The last ten days have found me thinking about mourning more than I ever have. Just last week a dear young wife and mother in our church family, the fathers of two different church members, and a young jungle pastor many in our church know all passed from this earth into Glory. The grief was palpable in our church last Sunday, even as we worshiped and rejoiced. There were many tears and there will be tears in the weeks to come.
Jesus’ words in front of Lazarus’ tomb, found in John 11, are one way to describe why we are sorrowful yet rejoicing (2 Cor. 6:10). I often turn to John 11 when I think about death, partly because of Jesus’ riveting proclamation: “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. Do you believe this?” (Jn 11:25-26)
Rather than comforting words, you could see Jesus’ words to Martha as a riddle, spoken in her time of grief. Why would he talk in what seems like a paradox? What does he mean in one breath that those believers who die yet live, but in the next breath that those who believe will never die? Wasn’t Lazarus already in the tomb?
Jesus so often amazes me. We should expect to be amazed by God in the flesh, but sometimes we are surprised by His words of life. Only One who can call Himself “Resurrection” and “Life” can talk this way.
Jesus lovingly acknowledged the fact that people–like Lazarus–die. There is a finality felt by those who lose a loved one. While we know that our believing friends and relatives who have died are experiencing nothing but gain (Phil. 1:21), we know that we are experiencing loss. Do you hear His words? “Whoever believes in me, though he die…” Christians die. And Jesus wept as He stood in front of that tomb with Lazarus’ grieving friends and relatives. Jesus didn’t tell them to stop the funeral and have a celebration of life service; He entered into their suffering.
We cry. Jesus cried. But oh, how we love and cling to Jesus’ next words: “…yet shall he live…” Christians never die. This is the “gospel paradox.” Death is real, yet eternal life is oh so real. Christians die, yet Christians never die. Jesus said both truths in the same sentence.
It’s ok to call it a funeral (Ecc. 7:2). It’s ok to say that death is an enemy (1 Cor. 15:26). It is Christ-like to weep (Jn 11:35).
But our weeping is temporary, just as Jesus’ weeping was. Because we know that for those who are in Christ, “death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54). We know that for the Christian, what is mortal is “swallowed up by life” (2 Cor. 5:4). We know that the same Lord who wept is the same Lord who will wipe away every tear (Rev. 21:4). And we know that the same Lord who commanded Lazarus to come forth from the dead will joyfully command the dead in Christ to rise first (1 Thess. 4:16). It is true–praise God that it is true–that because of Jesus, “it is not death to die.”