harshly, for what we've done or couldn't do. But God's compassion will not stop until he forgives our sins completely, restores everything, makes all new, and wipes the tears completely away from our eyes. No one can stop God's compassion along its course. The Bible records the following words about the place where God's compassion will end. "Look! God's tabernacle is among people, God dwells with people, the people will be God's people. God himself is with the people, he will be their God, he will wipe away each and every tear of their eyes. Death will be no more, Sorrow, grief, and hardships will be no more. For, the first things have passed away," (Revelation 21:4).
19. At the very beginning I stated that this story is very different from our own experience, it is no where near where we are at all. But, it seems like I must retract that statement after all. This story is where we live; because God's compassion is for us as well, just like it was for that mother.