“And the Lord listened to the voice of Elijah. And the life of the child came into him again, and he revived.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Old Testament lesson read a few moments ago from the seventeenth chapter of the book of First Kings. Dear friends in Christ, in the beginning God gave us breath, and the breath was good. “Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” The Creator, with love, with compassion, in incredible intimacy, came down into His creation and bent over the ground, forming us from the dirt. Then, with a blast from his nostrils, we were living creatures, literally ‘those with breath in them.’ With breath we live and move and have our being; with breath we worship God, with breath we serve our neighbor. With the breath comes life; no breath, no life. Flesh and breath belong together; neither can exist in this world without the other. That is the order that the breath-giver set in place; His gift is essential, necessary, for without it, the Eden of paradise, of life, would become a wilderness of death. Breath was the gift of our Creator, given from His nostrils into ours, to enjoy for eternity.
But the breath was taken away. With our rebellion, the air was poisoned; when Adam and Eve took what was not given to them, our breath was forfeit. And from that day forward, all humanity lives under the threat that one day our breath will be taken away; breath will be separated from flesh, and a new reality will come to define us: death. This reality affects all people: young and old, poor and rich, believer and non-believer. When Elijah dwelt with the widow of Zarephath, the effect of our sin entered into that house, with tragic results: “After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill. And his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him.”
His mother, the widow of Zarephath, the hostess of Elijah, the receiver of the jar of flour that was not spent and the jug of oil that did not give out, responds as any mother would: with anguish, with pain, with anger. “And she said to Elijah, ‘What have you against me, O man of God?’” Breath has been taken from her son, and she demands to know why. She puts God and His prophet on trial, and she is the judge and the prosecutor; she puts them on the witness stand for a withering cross-examination. She has exalted herself even above God Himself, judging His actions and finding them unjust. God has taken her son from her, and she will have answers from the Lord and Creator of the universe; the One who gave breath will answer for taking that breath away. He must satisfy her sense of justice; He must justify His actions before her.
And she is ready to render a verdict; she claims to know exactly why this has happened to her son: “You have come to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!” She does have one thing right; sin was the cause of her son’s death, the sin that fills the world, that infects her, Elijah, her son, and you and me. But what she hasn’t judged correctly is the kind of God we have. The widow declares that God, the Creator of all things, the giver of breath, is a candy machine. She thinks that if she puts in some good works, some obedience, some worship and praise, like taking care of a prophet, her life will be blessed. But if she puts in some sin and disobedience, evil will be the result. The widow of Zarephath judges God’s favor or disfavor based on what happens to her in this life; if good things happen, God must be pleased with her, if bad things happen, God must be upset. Her conception of God is formed by paganism; her idols and false gods act this way, and so must the true God. God’s love and disposition is seen in the circumstances of her life, whether prosperity or suffering. She is the judge; she requires God to explain Himself. How has she sinned to deserve the death of her son?
The widow accuses; the prophet prays. The widow exalts herself above God, putting Him on trial; the prophet in humility cries out to the Creator for aid. “And he said to her, ‘Give me your son.’ And he took him from her arms and carried him up into the upper room where he lodged, and laid him on his own bed.” The prophet takes the boy without breath to his own room; he bears the burden of others upon himself. “Give me your son.” He doesn’t leave this grieving widow to cry out to God by herself; he takes on the burden of this woman’s grief and he takes it upon himself. He makes her burden his own. “Give me your son.” The boy is laid on the prophet’s own bed; the boy is held up to God in the prophet’s own prayers. “And he cried to the Lord, ‘O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by killing her son?”
