Doug peered out the van’s back window as his dad drove down the cemetery’s narrow path past rows and rows of small gray tombstones. Snow and ice covered the ground from the last winter storm. When they reached the second to last row of tombstones, Dad pulled to the side of the road and turned off the engine. They all got out of the van, and Mom opened the back door and pulled out a colorful cross made of purple flowers. Purple had been Doug’s grandma’s favorite color.
Doug pulled his hood tightly around his head as he and his parents walked slowly down the row of graves. He counted the tombstones as they passed each one. He knew his grandma’s grave was the seventh in the row. When they reached it, the family stopped and read the inscription once again: “Beloved wife, mother, and grandmother.”
They stood silently for a moment as a bitter wind pierced the air. Then Doug spoke up. “It’s so sad and depressing coming out here.” He looked around the cemetery and shivered. “Just thinking about how many dead people are buried in these graves gives me chills.”
Dad put his arm around Doug. “I know, buddy. But we know the grave’s not the end. We have hope for eternal life. Jesus said that He is the resurrection and the life, and anyone who believes in Him will live forever. Grandma trusted Jesus as her Savior. Even though our physical bodies die, Jesus has promised us eternal life if we trust in Him. After we die we’ll go to be with Him, and one day He will give us new bodies that will never die. Nothing beats that hope.” Dad gave Doug a pat on the shoulder.
“Do you want to put the flowers on Grandma’s grave?” Mom asked, holding out the flowered cross.
Doug took the cross from his mother and stooped down beside his grandmother’s tombstone. He pushed the stake down firmly into the ground. As he started to stand up, Doug noticed something green behind the grave. A few blades of grass were poking up out of the snow. There in the cemetery, out of the deadness of winter, the new life of spring was on its way.
Why doesn’t God stop suffering and pain? It is because he has given us a free will to choose-either to follow Him and obey Him or go our own sinful, evil way. When we choose the way of evil, God’s heart is grieved. In fact, because God loved us so much, He gave His Son Jesus to die for our sins and deliver us from evil and from sin’s eternal consequences-hell and eternal separation from Him, who is the source of all love and life.
In times of despair, we often ask, “Where is God?” It’s okay to ask that question. Many of God’s faithful servants such as Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus have questioned God’s decisions. God’s heart breaks for us in response to the pain of death and grieving. He doesn’t resent our honest questions about His plans, but if we refuse to trust Him because we don’t like how He has spent His power, we cut off our source of comfort.
We often say, “I don’t understand why God let my loved one be taken. I don’t understand why He is allowing me to suffer physically. I don’t understand the paths by which He is leading me. I don’t understand why plans and purposes that seem good to me should be baffled. I don’t understand why blessings I need badly are so long delayed.” We don’t have to understand all of God’s ways. In fact, God doesn’t expect us to understand them, but some day we will see the glory of God in the things which we don’t understand.
Jesus meets us when we mourn, just like He met Mary and Martha in John 11:1-45. He meets us where we are with our needs and what little faith we have. God is far more concerned with growing our faith than with making us comfortable.
Why would Jesus not rush to Bethany? Jesus’ plan made no sense by human standards, but His friends would have to trust Him-for the timing and the outcome. Sometimes God asks His followers to walk by a different light source than that of their limited human judgment.
Sometimes Jesus disappoints us. We’ve prayed, but no answers have come. We’ve pleaded, but God has delayed. We’ve waited, but He hasn’t arrived. Why has Jesus waited? Possibly it is because our faith and hope in Jesus have to be proved and/or tested. Our faith depends on the faith that comes from experiencing God’s power in our lives. That faith needs to be as deep as Martha’s was when she said that God could do for Jesus whatever He asked. She had a faith experience because she had seen Him work miracles throughout his ministry and she knew what He was capable of.
Jesus was glad that Lazarus had died without Him. That doesn’t mean that He enjoyed knowing Lazarus had died or that He enjoyed thinking about the family’s grief and despair. He was teaching His disciples and us that there is a greater miracle than physical healing. It is the miracle of the Resurrection. Jesus was glad because He knew God would be glorified to a far greater extent by the death and resurrection of Lazarus then He would have been by Lazarus’ healing and recovery from sickness.
