One Mother’s Day
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One Mother’s Day

Luke 7:11–17  (ID: 3661)

Chapter 7 of Luke’s Gospel records the story of a widow who encountered Jesus during the funeral procession for her son. When Jesus saw her, He spoke to her and then raised her son from the dead. In this message, Alistair Begg reminds us of Jesus’ vast love and compassion, emphasizing that this picture of Jesus triumphing over death is a sign and a promise of all that awaits believers in the age to come. Only Jesus can bring the dead to life, and He invites us to come and trust in Him to save us from our sin and to restore all things.

Sermon Transcript: Print

I invite you to turn to the Gospel of Luke and to chapter 7 and to follow along as I read the section that begins at verse 11 through to verse 17. Luke chapter 7, and Jesus has just been involved in the healing of a centurion’s servant, and Luke tells us—verse 11—

“Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, ‘Young man, I say to you, arise.’ And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has arisen among us!’ and ‘God has visited his people!’ And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.”


Lord, your Word abides and guides our footsteps. And so we pray that as we turn our attention to your Word, that we might have an encounter with you, the living God, that we might not merely understand what is said in the passage but that we might actually meet with you. Accomplish your purposes, we pray. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Well, here we are: Luke chapter 7 and this account which appears only in the Gospel of Luke. It’s not in the other Synoptics. It’s not in John either. And, of course, we know that Luke, when he begins his Gospel, reckons on the fact that others have undertaken to record many of the things that Jesus did, and he says, “I have analyzed this, and I have determined to put these things together in order that you might have certainty regarding the things that you’ve come to believe.”[1] And it is this passage that has been in the forefront of my thinking since I realized that it would fall to me this morning to speak on what we regard as Mother’s Day.

And so, if you want a heading for the talk, it would be “One Mother’s Day.” “One Mother’s Day,” with the apostrophe between the r and the s—in other words, a day in the life of one mother. If you don’t like “One Mother’s Day,” then just call it “Mother and Child Reunion,” all right? “Mother and Child Reunion.”

The description, the record, is clear. He has been involved, having been called to intervene on behalf of the servant of the centurion. He, along with the entourage, has moved on from there. And what we have, really, is the record of a day in the life of a mother—a day that she would never forget. You will see from the text that Luke lets us know that she is a widow, that she lives in a town called Nain. Archaeologists debate the current location of such a place. It’s largely irrelevant to us. She is a widow, and she has now been confronted by the death of her only son.

Now, in the context of the day, vastly different from our own, the position of a woman without the provision and without the protection of a man—either a husband or a son—the position of that woman would be absolutely bleak. And so what we have the record of is a strange and a mournful day—a day that is marked by loneliness, a day that is marked by sadness, a day that is obvious to all who see her that she is the end of the family line. She has no grandchildren’s hands to hold, no one to snuggle at the end of the evening, none of the youngsters to cause her to look forward to everything that is before her. All of that is firmly in the rearview mirror.

A Funeral Procession

And that is why she is involved in this funeral procession. I made four headings in my notes, the first of which is simply a funeral procession.

Now, you know, if you have lost loved ones, that amazing and dreadful feeling on the morning that you waken up for the funeral, as you stir to life and you think, “What day is this? What now?” And then, suddenly, it dawns on you: “Oh, it’s this day.” In this woman’s case, poor as she was, Jewish law demanded that even the poorest of people should provide for themselves mourners—professional mourners. And in poverty, that involved at least two flutes and a wailing woman. Now, if she could stretch, she could have added some people to play cymbals.

So imagine as she awakens to the new day, and the professional mourners have now begun to gather outside in prospect, and the cymbals play, and the flutes sound out, and the wails begin. They are now going to go in front of the bier—a plank, largely, that will hold the body of her son. And she, according to tradition, will walk in front of that bier. She’s going to have the opportunity to, in Shakespeare’s words, lead on “the way to dusty death.”[2] She’s joined, you will note from the text—I hope you’re looking at it to see what I’m saying is in there—she’s joined by a considerable crowd, Luke tells us: a crowd of people from her locality, from her town. These are the friends and neighbors who are sympathetic to her plight. These are the people who would have said to one another in the marketplace on the previous day, “Now, are you going to be with the widow in the morning? We’re going to go. We’ll join her there.”

