Good Morning. As we start our study this morning, I want to ask how many here have ever heard of the writer, C.S. Lewis? Few men on this earth have ever attained the level of popularity that C.S. Lewis attained, writing religious books. In fact, C.S. Lewis is so popular, they have made a movie of his life. How many have seen the movie “Shadowland”? It is a great movie. It recounts the bittersweet, love story of C.S. Lewis and Joy Gresham. In the beginning of the film, Lewis is shown lecturing on the subject of pain. He says the following:
And people stood and applauded his message. And indeed, it is a great message – full of meaning and wisdom.
But then, in the movie, C.S. Lewis meets Joy Gresham. And it is not long before she falls in love with him. She tries hard to get his attention. Of course, Lewis is a confirmed bachelor. He has lived a long, single life and he likes it. He is hard to get. At first he only looks at Joy as another friend. Then he goes a little further and a little further. But he stops short of personal involvement. Joy is very perceptive and she figures him out. She knows exactly what his problem is and why he is refusing to cross the line. Finally, one day, she explodes in frustration. She shouts at him:
“I have seen it—how you have arranged a life for yourself, where no one can touch you. Everyone, that’s close to you, is either younger than you, weaker than you or under your control.”
And with these words, she pierced his defenses, the walls he had erected around himself for so long to protect himself. And slowly, Lewis comes to realize the truth of her statement. He preaches well about the purpose of sufferings, but he insulates himself from pain and feelings. So, with the realization of his mistake, he now opens his arms to the will of God. He lays his chest bare to the nails that can pierce him. He dives into relationships he has denied for so long. And it is not long before he proposes to Joy. Only Joy now contracts cancer. And she slips away in tremendous suffering. The next four years are his most wonderful years, but also his most painful years. During one trip they take, Joy says more profound words. As they are sheltered in a barn, snuggled together, as the rain is falling outside, she tells him about her upcoming death:
They go back and within months, Joy passes away. Lewis is totally crushed, as is Joy’s eight year old son, Douglas. Both of them mourn silently. This goes on for weeks. Finally, one day, Lewis decides to reach out to the boy. He goes up in the attic where the boy is finding refuge in loneliness. He sits down next to him and he seems to search for some words of comfort. The words that follow, then, are the most poignant of the whole movie. Lewis starts sharing that he also lost his mum at a very young age. The young boy listens. He then asked questions and C.S. Lewis shares his views on death. Following is an excerpt of their conversation:
Douglas: Do you really believe there is a paradise? C.S.: Yes, I do! Douglas: I don’t believe in paradise. C.S.: I understand! Douglas: I want so bad to see her again. C.S.: Me too.
And both of them start crying. They weep together. Lewis takes the boy in his arms and they both sob a long time. At the end of the movie, Lewis is shown walking through a field and Douglas is shown running after his dog. It shows the great love that has grown between the two. They are bound now in a way they weren’t before. Their relationship is no longer the same. It has changed because of the pain they have shared. They are now one unit, closer than ever before.
I am sharing all of that today because of the story we find in John, chapter 11. What we are going to see, in a few seconds, is the story of Jesus who comes to the funeral of his friend. He comes; he shares the pain; and forever, his relationship will be changed with two ladies who now will have something in common, linking them to him.
Through this account in John 11, we are going to learn that Jesus doesn’t abandon us in our darkest times. We are going to learn how he comes to us and sits with us in the midst of our sorrows. We are going to see he doesn’t make a discourse on the reason for our hurts or on the meaning of our sorrows; but, he adds his tears to ours. If you understand that by the time you leave today, I guarantee you will have a new joy in your heart, a new source of comfort that will lead to a deeper fellowship with God. Let us now read the text.
And as you turn to John 11, let me say that we will probably have three sermons on this text. They will each have a different purpose. I have already stated the one for today and to fulfill that purpose, we will concentrate on the emotions you find expressed in the story.
Verse 1 says “…..” Now do you remember who Lazarus was? He lived in that little village of Bethany where Jesus often found refuge. It was Jesus’ second home - the place where he would go to find a roof over his head. No matter how late it was or how bad things were, he knew he had a place there. This was because he had a friend there, named Lazarus, who made his house a home for Jesus. No doubt that must have been precious to the Lord. Think about what a home means to you. Jesus didn’t have that directly. His place to find rest, peace, love and understanding was at Bethany, in Lazarus’ house. Also, Mary and Martha lived in that house.
Verse 2 says, about Mary, “…..”. But now something has gone wrong. Lazarus is so sick he is about to die. So the sisters send for the only help they can think of.
Verse 3 says “…” Pay attention to the last words. Isn’t that strange? Didn’t Jesus love everyone? Wasn’t he the same by all men? Why did the sister say, Lazarus, the one you love? Well, it is true that Jesus loves each man the same, but it is not true that he was the same with everyone. He had some he spent more time with than others; some with whom he was more intimate. The reason is obvious. I love all of you the same today, but I don’t rub shoulders with everyone the same in the church. I would like to be able to do this, but there isn’t time. You don’t have the time. Some of you have so many responsibilities and you are too busy to be around me ministering. And I can’t meet all the needs. I am just a man, but so was Jesus while on this earth. And because Martha and Mary rubbed shoulders with Jesus, so much, they were linked very closely with the Savior. To understand these words, even more, ask yourself this question. If I am in trouble at two o’clock in the morning, who is it I would call to help? You see, Jesus probably would have called his three close friends and vice versa.
Now read with me verses 4-5 “….” Underline this. Once again, in verse 5, it says Jesus loved Martha and Mary. John is emphasizing that fact by repeating it over and over again.
Let’s continue with verses 6-11 “…” Let’s stop here again. Note the way Jesus refers to Lazarus. He is saying, “Lazarus, our friend, is asleep!” What does it tell you? It says Jesus was very close to Lazarus.
I want to tell you this today. If Jesus is welcome in your house, if he feels he has a place there where he can find rest, peace, understanding and friendship, he is your friend. He sees your place as his home. And when you talk of him and when he talks of you, “he is the one that loves you!” You can call on him at two am and he will be there. Whatever your need, he will take care of it. There is love between Jesus and his disciple friends. That is the first feeling I should be aware of. But I’ve also mentioned there is understanding.
Let’s keep on reading. I’ll show you verse 11-14 “…” and then verse 17-21 “…”
So far, what I see is Martha and Mary destroyed about their loss. They have mourned for four days and still they need to be comforted. But mark also that they are a little resentful. Maybe I should say disappointed. They say, “Lord, if only you had been here.” Do you feel the disappointment and the regrets? She almost seems upset.
You have to remember that Jesus took four days to get there and Bethany was only a day away. I don’t want to expand on this right now. We will next week. But, no doubt, there must also be some resentment in her statement, some rebuke.
How would you react? Have you ever had someone resentful at you because you were not there in their time of turmoil, of great distress? I have. So did Jesus. It is not pleasant. Sometimes people displace their anger. They are upset at you when really they are angry at their loss. For some reason, they need a scapegoat. They need to let out negative emotions. Since getting mad at God’s doings is not alright, they get mad at the people around them. The feelings are misdirected, but it is alright because they need to come out. Later they often come back to their good senses. And what I learn from this is Jesus doesn’t harshly rebuke Martha or Mary. Jesus just allows them to express their emotions. He allows feelings of deception, confusion and hurt to come out. In this, I see understanding.
You see, when I hurt, the Lord understands what goes on inside of me. It’s like C.S. Lewis, talking with the little boy, saying, “I understand”. God, in your hurt, stands there and says, “I know how you feel.”
He goes a step beyond head knowledge. He also empathizes. Look at verses 12-26 “…”
Do you see Jesus grieving? He is two times empathizing with the sisters. Two times he walks with them in the mourning process. You may say, how did he empathize twice? Didn’t Jesus cry only once, therefore, empathize only once. Oh no, don’t miss what is happening here. You have two sisters with different personalities and different ways of processing things.