Jesus was continually teaching and preparing the disciples for life after He was gone. The raising of Lazarus from the dead did result in greater faith among them. In all circumstances-even in times of waiting-believers should interpret circumstances by the love of Christ rather than trying to interpret Christ’s love by the circumstances.
When Jesus saw the tears of Mary and her friends, He wept, responding both physically and emotionally as He identified with their sorrow. The Lord sees and feel the anguish of God’s people when their loved ones die. Why did He weep? There are several possible reasons. Jesus could have been genuinely moved by his grief and that of the other mourners. After all, Jesus was both fully God and fully human, and as a human He experienced human emotions. Jesus was also in awe of the power of God that was about to flow through Him to triumph over death. Jesus’ tears could also have been caused by grief for a fallen world that is caught up in sorrow and death caused by sin.
Jesus could have also been grieving because the people could not see that the Messiah had come and therefore they could not see what God would do through Him. This is a good lesson for the church to learn. The church can be unbelieving, unconcerned and indifferent toward Jesus and God. Regardless of the reason for his weeping, the knowledge that resurrection and joy would follow were the underlying points of his grief.
Jesus would perform the miracle, but He wanted someone to take away the stone, demonstrating that human obedience often has a place in His supernatural work. In telling others about Jesus, the Christian may have to roll away the stone of ignorance, error, prejudice, or despair. But it is still God-not the effectiveness of a person’s witness-that “raises the dead.”
Jesus assured Martha that everything would happen just as He promised-the way God intended-and that all would see the glory of God. Her role, and ours, would be to simply trust Him. Jesus prayed aloud for the benefit of the Jews who were watching: “that they may believe that You sent me.” Belief was on the line, and Jesus wanted everyone to know that the resuscitation of Lazarus would clearly be the result of cooperation between God the Father in heaven and God the Son on earth.
The Greek word for “cried” conveys that Jesus was shouting, both for Lazarus and the people to hear. His was the voice of divine authority. Had Jesus not specifically called Lazarus, perhaps all the dead would have been raised. That is the power of God!.
Jesus asked the people to unbind Lazarus and let him go. He could have done it himself, but when human beings are capable of doing something themselves, God will not intervene. Jesus calls us to unbind people as well-people who are bound up in prejudices, bad habits or other problems. They’ve heard the saving word of Christ, but they still need to be delivered from the bondage of sin. That is the ministry we are called to. When we unbind people, we show God’s love.
Lazarus heard the voice of Jesus and answered the call. The voice of God reassures us and calls us from the past into the present. The voice of God keeps our faith alive. Jesus always seeks people out. He comes to us wherever we are. He calls us whoever we are. He can use us whatever we are.
When Jesus called to Lazarus, he brought Lazarus from death this time. Lazarus eventually died again. There will be a time when Jesus will call our names and bring us out of death into everlasting life. Jesus’ raising of Lazarus sent the people running for cover, and it should also send us running for cover too. We finally see that Jesus is Lord and liberator of all the people of God. Those who are oppressed in any way by society will be convinced that His power came from on high and could not be defeated by the evil forces of the world. Evil plotted to silence Jesus by crucifying him, but Jesus has silenced evil through the hope that His resurrection offers each and every one of us.
Do you know someone who has died? Are you afraid of dying yourself? Death can be a difficult reality to face, but those who trust in Jesus have hope beyond the grave. If you don’t know Jesus as your Savior, you can trust in Him today. If you do know Him, share His truth with others so they can have the hope that comes with knowing Him too.
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New Kings James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; p. 1460-1462)
- “Dead Man Walking: Again, If You Had Been Here.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Fredrikson, R.L. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol 27: John (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1985; pp. 185-194)
- Stanley, C.F; The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
- Craig Condon, “Jesus and the Power to Overcome Death.” Retrieved from the author’s personal sermon library.
- “Day 6 These: The Gospel Message.” Retrieved from Oneplace@crosswalkmail.com
- Anne Graham Lotz, “A Greater Miracle.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Vanessa Small, “Hope Springs Up.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Richard Innes, “Where Was God?” Retrieved from www.actsweb.org