True Religion

Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity
Luke 7:11-17
September 11, 2016
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

In the name of + Jesus.

2.

Whenever you see Christianity in the media, it’s normally not portrayed in the best light. Rarely is there publicity for the faithful doing good; nearly nonexistent is the publicity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that motivates such good things. You’re more likely to hear about bakers refusing to bake cakes for gay weddings, or vicious picketers showing up to veterans’ funerals to spew their vile hatred. The Little Sisters of the Poor don’t get a story on 60 minutes because they sit with the infirm and the dying when no one else will, but because they don’t want to pay for their nuns to have access to birth control and abortion.

The media will waste no time flocking to the latest politically-charged Christian controversy (usually having something to do with human sexuality), but the cameras are dark and the commentary is silent when a member of Trinity walks into the New Haven Care Center to visit with a widow who above all just wants to see another caring human face. Even if you called and convince Fox 2 News to make the trek out here and record a little video and interview, it would maybe make a 30-second feel-good bit that would be quickly forgotten, and certainly wouldn’t drive the evening news for a week.

But if Jesus is to be believed, most of the good deeds done by Christians will go unnoticed by the world. Even you will find out on the Last Day that you did more good than you know. “When did we feed you, or clothe you, or give you a drink?” ask the sheep at the final judgment. The reason why is that the good done by Christians is by and large hidden under ordinary, everyday works. In the eyes of the world, good works are measured by how much of an impact the works make. The Bill Gates Foundation does a better work than a kid’s lemonade stand that sends $12 to a veteran’s organization because the world measure by outward criteria. Not so with God. Man looks at the exterior, but God looks at the heart. He doesn’t judge works by the same criteria as the world.

The Epistle of St. James says, Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this, to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, to keep oneself without blemish from the world (Jas 1:27). God has a special place in His heart for widows and orphans. The Levitical Law took widows and orphans into account on a number of occasions; the practice of levirate marriage was in order to provide for widows who had lost a husband without producing an heir. In the New Testament, widows were given so much attention that they were the cause for appointing the first seven ministers after the Apostles.

The reason why pure religion is defined with respect to widows and orphans is because God has regard for the poor, the humble and the lowly. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich He hath sent empty away, sang the Virgin Mary. Somewhere along the line, the Gospel was turned into, “God helps those who help themselves,” but that’s a corrupt religion. God helps those who cannot help themselves. And He expects no repayment for His generosity. This is why the works of a Christian are directed toward those who cannot repay.

But the works of a Christian are always imperfect. You may visit widows on a weekly basis and offer your home to a dozen orphans, but as much visitation of an love and companionship that you give, an entire pile of your good works cannot reverse the condition of a widow. You cannot bring back a dead parent. You may provide some momentary relief, but no good work can raise the dead.

1.

One day in His travels, Jesus happened upon a widow. And it happened on the next day He came into a city called Nain, and His disciples and a great crowd were traveling together with Him. As they approached the gates of the city, behold, they were carrying out the only-begotten son of his mother, who had died; and she was a widow. And a crowd of many from the city was with her (vv 11-12). This wasn’t happenstance, but because Jesus practices a religion that is pure and undefiled. He must visit the widow.

At first it seems like any other visitation, like the ones you attend, and you try to think of something to say. “I’m sorry for your loss,” or, “He was a good man,” or, “We’re all going to miss Joe.” They’re not unkind words, but they never seem wholly sufficient for the situation. Jesus seems to be just as bad as we are in coming up with some eloquent words of comfort: And seeing her, the Lord had compassion upon her and said to her, “Stop crying” (v 13). Stop crying. No, probably not the best thing to say to a woman who was not only a widow, having lost her husband some time ago, but now had lost her only son.

But Jesus is not visiting to bring platitudes, or momentary comfort. He’s visiting to show what true religion looks like. And coming forward, He touched the bier; and the bearers stood there. And He said, “Young man, I am saying to you, be raised.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak. And He gave him to his mother (vv 14-15).

Jesus does what no good work can do. All other religions fail, all systems of works or sacrifices or satisfactions cannot bring back dead men. Religion that is pure and undefiled is to bring the Good News of resurrection to those who are swallowed up in the valley of the shadow of death, and to proclaim to them that death is swallowed up in victory. Because Jesus lives.

It’s impossible to keep yourself unblemished from the world. You and I and every person born in the natural way are born in sin. That stain of corruption is a nasty birthmark that you can’t get rid of by scrubbing as if it was simply dirt on your body that you collected along the way. But the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. He paid the penalty for sin by His suffering and death. He rested in the tomb to sanctify the resting places of the dead. And He rose again on the third day so that you also would be raised from your casket.

And in the resurrection, you will be freed from the blemish of this world. The young man rose in his recently deceased flesh, flesh that had not yet returned to dust. But you will be raised in changed body, a glorified body, one that is free from sin’s death grip. This is the heart of the Christian faith, and the Good News that we proclaim.

Fear took them all. And they were glorifying God, saying that a great prophet had been raised up among them, and that God had visited His people. And this word concerning Him went out in all of Judea and all its surroundings (vv 16-17). God’s visitation isn’t to make chit chat, or to drop off a tract, or to convince you to make a decision for Jesus. God’s visits dead people to deliver resurrection. Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people.

The True Religion of Jesus Christ Is His Deliverance from Death into Life

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA