“If Jesus Had Been Here…”
April 6, 2014
I was 15 the first time I remember looking into a casket and standing at a graveside. It was my grandfather and he died suddenly and without warning and I didn’t understand the implications then of what happened. It was my first funeral and I was close to the activity of the funeral not only because it was my grandfather but because I was also a pallbearer. I don’t remember having lots of questions at the time, but as I look back, I realize I probably wasn’t processing it very well. I was confused.
I have peered into many caskets since that time. Raye Jeanne and I have buried three of our four parents and I have conducted two of those funerals. We have buried friends with whom we served in this church body and we have sat with many of you as you have buried your loved ones. We have been in the room with some when they have died — and we have been with you when some of your loved ones died.
And as we have walked through those many circumstances, it has become painfully evident that there is a finality and profoundness of death that grips men’s souls like nothing else will. How do you comfort a friend whose spouse, soul-mate, and best friend has died? I tried, but one friend told me, “Terry, you just can’t begin to understand how lonely it is…” How do you minister to your wife whose mother died and then four years later, her father died? How do you minister to your friend whose parent has died and he is uncertain of that parent’s salvation? Where is the comfort? What do you say?
In the midst of the deep grief of death, Philip Yancey (whose books I do not always recommend) suggests that there are three questions that the sufferer is inclined to ask:
- Is God listening to me?
- Can He be trusted?
- Does He even care?
It is that last question that I want to address this morning as we prepare for Easter Sunday in two weeks. Does God care? Does God care about the death of our loved ones? Does God care about our death? (Mk. 4:38 — “Do you not care that we are perishing?”) Does God care about our suffering and sorrow as we approach death and walk through death’s valley? To answer the question, I want to turn to the familiar story of Lazarus in John 11. It is a story about death and it is a story about Christ intentionally letting a man (Lazarus) die, so that He could reveal a particular truth about death and even more, so that He could reveal particular truths about Himself.
The story of Lazarus, as you know, is not just a story about death — it’s a story about resurrection. It begins as a story of gloom and a story in which the compassion and abilities of Christ are questioned; and it ends as a story of hope in which Lazarus is resuscitated and the ultimate resurrection is promised and anticipated.
What this story demonstrates is that death never makes sense and is never palatable without the resurrection. The resurrection is the cornerstone of faith — without it, we have just a crucified Savior (a dead Savior) and no life — no life for Christ and no life for us. Without the resurrection, we are the most pitiful of men. That’s what makes the resurrection of prime importance. It really is of first importance (1 Cor. 15:1ff). And the priority of the resurrection is demonstrated in the death and life of Lazarus.
Christ does care about death and people who die.
Nothing gives evidence to that like the resurrection.
1. Does Jesus Care That People Die? (vv. 17-37)
- Jesus and Martha — a transforming word (vv. 17-27)
- Jesus and Mary — transforming tears (vv. 28-37)
2. Resurrection: Jesus’ Response to Death (vv. 38-44)
- The resurrection reveals the glory of God (vv. 38-40)
- The resurrection reveals the unified purpose of God (vv. 41-42)
- The resurrection reveals the power of Christ (vv. 43-44)
- The resurrection reveals the hearts of men (vv. 45-46)