John 11:28-37 | The Sovereign's Emotions | Andrew Gutierrez
Topic: Worship Gatherings Passage: John 11:28–11:37
There seems to be fewer of you, but I know that’s not true. If we walked over to Miller Valley, we’d be packed right now. So, we’re grateful for this place, and I was just thinking this morning how grateful I am for Miller Valley and the Lord’s kindness to us to have that place for two years. And we don’t deserve better, but he’s given us better, because that’s just what he does.
Well, open your Bibles this morning to John 11. We continue in our series through John, and specifically here in John 11, with verses 28 through 37. The name of the series, the title of it is “Sovereign Over Death” or “The End of Death,” I should say. “The End of Death.” We’re looking at Jesus and his final sign in the book of John where he raises a dead man, his friend, the one he loves—Lazarus. And that shows us something about who he is and it validates his claims of being the Son of God.
Specifically, in this text I want to focus on the emotions of Jesus, because the text focuses on the emotions of Jesus. There’s a lot to learn from the emotions of Jesus based on this passage. So, follow along as I read John 11:28-37, speaking of Martha:
When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”
The Sovereign’s emotions. I’ll never forget, like you, September 11, 2001. To those of you who weren’t born then, just ask your parents what that day means in U.S. history. But I’ll also never forget September 16, 2001. See, that was the first Sunday after those attacks in Pennsylvania, New York and Washington D.C. September 16 was the first Sunday when massive amounts of people went to church. They went to church for all sorts of different reasons, but one reason they went was to get some answers, to find out what this all means, what happened.
I’ll never forget being there Sunday morning, September 16, and my pastor saying, come back tonight and I’m going to talk to you about why this all happened biblically. And so that evening, again, I’ll remember this forever, I remember sitting in the back of Grace Community Church in Los Angeles, sitting in the very back of the sanctuary. And I got there on time, and I sat on the floor, and that sanctuary holds 3,000 people. People wanted answers. And on that night our pastor told us, showed us from the Scripture, going even all the way back to Isaac and Ishmael how there would be a war between the people of God and the enemies of those people. So he taught us that and we learned. That was really helpful for many of us intellectually.
But that same day 3,000 miles away from Los Angeles there was a pastor that got up in New York City to speak to his congregation. It was Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian, and he would be speaking to—unlike most pastors in California—he would be speaking to people who had lost loved ones in that tragedy, specifically in New York. People who were grieving, maybe listening to that sermon through tears, and asking the question: Why? What now? What happens? What do I do with how I feel?
So, the question I have is: Why did Tim Keller choose to go to John 11—this exact text—that specific day? The reason: Because when you see Jesus looking at human death and how he dealt with it, it gives us hope. So, whether you’ve lost someone in the past and you’re still grieving that, still trying to figure out why, how come, what do I do with the way I feel? Or you’re going through that now, or you will go through that in the future—where you might be, this text brings help. This text. Jesus’ words and his emotions.
This week we’re going to see how the sovereign one, the one sovereign over death, feels; and that’s going to teach us some things. Next week we’re going to focus on what he does about it, and that’s the exciting part. But we take a lot out of how he feels. So, what I’m going to do this morning is I’m going to walk through the text and explain it to you, and at the end I’m going to draw three points of understanding to your attention—three truths we learn about Jesus in witnessing his emotions at a time of great loss. Three truths we learn about Jesus in witnessing his emotions at a time of great loss. So, I’ll kind of get to those three points at the end.
But first I want to kind of set the stage and explain to you what is going on in these verses. Verse 28: Jesus has just talked to Martha, told her to focus on him as the resurrection and the life, the relationship with him. She makes that great confession in verse 27: “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” So, Jesus has been speaking to Martha, and “When she had said this,” verse 28, “she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, ‘The Teacher is here and is calling for you.’”
Martha has just finished her confession to the Lord about who he is and what she believes. Then she goes to Mary, her sister. The two are often intertwined and she had been seeing Jesus apart from Mary because Mary was back at the home, probably sitting down, probably receiving people who were mourning with her, hands on her shoulder, hugs, weeping, wailing. And so she goes to get Mary who’s back home because Jesus wanted to talk to Mary, too.
Verse 29: “And when she heard it [Mary], she rose quickly and went to him. Now, Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. “When the Jews were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there.” They didn’t know why Mary was getting up so quickly, because Martha probably whispered it to her in her ear. She told her privately, we know. So, she may have called her to the next room or whispered it in her ear: The Teacher, the rabbi, Jesus, Teacher wants to see you. And so Mary gets up quickly and goes out.
So, everyone’s sitting there, sees her get up and leave, which would not have been normal. They would have been used to her just sitting there seeing everybody that walked through the house to console her. But she, in the middle of all that, gets up and leaves. And so, they think, oh, my goodness, maybe she’s going to the tomb. So they follow her to the tomb.
What’s important to know is from this moment on, yes, Mary speaks to Jesus, but from this moment on, more people hear what’s going on. This isn’t just a private conversation like Martha had with Jesus. Now Mary’s having a conversation with Jesus that more people were privy to.
Verse 32: “Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet saying to him [same thing her sister did], ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’” Martha said the same exact thing. She wishes Jesus would have stopped her brother from dying.
Verse 33: “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.” Jesus’ emotions—notice this—Jesus’ emotions are triggered by the emotions of those he loves and those who are not his. Those who are his and those who are not his. A number of the Jews who would have been there with her would not have been his children, his sheep. We know that from studying the first part of John, chapters 1 through 11, at this point.
We know that this crowd weeping would have been made up of people who would have believed in him and those who didn’t believe in him, but when he saw both of their emotions, he is overcome with emotion. They’re weeping—he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. Now, “deeply moved in his spirit” doesn’t quite do it. We need more help here. This is not when you walk out of a movie and go, “Wow, that was moving.” That’s not what this is saying. This isn’t talking about a poem you read or a song you heard that was moving. It’s not this.
This word “deeply moved in spirit” means greatly agitated, indignant. Jesus is angry. He sees them weeping. He’s angry, indignant even. This is more than just sad, a little frustrated. The word actually means to snort like a horse. [Snorting sound.] That’s how Jesus felt when he saw Mary and the people with her weeping over the death of the one they loved. He’s angry. The Lord’s angry at something. And the text says that he’s greatly troubled. He was stirred up with emotion. And actually the verb is in the active form. He stirred himself up with great emotion. He’s angry, stirred up with great emotion; he’s agitated. At who? At what? At them? At Lazarus for dying? Who’s he upset at? We’ll learn more about that in a little bit.
Moving on in verse 34: “And he said, ‘Where have you laid him?’” You just hear the angry, upset, maybe trembling voice. Where have you laid him? “They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’” He wants to go to the tomb. Verse 35: I don’t know if this is on the way to the tomb or when he got to the tomb, but verse 35, two words: “Jesus wept.” Jesus wept.
So, we know something prior to verse 35. We know he’s angry. He’s upset. And now in verse 35 that tears come. Now, this is different—it’s interesting—this verb, verse 35, is different than their weeping in verse 33. A different verb. Different kinds of weeping. Verse 33: Their weeping is loud wailing, uncontrolled weeping. His weeping means to shed tears. He silently burst out in tears. So, it wasn’t this loud weeping. It was quiet, maybe head down, tears flowing, maybe shaking.
So, there’s anger, there’s sadness, all of that comes out of Jesus. Verse 36: “So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’” I mean, this is the one that turned water into wine. This is the one who is doing these miracles. This is the one standing up and proclaiming that he is the Son of God come from heaven, and he’s doing that in the temple in Jerusalem. This is that one. And look at how overcome with emotion he is. He must have loved Lazarus. And they’d be right.
Verse 37: “But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?’” Of course, verse 37 is in there. Didn’t this happen every time Jesus did something noteworthy? People see it, they’re drawn to him, look at his love. Yeah, but couldn’t he have …? There’s always that group here. There’s always those that see something Jesus did, and they fall … I’m all in for the rest of eternity. And others saying, yeah, but why’d he do it this way? There’s always that group. And here’s that group. Their thinking is—and now look, they’re responding to verse 36—oh, he loved him so much. Look at how overcome with emotion he is. And you can see the other people saying, Yeah, but if he loved him, he would have stopped him from dying. That’s basically the argument they’re making. If he loved him that much, he would have stopped him from dying.
And isn’t that the question that we sometimes have for Jesus? Jesus, if you love me, why did you let this happen? So, we can sometimes find ourselves in verse 37. If God loves me, he’ll do this. He doesn’t do it, so then we think, does he not love me? Does he not care for me? But remember, this whole chapter 11 is under the umbrella of “God is sovereign.” Jesus is sovereign. He knows the beginning; he knows the end; he knows everything in between. The fact that he allowed Lazarus to die does not mean for one moment that he lacks any love for Lazarus. And the fact that he has allowed you to go through any trial in life does not mean for one moment that he lacks love for you. The opposite is true.
Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man (John 9) also have kept this man from dying? So, if he can heal the blind, couldn’t he have done something about this if he really loved this man? Jesus sees people weeping loudly; and he’s overcome with angry, sad feelings. Why? How does this comfort people on September 16, 2001? How does this comfort you whose father is dying or has died? How does this comfort you whose family member is going through cancer now? How does this comfort you in 18 months when you find out someone else whose gone to be with the Lord that you love deeply? How does this comfort you?
1. By witnessing the emotions of Jesus, we learn that God enters into our grief.
Here’s what I want us to take away. Three truths we learn about Jesus in witnessing his emotions at a time of great loss. How does this help? Number one: By witnessing the emotions of Jesus who enters into our grief, we learn of a God who enters into our grief.
You know, kids have sometimes funny views about God. We get these great theological questions oftentimes at nighttime when we’re tucking our boys in and we pray; and they, all of a sudden, have some random question that is really random, out of nowhere. And they have these interesting questions about God and the Bible. And oftentimes they’re the best questions.
But I remember my view of God when I was a little boy. I’ll never forget; this is how I viewed God. I viewed God as being up in the clouds, obviously, up in the clouds, in the sky, and being in somewhat of a control tower. And there being buttons all around, like a table of buttons, like a giant soundboard. And windows looking out into the world. And he would just press buttons at different times, pull levers. Kind of like that room up there with the windows up there. That’s where I pictured God being. And he just controlled everything. Maybe a little turn of a wheel here, a button—like a Wizard of Oz type of thing. Kind of doing stuff behind the curtain. That’s how I viewed God. But that’s not God, and Jesus shows that.
Last weekend we celebrated this fact. God didn’t save the world by just sending an announcement. “Hey, sins forgiven.” He came to the earth as a child, not born in a palace, born in a feeding trough; not born in Jerusalem, in Bethany. Not born as royalty in everybody else’s eyes, but born as a nobody. Can anything good really come out of Nazareth? That’s what God did. He entered into the world at the lowest part of it. He didn’t just enter the world. He entered at the lowest part of it.
When we see Jesus’ emotions here, we see the fact—this should, this needs to amaze you: Jesus is there, crying. Lazarus, the one that he has loved from before the foundation of the world, has died; and Jesus is there in his hometown at his tomb weeping, angry over what’s happened. Jesus is there. He’s unlike any other god in any other religion who is distant and you got to get to. He comes for his own. He comes for the troubled in soul.
That’s why the prophecy about Jesus is true. He is to be a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, familiar with grief. Jesus is not only a man of sorrows, but he’s also all powerful and he’s sovereign. Now, think about this: In just a matter of minutes, in just a matter of minutes, Jesus is going to raise Lazarus from the dead. And maybe five minutes before, everyone’s weeping uncontrollably. Lazarus is gone.
If this was you—now, just for a moment—I know you’re not Jesus, but if this was you, you knew that five minutes later everyone’s going to be hugging Lazarus, would you have wept and been this upset? Probably not. I wouldn’t have been. I would have been like I normally am when I see someone hurting when I know that there’s something better happening. Oh, stop crying. Trust the Lord. Hang in there. God’s sovereign. And while that’s all true, that’s all true, he’s going to do something great. Yes, trust the Lord. Yes, he is sovereign. At the moment they are hurting, he’s hurting with them. At the moment.
He’s not standing up there pressing buttons, saying, I’m going to put you through this trial, and in a couple years when you get out of it, you’ll see how great I am. No, he enters in and the moment you need him, even if it’s a minute before the trial’s over, he’s right there in that minute. That’s who Jesus is. That’s who God is. That’s the character of our God. Why did he enter into this grief? Because he’s not a distant deity. He’s anything but that. He’s a loving Lord, a compassionate King. He’s close. He’s near to the brokenhearted, the Psalmist says.
Why did Jesus come to earth and weep outside of Lazarus’ tomb? Why was he angry about death? Why all of this? Because he never closes his heart for one moment to someone who’s hurting that is his. Never for one moment. If you’re going through a trial right now and you think, I know he’s sovereign, but that doesn’t really comfort me because he’s just putting me through something to teach me something at the end, you have a wrong view of God. That is all true, but it’s an incomplete view of God. Yes, he’s teaching you something, but he’s teaching you something as one that’s right there with you, hurting over what hurts you. He’s going through the pain with you.
