After my series on the parables, I found I was drawn to look into the miracles of Jesus in the Gospels. I have never studies the mighty works of Jesus as a focused effort before and am looking forward to finding nuggets of truth that we can be encouraged by.
I have provided a general introduction, with an opportunity to download two files for your reference in my initial post Signs and Mighty Works of Jesus – Introduction. I found that the format I used for the parable posts were useful to keep me on track, and will continue to use them for this series, with some minor tweaks. With that said, let’s take a look at
Jesus Raises a Widow’s Son in Nain
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.
Where in tarnation is Nain? This incredible miracle of raising a dead man wasn’t performed in the City of the Great King, or presented before the hierarchy of the Jewish political and religious bodies, but in a small town north. What is the significance of mentioning Nain at the beginning of this miracle? Turns out, even the geographical references of a miracle bears witness of the greatness of our Leader.
Questions to Consider
Who were the audience?
This miracle occurred in front of a great crowd, with His disciples in attendance. At this time, I see no reason to exclude the Pharisees from this group, as they are collecting data for their analysis and judgement in front of the Jerusalem leadership on how they are to react to such a Rabbi.
Also, a considerable crowd from the city was with the funeral procession. Many people were to witness a raising of the dead child!
When did the Lord perform this mighty work?
Where did the Lord perform this mighty work?
See Signs and Mighty Works of Jesus – Introduction for downloadable reference file.
Why did the Lord perform this mighty work?
The previous question of where the Lord performed this miracle has become a key for my understanding of this miracle.
You see, Nain is a city that rose up a few miles to the north from the ancient city of Shunem. When I mention Shunem, a number of Old Testament passages may come to mind, but you will not find it referred to in the New Testament. By the first century, Shunem had been abandoned and Nain had risen up in the area.
One of the Old Testament passages that is eye opening for myself is the story of Elisha and the wealthy woman in 2 Kings 4:8
One day Elisha went on to Shunem, where a wealthy woman lived, who urged him to eat some food. So whenever he passed that way, he would turn in there to eat food.
Do you remember any particular instance that the people of Nain may recall of the prophet of Elisha, and this woman? As an expression of gratitude for supplying respite at her home Elisha asked his servant Gehazi, what he may do to show his appreciation. She was childless and Elisha spoke of her bearing a son within the next 12 months. She of course refused to believe, but that didn’t stop God from doing as He said.
Interesting background, but the kicker is what happens next. The kid dies! Elisha was used of God to raise the child from the dead and heal the widows broken heart.
Do you see any parallels? By now the miracle of raising this poor woman’s son from the dead by the Lord is becoming increasingly linked to this Old Testament passage. (See 2 Kings 4 for the story of Elisha and the Shummanite woman)
But there are a few differences that make our story instructive.
A Difference of Hope
The Shummanite woman sought out the Prophet Elisha. She had some hope. She had a relationship with the prophet of God and trusted in the God of Israel. She provided for God’s prophet and experienced the miraculous gift of her son.
We don’t know of the woman from Nain, whether she was a believer in the God of Israel before the miracle. Golly, we don’t know if she even became a believer after the miracle. But at the time of the miracle, she had no hope, didn’t expect any help and was in the midst of a deep lonely sorrow over the loss of her only son.
A Difference of Effort
Elisha’s efforts to raise the child for the Shummanite woman was in multiple (failed?) stages. First off, Elisha sent Gehazi, his servant to lay the prophet’s staff on the child’s face, yet the child did not respond. Elisha’s second effort was after he entered the room with the child, and alone with the child, prayed to the Lord, laying his body on the child. This effort produced a warming of the child, but no life. Upon having no success at this time, it appears Elisha became somewhat frustrated, walking back and forth in the house before once more stretching himself upon the child. Upon this third effort, the child was brought back to the land of the living.
Jesus stated seven words. No recorded mention of prayer. No preparation to perform this mighty work. He didn’t even touch the child, but only stopped the procession. Seven words, my friend. Seven words.
