Several days ago I was intrigued by a program on the history of Coca-Cola. Early on in its history, bottlers worried that a straight-sided bottle wasn’t distinctive enough and that Coca-Cola was becoming easily confused with ‘copycat’ brands. Glass manufacturers were approached to come up with a unique bottle design for Coca-Cola. The Root Glass Company of Indiana designed the famous contour shape, which won enthusiastic approval from Coca-Cola in 1915 and was introduced in 1916. The Contour Bottle design was inspired by the curves and grooves of a cocoa bean. Today, it’s one of the most recognized icons in the world – even in the dark.
During dark moments, do you ever have trouble recognizing yourself, the truth, even God? There is a tendency to allow your ears and eyes to become dulled by the pain of grief-this greatly hinders our relationship with a God who wants to be next to us during our grief! How do we stay open to the Lord during times of dark, deep grief?
In John 11:32-46, we observe that God comes near grieving people who give Him two openings:
- Look at what He shows.
Who your tearful eyes are focused on after you lose the “who” in your life is eternally significant!
Christ first shows tears of emotion.
He declares, “I am not frustrated” (36-37). The crowd interpreted His tears as an expression of love, or even frustration at not being there to heal Lazarus. Peter’s sermon removes this theory in his Pentecost sermon, “Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it” (Ac 2:24) Don’t listen to the crowd. Whenever death and our God meet, our Next Door God WILL win!
The emotion is revealed by His statement, “I am angry” (33). According to one commentator, “Jesus’ weeping differed from that of the people. His quiet shedding of tears (edakrysen) differed from their loud wailing (klaiontas, v. 33). His weeping was over the tragic consequences of sin.” To fully see death from God’s perspective requires seeing its spiritual causes. It is not arbitrary or inexplicable. James 1:15 reminds us, “Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.”
Have you ever heard of someone lying in a casket “they look so natural” or the statement “well, life and death are just the natural cycle.” There is nothing more “UNNATURAL” from God’s perspective than human death! Don’t forget that God hates sin because of the death and destruction it causes.
Christ also shows tears of empathy.
Men, do you ever struggle to understand how your wife can cry with a fictional character? Ladies do you ever struggle to understand why men tear up over a moving sports game moment? Although Jesus Christ could have been condescending, He is genuinely empathetic to these sisters.
He first declares, “I am not impatient” (35). Do you see a Savior bypassing the tears of Martha and Mary and, in doing so, telling them and all grievers to buck up and trust? I don’t. I don’t because of what Jesus does next. He weeps. He sits down between Mary and Martha, puts an arm around each, and sobs. Among the three there is a monsoon of tears released.
Why did Jesus weep? According to one author, “He weeps so we will know: Mourning is not disbelieving. Flooded eyes don’t represent a faithless heart. A person can enter a cemetery like Jesus-certain of life after death and still have a crater in the heart. Christ did. He wept, and he knew he was only ten minutes from seeing a living Lazarus!”
Within the shortest verse in the Bible, Jesus is not “short” with human grief. Do you belief in a God who waits while you weep?
Christ lastly states, “I am local” (34, 38). Jesus wanted to be in the PLACE OF MOURNING! In great contrast with the Greek gods’ apathy or lack of emotion, Jesus’ emotional life attests the reality of His union with people. Mary and Martha sat in a damp, cloudy, and tearful world. And Jesus sat in it with them! The Psalmist refers to this local, divine comfort, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” (Ps. 23:4).
- Listen to what He says.
Unlike many we verbally interact with online who are aloof and calloused, the Word of God is truly comforting in seasons of grief!
Christ speaks words of faith.
He starts by saying, “You are not to despair” (39). Tombs were often cut into limestone making a cave in the side of a wall of rock. A stone was placed over the entrance. Jesus commanded that the stone door be taken away. To do so was to risk defilement. But obedience was necessary if Jesus’ purpose was to be realized. The scene was highly dramatic. The crowd watched and listened. Mary was weeping and Martha objected because after four days putrefaction had set in.
Can you imagine the intake of breath by everyone at Christ’s audacious instruction? “Normal people” usually address the living. This point in the story is a point of no return. In the midst of grief, God reminds us that our hope is not built upon physical bodies or trends!
He adds, “You are to believe” (40-42). Jesus reminded Martha of His earlier promise (vv. 25–26; cf. v. 4). If she believed His word that He is the Resurrection and the Life and trusted Him, God would be glorified. But unless the sisters had trusted Jesus, permission would not have been given to open the tomb.