Hebrews 4 tells us to go to him boldly because he knows all that we’ve gone through. The Bible constantly tries to show us Jesus understands. Jesus understands and he cares. He understands and he cares. Hear that this morning. Whatever situation you’re in, he understands and he cares. Yes, he has a plan. He is sovereign and he is love. He is both at the same time.
2. By witnessing the emotions of Jesus, we learn where to aim our anger at loss.
We learn of a God who enters into our grief. Secondly, by witnessing the emotions of Jesus, we learn where to aim our anger at loss. We learn where to aim our anger at loss. If you’ve watched the news or followed social media in the last week or so, you know that there have been a lot of celebrities that have died recently, tragically. And I’ve seen on social media people saying things like, using expletives, but “Get out of here 2016.” “Finally, we’re done with 2016.” And they’re really angry at 2016 and saying bring on 2017.
Well, 2016 isn’t a person. 2016 can’t do anything. But it shows you people try to aim their anger at something when they’re hurting. And so they’re aiming it at a year. We hate 2016. How dare you, 2016. Their anger needs to end on something. It needs to land on someone, something, some year, something.
So, why was Jesus angry? He was angry in the midst of death. Why was he angry? Who, what was the object of his anger? Well, there are a lot of speculations about this. And I land on the position that most Bible teachers land on. But some people think that he was upset with those who were grieving, and I don’t believe that for one moment. Jesus, God, the Holy Spirit reveals to us in Romans 12: Weep with those who weep. It doesn’t say, see them weeping and don’t they know Revelation 21, 22?
Jesus isn’t angry at the ones grieving because they’re grieving. Jesus is grieving. He’s not angry with them. He tells us in the Scriptures to weep with those who weep. That’s also an Old Testament truth. That’s why the Jews were doing this with Mary and Martha. They knew enough about their Old Testament to know that we should go comfort those who need comfort. So, he’s not upset because they’re grieving.
He’s also not upset because he’s surprised. How could this happen? He’s upset because he wasn’t in control. He didn’t know this was coming. That’s not true. Go back to verse 4 of chapter 11. Remember when the messenger comes to say that Lazarus is dying? Jesus says, “But when Jesus heard it he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’” Jesus was miles away from where he is now in our text. Miles away and someone said Lazarus is dying to the point of death. You need to come quickly. And Jesus said, it’s not going to end in death. It’s going to end in the glory of God.
Jesus knows what’s going on. He’s not surprised about anything happening here. He’s also not angry at unbelief. Many people think, well, the Jews were there, so he’s angry at their unbelief. I don’t believe that’s true either because earlier we learned that when Jesus saw Mary also and her weeping, he was angered and upset. There weren’t just unbelievers upset. There were his followers, ones he loved, grieving. He’s not angry at unbelief here.
Jesus is angry; Jesus is angry at death and its cause: sin. That’s what Jesus is angered by. As you go through the Bible and see how God used sin and death, you realize God hates them both. Remember Genesis 2, he told Adam and Eve the day you eat, you’ll surely die. The day you eat of the tree that I’ve forbidden, you’ll surely die. In other words, the day you disobey, you will surely die. And “surely die” is a definite in the Hebrew. It’s going to happen. The day you disobey—death.
Paul tells us in the New Testament (Romans 6:23), the wages of sin is death. The payment for sin is death. You sin; you die. This is something God has taught all along. So, the great enemy, the great enemy of God is sin and death. The great enemy of Christ is sin and death. That’s why when they sin—see last Sunday’s message which is online because there were twelve of you there because of holidays and snow—but this connects well with last week when we looked at Genesis 3. When there was sin coming into the garden (Genesis 3), when sin came in, Jesus, God promised—Yahweh promised—a seed, one from the line of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent. So, right away we see when sin comes, when death comes, God pronouncing there’s going to be a solution for death and there’s going to be a battle. This is a war.
So, Jesus is angered at sin and death. In 1 Corinthians 15 there’s even a taunt of death. Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? It’s the Holy Spirit, through the pen of Paul, saying death, where’s your victory? Where’s your finality. You think you’ve won. Death, where is your victory? O death, where’s your sting? The sting of death is sin. And the power of sin is the law, but thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
The picture is of a champion, a military figure who’s overcome something. Jesus was at war with death, and he was the victor over death. So, Jesus is angry because what’s going on in that town and outside of that town at that tomb is not what should be happening. God created men and women to enjoy him, and men and women rebelled and that brought sin, and that angers the heart of God. It upsets the heart of God.
