Summary: Jesus joins with us in our sorrows and understands our grief. His friendship with us assures us that death’s sting is dead.
Friends, Funerals and Faith
Clayton Lockhart has told me time and again that Terrill Mosley was a true friend to him. I have a picture on my desk of my dad shaking hands with Clayton at our Christmas party in 1999, and Terrill is sitting right beside him with a big grin on his face.
Since Jenny and I moved here, this church has buried at least five of our members: Bob Pierce, Myra Conners, Terrill Mosley, Philip Melson, and Jennie Sue McKissick. Besides members here, several of you have lost family and friends to death.
Aren’t you thankful to God that what happens between your birth and your burial is not all there is! God’s word celebrates: O grave where is thy victory! O death where is thy sting! The sting of death is sin and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Because of Jesus and our relationship with God through Him we can echo the words of the apostle Paul who said, “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain!”
Can you say those words today and mean it? Can you look squarely at death, the final enemy, and confidently trust in Jesus Christ who defeated death and rose from the grave never to die again? I remember hearing a Christian speaker once boldly proclaim, “When I face off with whatever powers earth or hell can ever array against me, I know, by God’s grace that it will be those powers that will blink first!” How can anyone say that? Because we believe and know by faith what all Christians know, “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ!” Amen?
Now that doesn’t mean that we don’t feel the loss. It doesn’t mean that we don’t suffer when friends and family leave us behind. And in fact, John 11 shows us that Jesus joins with us in our sorrow and understands our grief.
As we look at this chapter today, I hope we will all be able to experience the event together and walk with Jesus and his friends through their valley of grief over death and into the joy of victory in life.
This chapter opens with this simple statement: “Now a certain man was sick…”
This is not just any man, it is a friend of Jesus. Verse three calls Lazarus, “He whom you love.” Verse five specifically says, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” Why is the Bible pointing this out so clearly? We need to know that Jesus had friends too! Jesus was very much like you and me. Jesus was not some distant, other-worldly figure who was unconnected with the affairs of this life. No, Jesus felt. He wasn’t Super Man; the bullets didn’t bounce off. When Jesus went without food or water he experienced hunger and thirst, he got cold in the winter and felt the heat of the summer, Jesus experienced waking up with energy and then weariness after a long day. When he clapped his hands together it sounded just like when you and I do it. And when Jesus came to the tomb of a friend who had recently died, he did what many of us would do, “Jesus wept.” Now the Bible doesn’t tell us why. It doesn’t have to. You know why. When someone you love dies, it hurts. Sometimes when you hurt, tears are the response. God’s word gives us permission to weep over the loss of loved ones. It tells us that some day God will wipe away all tears, but not yet. Doesn’t that imply that there are some things that happen now that we should be weeping about?
Let’s follow this account and walk through this experience together.
Verses 1-16 introduces the event by telling us about a friend of Jesus who is sick and a message sent to Jesus to let him know. The message is brief. It doesn’t say, “Come quick.” It simply informs Jesus of what is happening: Lazarus is sick.
At this point Jesus sends a confusing message to his disciples. He says, “This won’t end in death, but God’s glory, and the Son of man’s glory.” Two days pass and Jesus says, “Let’s go back to Judea.” If you read chapter 10 you will see that Jesus has just fled from Judea because the Jewish leaders there want to kill him. The dialog that follows is actually humorous. Jesus says something, then the disciples respond, then Jesus says something else, and they respond again. Everything Jesus says makes no sense to them. But their responses are very reasonable. Follow this with me: