Let me tell you a story, an old old story.About a brave warrior from Sweden. His name was Beowulf. One day Beowulf sails across the sea. He’s on a mission to help his friend, the king of the Danes.
Why does the Danish king need help? A vicious outcast, a demonic beast called Grendel is terrorizing the king’s hall. He’s coming in at night and killing and devouring the king’s men.
Beowulf, the great warrior, fights with his bare strength against the monster. He pulls off Grendel’s arm and the monster goes away to die.
Then Grendel’s vicious mother emerges from her horrible swampy home. She wants revenge for her son’s death. She kills one of the king’s men. Beowulf is the only person brave enough to swim to the depths of the swamp to confront this sea hag. He kills Grendel’s mother with his sword. Peace is restored to the land of the Danes.
Beowulf sails home. He is a hero. He becomes king of his own land. A popular, wise king. He rules for many years.
Let me tell you another old, old story. About another king. In fact, this man is known as the King of all kings.
This man did not fight monsters with his bare hands. He did not wield a sword or battle anyone. He did not travel the high seas. In the part of his story we are looking at he is travelling through the countryside, approaching a tiny, obscure village called Nain. How could a man like this be the King of all kings?
Let us meet this man, this would-be king…his name is Jesus.
On the road with Jesus (Luke 4-7)
Jesus is on the road. He’s finished recruiting twelve men to be his special students and ambassadors. His twelve disciples. He’s just given the disciples a long pep talk about the kind of people he expects them to be. They are not to judge others. They are to love and forgive their enemies. These aren’t fighting words. These are not the words of a warrior who wants to fight to obtain freedom. The disciples must have been wondering: Who is this man? What is his agenda?
But there’s a lot of buzz about Jesus. It’s spreading. This man is amazing. He’s healed demon-possessed people. He’s made lepers clean and well again. He’s restored, someone’s twisted, withered hand. He’s given a paralytic man walking legs. What will he do next? It’s not just Jesus and his disciples on the road now. A large crowd has come to join them.
Collision with heartbreak (Luke 7:11-12)
Jesus and his followers come to Nain, a small town. And all the buzz, and all the excitement fades in a second. Because they collide with a funeral procession at the town gate. Somebody’s dead child is being carried out. It’s a boy, and he’s the only son of a widow.
So, it seems like the party might be over. The crowd must be thinking: It’s been great to see so many people healed, but they were alive to start with. This widow’s son is dead. There’s nothing to be done, except to join the procession, express some sympathy to the widow. Or is there?
Jesus goes to the child’s coffin. We are in a small country town. But we have also travelled to the centre of our human heartbreak. Our heartbreak that we will all die. All our loved ones will die. Jesus has collided with our biggest heartbreak.
Compassion (Luke 7:13-14)
The story says that Jesus’ heart went out to the widow.
Jesus tells her not to cry. Which might have made people in the crowd a bit angry. Surely this woman should be allowed to cry? She has already lost her husband, and now she has lost her only son. She will be lonely, probably destitute.
Then Jesus goes up to the coffin, touches it. The people carrying the coffin stand still. What Jesus does is very surprising. Touching an open coffin makes him ritually unclean. Not something a mourner would usually do. He is not shying away from the situation. He’s sharing the grief of the widow in a very intimate way. But what can he do? The boy is dead! Perhaps it would be best just to move on to the next town and see if there are any sick people who can be healed.
Power (Luke 7:14-15)
But Jesus’ compassion is more than a symbolic gesture. The crowd don’t know it yet, but he has the power to reverse death. And his power is in his words. All he has to say is “Young man I say to you, get up.” And the boy gets up.
There is a beautiful description of what Jesus does next- he gives the boy back to his mother. This miracle does not simply show Jesus’ amazing power over death. It shows that Jesus’ mission here on earth has a point. He is showing what his agenda is as King over all the earth. It is to restore everything, to make everything new again. To fling away despair and death. The miracles show Jesus’ infinite compassion breaking into the sadness and brokenness of our world.
Who are you? (Luke 7:16-17 and Luke 7:18-23)
The crowd is quiet. They are awed. Then there is noise, everyone is joyful, praising Jesus.
But there is still confusion about who Jesus is. Some people say, ” God has come to help his people” and others say ” A great prophet has appeared among us”. Is Jesus a prophet, a messenger from God, or is he something more?
John the Baptist is confused, too. In the next passage he sends word to Jesus. He asks “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” Is Jesus really the Christ? Is he really God’s King?
“The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”
Jesus does not give himself a title here. He doesn’t declare himself to be King. But all the things he lists are what the prophets of long ago predicted that the Messiah, God’s King, would do. Jesus knows who he is.
What about you? Who do you think Jesus is? Do you think Jesus is irrelevant to you? Do you think he is some teacher from long ago, interesting but slightly embarrassing and outdated? Do you think that it’s time for society to move on, to move past the idea that Jesus is God’s King? Who worships kings in this day and age, anyway?
The end of a story, and everything begins again (Revelation 21:3-5)
I didn’t tell you how Beowulf’s story ends. We know he rules for many years. A popular, wise king.
But all this time there is a dragon lurking deep under his land. The dragon is disturbed, and begins a campaign of fiery terror against Beowulf’s people. Beowulf fights the dragon. He manages to stab and kill the dragon, but not before the dragon has scratched him with his evil talons. Dragon poison enters Beowulf’s blood, and Beowulf dies. Beowulf, the beloved king, dead. His people are bereft. They wail, they are inconsolable as the funeral pyre of their king goes up in smoke.
The people are scared. They have lost their security, they have lost their warrior king, the one who protected them. Now it is inevitable that old feuds will boil up again, that they will be invaded by other peoples. A lady stands by the funeral pyre, prophesying about their bleak, bleak future. A wild prophesy of nightmare and lament. Her nation will be invaded, there will be enemies on the rampage, bodies in piles, slavery and abasement.
How different it is in Jesus’ kingdom. At the end of the Bible his kingdom is described like this:
Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live among them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”
Jesus is looking forward to the time when he can walk among us and we can be his people, and he can be our King. He is looking forward to showing his people his sparkling new kingdom, washed free of every heartbreak and sorrow. Jesus has beaten death. Jesus has travelled to the centre of our heartbreak.