So, we see Jesus and we see that characteristic of God himself. Jesus is angered by death. Now, sin causes all death. So, if you want something to point your anger at in a time of great loss, point it at sin. Point it at sin. Whether it’s your grandfather or my cousin, who I was such close friends with, my favorite cousin, who died of cancer at 16 years old when I was 19. If I want to be angry at anything, I should be angry at sin, because sin did that. Sin caused his death. I’m not saying his sin. It’s not that he had cancer because he sinned. There’s cancer in the world because we’ve all sinned. So, if you want to be angry at anything, be angry at sin.
And don’t just be angry at Adam and Eve. It’s their fault! I’m innocent. No, it’s all of us. Death and loss should be a reason for us to hate sin all the more. We want something to receive the anger we have over losing the one that we love. Someone needs to pay and so we get angry at so many things. That’s why oftentimes in funerals or in times of grief, angry emotions come out even in families and things like that, because we’re looking for somewhere to take that emotion. And the world doesn’t know where to take it.
We do. Hate sin. Sin caused all of this. Be indignant with sin when thinking about the loss that we have experienced. But 1 Thessalonians 4, do not grieve as those without hope. There’s something coming next week in chapter 11 that’s not going to leave us with “angry at sin.” If it was just, okay, fine, pastor; I’ll be angry at sin; but be angry at sin knowing that there’s one (Revelation 21) who’s going to do away with death forever and raise those who have been his, who died in him. So, yes, grieve; but don’t grieve like those who are without hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
3. By witnessing the emotions of Jesus, we learn that love does not negate pain but has a greater purpose for it.
By witnessing the emotions of Jesus, we learn of a God who enters into our grief, we learn where to aim our anger at loss; and number three, by witnessing the emotions of Jesus, we learn that love doesn’t negate pain but has a greater purpose for it. Love does not negate pain but has a greater purpose for it.
Remember verse 37: “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” If verse 36 is true, then he loved him. Their argument is, if Jesus loves someone so much, he won’t let anything bad happen to them. That’s what their argument is. That’s not a biblical argument they’re making. It’s not.
Remember verse 4 tells us of the purpose of this all. The purpose is for the glory of God, so that God would receive glory. This death of the one he loves, Lazarus, this death and the weeping and wailing that’s going on all around this death, all around this funeral, the whole purpose of this all is to glorify the Son. And when those mourners and those weeping understand that, then they will find joy. Verse 4 tell us of the purpose. This isn’t going to end poorly. This is going to end well, with redemption and resurrection.
Now, how would God be glorified? How would God be glorified? By those people weeping and hurting, trusting in him to raise Lazarus, trusting in him to raise them when they go, trusting in him to always be with them. Even if they died physically, he would raise them again. That’s why he tells Martha to find her hope in him. I’m the resurrection and the life. That glorifies God.
So, Lazarus’ death brings them low to where their emotions come out. They’re sad; they’re angry. They need someone to help; and Jesus shows up and says, I’m the resurrection and the life. And when they embrace that like Martha did, that glorifies God. That’s what this whole thing means. What this whole thing means.
God’s love does not negate painful situations; it redeems them. God’s love doesn’t keep you out of trials; it sees you through and teaches you to hold onto him more firmly. God’s love doesn’t keep you from anything bad ever happening to you. Don’t ever tell someone that when you evangelize them. Come to Christ; everything will always be okay. No, come to Christ; take up your cross; be willing to die every day. But let me tell you this: The one who commits to losing his life will find it. There’s also hope at the end.
Scripture talks about this all over the place, and the New Testament does as well. Jesus does this all over the place, telling his followers: Suffering’s coming, but … It’s going to be hard, but … And we talk about this all the time. Remember the great commission: Go, make disciples of all nations. Baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Teach them to obey all I’ve commanded you. And, listen, I’m with you always, even to the end of the age.
