A PEOPLE OF HOPE
by Rev. Jonathan Gale
9th June 2013
1 Kings 17: 8 – 24
The Widow of Zarephath
8 Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, 9‘Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.’ 10So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, ‘Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.’ 11As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, ‘Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.’ 12But she said, ‘As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.’ 13Elijah said to her, ‘Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. 14For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.’ 15She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. 16The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.
Elijah Revives the Widow’s Son
17 After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill; his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. 18She then said to Elijah, ‘What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!’ 19But he said to her, ‘Give me your son.’ He took him from her bosom, carried him up into the upper chamber where he was lodging, and laid him on his own bed. 20He cried out to the Lord, ‘O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?’ 21Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried out to the Lord, ‘O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.’ 22The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. 23Elijah took the child, brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and gave him to his mother; then Elijah said, ‘See, your son is alive.’ 24So the woman said to Elijah, ‘Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.’
Luke 7: 11 – 17
Jesus Raises the Widow’s Son at Nain
11 Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. 12As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. 13When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ 14Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, ‘Young man, I say to you, rise!’ 15The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has risen among us!’ and ‘God has looked favourably on his people!’ 17This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.
Well; ordinary people being resurrected from the dead: not exactly a common occurrence. I can recall reading in a Mel Tari book of someone being raised from the dead in Indonesia in what was either the sixties or early seventies. There may have been a few more, but not that I’m aware of.
Sometimes stories like these cause us to withdraw, especially if we have lost someone close to us to death. The contrast between the account we are reading and our actual experience is painful.
So why does the Holy Spirit usher these accounts into the Scriptures if they’re so far from our experience? I can understand why it’s important to know about Jesus’ resurrection, but of what use is it to know about what appears to be a grumpy widow in Old Testament times and a surprised one in New Testament times receiving their sons back from the dead?
I think the answer lies in two areas: firstly an assertion by God that he empathises with us when we suffer loss. In other words, by holding these accounts before us in the Scriptures, God affirms his love for us in the present. He works for life and wants us to know that.
Secondly, he gives us hope for the future – and both the assurance of present love and future hope have to do with God’s concern to address in a very practical way, our deepest senses of alienation and loss: and the deepest loss of all is death.
For that reason we have reminders in the Scriptures of highly unusual events (in this case the resurrection of normal human beings) which keep before us God’s love and the hope we have for a future free of death and its consequences.
The greatest act of empathy God has demonstrated towards us is in the coming of Jesus. You see Jesus, Philippians 2 tells us, emptied himself of his divinity and came down to earth as a man.
5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Jesus fully shared our human condition. For that reason he could fully identify with us and our problems, including the death that awaits us all, and therefore provide us with comfort and hope.
We don’t often think about this, but Jesus suffered immense loss – the loss – albeit temporary – of his divinity. He was God become man. There can surely be no greater sense of loss than the loss of divinity. Etched in every line of his being was the impression that he knew loss.
They say that loss most nearly describes humanity after the Fall –
· the loss of innocence,
· the loss of our relationship with God our creator,
· the loss of our connectedness to the rest of creation
· the loss, simply, of all that is joyful and good
· and ultimately, the loss of life
Loss, therefore, is what we fear most, starting with the loss of life …
Is it any wonder that Jesus could understand our human condition; he who had lost his divinity in order to share our predicament?
In our two bible readings this morning we see God restoring to life two young men who had been lost to their mothers. There is nothing more final than, or as devastating as, death – as much as we like to apply our sophistication to the phenomenon and paper over its reality by claiming it is a part of life. And what utter rubbish that is: trying to minimise the tragedy of death.
Romans 5: 12 tells us Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned
Death was never intended by God to be part of our lot! We were not made in God’s image in order to be destined for compost! God’s intention for us is life! This is exactly why Jesus had to die in order to defeat sin – because sin causes death. And why he had to be raised from the dead in order to assert its opposite: life.
Paul in discussing the fact that we shall all be resurrected from the dead says in 1 Corinthians 15: 53For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’
55 ‘Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?’
