As middle-age stiffness progresses, I’ve been trying to stretch my old muscles. My wife and I have gone on some big hikes, and I’ve been lifting weights to stay in shape.

I’ve also been doing a lot of funerals lately. This stretches my grief muscles. My personality and my culture had weakened my grief muscles because I avoided sadness. However, Jesus encourages honest sorrow. After following Jesus for many years, I’ve begun to grieve more honestly and regularly. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13, Paul commands believers to grieve death honestly but with hope. Believers have hope because Jesus conquered death (1 Thessalonians 4:14) and He will wipe away every tear (Revelation 21:4). Believers also can feel that hope subjectively by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:15-16 & 26-28). Yet we still grieve! We live in a world that is still groaning because the new creation “Hasn’t Happened Yet” (see the song by the band Common Man).

John 11 lays out a famous story of Jesus grieving with friends. As I’ve studied and read John 11 many times over the years, I’ve found it helpful when dealing with death and sorrow. In the coming years, we will all lose people we love and struggle with sickness and pain. Let me encourage a couple of spiritual exercises to try based on John 11. First, ponder the seemingly naïve and ridiculous hope of faith: in a world of chaos, evil, death, and pain; Jesus loves you. Second, as you wrestle with the sting of chaos, and death, and pain, and loss –speak your mind to the Lord.

Depending on how you were raised, it might seem disrespectful or shocking, but most of the great characters of the Bible simultaneously had faith and also expressed their hurts to God.  Celebrate resurrection and grieve death. We must do both.   As you miss loved ones or your own health, hope in the resurrection and tell God how disappointed and grieved you are. He is big enough to handle your honesty and lament.

In John 11, Jesus’ dear friend Lazarus died.  Jesus came to Lazarus’ grieving sister Martha, and she said, “if you would have been here my brother would not have died!” You can sense her sadness and anger and frustration. She did not sugar coat it. She spoke the truth of her concerns, maybe more directly than us polite types would have. Jesus reminds her of good Sunday School theology about the resurrection, and she complains that she knows about the future resurrection, but her brother is dead now.

Two things jump out of this story of grieving and death.  First of all, Jesus clarifies that it is not as helpful to think of the resurrection as a future event, it’s more helpful to see the resurrection as a person. Jesus “is the resurrection and the life.”  Resurrection is more than a doctrine. He is a person that loves you.

Secondly, Jesus wept.  John 11:35 is the shortest verse in the Bible. So if you are not big on memorizing scripture, this is a good place to start. Jesus cried when he found out his friend was dead.  The divine Son of God who existed before all things, entered into the creation he made and he suffered with us. His friend died. And Jesus wept. Just before, in verse 33, it says something like “Jesus was agitated” or “angry” at death has well. The translation is a little hard to make clear. But 11:35 is crystal clear. Jesus wept. The tears of Jesus are amazing because Christ knew hope better than any of us! He knew the eternal plan and the short-term plan because he was about to raise Lazarus! Yet he also was acquainted with grief. He did not float through his earthly existence without suffering. He lived a real and painful life like you and me.  Jesus is both resurrection power and empathetic sufferer. Always speak your mind to Jesus and always trust that Jesus loves you.

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Dave McMurry

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