They need to hear that because that “go” isn’t always easy. There’s persecution; there’s martyrdom. So, even in the warning of “This will be tough; I’m with you.”—Matthew 16:24-25. By the way, this is what you all signed up for when you became Christians. You signed up for this. Bring the cross. Bring my cross because there’s a resurrection coming. I’m willing to go through anything because my Lord went through more and is with me, and I know what happens in the end. He’s worthy. He’s the lamb that was slain who is alive as the lion of the tribe of Judah. You signed up to follow him through that. You signed up for that. Matthew 16:24-25:
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself [that doesn’t sound fun] and take up his cross [take up his electric chair] and follow me. [And then this:] For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
You see Jesus telling us, hard times are coming, but you’ll find your life. Romans 5:3— we rejoice in our sufferings. Okay, hold on. You’re not going to hear that in some places. Come to Christ and then you can be joyful when you’re suffering. Paul says that we rejoice in our sufferings. He doesn’t even say we endure in our sufferings. He says that our emotions are happy in our sufferings.
[W]e rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
I want you to see this: We suffer, we can rejoice, and he reminds us, Paul reminds us in Romans 5, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts. God is not only sovereign and pushing buttons to put us through trials because in the end we’ll be better off for it. [In a gruff voice] They’ll see. They’ll be stronger. They’ll have character. They’ll hope in me. They’ll see. He doesn’t do that with a frown. He does that with his love being poured out into our hearts because we need that when we go through suffering.
Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good.” Do you believe that? Do you believe that today? We know that for those who love God all things—the death of your spouse, the death of your child—all things work together for good to those who are called according to his purpose. His purpose might be trials for a time before the resurrection comes. The fact that God loves us does not mean that we won’t ever experience pain, but it means he has a greater purpose for it.
I think oftentimes in trials, there are two errors that Christians can fall into. One is the error of God is sovereign only. So, someone is weeping and going through a trial and you just say, “God’s sovereign,” kind of “Get over it, buddy. I mean, you’re going to get through it. You’ll be fine. Romans 8:28—get through it. Stop crying.” That’s wrong. That’s wrong because Jesus wasn’t like that.
Mary, Martha, I mean, shhh, I mean, you’re embarrassing yourself. I’m going to raise him from the dead in three minutes when I get to the tomb. Just stop crying. Jesus doesn’t do that. Why didn’t he do that? Because they don’t just need him three minutes from now. They need him right now in that moment when they’re hurting. It’s not just, God is sovereign. He’s not some angry, distant deity; He’s a good shepherd.
By the way, doing all of this—John 11—all that Jesus is doing is going to cost him his own life. He could raise Lazarus from the dead because he was going to go pursue death himself. Jesus is anything but sovereign only. He’s sovereign and he’s good and he’s loving. He is both and they come together beautifully in this text.
The one error is, God’s sovereign. God’s sovereign. And this oftentimes, by the way, as counselors, as brothers and sisters, we got to be careful not to err in this. This can make us cold counselors, cold friends to friends we have that are suffering and hurting. God’s sovereign. You’re so emotional. And sometimes, yes, people are too emotional and too dramatic, and hey, get some self-control here. And there’s a place to remind people of truth, but there’s also pain and there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s weeping and grief. So, it’s not just, God’s sovereign; don’t worry about it. Don’t counsel your brothers and sisters if that’s only your answer. We weep with those who weep and point them to the sovereignty of God and the goodness of God.
The second error is that God is only love. God’s only love. If he loves me, he’ll never let anything bad happen to me. No, because he’s sovereign, and when he puts you through something, he’s doing it for a reason. The second error is, those who think, why is this happening to me? Doesn’t God love me?—They’re missing his whole sovereignty part. And by the way, they’re missing the whole call of the gospel, too, because this is what they signed up for, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Christian life isn’t easy.
But this is the second error: God is only love. How can this be happening to me? God, I thought you loved me. Those are questions and statements that don’t reflect a biblical understanding of the Christian life. Trials, in a sense, are our lot. That’s what we have coming. But so is victory and redemption. That’s what we have coming. The question isn’t, are you ever going to go through a trial? And the question for the world isn’t, are you ever going to go through a trial?
The question is, what will you do when you’re in it? And we as believers say, I will trust in my God who overcame death and who loves me and is sovereign over this whole thing. I’d much rather be there than, what will you do with it? I don’t know. Alcohol, suicide, run to some other spouse. I don’t know. We know that there’s a Lord who came down and wept.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
That’s where we go. When trials come, we go to the one who came, who entered into our grieving, could do something about it. A lot of people can comfort you by crying with you and hugging you and holding you, but that’s as far as we can help. He can do all that and raise the dead and promise that that’s your future. He’s unlike anybody else.