56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Widow of Zarephath makes an instant connection between sin and the loss of life. She says to Elijah
18 …, ‘What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!’
But Elijah, in the following verse, said to her, ‘Give me your son.’
Elijah took the child and laid him upon his own bed, stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried out to the Lord on his behalf. The son comes to life and Elijah hands the boy back to his mother. A remarkable event. A remarkable prophet; mentioned in the New Testament more than any other prophet.
Jesus operated his ministry under very similar circumstances. He needed faith to do what he did, and sometimes he needed people to have faith for him to do what he did. Mark 6: 5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6And he was amazed at their unbelief.
One of the most profound, simple and yet difficult of spiritual principles is that God responds to faith. He does so because in exercising faith we reveal our dependence upon God.
And not just any kind of faith, but a faith that has at its core concern, the desire to act lovingly: because love reflects God’s nature. Galatians 5: 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.
And yet in both these stories it is not the beneficiaries of God’s resurrection powers who exercise faith, it is those who are ministering to them.
Not surprisingly Jesus was perturbed by death. When approaching the tomb of Lazarus he weeps. In coming across the Widow of Nain we read in Vs. 13: When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her
Faith working through love. Both Elijah and Jesus put their money where their mouths were. When Elijah hands the boy, now alive, back to his mother, she said to Elijah, ‘Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.’
People listen to words but they follow actions. They respond positively to demonstrations of loving faith. The Widow of Zarephath witnessed Elijah’s actions and exclaimed that she now knew he was a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in his mouth was truth.
People followed Jesus because they saw him put his faith into practice with loving actions.
And the Good News – the Gospel – is that Jesus put his faith into action by submitting to death on the cross in faith that the Father would raise him from the dead. He did this because he loves us and he did it to rescue us ultimately from death and to bring us eternal life
1 Corinthians 15: 19 tells us that If for this life only we have hope in Christ we are of all men most to be pitied. I‘ve always found some humour in that – the idea that we could just have been doing all this for 2000 years for no reason at all. But of course the reverse is true. Jesus rose from the dead and he intends raising us from the dead too.
We have hope of life well beyond the grave. The fact that we still experience physical death is merely a confirmation of the effects of the sin that characterises a fallen world. It’s a residual effect, a temporary transition from one life to the next in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection that is to come when Jesus comes back to earth.
The person whom we associate most with loss in Scripture is probably Job. In contemplating his death initially he has little sense of hope. We read his words in the last few verses of Job 17
13 If I look for Sheol as my house,
if I spread my couch in darkness,
14 if I say to the Pit, “You are my father”,
and to the worm, “My mother”, or “My sister”,
15 where then is my hope?
Who will see my hope?
16 Will it go down to the bars of Sheol?
Shall we descend together into the dust?’
Within a few chapters things have changed. Job grows in understanding as God opens his eyes and by Ch. 19 he says 25 For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
26 and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God,
The difference in attitude and theology between his first utterings and these is huge. Even greater is Paul’s understanding following the death and resurrection of Jesus.
In Romans 8 he says:
19For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; 23and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption,the redemption of our bodies. 24For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
In Hebrews 6 we read – 17In the same way, when God desired to show even more clearly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it by an oath, 18so that through two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible that God would prove false, we who have taken refuge might be strongly encouraged to seize the hope set before us.
And what follows is one of the most powerful images in the New Testament. Jesus as the great High Priest – and remember a priest represents the people to God, while a prophet represents God to the people – Jesus goes ahead through the curtain that separates in the Jewish temple the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies – Jesus makes a way into the very presence of God for us to follow. Hebrews continues …
19We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain, 20where Jesus, a forerunner on our behalf, has entered, having become a high priest for ever according to the order of Melchizedek.
So in the in the words of the writer to the Hebrews let us seize the hope set before us. And that hope is our assurance of life – life in all its fullness as God intended it before the Fall
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15
22for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.
25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
We are a people of hope because our destiny is life.
Let us rejoice in that as we both wait in patience and work in faith, for the establishment of the Kingdom of God.
God bless you