The scene was all too familiar. Wailing pierced the air. A procession went through the village, holding the young body on a homemade stretcher. Some tore their mourning clothes. Others had a faint cloud of ashes near their head as they walked, remnants of the small pile of ashes they had put on top of their hair as a sign of mourning to identify with their destitute friend. How would she survive?
First her husband had died, and now her only child was gone, her son who had been her hope of financial stability. But she wasn’t concerned about money right now. She looked over at the lifeless body being paraded through town on the way to the burial place, and she let out another mournful, guttural cry deep from within her, the cry of despair that only a mother who has lost her child can feel.
But then Jesus appeared on the scene. She was glad to see him. She had heard he was kind. She had heard that he could heal. But it was too late. Her son was dead.
She didn’t know that Jesus can turn funerals into parties.
Then he stopped the procession. He spoke to her, “Do not weep.” And then he spoke to her son–her dead son. “Young man, I say to you, arise.”
When Luke the physician wrote his Gospel, inspired by the Holy Spirit, he chose this phrase to describe what happened next: “And the dead man sat up and began to speak…” (Luke 7:15a) The Savior spoke to the dead man. And the dead man began to speak. The young man was no longer dead and he could speak because the giver of life had spoken to him.
Just imagine the reaction of the crowd! Jesus had stopped a funeral, spoken the word, and they had watched a dead man sit up. But our tender Savior was not done yet. “Jesus gave him to his mother.” (Luke 7:15b)
What Jesus did for this young man and widow is a preview of what he will do one day for all of us who have believing loved ones who have died before us: one day Jesus will give us to each other again. On that day Jesus stopped one funeral procession, but on THAT day Jesus will stop all funerals! Jesus has the voice that raises the dead.
There are five times that Jesus’s voice raises the dead in the Bible. I will be included in one of them and so will you (John 5:24-29). Each time before our resurrection day was simply a preview of what is to come. The question is, will you be part of the resurrection of life or the resurrection of judgment? The question is, have your sins been paid for by he who is the resurrection and the life?
The second time that Jesus’s voice raised the dead comes in the very next chapter of Luke. In Luke 8 Jairus, the synagogue ruler, has given up all hope except for Jesus intervening. He fell at Jesus’s feet and begged him to come heal his young daughter. Jesus said he would, but then a woman who needed to be healed of her bleeding touched Jesus’s robe. Jesus–the ambulance at this point–stopped. The woman who had suffered for 12 years seemed to take precedence over the girl who it seemed would only live for 12 years. Hadn’t Jesus heard of triage? But Jesus spoke to the woman who had touched his robe, comforted her, and grew her faith. Then the dreaded announcement came: a messenger from Jairus’s house said he could stop troubling the Teacher. His little girl was dead.
But Jesus replied, “Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well.” (Luke 8:50) When they arrived at his house, the scene was chaotic to say the least. A little girl had just died. But Jesus sent everyone out of the house except for Peter, John, James, and Jairus and his wife. Jesus took her by the hand as if he were gently waking her up in the morning. And then he spoke: “Child, arise.”
Before Christ spoke to her, there had been laughing. But it was the laughing of the mourners at the thought that Jesus would awaken her from death like a little girl is awakened from a drowsy Sunday afternoon nap. Now the laughing came from her room as her father and mother and undoubtedly Peter and James and John rejoiced in what Jesus had done–with his voice. Jesus has the voice that raises the dead.
The third time that Jesus’s voice raised the dead, he is standing outside of Lazarus’s tomb. His sisters are standing next to him, with tear-stained cheeks and quivers in their voices: does the stone really need to be rolled away? Doesn’t the Lord know that there will be the stench of death coming out of that tomb? But every time Jesus goes toe-to-toe with death, he wins. Lazarus will soon be washing off the smell of death with his own two hands to put on clean clothes and eat a feast with his loved ones and his Savior.
I used to think that it was just something that preachers said to have us feel emotion when they claimed that if Jesus had not said, “Lazarus” when he cried, “Lazarus, come out,” (John 11:43) that everyone would have come out of their graves. But I now see that this is nothing other than gospel truth: this is Jesus’s voice. And Jesus has the voice that raises the dead.
The fourth time that Jesus’s voice raises the dead is easy to miss. When Jesus gives up his spirit, right before he dies, he cries out with a loud voice, “It is finished!” (Matthew 27:50, see also John 19:30). We are well acquainted with what happens in the next verse in Matthew: the curtain of the temple is torn in two, and the earth shakes and the rocks split. But two verses after we read of Jesus crying out that his saving work is done, people are raised from the dead. The voice of the creator in human flesh declared that His atoning work for our sin was done, and some who were believers rose from the dead.
They are raised to life at the voice of Jesus announcing his triumph over the penalty of sin. But they don’t come into Jerusalem and appear to many until after Jesus himself has risen from the dead (Matthew 27:53). It’s as if they are deferring to the One whose voice raised them from the dead.
The fifth time Jesus’s voice raises the dead has yet to happen. It is the day Christ himself promises will come. Jesus tells those listening to him in John 5 to not be amazed that the Father has given him the authority to judge. For an even greater act of power will be shown on that great day of judgment: “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:28-29)
Which resurrection will you be part of? There is a day that you will hear Jesus’s voice telling you to get up. Like to the young man and to the little girl, he will tell you to arise as if you are simply waking up from a long nap. If you are trusting in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins and eternal life, at the moment that your soul is joined to your resurrection body, a miracle will happen for you much like the young man, the little girl, Lazarus, and the saints in Jerusalem who were raised.
The first words that your resurrected ears will hear are Jesus saying to you something like, arise–come out of that grave! And you will obey with joy at the voice of the giver of life–and you will live, never to die again.