This year has caused many people to experience some pretty deep grief. Perhaps you have found yourself hurting on levels you never even knew you could. Questions you never thought you would wrestle with are keeping you awake night after night. Perhaps you have experienced the shock that comes from life-changing news. Maybe you find yourself struggling to even do small routine things because you feel like you lack purpose. How do you find joy? Where do you go from here? In John 11 we see grief hitting a family and community with the death of Lazarus. But what Jesus is going to demonstrate for us is that grief is often a pathway to joy. So how do we navigate grief well for the glory of God? Well, first of all…
UNDERSTAND GRIEF IS CONFUSING
In verses 21, 32, and 37 we see all the people who were impacted by Lazarus’ death somewhat confused that Jesus did not heal Lazarus. Like the people in this story, when we experience grief our knee jerk reaction is often to try and make some sort of sense out of it. We want to figure it out, we want to understand what caused this grief. 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. (Or keep it from happening to me again.)” We often will look for someone to blame, or at a very minimum, we get confused that God didn’t intervene. Like the people in our John 11, 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. (See Job 13:3, 23:2-7, or Psalm 22:1-2) God never rebukes people in these passages for the confusing mix of emotions they 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 to identify our emotions and then praying them back to God is that 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 doesn’t work. Instead, embrace the confusion and take it to God. This is actually a sign of great intimacy with God. Asking heavy questions that reveal our heart cries 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.” Embracing your grief and the confusion that comes with it is not a sign of defeat. It’s actually the first step toward victory. Because it is in our grief we experience Jesus like never before.
Tim Keller said, “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.”
UNDERSTAND GRIEF IS NOT HOPELESS
If you read John 11:21-27 you will see what Jesus does for Martha while she is grieving. Check it out:
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.”
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 present. But Jesus was about to give her and everyone else there the greatest “object lesson” they had ever seen. 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 God. Because of the resurrection, we always have hope!
So yes, grieve. Ask God 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 he is with you, you are never without hope. But how does Jesus enter our grief? Why is that a good thing?
The Greek word for deeply moaned carries the idea of being “moved with indignation or anger” or “to sternly charge.” It comes from the same root word as snorting with anger. Why is Jesus feeling this type of emotion? Why is Jesus groaning in anger? This scenario brought to the 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 the one 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 uncovers the very heart of Jesus as He wins for us our salvation. Not in cold unconcern, but in flaming wrath against his enemies. 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 as “bursting into tears.” He is so passionate against evil, and suffering, and death, and our grief, for us, that He literally bursts into tears. So Jesus breaks into our grief on our behalf and shows us that He has the power over death, the power over evil, power to conquer tragedy, the power to make all things new. Jesus breaks into our grief and restores all things to himself.
People may ask “Why doesn’t God do something about our grief?” He did! He sent His Son to defeat it. It may seem, when we are in the middle of our grief that evil is winning, that suffering will go on forever, but 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. And what we see here as Jesus marches towards the tomb and raises Lazarus from the dead is grief will have an end.
UNDERSTAND GRIEF HAS AN END
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 Jesus’ own resurrection, we can sit in our grief and taste joy because of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We must believe that God wants to use this grief for our good. If you will allow me to quote Tim Keller one more time, he said “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.”
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 (year?!) and use it for our good and His glory.
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THRIVING IN EXILE
The book of 1 Peter tell us that we are strangers and exiles. This world is not our home. We are now priests in God’s kingdom. Part of our role as priests is to point others to Jesus through the way we will live our lives-especially in suffering. When we anchor our hope to Jesus we can show people in our lives a better way to live. One that rises above fear with the unshakable confidence that comes from being secure in Christ. Living for eternity today gives others hope for tomorrow. Thriving In Exile will walk us through the book of 1 Peter and show how we can live holy lives that point people to Jesus while we navigate our own suffering.