How do you handle death?
Broadly speaking, people either deny it or they befriend it.
Denial is the majority option. “Life is for the living” we say and we put death out of our minds. As best we can. But it will come out in other ways. Hebrews 2 says we are “subject to bondage” “through fear of death.” All our fears are ultimately a fear of this final enemy. However we deny it, it will surface in a slavery to fear.
The other popular response is to befriend death. “It’s the circle of life” we sing along with the Lion King. We tell ourselves it’s a good thing that our loved ones are compost. It makes the flowers grow, or something. Somehow we pretend that death is not the dreaded foe that Scripture declares and which most of us feel it to be.
Jesus does something different in the face of death. He enters in and He defeats it. He cares and He conquers. He stands with us in our sorrow, and He defeats our sorrow. And we need both caring and conquering.
We don’t just want a shoulder to cry on, and we don’t just want a King who breezes in to control the situation. We need a caring conqueror. And that is just what Jesus is. The comfort He provides is exactly what our hearts cry out for. He mourns with us. But He doesn’t just rub our backs and say “there there.” He doesn’t just carry our sorrows – He conquers them.
In John chapter 11, Jesus comes to the funeral of his dear friend Lazarus. And He enters into the fullness of grief:
“When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled, And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see. Jesus wept. Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him!” (John 11:33-36)
The family are mourning, the friends are mourning and the Lord of the universe is mourning. Jesus wept. God the Son cries. He cries many times in His life (cf Hebrews 5:7). He enters into our world and He feels for it. There is much for Him to cry over, and He shows Himself to be far more profoundly emotional than we are. We shut down and close off. Jesus enters in and opens up. He loves and He longs. He rejoices and He mourns. And when He sees the immense grief that death has brought into this world; when He sees the depth of sorrow in a family torn apart by death – of course He cries.
John 11 verse 5 tells us He loves Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary. And those present couldn’t help but notice it. Verse 36, they exclaim: “Behold how He loved him!”
Here is the One who now sits on the throne of heaven. And, behold, how He loves! This same Jesus who cared for Martha and Mary, He knows how to cry along with each of us.
But, wonderfully, Jesus isn’t just sad about death. He is the One Person who can do something about it. Jesus doesn’t just care, He conquers.
In verse 43 Jesus stands at the tomb and calls in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!”
“And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.” (John 11:44)
A decomposing corpse obeys Jesus’ voice, is raised to life and he walks out of the tomb.
Put yourself in the shoes of those present at the tomb. They had come to pay their respects to a friend and his family. They had come to do the only thing we know to do in the face of death – they had come to mourn. But instead they get front row seats to the most spectacular victory over the most tyrannical enemy. In front of their eyes, Jesus commands a corpse to live again.
In the history of the human race a handful of people have been brought back to life after a matter of minutes – and with the help of advanced technology. Some have survived longer frozen in the ice. But Lazarus had been rotting in the Mediterranean heat for four days. And the voice of Jesus called him to life. Lazarus steps out into the sunshine with resurrection power surging through his body. As you put yourself in the shoes of the crowd, can you see Lazarus? Can you see Jesus? What are you thinking about Jesus – this loving, tear-stained man? He commands the dead to be raised, and they obey! Who is He?
Well this miraculous sign points to His identity. He has just said to Martha:
“I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26)
Who is Jesus? Jesus is the key that unlocks the grave. He is the death of death. All who trust in Jesus, even if they go to their graves, they will be raised again to everlasting life.
Jesus proclaims Himself to be the Answer to the problem of the world. The claim would be ridiculous, if it weren’t backed up by the miracle. Yet He makes the claim and then He raises the dead. And in a matter of weeks He walks out of His own tomb, and the world has never been the same.
How do you cope with death? Do you deny it? Do you befriend it? There is another way. We can face it as the enemy it is, knowing the care of the weeping Jesus and the conquering of the risen Jesus.
The old poet and Anglican clergyman, George Herbert, once wrote of death:
And in his blessing thou art blest
For where thou only wort before
An executioner at best,
Thou art a gardener now; and more,
Death will always bury us. It used to bury us as a grave-digger. But now through Christ, the burial is like the planting of a gardener. With Jesus, death can only make us better.