So yesterday I recounted the story of Lazarus and of how Jesus grieved. Go back and read that one if you haven’t already. It’s called “a shocking story, but with fresh eyes” Today follows closely on its heels and ties it all together.
And I said I would explain how Jesus’ grief relates to the “next” for me. And so I will.
Several months ago, I had the thought, “I wonder what it was like for Jon to see Jesus’ face. How beyond my comprehension that must have been!” But then that thought was followed by a selfish one, “But what about me?” I have no biblical proof for this, but in my imagination I see Jesus coming to get Jon, rather than Jon just waking in the presence of Christ. Does that make sense? Must be too much influence of that silly show Touched by an Angel as a kid. So my thought spiraled down this way… “But what about me? Did he look back? Did he ask Jesus if I was going to be ok? Or was there no more thought of me?” And of course, if all thoughts of me were utterly erased at the sight of His Savior, then that would be perfectly right. For it’s true, I think that “the things of earth grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.” But my internal battle continued…”And God, if you were there with exuberant delight welcoming Jon home, how were you also there weeping with me?”
Of course I knew the answer to that question. I know God is omnipresent. And I know that all believers are indwelled by the Holy Spirit. But all previous assent to these truths seemed irrelevant. So I battled for days, “God did you leave me all alone? How could you have been there? Did you weep with me?”
Here’s where Lazarus’ story comes in, and how the truths from it have become stunning to me. In the midst of my deep struggle with basic truths such as God’s sovereignty, His omnipresence, His compassion, HIs love for me, His promises to never leave me, God brought my friend Elizabeth.
She shared her own story of the death of her fiance just months before her wedding, how God carried her through the depths, and how He eventually brought her husband Rob across her path. She could share with me what loving two men looks like, and how God equipped Rob to “handle a woman with grief.” She could tell me what grief looks like several years down the road. She answered my questions before I ever asked them. We sat at my house talking for hours crying and laughing together. And it was Elizabeth who reminded me of Lazarus in John 11.
So I went back and started studying it with fresh eyes. I began to see the radiance of this story for the first time. God’s truth resounded emphatically when I saw Jesus weeping with His friends, angry at sin and death, and in awe of the power that was about to course through Him–all in one moment! And I realized finally, “Yes, Lord you were there delightedly receiving Jon, and you were there broken by grief, weeping with me.” I think I have in the past taken the totally personal nature of God for granted. Yes, there have been other times when I’ve been acutely aware of God’s presence, but in general it’s easy to forget just how invested in me He is. Another truth so shocking was that He was also there with every other believer for whatever they were facing at the exact moment! All the beauty of the promise, “I will never leave you or forsake you” rushed upon me. And the truth of God’s intimate presence was startlingly real. Perhaps I’m learning these basis truths experientially. You may be thinking, big deal. Of course these things are true. But I encourage you to view them as magnificently as they really are… not just as Sunday school lessons you’ve heard all your life.
The God who created everything knows me and loves me. He is more intimately aware and concerned with my life than I am.
Since then, God keeps using this passage to teach me. He reminded me that love doesn’t always look the way I think it should, but in His love He sometimes does things I don’t understand. As with Lazarus, He’s doing more than I think. Also, though God didn’t raise Jon after four days, he will be bodily raised one day! And I’ll get to see him. And laugh with him. And hug him. And most importantly, worship God for all eternity, alive together! But even before that, when Jon died he was absent from flesh and present with Christ. For the death of a believer is really him stepping into new life. As Jesus said of Lazarus, “His illness doesn’t lead to death.” So, for Jon his illness also led through death! In the immediate days of sorrow, it was NOT comforting hear folks say, “But we can rejoice, for Jon is with heaven with Christ!” I didn’t care. I wanted him back. Thoughts of eternity didn’t help assuage the grief. But I think now I’m starting to see the beauty of the words, “O death where is your sting? O grave where is your victory?” For those chosen by God, saved by grace alone, through faith in Christ alone, death is death only for those left behind!
Likewise, the depth of Jesus’ grief has thoroughly comforted me. How marvelous is Hebrews 2:17 ‘Therefore, He had to be made like His brothers in every respect, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because He Himself has suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.” He had to be made like his brothers in every respect. Therefore, he also had to know grief like his brothers. Jesus fully satisfied God’s wrath for me, and He did it as one who knew all the weaknesses of human flesh, yet without sin.
And we don’t just see Jesus’ grief for Lazarus, but also his much more profound grief in Gethsemane. I was reading Knowing God by J.I. Packer and came across these words about the garden. I certainly don’t think I can improve upon them so I’ll just give you the quote.
In discussing how you would see Jesus presented in the gospel of Mark, Packer says, “Your final impression will be of One for whom this experience of death was the most fearful ordeal. In Gethsemane, ‘horror and dismay came over him, and he said…’My heart is ready to break with grief’ (Mark 14:34 NEB). The earnestness of his prayer (for which ‘he threw himself on the ground,’ rather than kneel or stand) was an index of the inward revulsion and desolation that he felt as he contemplated what was to come. How strong was his temptation to say ‘amen’ after ‘take away this cup from me,’ rather than go on to ‘nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt’ (Mark 14:36 KJV), we shall never know. Then, on the cross, Jesus bore witness to inward darkness matching outward darkness with his cry of dereliction, ‘My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?”
My first thought after reading this paragraph was that Jesus even grieved perfectly. Though there was tremendous grace in the ER to say- “God you’re good. He’s yours,” how many times since then have I doubted or railed against God? I have not always grieved well. And I have not always said, “not my will but yours.” But O how beautiful it is that Jesus already grieved perfectly! And His death and resurrection are sufficient for my failure to grieve perfectly. He’s sufficient to remind me of Himself when I doubt.
I wonder how much greater was Jesus’ grief because He had never been separated from HIs Father. Never was there a fractured relationship due to sin. Never was there less than a perfect union. I can’t say that I’ve ever sweat blood.
I’m humbled by these instances of Jesus’ grief. But this is the humanity of the One who is also God. Words to an old hymn just sprang to mind as I type, “No one ever cared for me like Jesus… O how much He cares for me.”
So how does Jesus’ grief relate to pressing in to God’s “next”? Well, Jesus’ own grief was temporary. And so shall mine be. It will not last for eternity. For after the cross and death Jesus was raised, exalted and seated at the right hand of the Father. And now I’m called an heir with Christ, one day to be glorified with Him. One day to never see sin and death again. For as Paul said “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us.” (Romans 8)
It is because He grieved that I can have a “next.” It is because He said “not my will by yours,” then suffered unto death that I know life, and freedom, and joy and peace. So I return to the passage I began with yesterday– “If God be for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will he not also with Him graciously give us all things?” God is for me. There is such power in those simple words. Moreover, these verses have “to do with knowing and enjoying God, and not with anything else. The meaning of ‘he will give us all things; can be put thus: one day we shall see that nothing–literally nothing– which could have increased our eternal happiness has been denied us, and that nothing–literally nothing– that could have reduced that happiness has been left with us. What higher assurance do we have than that?” (Packer)
How then could there not be “next”? Not just in eternity, but in this life also. This is hope. This is confident expectation.