TEXT: John 11:17-45
This week’s sermon is entitle Miracles in the Midst of Grief. April 15th is kinda of a rough day in history. Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865. It was the day the Titanic sunk in 1912. In the first professional baseball game in California the San Francisco Giants beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 8-0 in 1958. It’s also typically it is also the day our taxes are due! But on a personal level today would have been my dad’s 59th birthday.
This Saturday will be the 7 year anniversary of the day he took his life. In 2011 my dad had been the subject of a police investigation that had been taking place for months. He was involved in some very immoral crimes and after the investigation, the detectives had enough evidence to issue a warrant for his arrest. They then came to serve that warrant at the church where my dad had been the Pastor for the better part of a decade.
In Arizona where this all took place it’s perfectly legal to openly carry a firearm and at time the detectives and police showed up he was walking from the church auditorium to the church office and wearing a pistol. When he realized what was taking place he ran and locked himself in his office and then took his life. Of course the police had no idea what was going on they just saw him lock himself in and then hear “shots fired” so they called for back up.
A more intense police unit showed up and a team put an explosive strip on the front office door and blew it up, it blew out all the windows, they knocked down the other office door only to find my father’s lifeless body.
In 2011 when this all took place it was the Thursday before Easter Sunday. I was cleaning up after kids class and I’ll never forget my brother telling me on the phone. He said “I’m just going to tell you what the police told mom and I.”
Suffering and tragedy ran over our family like a freight train. Grief was now a reality.
I know there are many in our church family who are also experiencing grief. Your hurting on levels you never knew you could. Questions you never thought you would wrestle with are now what keep you awake night after night. You have experienced the shock. You’ve lost all the desire to eat, to do anything. Just getting up in the morning feels like a battle.
Where do you go from here?
Here in our text we see grief hitting a family and community with the death of Lazarus. We don’t know a lot of details about the sickness or the family. We do know that Jesus had a close relationship with them..
John 11:5“Now Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus.”
We can make a reasonable assumption that the family had some level of influence due to the large crowd staying with Mary and Martha for so long after his death. Jesus comes on the scene 4 days after his passing and there is still a crowd grieving with them. So his death had obviously been hard not just for the family, but the entire community.
But what Jesus is going to demonstrate for us in our text this morning and really is a theme throughout Scripture and I believe even embedded into the Gospel itself is that…
Grief is the pathway to joy.
The ultimate example of this would be the suffering of the cross of Jesus which lead to the Resurrection, which is the source of all our ultimate joy. But it came through terrible pain. Terrible suffering. Terrible grief.
What I would like to do this morning is unpack the idea of grief and hopefully help us biblically understand how to navigate it well for the glory of God.
First of all in our text we see that …
GRIEF IS CONFUSING
Let’s look at verses 21, 32, and 37.
John 11:21 “Then Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”
John 11:32 “As soon as Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and told him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!”
John 11:37“But some of them said, “Couldn’t he who opened the blind man’s eyes also have kept this man from dying?””
We see all these people who were impacted by this grief, impacted by Lazarus’ death somewhat confused that Jesus did not heal Lazarus.
Like the people in this story, when we experience grief, as humans, our knee jerk reaction is often to try and make some sort of sense out of it. We try to figure it out, we try understand what caused the grief. We often will look for someone to blame, or at a very minimum we get confused that God didn’t intervene.
After my dad took his life, I can remember wrestling through this; and for months I chalked it up to “a result of sin,” and to some degree it was. I was uncomfortable with the confusion and I had to make some sense out of it, so my life could get back to normal. I tried to put it in this neat little box.
But the problem was that neat little box I tried to relegate it to, is that it didn’t answer the answer the hard hitting questions that my soul was asking.
“Why my family?”
“Why did this have to happen to my dad?”
“He was a Pastor, how could this happen?”
“God my family was just trying to faithfully serve you, pastoring that little church in Phoenix, WHY DID YOU ALLOW THIS TO HAPPEN?”
The reason we try so badly to make sense out of grief and tragedy is we think “If I can understand it, if I can make some sort of sense out of it – I can control it. And if I can control it – I can keep it from happening to me.”
This is why when grief and tragedy hit, our human instinct is to try and understand why. We look for a reason, we look for a cause or a person to blame. Like the people in our text we cry – JESUS IF YOU HAD ONLY BEEN HERE….
It’s interesting though that Jesus never rebukes the people who are asking why. In fact throughout Scriptures you see this same type of confusion whenever someone enters a time of grief.
It happened in the book of Job.
Job 23:2-7“Today also my complaint is bitter. His hand is heavy despite my groaning. If only I knew how to find him, so that I could go to his throne. I would plead my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would learn how he would answer me; and understand what he would say to me. Would he prosecute me forcefully? No, he would certainly pay attention to me. Then an upright man could reason with him, and I would escape from my Judge forever.”
