We Triumph in Jesus After the Pain
A sermon based on John 11:32-44
Sunday, November 5th, 2017
She only knew him for a few months. He was sick from day that she met him and all the doctors said that he didn't have long to live. Even though she only knew him for four months, the impact he had on her… well, she would never be the same. And the day that he died, the pain she felt was almost overwhelming. In her own words, she described the pain as "that deep, deep pain that groans inside you."
This poor mother lost her four month old son. When he was born, he looked like he was taking a peaceful nap. But doctors said he wouldn't wake up. He held on to life for a few months in the neonatal intensive care unit, but when he died that poor mom felt "that deep, deep pain that groans inside you."
And she questioned, "why?" Why would God take her son? Couldn't God have prevented this? Of course he could! Surely the God of miracles could have easily rescued her son, restored his health, and let him grow up to live a normal life loved deeply by his mother. But he didn't! Why not?! Why would he let her endure this "deep, deep pain that groans inside you"?
Those were the very questions Mary and Martha were asking when their dearly loved brother, Lazarus, passed away. Neither woman was married, so they found in their brother their provider, their companion, and their dearest friend. As soon as he got sick they sent word to Jesus. But he didn't come… not right away. He waited for two whole days before he even left to see Lazarus. And it seems that he took his sweet time getting there too—precious time that could have made all the difference! But when he finally arrived six days later it was too late. Lazarus had already been dead for four days.
And it left the sisters questioning, "why?" Martha said to Jesus, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died." (John 11:21) And Mary echoed her, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." (John 11:32) "Why, Jesus, did you let this happen?"
And for that matter, why does God allow our loved ones to die? Surely he could stop it! So why does he let you go through the hurt he makes you endure? Why does he let you feel that "deep, deep pain that groans inside you"? This morning, this Saints Triumphant Sunday, we'll let Jesus answer those tough questions and seek to put our trust in him who makes us triumph after the pain. Our text for consideration this morning is taken from John 11:32-44…
32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 "Where have you laid him?" he asked.
"Come and see, Lord," they replied.
35 Jesus wept.
36 Then the Jews said, "See how he loved him!"
37 But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?"
38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 "Take away the stone," he said.
"But, Lord," said Martha, the sister of the dead man, "by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days."
40 Then Jesus said, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?"
41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me."
43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, "Take off the grave clothes and let him go."
Jesus predicted this would happen. When some Jews got so upset with him that he dared to heal a man on the Sabbath Day that they wanted to kill him, Jesus gave them the proof that he had authority to do whatever he wanted. He said in John 5:25, "I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live."
And now, he did it. Lazarus had been dead for four days! He'd been gone long enough that his body was already decomposing and the stink of death would be so overwhelming that Martha was ready to deny Jesus' request to see the body. Why exhume her brother? Let his body rest in peace! But Jesus insisted. He wanted the stone removed from the tomb so all could see (and smell) how dead Lazarus was to remove any doubts about what he was about to do. This was no trick, no switcheroo. "Jesus called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" [And] the dead man came out…"
Well that's great! Great for Mary and Martha, right? They got a happy ending to their sad, sad story. But what about us?! To my knowledge, Jesus has never brought any of our loved ones back from the dead! He hasn't raised our parents or grandparents, our spouses, our children! And we might question, "Why not do this for us, Jesus?!"
"Are you unable to prevent our pain, Jesus? Of course not! You opened the eyes of the blind man! You raised Lazarus back to life! Of course you could have prevented the death of those we love! Even now you could call them back to life! You could so easily end 'that deep, deep pain that groans inside [us]'! But you don't."
And that leads to more difficult questions: If you could stop, my hurt, Jesus, but don't then you must be unwilling. So why won't you? Don't you care? Are you too busy elsewhere? Am I not important enough? Do you really love me?"
Ah, friends, how quickly we forget the real cause of suffering and pain in this life. It's not God who brought death into the world. It's not God who brought ruin and misery and pain. It was Adam. It was Eve. It was all of mankind in their sin. It was you. It was me. We bring death and destruction to this world by our rebellion against God. We bring sorrow and pain to God when we sin against him. Death isn't a part of God's original creation. It's a consequence for sin. And it's one we will all face (unless Jesus returns first). "For the wages of sin is death…" (Romans 6:23) That's why we feel "that deep, deep pain that groans inside [us]" – because we sin.
And for doubting God's love for us when we're hurting, for thinking he, who has done nothing but love us, to be the villain because he doesn't stop every ache or pain in this life, for every selfish attitude and self-righteous thought that supposes we could rule the universe better than God, we ought to feel so much more pain and agony, coupled with remorse and eternal regret, forever in hell.
