Wednesday, October 30, 2013

In Our Pain, Jesus Crosses Over

"Jesus comes in side death, inside where Mary weeps. 'If only you'd been there,' we say, grieving over our private hurts and reaching out to anyone who will listen. And just there, Jesus crosses over." ~ Thomas Gardner, John in the Company of Poets

This Sunday, I have the privilege and pleasure of preaching before my church. The passage on which I have based my sermon is John 11--Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. This is such a long, detailed, and rich story that I cannot bring out everything it could say. So, for the sake of time (and the congregation), I am going focus on one of John's major emphases in this story: love. Unfortunately, that means on Sunday I have to skip the portion of the passage where Jesus weeps with Mary and Martha, which shows us such a profound and important aspect of our Savior. But, there is nothing to stop me from writing about it here.

If you do not know the story or remember the details, go ahead and go read John 11. This story is the final, climactic sign (miracle) of John's gospel that shows Jesus to be God in the flesh--Lord over life and death. It also emphasizes Jesus' deep love for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. In the beginning, the sisters send a message to Jesus informing Him of Lazarus' grave illness because they know how much Jesus loves him. They think that His love will compel Him to come quickly to heal Lazarus, but Jesus has something else in mind--something more loving--so He waits and allows Lazarus to die (cf. Jn. 11:5-6). (More on this to come Sunday.)

When He arrives in Bethany, the sisters express profound confusion and pain. They had waited almost a week, and Jesus had not shown up. They had put all their hopes for their brother on Jesus, and Jesus had not given them what they wanted. And, they both said to Him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." (Jn. 11:21, 32) Mary and Martha were both trying to make sense of a traumatic situation and Jesus' response to it. They cannot fathom why He would let Lazarus die. And, we do that too sometimes, right? "Lord, why didn't you heal my friend from cancer? Jesus, why didn't I get that job I really needed? Jesus, why am I still alone? Lord, why is my child suffering? Why didn't You come quickly?" Now, those kinds of statements do not necessarily come from a lack of faith. Oftentimes they are simply cries of confusion and pain when we really have no idea how to respond. They are much like the questions many of the psalmists ask: "Why, O LORD, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?" "O LORD, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me?"

So, how does Jesus respond to us? Well, we know that He raises Lazarus, but how does He respond while they wait for Him to act? He does two things: 1) He reminds them of who He is and 2) He weeps with them. In response to Martha, Jesus says, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die." (Jn. 11:25-26) He reminds her that He is Lord over life and death; that He is Ruler over everything, even our last enemy: death (cf. 1 Co. 15:26). And, Jesus does this with us too, right? He has given us His Word, and when we turn to it in times of trouble, we can see how much He loves His people and the glorious things He has done for them. When we turn to it in hardship, we can see that He is in control of our situation (cf. Eph. 1:11) and working good out of it (Ro. 8:28). He has also given us the Church. We hear the truth of who He is when the Word is preached, and we hear the truth of who He is from our brothers and sisters in Christ. We need those because in times of hardship, it is difficult to remember the truth, much less believe it. We need to read the truth of who He is in His Word and hear it from His people.

That is not all that Jesus does, however. In response to Mary, He weeps. He does not sit outside our pain in sovereign apathy. He does not simply give us propositions about His power. We look to Him with tears and say, "If only you had been there," and "just there, Jesus crosses over." He sees His Bride suffering, and He enters into the pain with her. In this story, certainly, Jesus knows He is about to raise Lazarus. That was His plan all along (cf. Jn. 11:4). Even in our suffering, He knows the good He is going to work out of it. Knowing the end, however, does not mean He sits on the sideline as an impassioned observer. He "crosses over" and weeps with us. Now, in this story, He does not weep because of His loss, for, again, He knows the end. He weeps because He sees the pain that sin and death have cause those whom He loves. So it is with us. Even though He knows the end, He "crosses over" into the pain and weeps with His Bride. Sometimes He does it through an unexplainable comfort worked in us by the Spirit. Sometimes He does it through the ministrations of a friend who sits and weeps with us. Whatever the ways, He "crosses over."

Friends, if you are in Christ, you have a Savior who is both sovereign over your problems and understands your pain. He is not just a Savior who is in control. That would make Him powerful but indifferent. He is also not just a Savior who understands our pain. That would make Him empathetic but impotent. He is sovereign and weeps with us. This is what He does for us--those whom He loves--while we wait for Him to act, and we need both of those while we grieve and wait. Here, in John 11, we see that Jesus has both, which makes Him the perfect Savior.

By His Grace,

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