The Family Deals with Death Part 1
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
“Your brother will rise again”
Title: The Family Deals with Death
Text: “Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled. And He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept.” (John 11:32-35).
Scripture Reading: John 11:1-4, 17-37
Our text today is from the gospel that John wrote: “Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled. And He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept.” (John 11:32-35).
Today we are going to talk about how families can deal with death.
Everyone who has experienced the death of a loved one is grateful for the support a family can give.
In today’s scripture reading, we find two sisters suffering the tremendous loss of their brother, Lazarus.
One of the sisters asked Jesus a very straightforward question.
“Now Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.’” (John 11:21).
Martha appears to be the aggressive type.
She is a woman of action.
Her statement reveals a wonderful faith, but also impatience and a lack of bending to the will of God.
In her mind, her brother died because Jesus was late getting there.
But when Jesus responds to her question, He did not apologize for being late but rather answered in faith, saying, “Your brother will rise again” (V. 23).
Martha must have been the practical, no-nonsense housekeeper because we read in Luke’s gospel; “But Martha was distracted with much serving” (Luke 10:40).
I think she may have been like my mother who loved to cook for family and friends and always made them feel at home.
Martha’s sister Mary was different.
She had a contemplating, sensitive spirit and her heart worshiped the Lord.
There are a couple of verses which show her great love for the Savior.
John 11:2 says, “It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair;” and Luke wrote, “And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word” (Luke 10:39).
What is interesting is that when Mary came to meet Jesus, she said the exact same thing to Him that Martha had said earlier, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 10:32).
But this time Jesus did not give a theological response; instead, He entered into her suffering.
He asked, “Where have you laid him?” (v.34) and then He began to weep.
Jesus shared in their grief, and He shares in our grief today.
At this point, I want to give some background information about these two sisters.
Mary of Bethany stands as a role model for every dedicated disciple of Christ.
She was apparently unmarried, living with her older sister Martha and their brother Lazarus.
Their home was a friendly retreat for the Lord, who may have been in their age group.
Mary, more than any other in the New Testament, is associated with sitting at Jesus’ feet, a testimony to her hunger for spiritual truth and understanding.
Yet she not only sat at His feet, she also served Him by anointing Him with costly ointment to show her desire to meet His practical needs as well as to seek spiritual blessings.
Mary’s example demonstrates her strong decision-making capability.
She chose, Jesus said, to listen to Him, and later her gift of ointment poured out in preparation for His burial was a deliberate act of worship.
She was thoughtful and sensitive, and she never had much to say.
When Lazarus died, tears and very few words expressed her heart’s grief.
Jesus understood and wept with her.
True to Jesus’ prophecy, Mary has lived in history as one who shows commitment.
Three Gospels include her significant sacrificial gesture—ten and one-third ounces of pure spikenard ointment, worth a year’s wages, lavished in humility upon her Savior.
Mary was a woman characterized by spiritual insight and readiness to act upon her faith, and she was thus highly praised by Christ.
He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her” (Matthew 26:13).
Well, what about Martha?
Jesus often went to the home of Martha, who was apparently single, whether by choice or circumstances and living in Bethany with her sister Mary and their brother Lazarus.
John’s comment shows that Jesus and this family were close friends.
Martha seemed to enjoy her gift of hospitality and her probable position as the older of the two sisters.
Martha was a very intense person, but the Lord faced her passionate mind-set with loving firmness.
Martha’s irritation with her sister led to a confrontation with Jesus, because, in effect, she blamed Him for Mary’s lack of assistance.
His loving response was not a condemnation of Martha’s servant’s heart or a rejection of her enthusiastic and gracious hospitality.
He simply asked her to reconsider her priorities, to make her choices on the basis of eternal values instead of immediate pressures, and He suggested that she allow Mary to make her own choices.
Several months later, Lazarus became ill while Jesus was traveling many miles away.
Although the sisters sent for Him, by the time the Lord arrived in Bethany, Lazarus was dead and had been buried for four days.
Ignoring the custom of mourners to remain in their homes, Martha took the initiative to meet Jesus as He approached the town and to attribute her brother’s untimely death to Jesus’ delay in reaching Bethany.
Again, with trusting faith, Martha acknowledged Jesus’ power over death.
Jesus explained that He Himself was the Resurrection.
She believed in Jesus, and she immediately saw an expression of that faith in her brother’s resurrection.
The third glimpse of Martha was reported by John.
The simple fact that Martha assumed hostessing duties once more confirms the fact that her uncommon talents were being used.
Undoubtedly she had become a disciple who experienced God’s power in practical service.
Jesus, as well as countless others, needed the physical refreshment of Martha’s warm hospitality.
She did not consider her homemaking responsibilities as worthless drudgery.
She obviously loved her home and counted it joy to pour her energies into the efficient management of her household.
Martha is a moving reminder to every woman of the balance between fellowship with the family and the work necessary to meet their humdrum needs.
When a family is faced with death today, they can find comfort by remembering several truths.
First, GOD CAN USE DEATH FOR GOOD.
Death is a horrible, unnatural experience.
It brings sorrow and pain, emptiness and loneliness, frustration and helplessness.
When a loved one dies, the family needs to work with each other to admit the depth of the sorrow, the extent of the pain, the aching emptiness, and the fear of loneliness; because a sense of guilt may linger with those who wish they could have been more helpful or had been more attentive.
But people of faith can see that death is more than the obvious; it is something God can use.
In John 11:4, Jesus made the remarkable statement that God could be glorified even in Lazarus’ sickness and death.
We can easily see that God was glorified in Lazarus’ case, because Jesus raised him from the dead a few days later.
But we have a harder time accepting this truth today, because we place our loved ones in the grave and by faith must wait for the resurrection in God’s own time.
Some people say that a Christian should never be sick.
Is sickness in the will of God?
I wish Lazarus was here to tell you about that.
Sickness is not a sign that God does not love you.
You cannot tell by the circumstances of a man whether God loves him or not.
You have no right to judge.
Jesus loved Lazarus when he was sick.
Not only that, Jesus will let Lazarus die—but He still loves him.
Still, the quiet testimony of many Christians has been that in the midst of their greatest loss, God has been able to bless and comfort them, and ultimately bring glory to His great name.
This kind of testimony must have been what Paul had in mind in Romans 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”
This verse does not state that all things are good or that all things work together for good for all people.
Rather the great promise is that God will overrule and work even through the tragedies of this life to accomplish His purposes in the lives of those who love Him and who have responded to His call.
God will bless those who love Him so that everything that comes to us, whether good or bad or indifferent, can be worked out for good.
The picture here is of God salvaging us from life’s wreckage.
In the junkyards of life, God is painstakingly salvaging what He can so that out of our darkness and sorrow He can create a very good thing—more and more brothers and sisters who are conformed to the likeness of His Son.