But God does love us. He loves us so much that when he thought of the eternal death we were all headed to, "he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled…" Just as Jesus wept at the death of his friend, Lazarus, so too, the thought of your death in hell and of mine made Jesus cry. And his weeping was not the loud sobs of mourners, sometimes hired to perform at a funeral. No. It's a different Greek word than the one used of Mary and her companions. It's the silent cry as the tears stream down the face. It's a genuine, heartfelt cry meant not for show, but for release of the emotion felt in the heart. Verse 35 is the shortest verse in the Bible, but it says so much in those two short words: "Jesus wept."
Homer wrote in his Iliad, "The gods ordain the lot of man to suffer, while themselves are free from care." But that's clearly not the God of the Bible. "See how he loved [you]!"
For just as with Lazarus, Jesus' tears shed for you and me, didn't end there, with just an expression of pity and sympathy. He took action to undo the terrible thing that no one else could undo. He went to defeat sin and death once and for all. And to defeat death, he had to die. So he took all of our sin on himself—every time we've doubted God and his love for us, every time we've accused him of doing wrong, every time we've rebelled against him thinking our ways were better than his ways. And he took all of that sin to the cross. There he felt a "deep, deep pain that groan[ed] inside [him]." There "he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled…" There he felt a pain so terrible we could never even begin to imagine it—the guilt, the shame, the regret for every sin ever committed… the hell of being separated from the Father.
And by that act, Jesus defeated sin. He took it all away. And by his resurrection three days later, Jesus defeated death. Today is Saints Triumphant Sunday. And today we celebrate that victory that our loved ones who died in the faith enjoy right now! And we look forward to the day of our death, when we join them—and even better still: when we join Jesus!—forever in heaven! And we know that heaven is ours because of what Jesus has done for us.
"I tell you the truth," Jesus said, "a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live." Now, the spiritually dead come to life when they hear the message of his grace and believe. And one day soon he will call out in a loud voice again. And all who are physically dead will hear his voice and live. Jesus said in John 5:28-29, "A time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned." We, who listen to his voice now in the Word, and believe in his promises, will hear his voice with our own ears and rise to live with him in heaven.
But that still doesn't really answer the question, does it? Why does God allow the hurt and pain, "that deep, deep pain that groans inside you" right now? Couldn't he just bring us to faith and then whisk us away to heaven the second that we do? Well, I promised that I would let Jesus answer that question for us…
When Jesus first heard the news of Lazarus' sickness, he told the messenger, "This sickness will not end in death." And he went on to explain why this suffering and pain had to happen anyway: "No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it." And he repeated it again to Martha: "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" But really, Jesus explains it best in the prayer he said to the Father. He said this was all, "for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me."
Think of the deep impact the resurrection of Lazarus must have had on everyone who was there that day. There was no denying that Jesus was God! Think of a what great evangelists Mary and Martha must have been, not to mention Lazarus! Think of how many more souls are in heaven right now because Lazarus died and came back to life! I'll bet that to Mary and Martha, the pain was all worth it now.
And you and I will endure problems. We will experience pain. And even though Jesus hasn't resurrected our loved ones yet, he will. And he will resurrect us (if we die before Judgment Day). But in the meantime, the pain we go through now helps us to share our faith, each in our own way. As Paul put it in 2 Corinthians 1(:3-4), "Praise be to… the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God."
The mother who lost her four-month-old son said she felt "that deep, deep pain that groans inside you" and I'm sure she did. But immediately after she said that, she added, "How deeply God carved His work of love into our hearts through that little life! What a powerful life it was!" This family's precious little boy taught them and those around them to depend on God for everything—especially when things go horribly wrong!
The hard yet comforting truth is that God meets us in our pain. And he feels our pain. When Lazarus died, Jesus wept. And through that death he brought others to faith. Through Lazarus' death, God brought others to life. "What a powerful life it was!" When God saw us destined for hell in our sin, he too wept. "He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled…" And he was so moved that he sent his Son to die for us. God knows the grief of losing a Son. But through his death, God brought us to life. "What a powerful life it was!"
And now it's not just Mary and Martha who get a happy ending to their sad, sad story. We'll get one too. The happy ending to our sad story is yet to come. But one day soon we will join the saints triumphant and will triumph in glory with our Savior. In the meantime, let's share his love with others. And let's see how God works through our pain to bring others to faith and to bring a happy ending in heaven to their stor too. For Jesus' sake and in his name, dear friends, amen.