Young man, I say to you, arise.
His spoken word has authority. His compassion for this widow in pain delivered the son back to the mother. The comparison of efforts for these two similar miracles is somewhat startling!
A Difference of Receiving
Sometimes a seemingly insignificant detail provides an illuminating truth. Notice that upon the raising of the Shummanitie’s child, Elisha gave direction to the mother. “Pick up your son”. We don’t know the tone of Elisha’s voice, but something tells me he may not have been too approachable at the time.
When the widow from Nain was intercepted by Jesus, the text states He gave him to his mother. Jesus not only raised the child from the dead, but continued His interaction with the mother by formally/physically giving the child to his mother. Compassion extended beyond the miracle.
A Difference in Audience
Elisha, in his efforts to raise the child, performed all his actions alone, behind closed doors. No witnesses.
Jesus performed this miracle amongst two crowds as noted in the introduction, a great crowd that had been travelling with Him, and a considerable crowd associated with the funeral. Many witnesses.
A Difference in Expectation
This may be closely linked to the difference in hope discussed above, but the Shummanite woman sought out Elisha, pushing past Gehazi and grasping the prophet. She flatly stated her frustration with the prophet, blaming him for this “deception” of having a child, only to loose him to death. It isn’t obvious if she had any expectation of Elisha raising her child, but she surely sought out the prophet seeking some kind of remediation.
The poor widow of Nain expected only to see her son lowered into a grave that day. She had no one to blame, criticize or reach out to for consolation that we read of. No husband, no other children, no one to connect with in the middle of her pain.
A Difference of Deliverer
Elisha was one of the paramount prophets of the Old Testament. Although no book of the Bible is named after him, it should not be interpreted as his unimportance. More miracles were performed by Elisha than most any other prophet. A careful reading of his history compared to Elijah, shows he performed twice the number of miracles than his mentor. No small figure in the Old Testament narrative.
Yet Jesus is so much more. He is the One Elisha looked to for his ministry, and He is the One who orchestrated Elisha’s success with raising the child. He knew of this day with the widow of Nain and provided a history for the crowd to connect to, to compare, and to come to a conclusion regarding His status compared with Elisha.
What was the message for the original audience?.
The crowd was struck with fear, and they glorified God due to this mighty work. The crowd understood the miracle by claiming that “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and that “God has visited his people!” Although a positive response to the miracle, I am not convinced this was the intended message.
Consider the background we have discussed above in relation to Elisha’s miracle. In every aspect, Jesus comes out as the greater miracle worker. Aspects of His kindness and compassion explode on the scene for this widow.
Note that the crowd glorified God (although He stood in front of them ) and stated that God had visited his people (even while He walked among them). They did ascribe to Jesus the status of a great prophet, yet how great a prophet? He is upon consideration, much greater in every way than Elisha, their local prophet.
These differences must have echoed in the minds of some of the crowd after the commotion settled, and caused those with any desire to pursue God, to compare this Rabbi with the great prophet Elisha, to question their assumptions and hopefully seek Jesus out. He is certainly One to investigate, for He is not One who leaves a situation without a challenge and a choice.
What is the message for us today?
Many messages occur to me at this time, but I would like to encourage those reading that Jesus may show up at any time. This poor widow of Nain had no expectation of any deliverance on that sad day. She only knew her son was gone and that she was now all alone in the world.
As a parent who has lost a son, I can attest to the pain. Yet as a family, we had each other in our pain. I can not imagine the deep sorrow this poor lady was experiencing, yet in the midst of this great pain, Jesus strolls up to the procession, takes control, and delivers her son back to her.
Dear reader, He has the option to show up in the middle of your greatest pain, yet He is always with us, giving comfort as we seek Him. We may find Him showing up in many ways, but even in the midst of pain, we are to look to Him for guidance and His will, understanding His compassion.
Recall that He was good five minutes before this miracle, while the widow was in pain, and He is good now. He doesn’t change.
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