And Luke tells us that as the funeral procession was going out, there was another crowd coming in. That’s in verse 11. And the crowd that was coming in was the crowd that was led by Jesus and his disciples: “And a great crowd went with him.” So you have, if you like, this juxtaposition of those who are arriving—Jesus, the disciples, and the crowd—and those who are leaving, heading out of the gate, for the burial would take place outside of the town. Jesus is coming into the town.

We should note that people had really begun to follow Jesus. Back in chapter 4, he had spoken in his own local synagogue in Nazareth. He’d read from the prophet Isaiah: “He sent me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives and sight to the blind,” and so on.[3] And the people that listened to his talk, listened to his reading, there was nothing in the reading that was a concern to them, but what concerned them was what he said after the reading: he sat down, and he said, “Today, what I’ve just read to you, this Scripture, is fulfilled in your hearing.”[4] That resulted in a division of interest. Some said, “We ought to make him a king.” And the larger group said, “Why don’t we throw him off a cliff?”[5]

He then proceeds in ministry, and people begin to follow, intrigued, in the way that people to this day are still intrigued by who Jesus is, what Jesus did, why Jesus’ name is still alive and well throughout the entire world. Crowds: Jesus and his disciples and the people that have begun to attach themselves to him. And the arrival of Jesus is about to change everything, because of who he is, because of the immensity of his love, so that we could begin our service singing, “O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!”[6] His presence is going to change this.

It might have occurred to some in the group to step aside—to say, “Well, we have a funeral going on here,” in much the same way that would happen (at least it used to happen in an earlier day, when people actually respected funeral processions): that cars would pull into the side of the street in order that people might proceed. Now they just simply chase you to the traffic lights. But it would have been possible for some to say, “Well, we should step aside. We’re a crowd, but we could stand and let the procession go on.” They were heading out of the town, on the road that led to Capernaum, where archaeologists have found embedded in the rocks the graves and tombs of many.

A Divine Intervention

But Jesus doesn’t stand aside to let them go by. Jesus intervenes. That’s the second heading: a funeral procession followed by a divine intervention. Verse 13: “When the Lord saw her…” Does it say, “When the Lord saw it…”? Does it say, “When the Lord saw, ‘Oh, we’ve got a funeral going on here’”? No, no, no. No, no. See, the Lord knows you. He knows you. “When the Lord saw her…” His gaze fixes upon the mother. “Just one look, that’s all it took.”[7]

Christ is the Son of God, and he is the Son of Man. He knows us. He embodies, if you like, the love of God—all that can be known of the love of God pressed into this Jesus, this incarnate God.

Previously, in the earlier part of the chapter, he was responding to a request. Even before that, he responds to the cry of the leper. But here, his help appears to have neither been asked for nor expected. We should note that! His help comes to a woman who doesn’t expect it and hasn’t asked for it. “Oh, you mean God works sovereignly?” Yes! We’ve been studying John, and we haven’t finished. There’s one left—a “Truly, truly” still out there somewhere, waiting for us. But remember, at the beginning of it, we noted in chapter 2 that there were certain people who were interested in Jesus, but he didn’t attach himself to them. He didn’t really pay much attention to them at all because, John tells us, he knew what was in them.[8] He knew what was in them. He didn’t need anyone to tell him, ’cause he understands human nature. He doesn’t need anybody to tell him about this woman. He understands. He “saw her.”

Secondly, “he had compassion on her.” “Compassion on her.” The word for “compassion” here is one of the few Greek verbs that I have ever remembered out of my attempts at understanding the original languages, but it’s a great word. It’s splagchnizomai. Splagchnizomai. You can say it, you know, if you want: splagchnizomai. What it means is sharing in another person’s grief, sharing in another person’s agony at the most elemental level. It’s deeper than simply emotion. In fact, it’s at a gut level. That’s the very picture. If you have a King James Version, you will remember when you were a child, you thought it was quite humorous when you had to read something and it said, “And Jesus responded with the bowels of tender mercy.” And you used to say, “Oh, ‘bowels’! What’s that?” All right. Well, it’s right here. He was moved with compassion. He gets it. He feels it. He knows it. And he responds to it because of who he is. Because of who he is. He is the Son of God, and he is the Son of Man. He knows us. He embodies, if you like, the love of God—all that can be known of the love of God pressed into this Jesus, this incarnate God. Hence the compassion.

I was rehearsing whether… Incidentally, Sinclair had a big impact on us all in various ways, but he sent many of us back to our Latin primers, because every so often, he just used Latin without any explanation. And it got me thinking this week, because I came upon ex mero motu, which is actually a legal term, which means “on his mere motion.” In other words, it is when a court makes a ruling that is not as a result of an approach to it, but it has made a decision either to dismiss the case or whatever it might be. Ex mero motu: voluntarily, without any suggestion, without any influence from anybody else.

This is Jesus. He sees her. He has compassion on her. It’s the same picture which is given to us again in Luke’s Gospel. We won’t turn to it. But when you go to the Good Samaritan, it’s the Good Samaritan, who, when he saw the man, “had compassion” on him.[9] It did something viscerally to him. And you have the very same thing in the parable that Jesus tells in Luke chapter 15, where the Prodigal has started his way back up the road, and what does it say? It says, “And when the father saw him, he had compassion on him.”[10] He had compassion on him. The hymn writer says,

O Savior Christ, thou, too, art man;
Thou hast been troubled, tempted, tried;
[Your] kind but searching glance can scan
The very wounds that shame would hide.[11]

He “saw her,” he “had compassion on her,” and he “said to her, ‘Do[n’t] weep.’” “Do not weep.” Before she even has time, I would say, to process that thought, Jesus then steps beyond her, and, having helped the woman with his words, he now halts the procession to the grave. Far from people saying, “Let’s let it go on its way; we can pick it up when they’re finished,” no, Jesus says, “Let’s pick it up right now.” And he steps forward.

And you notice what we’re told: that “he came up and touched the bier.” He “touched the bier” made of wood. It was like somebody being carried on a kitchen door, almost: open. And it was absolutely unthinkable that anybody would do this, that anybody would interfere, that anybody would intervene, that anybody would interrupt. But Jesus does.

Why would it be so weird to do such a thing? Because touching the bier made it possible that you may touch the body, and if you touched the body, then you would become ceremonially unclean. If you’re doing Murray M’Cheyne, you read about it this week, because we read in Numbers chapter 19 the very law that concerns this. So do not touch a dead body, because you’ll become ceremonially unclean! Jesus sets aside, if you like, ceremony in the interests of the well-being of the mother. It’s really quite wonderful!

Incidentally, going back to the Good Samaritan, you have the explanation of it there, don’t you? Because it says that by chance a priest came down the road, and he saw the man all bloodied and beaten and lying at the side of the road. But the priest said, “Oh, no, I’m not touching that!” No, no, he passed by on the other side. And a Levite, another religious professional, when he came, said, “No, not for me. I mean, if I get involved in that, there’s no saying what’s happening to me. I won’t be able to go to the temple. I won’t be able to sleep with my wife. I’ve got other concerns. I’m not getting involved.” But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, looked on the man and had compassion on him.[12]

Jesus. Have you got your Bible open? “Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still.” You bet your life they stood still! They stood still, stunned by the action of Jesus, unprepared for what they were about to hear. So, he’s confronted the mother, he’s stopped the procession, and now he addresses the corpse. Who speaks to dead bodies? He addresses the corpse. What does he say? “Young man, I say to you, arise.”

Now, I wish I could see some of this stuff. I wish I could have been at least on the fringe of things. Because the people who were closest to what was going on in the crowd would have said to one another, “Did I hear that man correctly? Did he… Did he just speak to the dead body? And did he say what I think he said? Who does that?” Someone in the crowd says, “Well, hang on. Don’t prejudge the situation! Because I was around on the occasion not so long ago when four men brought a guy who was paralyzed, dropped him down through the roof in front of Jesus, and on that occasion, Jesus says to this fellow, ‘Take up your bed and go home.’” And the person says, “And what happened?” “He took up his bed, and he went home!”

Well, that’s conjecture, isn’t it? “And the dead man sat up.” It’s all in the Bible! “And the dead man sat up.”

You know, if you’ve ever been in the hospital—you had surgery and stuff—and they come around; they do the rounds? Some of you do this. You’re nurses and doctors. And you’ve been horizontal for however long it is. And when they come around and they say something—“Let’s see if we can’t sit you up.” Isn’t that what they say? And then they bring the thing. And the people say—and then your loved one is on the phone and says—“Well, I went to see him today, and you know, he was sitting up. He was sitting up. I think he’s on the mend!”