Over and over again we see Job asking God “WHY?” Throughout his story he makes statements like “I trust God, but I really wish I knew what He was doing!” “I wish I had a lawyer who could bring my case before God!”
Job 13:3“Yet I prefer to speak to the Almighty and argue my case before God.”
David experienced the same confusion…
Psalm 22:1-2“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far from my deliverance and from my words of groaning? My God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, by night, yet I have no rest.”
In none of these stories do we see God rebuking the confusing mix of emotions that people were feeling.
But what we do see is that embracing the confusion in our grief is actually how we lament. It is how we go through the grieving process.
“Asking “WHY” in our grief is not wrong as long as we are asking God!”
I think the reason we struggle identifying our emotions and then praying them back to God is because we would rather avoid them. We would rather bury them down hoping they go away. But I can tell you from personal experience and what we see throughout Scripture, that isn’t how it works.
Other times we don’t want to acknowledge our negative emotions because our pride tells us we shouldn’t be feeling them. We want to think that we are better than this. So we pretend like they aren’t there and we definitely don’t talk to God about them. Getting real with what we are feeling is scary because it can be humbling. But James tells us that God
James 4:6“God resists the proud, but give grace to the humble.”
So His grace meets us in that humility. The grace of God meets you in your confusion. The grace of God meets you in your grief.
So here is our takeaway for our first point – Embrace the confusion and take it to God.
Embracing the confusion and lamenting is evidence of great intimacy with God. Asking heavy questions that reveal our heart cries is not an immature thing. It is a very mature thing. It’s “God I need you. God I am nothing without you. I don’t feel you. But I am continuing to seek You. I am believing You despite what I am feeling.”
Jesus never rebukes Mary or Martha or these other people grieving. God didn’t rebuked Job for his emotions. God didn’t rebuke David. But what we see happen over and over again is that God, while he does not always explain our grief, He does EVEN something better. He gives us Himself!
Embracing your grief and the confusion that comes with it is not a sign of defeat. It’s actually the first step in toward victory. Because it is in our grief we experience Jesus like never before.
“One of the main ways we move from the abstract knowledge of God to a personal encounter with Him as a living reality is through the furnace of affliction.” – Tim Keller
Confusion in our grief can be a driver to the presence of God and it is in His presence there is fullness of joy. Grief is actually a pathway to authentic joy!
Yes. GRIEF IS CONFUSING…
BUT we Embrace the confusion and take it to God.
Which leads us to our next thought this morning and that is
GRIEF IS NOT HOPELESS
Let’s read verse 21-27.
John 11:21-27 “Then Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died. Yet even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” “Your brother will rise again,” Jesus told her. Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me, even if he dies, will live. Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who comes into the world.””
Notice what Jesus does for Martha in verse 25 while she is grieving. He gives her the Gospel!
You see in verse 24 Martha fell into the same type of thinking that we often fall into. She was failing to connect how the eternal could have an impact on the here and now. As if this current life was all there was. But Jesus was about to give her and everyone else there the greatest “object lesson” they had ever seen.
“The resurrection is not just an “end of life” doctrine but an “every day living” doctrine.”
“Believers understand many doctrinal truths in the mind, but those truths seldom make their journey down into the hearts except through disappointment, failure, and loss.” – Tim Keller
The point Jesus is about to drive home is that because of the resurrection He is always with us. Grief is never hopeless because we are never without our God. Because of the of the resurrection, because of the Gospel we always have hope
“Because Jesus cried out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me, we now have the promise that God will never leave us or forsake us!”
Because Christ allowed Himself to be abandoned by God, you and I have the guarantee that God will never abandon us. Because Jesus Christ suffered, He is able to help us when we suffer according to Hebrews 2:18.
So yes, GRIEVE. Ask God those hard questions. Lament, cry out to Him! But in doing so never forget that Jesus is with you! Trust Him through the grieving. Even when it feels like your world is falling apart, HE IS WITH YOU! And because of that we are never without hope!
So our second takeaway – Trust that Jesus is with you in your grief.
But how does Jesus enter our grief? Why is that a good thing? Let’s look verse 33.
John 11:33 “When Jesus saw her crying, and the Jews who had come with her crying, he was deeply moved in his spirit and troubled.”
The Greek word for deeply moved carries the idea of being “moved with indignation or anger” or “to sternly charge.” But why is Jesus feeling this type of emotion? Why is he groaning in anger?
This scenario brought to the for front of Jesus mind the evil of death and as John Calvin put it it’s “violent tyranny” and “the general misery of the whole human race” and Jesus burns with rage against the oppressor of men.
