JOHN 11:33-37: “When Jesus saw her crying, and the Jews who had come with her crying, he was greatly troubled in spirit and deeply moved. He asked, “Where have you put him?” “They told him, “Lord, come and see.”
Jesus burst into tears.
So the Jewish leaders said, “See how much he loved him!” But some of them said, “Surely the one who opened the eyes of the blind man could have kept this man from dying, couldn’t he?” (ISV)
OBSERVATION: What is the relationship between faith and grief? If one has faith, will they experience grief? This is a very important question, and one that many have struggled with. It is even more important if you find yourself in the midst of grieving the loss of a loved one. If you are struggling in dealing with this loss, does this mean that your faith is weak? And how do you deal with all those who offer platitudes to deal with your grief, like…
- “Just remember – life goes on!”
- “It’s time to focus on your future, not dwell on your past!”
- “Just have faith!”
When you are in the midst of grieving, these platitudes do more harm than good. They miss the mark completely, and fail to understand the depth of pain you are experiencing. Yet, there is one who does understand this pain. Jesus knows what it is to be deeply affected by loss, and to grieve. The account of the death of Lazarus shows us Jesus in the fullness of faith, and in the grips of grief – all at the same time!
First, let’s take a look at Jesus’ faith. The Father had revealed to Jesus that Lazarus was going to die. He was near the Jordan, where John had been baptizing, when He received the news of Lazarus’ sickness. This was 21 miles away from Bethany, a days journey. When Jesus received this message, he stayed there two more days, and He told the disciples,
- “…Lazarus has died. For your sake I’m glad that I wasn’t there, so that you may believe. But let’s go to him.” (Verses 14-15)
Jesus had faith, He knew that Lazarus was going to rise again, yet this did not prevent Jesus from facing the pain and power of the loss of one that He loved so dearly. If anyone had faith, it was Jesus. If anyone knew the heart of the Father, it was Jesus. If anyone knew the power of God, it was Jesus. Yet, even knowing all of this, when Jesus saw the grief and sorrow of Mary and Martha, the grief and sorrow of family and friends, and when He saw where they had laid Lazarus,
“Jesus burst into tears.”
Some have taken this text and tried to interpret it as Jesus weeping over their lack of faith. I believe this is a gross misinterpretation of this passage. Some who were there understood these tears as tears of love, and others simply mocked Jesus’ lack of intervention in saving Lazarus. Yet, I do not believe the crowd’s general lack of faith is what moved Jesus. I believe what moved Jesus was when He saw the impact the death of Lazarus had on Mary’s life, and when He physically saw the tomb – as fully man – he experienced the depth of the impact this loss of life had on His life.
The story does not end in grief. It ends in resurrection and victory. This is the promise of the grieving process for those who believe and have faith. Yet, it does not negate the process, nor does it determine the length of the process. As a pastor, I have witnessed in the lives of those I have ministered to, different degrees and durations of grief in people’s lives. Each person is unique, and each person who is walking though the grieving process needs our love, our prayers, and the freedom to process it with the Lord in their own timing.
We all know that we do not grieve as he world grieves – without hope. It is the hope of eternal life, and the certainty of the final resurrection, that gives us hope. It is this hope that lights the way through the process of grieving. As Paul writes,
- “And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 NLT
And, as believers in Jesus Christ, we are comforted knowing that our loved ones are immediately ushered into the presence of God the moment they pass from this life. When the thief on the cross, about to die, cried out to Jesus for forgiveness, Jesus proclaimed to him – “TODAY, you shall be with me in paradise.”
Yet, this great knowledge, this great hope, even Jesus’ full knowledge that He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, did not negate the experience of grief and sorrow.
How did Jesus handle it? “Jesus burst into tears.” Then, Jesus continued to walk in faith and fulfill the Father’s will as He called Lazarus from the tomb. This is the great irony and call of faith. Faith does not negate the grieving process, nor prescribe its length. What faith does is call us to keep moving forward into the all sufficient grace and power of God’s healing and resurrecting love! This is what Jesus did, and this is what He calls each of us to do.
One final and personal note. I have lost both of my parents, and have walked through the grieving process. Yet, what surprised me the most was when I lost my closest friend and working colleague to a death that came much too early. I was called to do his memorial service, and I found myself in the midst of grieving and faith. All I could do was cry out to the Lord for His all sufficient grace to uphold me and sustain me. My friend and I would always begin our week with a Monday morning phone call to catch up on our weekend, our daughter’s lives, and the work week ahead. We had done this for over 25 years! It has been almost two years since his passing, and still, every Monday morning, I want to call him. I am not weak in faith, I just have an empty spot in my life that nothing will fill. It does not keep me from going forward, or knowing the importance of living my life in the fullness of God’s love and Spirit. It simply reminds me how much I loved him, and miss him.
Grief is a process that takes time to unravel. When Lazarus was raised from the dead he was bound in the grave clothes that they had wrapped around his body. Here is the wonderful ending to this day filled with grief and sorrow.
- “Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.” Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go.” John 11:41-44 NKJV
If you are grieving, Jesus understands. His love will both sustain you, and help you work through this grief. Gently, moment by moment, you will hear the words of Jesus – “Loose him, and let him go.” Ultimately, God desires to restore us, from grief, to a deeper sense of life, love, and purpose.
Our lives will never be the same. In fact, they will in the end be better. Why? Because we will have a deeper capacity to love, a stronger will to live, and a desire to truly empathize with those who are in the depths of sorrow and are moving into the glory of His marvelous and restoring light of love.
The loss of my parents, the loss of my best friend, and the loss of those I have served with in ministry and life, have all left an irreplaceable impression in my life – that the Lord has turned into deep wells of His love and compassion. In a very real way, the path of grieving has led me to His streams of abundance. This is what He promises in Psalm 23, and this is what the Father, through Jesus Christ, will faithfully do in each one of our lives!
- “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever.” Psalms 23:4-6 NKJV
In Jesus Name!