“And the [young] dead man sat up,” and he “began to speak.” He “began to speak”! You see, the Lord of creation, the creator of the universe, who has established the laws of nature by which death sets in, is the only one who can reverse the very laws that he himself has created. Who speaks to death? Only he who triumphs over death. Jesus is moving towards his death in the awareness that he will be resurrected from the dead. And it is he then who speaks in this way.

And I want you to notice: Luke is very careful to let us know that this is not happening up a blind alley somewhere. This is not happening somehow or another in obscurity. No, there were crowds that were with Jesus. There were crowds that had come out in sympathy to the woman. There were disciples. There were all kinds of people who were there to actually afterwards say, “No, it didn’t happen. It didn’t happen.” Nobody said it didn’t happen, because it happened before their eyes.

You know, when you’re asleep in the afternoon, a voice can wake you up. A voice can simply stir you. Only Jesus can stir us in death. “He speaks, and, listening to his voice, new life the dead receive.”[13]

A Glorious Reunion

It’s a funeral procession. It’s a divine intervention. It’s, thirdly—and just in a sentence or two—it is a glorious reunion. It is a glorious reunion: “And the dead man sat up.” He “began to speak.” We don’t know what he was saying. He doesn’t have a speaking part. His mother doesn’t have a speaking part. “And Jesus gave him [back] to his mother.” That’s fantastic, isn’t it? He saw her, he had compassion on her, he cared about her, and he gave him back to her.

Wouldn’t you like to have been present? I mean, somehow or another, they get him off the bier. And then people are going, “Well, we thought it was a funeral, but I guess it’s not a funeral.” And so I just imagine he, with his arm around his mother, going back up the street. I’d like to be present at their evening meal, when she gave thanks for the food. And in the words of the father from Luke 15, she says, “Father, this my son was dead and is alive again.[14] Thank you! Thank you!”

I’ll leave you to ponder that picture, but don’t mistake the fact that it is a sign and a promise of all that awaits every one of us in Christ in the age to come. In the age to come. That quote from Chantry about moms… Some mothers will have to wait to heaven for the posthumous joy of discovering that the daughter they thought they had lost Jesus had actually come and found. The son they thought was a no-go forever—they had died without an awareness that all those principles, all those prayers, all those longings, nothing! And then, suddenly…

When the blest, who sleep in Jesus,
At his bidding shall arise
From the silence of the grave or from the sea
And with bodies all celestial
We shall meet him in the skies,
What a gathering of the ransomed that will be!

What a gathering! What a gathering!
What a gathering of the ransomed
In that happy home above.[15]

This is the Christian’s hope. This is the reality of things. The creation groans in travail, awaiting the redemption of the sons of man,[16] in order that God may then put back together all that has been broken as a result of our rebellion.

An Understandable Reaction

A funeral procession, a divine intervention, a glorious reunion, and lastly, an understandable reaction, there in 16 and 17. There was nobody on that occasion looked at one another, watched the event, and said, “Whatever.” No. Uh-uh. If you can do “Whatever” when you see a life changed by Jesus, you don’t understand what’s going on.

No, fear gripped their imagination—fear and awe. As a result, some of them began to say, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” Somebody else said, “Well, I wouldn’t exactly put it that way. I think we ought to say that God has visited his people.” In other words, they were aware of the fact that in that day, in that moment, in that occasion, they found themselves, if you like, in the grip of holy mystery—of an event of such cataclysmic impact that they knew, “There is no way in the scheme of things that this could happen apart from Almighty God, the one who made us.” They get that. That’s as far as they get: “A great prophet has arisen among us.” “God has visited his people.”

They were both right. They were both right. Jesus! You go back to the beginning of Luke’s Gospel and there the prayer of Zechariah, the prophesy of Zechariah as he prophesies over his son John the Baptist, and he says, “John, you’re going to be the one who leads forward to the one who is the great prophet of our God”[17]—Jesus! When Jesus comes, God visits his people.

