John 11:17-27, 38-53: The God Who Cries at Funerals

Though uncommon to our ears, in times past, the Church delighted in describing Jesus as a “lover.”  Today, we might find this as odd, perhaps perverted, as word meanings shift and change, and “lover” now refers to one’s sexual partner.  Ah, but the word “lover” can contain so much more!

The root for “lover” is love, speaking of someone who shows real love in real ways.  Does this not describe Jesus better than any other?  In our Lutheran hymns, we find, “Christ is the world’s Redeemer, the lover of the pure, the font of heav’nly wisdom, our trust and hope secure …”  (LSB 539, stanza 1).  In “This Joyful Eastertide,” we acclaim, “Death’s flood has lost its chill since Jesus crossed the river.”  Here, “river” is a metaphor for death.  Next, we understand why, the “Lover of souls, from ill my passing soul deliver” (LSB 482, stanza 2).

To understand Jesus is our lover also recognizes God’s will in our lives—since God revealed His will to us in Jesus.  In Him, we learn the One with the power to destroy all creation chose to be pierced for our rebellious deeds and crushed because of our sins.  The punishment, which makes you complete, He bore.  Now, because of His wounds, you find healing and peace (Isaiah 53:5). 

So, this describes your God.  Yes, but you must also stand before Him on the Last Day.  In His full and glorious presence, no sinner can live.  Are we not a people with unclean hearts and lips?  Yes, but this should not cause you to wail because you now realize how much He cares for you! 

Here’s why we can be sure.  Gaze upon Jesus after Lazarus died.  In Him, we discover a God who mourns at His friend’s tomb.  Why He even grieves with Mary and Martha, knowing what’s coming next.  For when Jesus raises Lazarus from death’s darkness, something more significant than a story about God is taking place. 

The Scriptures, in many places, praise Christ’s mercy and compassion—but a God who cries at funerals?  Today, we took in His words of comfort.  Listen to Jesus, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me will live, though he dies.  The one who lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26).  The Lord promised Lazarus would rise from the dead, and He will empty the graves of all people. 

Still reeling from her brother’s death, Mary assails Jesus for being late.  “Lord, if you came earlier, my brother would not be dead” (John 11:32).  Not some passive observer, Jesus experiences Mary’s pain. 

Ponder that scripture never hints about Mary and Martha being married.  So, if neither of them is married, their means of support in this world died with Lazarus.  In a time before welfare, social security, and where women brought in no outside income, both needed a male income earner.  Without a husband or son, a brother fulfilled this role. 

The original hearers of our Gospel reading would find Lazarus’ death troubling without needing to be told.  Not only their brother, Mary and Martha also lost their financial support, their source for food, shelter, and clothing.  At best, years of struggle and poverty await, perhaps days aching with hunger and heartache.

Isn’t death always this way?  How one is affected may differ, but a loved one dying shatters the lives of the survivors, tearing a gaping hole into our hearts.  Oh, we figure out how to deal with this, for not doing so will render us unfunctional.  Though, no matter the length of days, the wisp and wince of this lingering pain never leaves. 

Only the resurrection will fully heal this buried, festering wound.  Both of Lazarus’ sisters believe in the body’s resurrection on the Last Day, but that doesn’t take away all their hurt and suffering.  Now is pain and grief and their brother decaying in the tomb.  A future day does await, but today they bear the aftermath of his death. 

After Adam’s fall into sin, death became our universal enemy.  So, Jesus is grieving, with His insides churning and roiling.  Like Martha and Mary, He gasps for breath, and His throat constricts, for His friend is also dead.  A personal and divine love coalesce inside Jesus.  Aware of what only God can fathom, He despises death in a way we cannot, recognizing its complete and devastating aberration. 

So, our Lord will not let this stand.  At this moment, He must testify to the resurrection.  So, He raises Lazarus.  Oh, Lazarus will one day die.  The real miracle isn’t a dead man living for a few more years but living forever in the resurrection when Christ returns.  Ah, Jesus will descend again to create a new heaven and earth, so, of course, we’ll need risen and uncorrupted bodies. 

