One simple lesson we can learn from this chapter is that believers are not immune to sorrow or exempt from times of grief and loss. From the first verse we learn of the close relationship that existed between the Lord and those that occupied the home of Lazarus in Bethany. Indeed, the sisters, Martha and Mary describe Lazarus as ‘he whom thou lovest’, v. 3, and yet it was that home that experienced serious illness and, eventually, death. Indeed, illness and death are no respecters of persons!
The reaction of Martha and Mary to this situation is to communicate with the Lord. It is interesting to note that both kept in touch with the Lord’s movements – they knew where to find Him. Equally, we might all learn a lesson from these sisters in maintaining open lines of communication with the Lord, taking to Him the concerns of our hearts, although, as here, the answer is not always immediate. In fact, Lazarus dies!
One of the most misused texts in moments of grief is 1 Thessalonians chapter 4 verse 13, ‘ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope’. Those who have lost someone very close will appreciate that the weight of sorrow is intense and the sense of loss palpable. Such grief and sorrow is not assuaged by the inappropriate quotation of a familiar text! Perhaps we could learn something from the approach of the Saviour. One thing to note from this chapter, and from verses 20 to 38 in particular, is how little the Lord actually says. If there is one thing that Job’s miserable comforters got right it was that ‘they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him: for they saw that his grief was very great’, Job 2. 13.
But there are two other little points worthy of note. The first is the difference of approach that the Lord takes with the two women. You will notice that it is Martha who has most to say, at least as far as the record of John is concerned. She has many questions to ask and issues to be resolved. Thus, the Lord tells her something of His character and person as He addresses her concerns. It is to Martha that the Lord reveals Himself as ‘the resurrection, and the life’, v. 25.
With Mary, the Lord does not say much, but He ‘groaned’, v. 33, He ‘was troubled’, v. 33, and He weeps with Mary as He shares in her sorrow in a very touching way. Although Lazarus’ death was very much in the purpose of God, the Lord also sees it for what it is, a consequence of sin and the fall.
What do we learn here? In simple terms we learn that the Lord treats each person differently. There is no ‘blanket approach’ in the actions of the Saviour. But, more importantly, we learn the truth of the priestly work of the Lord, ‘for we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities’, Heb. 4. 15. Perhaps Mary is a good illustration of the following verse, ‘Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need’, v. 16.
The second point I want us to note, is that what the Lord did say cut to the heart of the matter, ‘I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live’, v. 25. As believers, what is it that enables us to see the death of a loved one differently? How do we come to terms with the loss of those with whom we have shared so much of our Christian life? It is in this: death is not the end. We shall see that fellow believer again when we are united, once more, in the presence of the Saviour. That is what the apostle meant when he wrote, ‘ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope’, 1 Thess. 4. 13. Is the sorrow any less real? Is the burden of grief any lighter? From my own personal experience I would say, ‘No’. But in such moments of sorrow and grief we are able to cling to the truth of God – we have hope!
In writing upon Luke chapter 10 and Mary at the feet of the Lord, we stated that the important lesson was to see service in its true perspective and to appreciate the necessity of spending time with the Lord, meditating upon Him and His word. In John chapter 11 we see sorrow in its true perspective. How can we make sense of the seasons of sorrow and grief? Surely it is by spending time with the Lord, speaking to Him about our sorrow, meditating upon Him, and finding in His word, and the promises of His word, that which will bring comfort to our souls.
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