You see, it’s very important, isn’t it, that we understand that the invitation that comes to us is an invitation from Jesus? It’s an invitation to come to Jesus. And that’s why it’s so important that we understand how approachable Jesus is—that he sees us, knows us, cares about us, speaks to us, acts on our behalf. He’s “a man of sorrows.” He’s “acquainted with grief.”[18]

Jesus doesn’t just make a comment about sin or about sadness or about death. He overcomes them.

You see, what underlies the death of this young man? Sin. Sin! Our world is broken on account of our rebellion against God—that we’re alienated from God, that we reject his wisdom, that we resist his rule, that we figure out ways to worship someone else or something else. We’re blind. “The darkness,” people say, “is on the outside. There’s no evidence of God. Forget the aurora borealis. We can explain that scientifically. Forget the northern lights.” No, no, no. Yeah, the reason that you feel that way, sir, madam, is because the darkness is inside of you. It’s not outside of you. You’re blind on the inside. By nature, you suppress truth. You repress truth. You choose that which is amenable and reject that which is available. And as a result, we have no eyes to see until God opens our eyes—alienated, blind, and confused.

Think about contemporary America right now. If ever the idea of people being like sheep without a shepherd fits a generation, it’s there. And at the same time, those of us who want to say, “Jesus is the Shepherd”…

Unlike other people who have made an influence in the world, Jesus doesn’t simply comment on the great enemies of mankind. He doesn’t just make a comment about sin or about sadness or about death. He overcomes them. Who else do you know who is able to deal with your inevitable end? Who else do you know is able to reunite you with your loved ones in a new heaven and in a new earth? Who else do you know who can pick up the jigsaw puzzle of your life and put it together in such a way that you say, “He knows me. He knew me. He knew I was lost. He knew me. He hung on the cross because he knew me.” And it is he who intervenes in this one mother’s day and who will intervene in your life if you will look to him.

I’m loath to do this, but I think I must. I must do this. Those of you who have the unfortunate problem of tracking on the same level as my strange track know that I said you could call it “Mother and Child Reunion.” And I also referred to the day as “this strange and mournful day.” Well, of course, these are the words of Paul Simon:

No, I would not give you false hope
On this strange and mournful day,
But the mother and child reunion
Is only a motion away.

“A motion away.”

I can’t for the life of me
Remember a sadder day.
I know they[’ll] say, “Let it be,”
But it just doesn’t work out that way.
And [in] the course of a lifetime [it]runs
Over and over and over again.

[And] I would not give you false hope.[19]

Well, he doesn’t have any hope! And I wouldn’t give you false hope. I wouldn’t stand up here and lie. I wouldn’t suggest to you who Jesus is. And Jesus would never lie to you. He’s approachable. “Come to me,” he says, “all you who are weary and [heavy laden], and I will give you rest.”[20] It’s an invitation not to come to church, not to come to theology, not to come to an idea, but to come to a person, to come to a Savior, come to a friend. And when we come, our song changes. It’s a whole new song for a whole new day—a whole new Mother’s Day.

Father, confirm your Word in our hearts, Lord, we pray. I pray for some for whom today is a tough day, and they feel like they’re alone in the world. Perhaps they just, for whatever reason… And so I pray that you will open blind eyes, soften hard hearts, and put a song on our lips—a song of praise to you, the living God. For we ask it in Christ’s name. Amen.

[1] Luke 1:3–4 (paraphrased).

[2] William Shakespeare, Macbeth, 5.5.

[3] Luke 4:18–19 (paraphrased).

[4] Luke 4:21 (paraphrased).

[5] See Luke 4:29.

[6] Samuel Trevor Francis, “O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus!” (1875).

[7] Gregory Carroll and Doris Payne, “Just One Look” (1963).

[8] See John 2:25.

[9] Luke 10:33 (ESV).

[10] Luke 15:20 (paraphrased).

[11] Henry Twells, “At Even, Ere the Sun Was Set” (1868).

[12] See Luke 10:31–33.

[13] Charles Wesley, “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing” (1739).

[14] See Luke 15:24.

[15] Fanny Jane Crosby, “What a Gathering!” (1887). Lyrics lightly altered.

[16] See Romans 8:22.

[17] Luke 1:76 (paraphrased).

[18] Isaiah 53:3 (KJV).

[19] Paul Simon, “Mother and Child Reunion” (1972).

[20] Matthew 11:28 (NIV).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.