a shocking story, with fresh eyes

Rainy day reflections...
Rainy day reflections…

I’ve been thinking a lot about Jesus and grief. Well, duh. That seems like an unnecessary sentence. Of course these are the two biggest themes in life for me right now. My confident expectation is that the first will always be the biggest theme. But I’m coming to realize that the second will over time make way for other themes. Just recently a friend encouraged me to press in to the reality that God has more in life for me.  It’s not deserved or earned, but God does have a “next” in store for me. That was hard to believe for awhile. It is still is hard to believe sometimes. For a long time it felt like my “next” had died with Jon.

But grief is not the only theme by which God intends to characterize my life. My wise friend is right. It’s time to live with expectancy that God is doing more in me and through me than I understand. Of course He is. Through no merit of my own, He’s weaving my story into His story. A tiny part in the grand plan of redemption. So then, it is not really my story at all, but His. And as He ties my life to His story, what beautiful assurance there is in the generosity of my God! For “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?” That doesn’t mean that God is promising the house, the family, the health, the wealth, and the prosperity. But what He is promising is Himself. He already gave the most costly thing He has. So therefore, no good thing will finally be withheld from me. I know who He is. And I know He is doing good. (Romans 8)

So It’s not my grief that I’ve been reflecting on most recently. What I should have said is, I’ve been thinking a lot about Jesus’ grief. And herein lies a vast storehouse of comfort.

I said there’d be a “Part 2” to my previous post, and so there will be in due course. I think my dearest friends already know what it looks like, for they bear it with me. There’s more to say, but perhaps Part 2 will come after some months as time changes the shape of grief for me. But for now, it’s the riches of my Savior’s humanity that have captured my attention. He is bringing me to more fully understand the words of Isaiah 53- “surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” And it is in viewing Jesus’ grief, that He so clearly reminds me of the “next.” Let me explain, but first let me tell you a story.

In my desperate place God keeps meeting with me in distinct ways through His Scripture. He continues to shore up these lessons and illumine my heart. He’s made several instances in Jesus’ life to be shockingly beautiful to me. Specifically, I’m talking about Jesus’ grief for His friend Lazarus, and His grief in the garden of Gethsemane.

So let’s talk about Lazarus. Pretend you’ve never read this story before. Read it with fresh eyes. Did you know that John is the only gospel writer to include the story of Lazarus? I suppose it’s because John was writing to present Jesus as God. And he certainly does. But in John 11 we see the cohesive unity of Jesus’ deity and His humanity. Here’s the scene. Lazarus, Martha, and Mary are close friends of Jesus. We don’t know how they came to know Jesus, or how their friendship blossomed, but it’s evident that He loved them. Knowing how Scripture plays out, it’s safe to say that His love for them was stronger than even “family love.”

So Jesus received word that Lazarus was close to death, and everyone expected that He would go. They expected that He would rush in and save the day. After all, they’d seen Him do it before. He had turned water to wine, fed a multitude, gave sight to the blind, calmed a raging sea… Therefore, they believed He could heal His friend. And they were right. He could have done that. But what Jesus actually did was incomprehensible and seemingly callous. He stayed where He was for two more days! Let that sink in for a minute. He stayed. What would you have done for someone like family? You would have hopped on the next plane to Jerusalem! You wouldn’t be able to heal your friend, but out of love you would have wanted to be there.

John 11 tells us however, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when He heard that Lazarus was ill, He stayed two days longer in the place where He was.” Did you catch that?  Let me paraphrase. Because He loved them, He stayed. Now since you’re reading this story for the first time, doesn’t that sound ludicrous? If He loved them, how could He stay away?  Yet He did. If He really had the ability to heal His friend, wasn’t it just cruel not to go?

Let me blatantly foreshadow for a second. He is going to show them something they certainly didn’t anticipate… that His love for them was bigger than what they knew. And that sometimes love doesn’t look at all the way it is expected to look.

So Jesus tells His disciples that the illness does not lead to death. Whew! The sigh of relief penetrated their hearts and a glimmer of hope sprang to every face. Lazarus was going to be all right. A quick aside- I knew that glimmer of hope for a moment. “Ok we’ve got him back, but it’s still touch and go.” My husband was going to be all right.

Back to my story.

But a few sentences later, Jesus plainly tells them that Lazarus has died. How then could His words be true- “His illness does not lead to death”? Did He lie? For Lazarus really was dead.  As a first time reader, my confidence in this Jesus certainly is starting to wane. He’s either delusional or merely a charlatan. But yet I can’t put the book down and I cling to a frail hope that “maybe he knows what he’s doing?”

Finally Jesus comes to Bethany only to encounter loud mourning and lamenting. Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Had He made a mistake? How could He not have cared? Why hadn’t He come earlier? And Martha and Mary both cried out, “But Lord if only if you had been here…”  Even in their deep grief they were confident that Jesus could have saved their brother. No doubt though, there must have been the questions stirring inside, “But why didn’t you?” I think I’ve played that question 1000 times.

Beautifully, the scene shifts to some of the most tender words in Scripture. “When Jesus saw her weeping… He was deeply moved in His spirit and greatly troubled.” Don’t let the language trip you up– This is Jesus grieving! It’s Jesus full of sorrow over His friend’s death. It’s also His great compassion for His other friends. This is Jesus carrying their sorrows and bearing their griefs! It’s also Jesus indignant over the curse of sin and death. But then the words get even sweeter, “Jesus wept.” Have you wept over the death of a loved one? Then you know the crushing emotions He felt.  If Isaiah 53 is true, then Jesus, manifesting His full humanity, experienced the full weight of grief. Isn’t that kind of amazing?

But wait there’s more! Jesus commands that the stone be rolled away. What!?  Are you kidding me? You would have said just what Martha did…”But Lord, he’ll stink!” They still couldn’t see it. So often neither can we. Yet Jesus responds, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So the story reaches it’s dramatic climax.

“Lazarus COME OUT!” Can you imagine it?  Can you imagine Jesus’ authority as the words rumbled out, His deity on full display? I wonder if Jesus hadn’t specified, “Lazarus,” if ALL those who had gone on before would have also been raised by the sheer power of His voice?

Out stumbled a figure still bound tightly in all his grave clothes. Hold on a minute, the Bible has mummies? Yep. But this was no wraith or zombie. (Good, because I’m not a huge fan of zombies).

It was a perfectly well, living, breathing, raised from the dead, Lazarus.

Now the Bible doesn’t say this but I can imagine the celebration that night was unparalleled! In my head I see Lazarus, having been cut loose from his wrappings, run to Jesus and embrace Him in an unashamed bear hug. And in my imagination I see more weeping, but weeping mingled with laughter.

So how does this relate to the “next” for me? What are all the conclusions and implications from this story? Well I fear this post has already gotten lengthy, so you’ll just have to come back tomorrow for the rest.

Well, I’ll at least give a quick teaser…. Because Jesus loved Jon and me, He stayed. He stayed His rescuing hand, and with exuberant delight welcomed Jon home. Like Lazarus, Jon’s illness did not lead to death, but through it.

But what about me? Was He there weeping with me too? The truths God keeps cementing in my mind very clearly lead me to say, yes.