Upon asking, “Where did you put Lazarus?” everything is as good as done (John 11:34).  The stoic Jesus is gone, for He will not play the hero and keep His emotions from marring His holy face.  The trembling tongues of onlookers can only cry out, “Oh, how much Jesus loved him!” (John 11:36).

Your God cries because He loves His children, filled with compassion for those left to bear their grief.  At a funeral, the greatest evil, Death, appears to win the victory.  Oh, we can call the event a celebration of someone’s life.  Nevertheless, everyone gathers at a particular place and time because someone died, not because he lives.  The sophistry fools no one.  The actual celebration awaits.

Though Jesus cries, His tears will give way to His words.  The Lord sheds His tears because God is a man, who can also speak with power because He is God.  At the dead man’s tomb, Death became cocky.  In premature arrogance, Death gloats before God, giggling at his presumed victory. 

Too boastful to be silent before Him, Life Incarnate now stands at the grave.  Today, Jesus becomes the grave-robber.  At His word, Death flees, and life comes into being, “Lazarus!  Come out!” (John 11:43).  Gone are the decay and death.  Empty is the tomb where the body once lay.  The Lord lives out the words of the Old-Testament Prophet Hosea, “Where, O death, are your plagues?  Where, O grave, is your destruction?” (Hosea 13:14). 

Jesus is the resurrection, which means He is also life.  Though Lazarus died, life stepped forth from the tomb because when Jesus speaks, even the dead respond!  Such is His authority to bestow spiritual life upon the spiritually dead.

Now, everyone nearby will witness more of Jesus’ love.  Soon, so soon, Jesus will turn His face toward Jerusalem to do what only He can do.  As Jesus comforts Mary and Martha and calls forth Lazarus from the dead, He will not be satisfied until He destroys death.  So, He trudges on, making His way toward the cross, carrying the sins of Lazarus, Mary, Martha, you, and me.  The plagues of hell, He will endure, to deliver Himself into the grave to defeat death into all eternity.

Though divine, Jesus is also human.  Like all us fallen creatures of men, He will die, despite Him having no sin in Himself.  Within you and me, however, is the seed of death, planted in us by our first parents.  These sins will win, and you will die, for now, for your inherited, sinful flesh still putrefies within you. 

To Jesus, this is unacceptable since He didn’t create you to be this way.  No, He made and designed you for eternal joy.  From the foundation of the world, He wanted you to live with Him forever—in both body and soul.  After partaking of His Supper, this is why I speak this blessing: “The body and blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, keep you in body and soul to life everlasting.”

Sometimes, Christians spout crazy stuff, “Death isn’t so bad because the flesh no longer hinders us.  The body is only a shell.”  Those are deceiving words from the depths of hell.  Such misleading lies, which Satan whispers in your ear as he tries to make you forget who God formed you to be. 

Remember, God created you for life, including a body and a soul!  Your risen bodies will, one day, splendor in your Savior’s presence, and your lips will sing His praises.  The Christian hope is not the soul in heaven, but a perfect, sinless body joined with its soul, with God evermore. 

Your destiny isn’t the deliverance from your body.  Otherwise, why did Jesus become a flesh-and-blood human to save you?  For if He only came to liberate your soul, He didn’t need to be born as a human.  Whatever Jesus did not assume, He didn’t save.

Your Savior is both God and man, who died to redeem you.  No longer dead, He is now the Firstborn of the dead, who lives and reigns forever.  Though your body will return to the ground, death cannot kill you, for Jesus Christ is the source of your life. 

Your real enemy, the supreme evil, is death.  Now, since our Savior’s love is strong enough to weep, die, and conquer death, He will not abandon you in the grave.  On the Day of His return, He will empty every tomb, and all His saints will go with Him, body and soul, into everlasting paradise.

Yes, this is the way of God.  In Christ, you learn that He loves you and wants you to live with Him forever.  Your Master is merciful and the Lover of Mankind.  Every funeral He attends, ends with a resurrection.  Like Lazarus, you, too, will rise from death into eternal realms.  Amen.

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