Have you ever been distracted during a public prayer? Can you imagine how hard it would have been to keep your eyes closed during this prayer of Christ? Several years ago, I remember sitting in a cold car in an abandoned hospital parking lot with my dear wife as we processed the hollow ache of an unexpected miscarriage together. Oh, it is so hard to focus on the spiritual when our physical and emotional pain is so raw and searing! Faith in the face of grief means taking your senses of smells and sight off of your circumstances and placing them exclusively upon your CHRIST.
Christ concludes with words of freedom.
The home of Paul Laurence Dunbar, noted poet, is open to the public in Dayton, Ohio. When Dunbar died, his mother left his room exactly as it was on the day of his death. At the desk of this brilliant man was his final poem, handwritten on a pad. After his mother died, her friends discovered that Paul Laurence Dunbar’s last poem had been lost forever. Because his mother had made his room into a shrine and not moved anything, the sun had bleached the ink in which the poem was written until it was invisible. The poem was gone. If we stay in mourning, we lose so much of life.
Although God does not rush our grief, He ALWAYS intended to release us from grief! The Apostle John later writes, “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Re 21:4). When God is “in the mix,” any grief you experience will ultimately be eclipsed by His fulfilled promises.
He boldly declares, “You are not to cope” (43-44). Have you ever seen a pet with the “dreaded head cone?” What is the reason-to keep them from licking their wounds! You and I must allow God to bring healing where we are tempted to commiserate and wallow in familiar sorrow.
Although the grief of Jesus was not loud, the victory of Jesus is accomplished with a “loud voice. Jesus shouted only three words: Lazarus come forth! Immediately, the dead man came out. Dead men don’t come out. Dead men don’t wake up. Dead hearts don’t beat. Dried blood doesn’t rush. Empty lungs don’t inhale. No, dead men don’t come out-unless they hear the voice of the Lord of life.”
Augustine once remarked that if Jesus had not said Lazarus’ name specifically all would have come out from the graves. The ears of the dead may be deaf to your voice and mine but not to his! Don’t forget that God has the “last word” on death! We may grieve but we also listen. We listen for the voice of our God who have the final say about death.
The incarnate Christ ends with, “You are to testify” (45-46). I recently saw a great photo demonstrating how a flatfish uses camouflage; in the picture one tries to emulate the pattern of a checkerboard. When God gets near grief, it going to “go global;” there is no hiding it!
One writer observes, “In John 11:45 and 12:9–11 and 17, we see that Lazarus caused quite a stir in the area! People saw him and believed in Christ! In fact, he was a walking miracle, just as every Christian ought to be (Rom. 6:4). The great crowd that gathered on Palm Sunday came not only because of Jesus, but also because of Lazarus.” A God that is not just near but conquers our greatest fear of death arrests the world attention like nothing else!
In every grieving moment is a person who is not only bereaved but also bewildered. The questions “Why?” and “Who would let this happen?” plague us in those seasons. Karen Burris Davis is one such mourner. One November morning her son failed to wake up. Jacob was thirteen. The picture of health. Four medical examiners have found no cause of death. Her answer, she says, is no answer. “I miss Jacob so much that I am not sure I can do this. I stand at the cemetery, knowing his body is down there, and think how insane it is to feel like if I start digging, I could see him just one more time. I just so much want to smell his hair and touch him…How quickly the scent of someone goes away. I would have thought it would have lingered for ever…The house is so empty without all his noise and plans.”
May I encourage you to read what God shows and says in I Thessalonians 4:13-18. The one word that occurs repeatedly in this passage is the word “with.” This loaded word means so much to each of us in seasons of grief. Grief does not mean that we don’t trust the Lord; it simply means that we can’t stand another day or even breath without the “Jacob” or “Lazarus” of our life. So you can grieve, but don’t grieve like those who don’t know the rest of the hope-filled story. Ultimately we can endure grief because we truly know that God is WITH us!
If you are grieving in a dim fog right now, I cannot even begin to imagine or relate to what you are going through right now. But, based upon John 11, you can openly reach for God in the dark and confidently discover a God who want you to see and hear the shape of His heart for you. When you are faced with grief are you willing to open up your wounded heart to a “Next Door God” who longs to show you His tears and speak His word to you?
Here is the video of this study from the pulpit of North Pointe Baptist Church.