One of them is a doer. She is active in nature. She is busy all the time. When she hears of Jesus coming, she runs to him. She doesn’t wait. She is in line with her previous behavior when Jesus was at the house and he said, “Martha, Martha, you worry about many things.” She was doing them too. But not only is she a doer, she is a fighter. She is not immobilized by the pain, as Mary is. Mary is at the house crying. When she gets up, everyone thinks they need to follow to console her. Not with Martha. When she leaves, no one follows her. Why? It’s due to her personality. People don’t seem to think they need to be there. You see, Martha doesn’t look as bad as Mary.
Her words reflect that personality too. In the Greek, Martha’s statement places emphasis on “my” brother. She is saying, “Jesus, if only you had been there for me in regard to my brother.” Mary’s words emphasize the term “brother”. Mary says, “If you had been there for brother!” Do you see the difference? One is a fighter, the other one is not. But they are both hurt. And what Martha requires is different than what Mary requires.
Martha requires some theological discourse that affects her head. Mary needs a presence next to her. In both cases, Jesus provides what they need. He walks through reason with Martha. He walks through emotion with Mary. In an unforgettable way, Jesus responds to the pain of both sisters. He was hit by the grieving soul he met and he allowed their hurt to touch his heart.
Oh don’t you love that picture of our Lord grieving? That picture of him standing there crying? But don’t miss this. As he stood, he knew that within minutes, Lazarus would be brought back from the dead. He has said it already to his apostle and then to Martha. So you must ask, why is he crying? And as you think about it, I believe there is only one answer you can have. He isn’t crying for Lazarus. He isn’t crying because he’s helpless. He is crying because his heart bleeds for Mary. He is crying because he feels the pain of the lady bent over at his feet, by the weight of her grief. The tears of Jesus reveal to us, at which level, Jesus cares for us.
How many here have heard of the priest, Damien? Damien left for Hawaii in 1864, to minister to the people of that island. He went there to replace his brother, who had to come home due to typhus. For nine years, he labored in hard conditions. Then, he even took on a greater challenge. He left for the island of Molokai where they were isolating all of the lepers of the time. When he got there, he worked as a doctor, as a nurse, as a mason, as a carpenter and as an undertaker. He even directed two orphanages. Each Sunday, when he preached, he opened his sermon the same way. “You, the lepers, you know God loves you!” And then, one day, he learned he too was affected by that disease. So that next Sunday, he stood, and instead of his usual opening words, he said, “We, the lepers, we know God loves us!”
You see, his grief brought him closer to others and to the Lord. It’s just the same as C.S. Lewis, who was brought closer to the boy. And it’s the same for Jesus, Mary and Martha who grieved together. The story of Jesus, in John 11, was an incredible moment. It revealed that Jesus was who he was said to be – the Resurrection and the Life. But it also revealed the tears of God. It reveals that Jesus enters our world and feels our pain, shares our tears, all to make us understand that he loves us.
I end with this prayer I found in a book.
Dear Lord Jesus,
Thank you for that shortest but sweetest verse in all the Bible—“Jesus wept.” Thank you for those tears you cried so openly. They have given not only dignity to my grief, but freedom to my emotions.
Thank you for the beautiful tribute that tears are to the dead, telling them they are loved and will be missed.
Help me realize that if the death of a loved one was difficult for you—you, the Resurrection and the Life—then I need never be ashamed when it is difficult for me.
Thank you that you know what it’s like to lose someone you love. And for the assurance that when I come to you in my grief, you know how I feel.
Thank you that my tears can evoke yours.
Help me to follow the trail of tears you left behind on the way to Lazarus’ tomb so that I may learn to weep with those who weep.
Help me to feel the pain they feel . . . the uncertainty . . . the fear . . . the heaviness . . . the regret . . . the despondency.
I pray for all who grieve the loss of a loved one,
for the one who has lost a parent . . . for the one who has lost a child . . . for the one who has lost a grandparent . . . for the one who has lost a sister . . . for the one who has lost a brother . . . for the one who has lost a friend . . .
I pray for those who cry out with Martha and Mary, “Lord, if you had been there…” In the emotional blur caused by their loss, help them to see that you were there, weeping with them.