Death is the object of Jesus’ wrath and behind death him who has the power of death, and whom He has come into the world to destroy. Jesus marches to the tomb again as John Calvin said “as a champion who prepares for conflict.”
This verse here uncovers the very heart of Jesus as He wins for us our salvation. Not in cold unconcern, but in flaming wrath against the foes. He is so passionate against evil for us that He literally bursts into tears. We get verse 35 all wrong when we picture Jesus calmly and collectedly silently letting one little tear trickle down the side of His cheek.
The Greek phrase in verse 35 is often translated “bursting into tears.” He is so passionate against evil, and suffering, and death, and our grief, for us, that He literally bursts into tears.
Jesus breaks into our grief on our behalf and show us that He has the power over death. Jesus has the power over evil. Jesus has the power to conquer tragedy. Jesus has the power to make all things new. Jesus breaks into our grief and restores all things to Himself! DEATH IS DEFEATED!
It may seems, when we are in the middle of our grief that evil is winning, that suffering will go on forever, but my friend we have hope, because we have a champion who has gone to battle for us against all the forces of hell itself and has emerged triumphant on our behalf.
All we have to do is – Trust that Jesus is with you in your grief.
And what we see here as Jesus marches towards the tomb and raises Lazarus from the dead is Grief will have an end!
GRIEF HAS AN END
John 11:38-45 “Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. “Remove the stone,” Jesus said. Martha, the dead man’s sister, told him, “Lord, there is already a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you heard me. I know that you always hear me, but because of the crowd standing here I said this, so that they may believe you sent me.” After he said this, he shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out bound hand and foot with linen strips and with his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unwrap him and let him go.” Therefore, many of the Jews who came to Mary and saw what he did believed in him.”
By raising Lazarus from the dead Jesus was giving everyone there a picture of His Resurrection power. He was reminding them that it was through grief true joy was to come! He was demonstrating that salvation would not be won “in spite of grief” but “through it.”
And for us on this side of the Jesus’ own resurrection we can sit in our grief and taste joy because of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
This is why FAITH is so huge in our grief.
Embrace the confusion and take it to God.
Trust that Jesus is with you in your grief.
Here is our third takeaway:
We must Believe that God is working all things for our good and His glory.
We can sit in our grief and taste joy because . . .
“The Gospel is the reversal of death’s irreversibility.”
While death seems so final, while grief makes us feel like it’s all over, Jesus powerfully reminds us that death is only the beginning and that earthly grief is actually a pathway to heavenly joy!
We must believe that God want to use this grief for our good!
“Things put into the furnace properly can be shaped, refined, purified, and even beautified. This is a remarkable view of suffering, that if faced and endured with faith, it can in the end only make us better, stronger, and more filled with greatness and joy. Suffering, then, actually can use evil against itself. It can thwart the destructive purposes of evil and bring light and life out of darkness and death.” – Tim Keller
We always have hope because the grief we experience in this life is not the end. It is only for a moment. God wants to take this hard moment and use it for our good and His glory.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18“Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
Paul is telling us that we can press on, we can persevere, even though the pain seems to be ripping our bodies apart, even though the grief feels like it is consuming you, it feels like you are being destroyed! The power of the gospel of Jesus is reversing that evil and using it for good! It’s producing something so grand and glorious that the grief we experience now, cannot even compare to! Compared to the eternal weight of glory our grief is momentarily and light.
The Miracle in the Middle of our Grief is that we can find joy.
God wants to use it for our good and HIS GLORY! And at the end of all of our grief – GLORY.
John 11:4“When Jesus heard it, he said, “This sickness will not end in death but is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
John 11:40“Jesus said to her, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”
John 11:45“Therefore, many of the Jews who came to Mary and saw what he did believed in him.”
At the end of our story this morning God get’s glory by people coming to know Him. We may not know the purpose of our suffering right now. We may never see the purpose of our grief this side of heaven. But we can know for certain that our grief can produce joy, if we by faith allow it, and that glorifies God!
I don’t know all exactly how God wants to use my story or your story of grief for His ultimate glory. I feel like I can make a lot of well educated guesses. Maybe it will be a life of faithfulness despite negative circumstances. Maybe it will be to help other people in their grief. Perhaps it will be to break the generational cycle of sin in my family. I don’t know. But knowing isn’t really the point.
God is free to do as “much” or as “little” as He wants with it. He’s God. I’m not. He never told Job why he suffered. The point isn’t figuring it all out. The point is I can experience the joy of the Lord and that brings Him glory!
God gets glory when we make Him our joy!
Embrace the confusion and take it to God.
Trust that Jesus is with you in your grief.
Believe that God is working all things for our good and His glory.