If you’ve lived at least a couple decades, you’ve most likely experienced death. No matter who we lose or how we lose them, death is arguably the most difficult thing we face. Maybe it’s the seeming finality of death that is so hard. In comparison, every other pain we experience seems treatable, preventable, repairable, or at least tolerable.
For many followers of Christ, the moment we realize a loved one is really gone is when we experience our deepest doubts of God. Streaming thoughts turn into silent prayers, “God, how could You let this happen?” and, “Are you even listening?” and, “Do you care?” and, “Are you even there at all?” Basically, we accuse God of being either an imposing fake or an absent jerk.
When close friends and followers of Jesus—Mary and Martha—told him their brother Lazarus was sick and dying, Jesus did not come. Even though He was only a day’s walk away, Jesus let Lazarus die, then let Mary and Martha grieve alone before finally coming. When He did arrive, Lazarus was already decaying in a sealed grave. Mary stayed home, and Martha let Jesus know that He was late. Then, Jesus called for Mary, who came weeping. Jesus’ responses to Mary and Martha are some of the most powerful scriptures in the Bible. When Martha told Jesus he could have kept Lazarus from death, Jesus responded, “… I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die … ” Then, when Mary wept, Jesus wept.
Jesus’ tears paint not only a picture of a God who hurts when we hurt, but also a God who hurts because we hurt. He is not the origin of death and separation. Sin is. He is the very one who looked death in the eye and conquered it for us. He understands, better than we, the true effects of death in the world and life He created for us. So, just because He doesn’t stop pain from happening to us, doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt Him too.
If you finish the story, you know Jesus wept right before he brought Lazarus back to life. He also knows that for whoever believes in Him—including people we love—death is not permanent, and life with Him is eternal. Does it still hurt when people die? Yes. Does God hurt with us? Yes.
Pause: When you lost a loved one, how did you characterize God? Fake, jerk, late, hurting with you, something else? How does knowing, “Jesus wept,” change your experience?
A man named Lazarus was sick. He lived in Bethany with his sisters, Mary and Martha. This is the Mary who later poured the expensive perfume on the Lord’s feet and wiped them with her hair. Her brother, Lazarus, was sick. So the two sisters sent a message to Jesus telling him, “Lord, your dear friend is very sick.” But when Jesus heard about it he said, “Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.” So although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, he stayed where he was for the next two days. Finally, he said to his disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.” But his disciples objected. “Rabbi,” they said, “only a few days ago the people in Judea were trying to stone you. Are you going there again?” Jesus replied, “There are twelve hours of daylight every day. During the day people can walk safely. They can see because they have the light of this world. But at night there is danger of stumbling because they have no light.” Then he said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but now I will go and wake him up.” The disciples said, “Lord, if he is sleeping, he will soon get better!” They thought Jesus meant Lazarus was simply sleeping, but Jesus meant Lazarus had died. So he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. And for your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there, for now you will really believe. Come, let’s go see him.” Thomas, nicknamed the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let’s go, too—and die with Jesus.” When Jesus arrived at Bethany, he was told that Lazarus had already been in his grave for four days. Bethany was only a few miles down the road from Jerusalem, and many of the people had come to console Martha and Mary in their loss. When Martha got word that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him. But Mary stayed in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.” Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.” “Yes,” Martha said, “he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day.” Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?” “Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.” Then she returned to Mary. She called Mary aside from the mourners and told her, “The Teacher is here and wants to see you.” So Mary immediately went to him. Jesus had stayed outside the village, at the place where Martha met him. When the people who were at the house consoling Mary saw her leave so hastily, they assumed she was going to Lazarus’s grave to weep. So they followed her there. When Mary arrived and saw Jesus, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled. “Where have you put him?” he asked them.They told him, “Lord, come and see.” Then Jesus wept. The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much he loved him!” But some said, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?” Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance. “Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them.But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.” Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in grave clothes, his face wrapped in a head cloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!” – John 11:1-44 NLT
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