By David Faust
Or ask the apostle Paul: Death can’t separate us from God’s love (Romans 8). Christ arose, and we will receive imperishable bodies of our own (1 Corinthians 15). Our bodies are temporary tents that God will fold up and replace with eternal houses (2 Corinthians 5). “To die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
Or ask the apostle John, who consoles the faithful with words better than any sympathy card: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on” (Revelation 14:13).
John 11 is a helpful text when dealing with grief, because it tells how Jesus himself responded to the death of a friend.
It unsettles our souls when a familiar face is no longer present; a well-known voice is silenced; a coworker’s desk sits empty; a customary seat at church goes unfilled. The death of a loved one makes us face our own mortality and question what we believe. More painfully, it causes us to wonder about the goodness of God.
Jesus’ friends were confused. Mary and Martha sent word that their brother Lazarus was sick, yet the Lord delayed a couple of days before going to their home. Why did he wait? Since “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (v. 5), why didn’t he come and heal Lazarus immediately?
The other disciples were confused, too. Why did Jesus insist on going back to Judea, where his enemies had tried to stone him? Why did he say Lazarus was asleep, if he really meant Lazarus was dead? Why did he say, “This sickness will not end in death,” but they showed up at Martha’s house to find Lazarus’s body rotting in the tomb?
“‘Lord,’ Martha said to Jesus, ‘If you had been here, my brother would not have died’” (v. 21). Jesus didn’t rebuke Martha for voicing her frustration. Instead, he offered her some reassuring promises: “Your brother will rise again” (v. 23). “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die” (v. 25).
Along with his words of comfort, Jesus challenged Martha’s convictions. He asked, “Do you believe this?” (v. 26). It was gut-check time for Martha. “‘Yes, Lord,’ she replied, ‘I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world’” (v. 27). But when Jesus ordered the tombstone rolled away, Martha objected that Lazarus’s decaying body would stink after four days. She professed to believe, yet (understandably) she found an actual resurrection hard to comprehend. It’s one thing to celebrate on Easter, but do we really believe in the miracle of resurrection? Will our faith pass the test when the body of someone dear to us is lowered into the grave?
Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” and his friend walked out of the tomb alive. “Therefore many of the Jews who . . . had seen what Jesus did, believed in him” (vv. 43-45). Blood flowed in Lazarus’s veins again; his personality and speech were recognizable again; he dined with friends again (John 12:1, 2). Jesus’ enemies wanted him dead again (12:9-11)!
When a loved one’s death produces confusion and grief, we can find comfort in John 11. Death can’t defeat the Lord of life. Just ask Lazarus.
1. What emotions stir in your heart when you think about death?
2. What convinces you to have hope?
David Faust is president of Cincinnati Christian University, Cincinnati, Ohio, and past Executive Editor of The Lookout.
The Lookout’s Bible Reading Plan for November 17, 2013
Use this guide to read through the Bible in 12 months. Follow David Faust’s comments on the highlighted text in every issue of The Lookout.
1 John 2:12–17
Ezekiel 29, 30
1 John 2:18–23
Ezekiel 31, 32
1 John 2:24–29
Ezekiel 33, 34
1 John 3:1–10
1 John 3:11–18
Ezekiel 38, 39
1 John 3:19–24
Ezekiel 40, 41