I’m reminded of Romans 8:32. Paul’s making this argument. He says, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Martha, Mary, you’ve lost Lazarus. Jesus is going to die for you. Canyon Bible Church, you’ve lost friends, family, jobs, money, health. You’ve lost things. Listen to the Holy Spirit tell you this this morning: He who didn’t spare his own Son—he gave his Son to die for you—but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give you all things? He’ll take care of that in his way, in his time. He just calls you to trust. Trust that he’s sovereign and trust that he’s good.
It’s funny how things in the newspaper oftentimes coincide with what you’re teaching in the Bible. But these recent deaths of celebrities and seeing how people respond in anger and where they try to find hope or what they do is just sad, but it’s telling. And you read John 11 at the same time as you’re preparing this sermon, as you read the newspapers, hearing of those deaths, and you’re seeing people respond, and I want you to know what we have. I want you to know John 11.
This week in the editorial section of The Daily Courier here in our own town, one of the editors, who I think was very well meaning and I applaud that, wrote an article about heart failure and heart attacks during the holidays, and he called it “Cheat Death, Especially Now.” And his call was really to get checked, get your heart checked because a lot of people struggle at these times. And I appreciate the common grace in that. I appreciate that. I’m pro going to see the doctor to get your heart checked. Okay?
So I appreciate this man and what he knows in trying to say this, but we have something more than this. He said, “Since 2005 I’ve been going for annual checkups with my heart doctor. I had been before, but that year my brother’s death spurred this new commitment. I share that because the stats are stacked against us at this time of year. Heart attack deaths are highest during the holiday season, the New York Times reports.” And then he recounts a number of those celebrities who have died recently because of heart attacks.
Then he says this: “I mention these facts or passings in hopes that someone takes notice. The last time I told the story of my brother’s fate, a local man told me he decided to finally go to the doctor. You never know when your number will be up, but you do not have to hasten it and might be able to delay it. Oh, to cheat death.”
With all due respect to this man who I think is well meaning and I applaud that sentiment, the best he can offer is delayed death. So, you get your heart checked and they find something. I’ve said this before: There are no 137-year-olds. It’s going to be something else then, or the heart a little bit later, and all in God’s time. But the best that the world can do is just try to delay something. That’s why so many people are starting to exercise today. Again, nothing wrong with that, for those of you who got up and ran a couple miles. Nothing wrong with that, but they’re trying to delay the inevitable.
If I just ignore that warning light on my dashboard, I can drive this car for 700,000 miles. No, you can’t. You can’t. But if you trust in Jesus Christ who did a miracle to take a man from death to life and who himself would go from death to life, if you trust in him, the one who says, “I am the resurrection and the life,” bank your whole life, your whole money, your whole exercise routine, bank everything on that and come to me. And you might have trials, but I will be there and I’ve gone through them myself. Come to me and trust me.
That’s where we go. The world can just say, I hope my number’s not up this year. That’s the best that they can do. Our God is sovereign over all things, and he’s loving and a God who is near; and the whole reason he came to Bethany at this time, and the whole reason he started in Bethlehem about 33 years earlier, and the whole reason that he went to heaven and prays for us now even, interceding for us before the throne, the whole reason he did all of that is to bring people to himself so that they would never die and have eternal life in him. And John, the gospel writer, over and over says, believe that. Believe that message. He’s from God; bank everything on him.
So, the question I have this morning, January 1, 2017, do you truly believe, trust, depend on, rely on, hold on to Jesus Christ? For not just the next few years, but for the next ten million. Do you believe in him this morning?
Father, we are just amazed at Jesus. No one, no one could do what he did, and no one can make the promises that he promises. No one can do this. He’s the only one, and for some reason, you’ve chosen us to understand this and embrace it. So, Father would you allow us to glorify you, not only today, but in the future when we go through trials. May we see a Lord who is not only sovereign, but who is also near to the brokenhearted. When we experience loss and pain and grief, Lord, allow us to hate sin all the more, even our own sin, all the more. Let us look forward to a time of Revelation 21 where there will be no more death, no more sin, no more curse. Lord, come quickly. We pray all this in your beautiful name. Amen.
More in The End of Death
January 8, 2017John 11:38-44 | The Sovereign Raises the Dead | Andrew Gutierrez
December 18, 2016John 11:17-27 | Something Better Than the Resurrection | Andrew Gutierrez
November 27, 2016John 11:-10 | Sovereign Over Death | Andrew Gutierrez