Among the many widows who were in Israel (Luke 4:25), quite a few of them crossed the pathway of Jesus in the days of His flesh. He seemed to have a special, tender care for these women whom death had impoverished, and who often became the particular prey of the unscrupulous, and victims of the fraudulent. Already in this volume we have written of the significance of Bible widows, who were not to be afflicted, and whose cry heaven always heard (Exodus 22:22; Jeremiah 7:6; Matthew 23:14). The accounts of widows deserving of honor and care are both instructive and interesting for our guidance in church life today (1 Timothy 5:3; James 1:27). Before us is another widow whom Jesus helped in her affliction. Like other widows, this grief-stricken one of Nain received a special dispensation from heavenly hands, and is an example of “millions of bereaved mothers whose sorrows have been sweetened by some revelation of divine love and pity.”
Luke alone records the breaking up of the funeral procession Jesus met on the way to the cemetery. The city of Nain was approached by a steep ascent, with burial caves on each side of the road. The day after Jesus had healed the centurion’s servant, He set out with His disciples on a missionary tour around the Lake of Galilee, and as He journeyed, the size of His followers increased. As they reached the rockhewn tombs, they met a humble train made up of one weeping mourner and a few sympathizing neighbors. They learned quickly of the widow’s loss of her only son and child, and of the two facts enhancing the bitterness of her sorrow. She was a widow, bereft of her beloved partner for many years, and now was motherless seeing that the one prop of her life, her hope and stay in widowhood, had been taken from her. The young man doubtless worked and kept the home together. Now he is dead and the widow’s future must have seemed so bleak.
A peculiar feature of our Lord’s miracle on the widow’s behalf was the fact that this was the first manifestation of His power to raise the dead. The resurrection of Jairus' daughter and of Lazarus followed. Prophets of old, like Elijah and Elisha, had raised the dead, and when Jesus raised the dead youth, the people knew that He was a prophet of the same order. We further notice that the heartbroken widow did not seek Jesus, but that He came to where she was. The moment He saw her drooping figure alongside the hand-borne bier with its lifeless form, He had compassion on her. The miracle that followed was not only an unmistakable credential of His diety and mission, but also the spontaneous outflow of His infinite sympathy with human suffering.
Note His fourfold action—
“He said unto her, Weep not.” What authority and consolation were wrapped up in that tender exhortation! As God incarnate, He was able to dry the widow’s tears.
“He touched the bier.” On the open stretcher lay the corpse wrapped in a winding sheet with a handkerchief over the face, and as Jesus touched the bier, its bearers stood still. All around knew that He was a Teacher and that most rabbis would not touch the dead for fear of pollution. But here was One who came into contact with the dead, and that cortége, stopped in its progress, came to experience that His touch had still its ancient power.
“He said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise! And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak.” How awe-stricken the on-lookers must have been as in a moment of time, at the mighty command of Jesus reaching the abode of the dead, the spirit of the widow’s only child returned! As the mother had no idea of what would happen as she left her humble home for the grave, what a shock of joy must have been hers when her son sat up, and tearing away the cerement of death around his face, “began to speak.” How fascinating it would have been if Luke had set on record what the youth’s first words were when brought back from the dead by Jesus!
“He delivered him to his mother.” What a lovely touch this is! It literally means, “He gave him to his mother.” At birth he came as God’s gift to the home; now that he is risen from the dead, he was God-given in a higher sense. As the Lord of life came to die He manifested the same care of His own widowed mother, Mary. Thinking of her uncertain future, Jesus said to John, the disciple whom He loved, “Behold thy mother,” and from that hour the Apostle took her home and protected and provided for her through the rest of her days.
The fame of this miracle quickly spread. The people of the city of Nain who accompanied the widow, and those who had followed Christ were overwhelmed at His first resurrection miracle, and great fear came upon them all. They glorified God, for in the One who had brought life and immortality to light God had visited His people. The grateful company saw in Jesus the Great Prophet raised up by God and was indeed—
Creator from the wreck of things;
Death is but hope with folded wings.
When light from His strong spirit streams
And stirs cold dust to breathing dreams.
What was the reaction of that widowed mother as she returned home with her restored son? We can imagine how both of them expressed their thanks to Jesus, and set about knowing more of Him and the gracious truths He taught. Blessing Him for His ineffable goodness in giving back her boy, the attitude of this poor Galilean Jewess must have been—
Her eyes are homes of silent prayer;
No other thought her mind admits,
But “he was dead”—and there he sits.