Perhaps like Mary and Martha in the Bible who lost their brother Lazarus, you have experienced the death of a loved one and been deeply grieved. Grief is a process and it takes time to process our feelings of grief and loss—tempered with the comfort of the Holy Spirit and hope of heaven.
The story of Mary and Martha’s grief at the death of their beloved brother draws me into the drama of the situation. And that is where I discover what has become one of my favorite verses in the Bible. It also happens to be the shortest verse in the Bible—the go-to verse for those who are not gifted with a good memory but want to remember a verse in the Scriptures. John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” If you are not familiar with the context, this verse begs the question, “Why?” Why did Jesus weep?
Jesus wept because of the grief he saw in the lives of his good friends Mary and Martha after the sudden and untimely death of their brother Lazarus. I love this chapter because it provides so many of the answers to the “why?” questions about life and death. Here are a few of the lessons I learn from this:
- John 11:5 tells us that “Jesus loved Mary, Martha and Lazarus:” Despite our circumstances, we should never forget that God loves us and wants what is best for us.
- John 11:19 tells us that Mary and Martha’s friends gathered: We learn that friends can help us process our grief and bear our burdens.
- It is normal to have questions when death suddenly takes a loved one: Mary and Martha were grieving – and they sent for Jesus while their brother was still alive, but Jesus did not respond to their request until after Lazarus died. Naturally, they were disappointed, and somewhat angry. So much so that when Jesus finally did arrive with his disciples, Martha (always the one associated with action) goes out to meet him and rather accusingly exclaims, “If you had been here, our brother would not have died.”
- Martha showed her belief and hope when she said, “Even now, you could do something.”
- What followed is an important lesson for us about life and death and belief in Jesus: John 11:23-27 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha answered, “I know 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 will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
- Martha shared the good news that Jesus had come and sent a secret message to her grieving sister, Mary. “The Master is here, and He is calling for you.” (Matthew 11:28)
- We tend to tell ourselves a story to accommodate our pain and resolve our incredulity at our circumstances. Mary rehearsed the same speech her sister Martha had given. “Jesus, if you had been here, our brother would not have died.” No doubt they had said this over and over. If only. . .”
- Jesus cares about our grief. Upon seeing Mary and the weeping, grieving crowd, “Jesus wept.” This is perhaps one of the most poignant verses in all of Scripture. It lets us know that Jesus really was “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.”
- Others recognized the compassion and power of Jesus. Yet, they still searched for reasons and asked questions: Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
- Jesus was moved by their compassion, in spite of their questions and reasoning. John 11:38 “Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb.” Where He proceeded to call Lazarus from the grave!
A final takeaway from this: When other people see our faith in Jesus, despite our grief and questions and reasoning, they will be drawn to Him.
“Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him.” (John 11:45 NIV)
Because sometimes God uses this life’s greatest losses to bring about heaven’s greatest gains!