Sometimes we exaggerate to prove a point. We’ll say things that are clearly not possible in order to illustrate something. Of the scatterbrained person we might say, “He’d lose his head if it wasn’t pinned to his shoulders.” Of the chronically late person we might say, “He’s going to be late for his own funeral.”
Obviously that can’t really happen. You can be the most tardy person the world has ever known, show up late for school every day of the week, meet people three hours after you agreed to meet, and still you are going to be on time for your funeral, because others bear you there.
But one day, it actually happened!
Jesus went to a city called Nain; and His disciples were going along with Him, accompanied by a large multitude. Now as He approached the city, behold, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a sizeable crowd from the city was with her. And when the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her, and said to her, “Do not weep.” And He came up and touched the coffin; and the bearers came to a halt. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise!” And the dead man sat up, and began to speak. And Jesus gave him back to his mother. And fear gripped them all, and they began glorifying God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and, “God has visited His people!” (Luke 7:11–16).
Jesus entered Nain with His disciples just in time to view a moving scene. A large throng of mourners was carrying the wrapped body toward its burial place, where last respects would be paid and the body committed to the earth.
But this would be an even sadder funeral than most. In Jesus’ society, a woman had no means of income and support other than her husband. A widow was in a truly hopeless, desperate situation; which is why Scripture commands godly people to give them special care. “This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27; cf. Psalm 146:9; Isaiah 1:17; 9:17; Acts 6:1). If a woman’s husband should die and leave her a widow, she depended on her sons to feed, clothe, and shelter her. A woman who had lost her husband and her only son, as had this widow of Nain, faced years of bitter poverty, loneliness, and hardship.
No wonder that when the Lord Jesus saw her, “He felt compassion for her,” and comforted her. We might be tempted to turn away from the scene, afraid or unwilling to get emotionally involved, or reluctant to put forth the energy required to help the situation of a bereaved person. For most of us, funeral processions are little more than someone else’s misfortune that inconveniences us in traffic. But not Jesus. He was moved with compassion, and approached the funeral train.
Imagine the reaction of the people who stood near enough to hear as Jesus went up to the grieving widow, and then said, “Do not weep.” What an impolite thing to say! Imagine the stir as Jesus stationed Himself in front of the bearers of the body, and halted their progress. Who does this man think He is!
But immediately He spoke forth, “Young man, I say to you arise!” And the crowd’s disdain quickly turned to fear and praise, as the young man obeyed the voice of Jesus, and arose from the dead, to be handed back to his awe-struck and relieved mother. This man is not only going to be late to his funeral, he is going to miss it altogether, for Jesus has brought him back to life!
I don’t bring this up because it has anything to do with funerals or punctuality. Rather, this teaches us that an encounter with Jesus Christ often requires one to make a sudden, unexpected change in plans, always for the better. You may be late for a worldly appointment—in fact, you may never arrive at all—but turning to follow Jesus will get you places.
Jesus caught the twelve disciples off-guard when He called them to follow Him. Matthew dropped his tax paperwork, left his quill on the desk, and followed (Matthew 9:9). James and John abandoned their nets, boats, and parents; and followed (Matthew 4:18–22). Even today, the gospel call may require someone to abandon family or business in mid-stream, in order to glorify God and enter His kingdom.
Jesus struck Paul blind in the middle of the road, as he neared Damascus to persecute Christians (Acts 9:1–9). Before he regained sight, Paul had abandoned his Jewish upbringing and confessed the name of Christ. Later he would say, “whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ” (Phil. 3:7).
It doesn’t matter where you are now, or what great plans you are pursuing. No worldly thing is nearly as important as following Christ. Businessmen have given up their efforts at money-making to serve the Lord. Students have given up their prestigious educations to preach the gospel. Kids have given up their hobbies to worship God. Americans have given up their comforts to evangelize the third world.
A new life in Jesus Christ always requires a sudden interruption and a drastic change. It is always a change for the better. Whether you know it or not, if you are outside of Christ, you are marching toward your appointment with eternal death. But faith in Jesus Christ can stop the funeral train you are on, and turn you toward eternal life.