A church friend died last week. Part of pastor Doug’s message at her memorial service touched on Jesus’ response when confronted with the death of his friend Lazarus.
“Jesus wept,” (John 11:35, NIV).
Weeping over a friend’s death is natural for us mere humans but Jesus weeping? Apostle John recounted how observers of Jesus’ weeping waded in.
“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?” (John 11:36-37, NIV)
That second comment seemed particularly pointed given what Jesus did next – raise Lazarus from the dead. Furthermore, we revisit this story knowing what Jesus accomplished by his own death and resurrection, restoring God’s original plan for humanity – relationship and eternity with the Father.
Eternity with the Father means no death, right? So, why do we still die?
“There are only two things certain in life – death and taxes” is an expression generally attributed to Ben Franklin. Death has been with humanity for so long that if not for God’s word claiming otherwise, we would assume death is indeed a certainty.
Apparently, God’s original blueprint for humanity didn’t include death. The word “die” surfaces first in the Bible as a penalty for Adam or Eve eating from the forbidden tree in the garden of Eden. (Genesis 2: 16-17] Perhaps because they were naively clueless about this death penalty of God’s is why they so easily went along with the serpent deceitfully questioning whether God really meant “die” when he said they would “die” if they sampled the fruit.
We all know the rest of the story – sample, sin, then blame as all hell broke loose, including death. (Genesis 3:6, 12-23)
Paradise was lost but God had an elaborate rescue strategy all ready to go just in case, as if he knew they would falter. Fast forward six thousand (or million) years to Jesus, the linchpin of God’s strategy that no one saw coming, despite all kinds of clues and signs. Everything is lined up exactly according to plan and ……Jesus WEPT?
So again, why did Jesus weep? Why weep over someone he was about to raise from the dead? Why weep when he knew his self-sacrifice and resurrection would soon overcome death and reconnect people with God?
“He wept over sin,” Doug offered.
“Dah,” I thought immediately. Shame on me for being even a little surprised that Doug would repeat what he’s been saying ever since arriving at Grace Chapel twelve years ago – that sin is the underlying cause behind everything that is wrong with the world and people and life.
Sin, the culprit behind our friend’s death, is also why is why God sent Jesus to rescue humanity. In our friend’s case, not her sin in particular but sin in general.
Self reliance vs. God reliance is at the heart of sin. Jesus restored to all hearers of his gospel the decision Adam and Eve made on behalf of all of us, to choose between the rule of God or the rule of sin. Until God is satisfied that all people have sufficient opportunity to also choose, death is permitted. (Matthew 24:14)
So we still weep about death but that’s not where everything ends. The other half of Doug’s message that sin is behind all that’s wrong is that the gospel is behind all that’s right. The gospel changes everything.
In God’s due time, sin’s grip will finally fail and death will be no more. (Revelations 21:4) Meanwhile, the nearer we draw to the heart of our Lord, the more our weeping will be like his – more about sin than death.
“As he (Jesus) approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19:41-42)