33 When Jesus saw Mary 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. (NIV)
Jesus was “deeply moved” and “troubled”. “Jesus wept.” What troubled Jesus most? Was it Mary and Martha’s grief? The death of his own friend, Lazarus? Perhaps it was death itself, and the pain associated with it? Was he troubled to think that he was going to bring Lazarus back to a troubled world, even though Lazarus his friend was ready for death and was resting from his labors? Did Jesus weep thinking about the pain and struggles Lazarus would experience as the center of controversy after being raised to life, causing pain that he had already escaped in death? Was Jesus’ spirit moved and troubled for the living who grieved over Lazarus death, or Lazarus who would face new challenges in this world, or was he moved and troubled about the human condition, living with death all around us?
Death is all around us. My niece died of leukemia when she was six. My grandfather died of pneumonia when he was 84. My 6th grade teacher took her own life when she was forty something. My cousin died of complications from cancer treatments when he was 32. My sister-in-law died following heart surgery when she was 57. A grand-niece died just days after her birth. Another cousin died in a helicopter crash when he was 40, and another died of cancer at 47. The list is endless, and growing all the time. As an aspect of my work as an evangelist, I’ve done far more funerals than weddings. As we grow older the tally of the deceased increases faster than the tally of new friends and family until it may seem like we know more of the dead than the living. Death is all around us, it is pervasive, and despite the determined efforts of the baby-boomer generation to avoid it, death has to be faced. We need to be honest about our own mortality, and the mortality of our friends and family. Jesus certainly faced death head on, but even knowing he had the power of life, Jesus, when viewing the grieving crowd after Lazarus’ death, shared their feelings, and he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled, and Jesus wept.
If you were a naturalist, an evolutionist, a Buddhist, a pantheist, or a Hindu, you would have to view death as a natural part of life, at least as ordinary as birth. Everything that’s born is born to die. In naturalistic terms, success is defined not in terms of defeating death in any personal way, but rather a creature is viewed as successful if it is able to reproduce itself before death, leaving progeny behind. From a naturalist’s perspective, death is a fundamental part of the engine that drives biological progress. Those who believe in naturalistic evolution are compelled to believe that death is an essential component of improvement. Then again, those who believe in reincarnation must believe that death is part of a cycle of growth and advancement. And yet, on a personal basis, scarcely anyone really views death that way. Few people are truly eager to die, unless they are deeply disturbed physically or emotionally, and few people are immune to the grief associated with the death of beloved family members, friends or even pets. For something so seemingly natural and common, death certainly carries a hefty emotional price tag for the living, both in dread of one’s own demise and in the loneliness of loss. Unlike the many pantheistic and naturalistic philosophies, the Biblical Christian perspective on death certainly does not embrace death as a natural part of the created order, nor as a necessary step toward biological or spiritual growth and advancement. Rather, in the Christian world-view, death is an aberration from God’s created order, and an enemy to be overcome.
- The Christian affirms that death is an adversary to be vanquished, and ultimately destroyed.
- 1 Cor 15:26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (NIV)
- 1 Cor 15:54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” (NIV)
- The Christian also realizes that death is not a part of the natural created order, rather it is an aberration, a consequence of rejecting God’s design. God created life, man brought death into the world.
- Gen 2:17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (NIV)
- 1 Corinthians 15:21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. (NIV)
- Rom 5:12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned- (NIV)
- Romans 5:14 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come. (NIV)
- God did not create us to die, but warned that death would follow rebellion. Then, when rebellion did occur, he determined than man should not live forever in his fallen condition, lingering in sin, physically alive but spiritually dead.
- Gen 3:21-24 21 The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. 22 And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” 23 So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life. (NIV)
- Christians can understand that death, being an aberration that originated in sin, is not a part of a cycle of life. Contrary to the beliefs of reincarnationists, lives are not recycled, and not relived. There is no progression of souls in God’s created universe, either upward or downward. Nor, as in pantheism, is the individual life a part of some greater whole. Death is not the opportunity to be recycled or reintegrated in some great panorama of life embodied in th earth or the universe. Rather, each life of each being is a unique expression of existence, of personality, of order and purpose and potential. Once to live for all of us, and once to die for most of us, but death is not the end of the story.
- Heb 9:27-28 Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. (NIV)
- So, death will be a nearly universal human experience, excepting only those who are alive when the Lord returns …
- 1 Thess 4:16-18 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. (NIV)
- Nevertheless, in the meantime, while life here continues, death too will continue to be a force to contend with in this world. But not a source of despair, nor an adversary to fear, for the faithful follower of God.
- Hebrews 2:9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (NIV)
- Hebrews 2:14-15 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death-that is, the devil- 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. (NIV)
- Jesus has tasted death for everyone, and overcome it, so that Christians can be free of the fear of death. Sorrow and grief will always accompany the death of those we love, but that grief can and must be tempered by our hope in Jesus.
- 1 Thess 4:13-15 Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. (NIV)
- Don’t grieve like the rest of men… It is impossible not to grieve when someone we love dies, but the grief of Christians can be tempered by our hope in the Lord. He lives, and we live in him. Even though death is around us, and will claim our bodies, at least for a time, it does not have any lasting claim on the child of God.
- 1 John 3:14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. (NIV)
- John 8:51 I tell you the truth, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” (NIV)
- John 11:25-26 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (NIV)
- Long ago the Psalmist wrote in Psalm 116:15-16
15 Precious in the sight of the LORD
is the death of his saints.
16 O LORD, truly I am your servant;
I am your servant, the son of your maidservant;
you have freed me from my chains. (NIV)
Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. God himself is deeply moved by the human experience of death, and all the grief and uncertainty that is involved in it. When the Psalmist understood God’s intimate care about the death of his people, that was a liberating insight.
Death has no power of the those who have already died…
Gal 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (NIV)
1 Cor 15:31 I die every day-I mean that, brothers-just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord. (NIV)
And death doesn’t have the final say, it will be swallowed up in victory.
1 Cor 15:50-58 I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed- 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (NIV)
We definitely don’t always or even often understand why someone dies when they do. God though sees the big picture. He can share our grief and dismay when death comes into our family circle, “precious to the Lord is the death of his saints,” (Ps 116:15) and since he sees the big picture, he assures us that even when our lives are devastated by the loss of a loved one, He knows what’s best.
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The righteous perish,
and no one ponders it in his heart;
devout men are taken away,
and no one understands
that the righteous are taken away
to be spared from evil.
2 Those who walk uprightly
enter into peace;
they find rest as they lie in death. (NIV)