Elijah has the same anguish for the boy without breath as his mother did; his cry is filled with as much compassion, as much anger, as much agony as the widow’s. In many ways, their cries are the same. But yet, they are as different as worship of the true God is from paganism. The widow accuses and puts God on trial; she thinks that the God of Israel is like every other god: if you are good, you will have a good life, if you are evil, you will suffer. And she demands to be shown the evil she has done that caused the death of her son. But Elijah does none of that; instead, he prays. He prays in agony, he prays in desperation, he prays with boldness. He wrestles with God for the boy without breath that he may become a living being once again. “Then he stretched himself upon the child three times and cried to the Lord, ‘O Lord my God, let this child's life come into him again.’” Elijah’s God, the true God, is not a candy machine. Those who serve Him in righteousness will suffer, while the wicked will prosper, as Elijah himself knows from experience. But Elijah knows that his God is good, He is compassionate, He is a God who wants to be wrestled with in prayer, and so he can go boldly to Him with this request, he can even ask the impossible, that God would bring breath back to those who are dead.
In the beginning, God gave us breath, and the breath was good. But the breath was taken away by sin and rebellion, and the Eden of paradise became the wilderness of death. God’s people cried out to Him for aid; at every casket, every grave, every deathbed, every diagnosis of cancer, every car accident, tornado or terrorist attack. “O Lord my God, let the child’s life come into him again!” God’s answer has always been the same: Jesus. Jesus, the Second Person of Trinity, God in the flesh walking this earth. Jesus, the one who said to another widow’s only son, “Young man, I say to you, arise!” and he sat up and began to speak. Jesus came into this hall of death, He breathed our poisoned air, and He answered our prayers, He brought life.
Jesus is the new Elijah. He took our burden, our death, upon Himself; He made our burden His own, completely. Our sin became His sin, and therefore our death was now His penalty to bear. Jesus ascended that cross carrying our bodies without breath, our lives condemned to death, and He bore them up. He takes us up without life, spiritually dead upon that cross, and He stretches Himself out upon us as they drove in the nails. Jesus stretched His arms out wide to embrace the world, to embrace you, and He cried to the Lord on your behalf. He cried out that breath would be restored to you, and He offered His own breath as the price. He breathed your poisoned air and then gave up that breath. “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this, He breathed His last.” He gave up His own breath so that you would breathe again, along with all who have fallen asleep in Jesus.
Jesus took us up upon that cross dead spiritually and condemned to die physically. He took us up dead, and stretched himself out upon us. And His Father heard our prayer, He heard Elijah’s prayer because of Jesus. “And the Lord listened to the voice of Elijah. And the life of the child came into him again, and he revived.” The Lord heard Elijah’s prayer, and breath came back to the boy, and he lived. But that boy would die again one day; the final answer is not even to be found when Jesus raises a widow’s son; God’s answer to death is Jesus’ own death, God’s answer to death is found at the end of three days. For when Sunday dawned, Christ had brought us back down from that cross and out of that tomb alive, never to die again. “Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper chamber into the house and delivered him to his mother. And Elijah said, ‘See, your son lives.’” God’s Word returns breath to the sons of widows, but that is only a preview. On the Last Day, God’s Word will return breath to you, me, and all believers in Christ. How do we know? Because through Elijah God returned breath to one widow’s son, and Jesus returned breath to another’s, but especially because Jesus’ own breath returned on the third day, and He rose, the firstborn of dead.
In the beginning, God gave us breath, and the breath was good. On the Last Day, God will give us new breath, and that breath will be very good. Even though you die, even though your loved ones die, death has not won. They live, they are breathing for the first time air that is not poisoned. Jesus declares to you in the midst of your sorrow and mourning the reality that you cannot see without the eyes of faith: “See, your son lives!” Look to the cross in your time of sorrow; look to the cross when your breath is threatened. Look to the cross to know what God thinks of you; not to your successes, not to your failures, not to your sufferings, not to your triumphs. Look not at yourself, not at your own life, but to the cross, to Christ. There you know that God loves you, there you know that death itself has been conquered, there you know that you will live even though you die. There you know that you will breathe the free air of the new heavens and the new earth for eternity. Our God hears our prayers and has given one answer to all the suffering, sorrow, and evil of this world: Jesus. In the Name of Jesus, who gave up His breath so that we will breathe heaven’s air forever, Amen.