This is a sermon preached at Gray’s funeral by his brother Leigh Robinson, who is the senior pastor of Rosebank Union Church in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Sermon: TRUTH AND TEARS
Scripture: John 11:1-44
Death had visited the little home in Bethany two miles from Jerusalem. Lazarus was dead, and the dark cloud of grief had descended upon his sisters, Martha and Mary. Their family had been robbed by the monster death. Their hearts were broken, their future bleak.
Their home had been an oasis for Jesus, a place to lay his head, an escape from the stress of ministry and the relentless hounding of the religious leaders. There his body had been strengthened by the hearty meals of Martha and his spirit refreshed by the spiritual hunger of Mary.
When Lazarus became ill the first thing these believing sisters did was send for Jesus. He received the message, but he stayed where he was for two more days before heading for Bethany. There was design in his delay. By the time he reached the outskirts of Bethany Lazarus had already been dead for four days. The funeral was over. Lazarus’ body had lain in a dark, cold tomb for four days.
When word reached the sisters that Jesus was nearing Bethany, Martha dropped everything and ran. On reaching him, she breathlessly blurted out, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (v21). Jesus responded to her sad statement with truth. He said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”
A little later, when Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said exactly what Martha had said earlier– “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (v32). Jesus responded to her sad statement with tears. “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. Where have you laid him?’ he asked. ‘Come and see, Lord,’ they replied” (vv33-35). Then comes the amazing statement by the apostle, the shortest verse in the Bible: “Jesus wept” (v35).
Two identical statements by two heart-broken sisters–“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (v32). And two responses by Jesus: truth and tears. These responses by the Son of God highlight the two things we need and the two things he offers us in our time of grief. In our grief we need his truth to give us hope. And in our grief we need his tears to give us comfort.
Jesus responded to Martha’s statement with truth. He said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” What an astounding statement for a man, the son of a Galilean carpenter, to make! He was either a liar, a lunatic, or who he claimed to be—the Son of God, God in the flesh. It wasn’t long before he verified his claim to be “the resurrection and the life” by raising Lazarus from the dead. Listen to the text–
Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odour, for he has been there four days.” Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”
The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him.
This miracle was followed a few days later by the miracle of Jesus’ own resurrection—further proof of the validity of his claim, “I am the resurrection and the life.” And his resurrection is the ground of our hope.
Like Martha and Mary, we’re grieving today. We are grieving the loss of Gray. And to us in our grief Jesus comes, as he did to Martha, with his truth. He says to us, “I am the resurrection and the life.” We sorrow at the loss of Gray, but “we do not grieve like the rest of men who have no hope” because “we believe that Jesus died and rose again” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14). We know that Gray was trusting in the death and resurrection of Jesus to save him from his sins. Therefore, although we grieve, we have hope. We know he is with the Lord. We know that we will see him again.
If Gray had been trusting in his own merits or efforts for salvation, his sins would not have been forgiven. He would still be in his sins and we would have no grounds for hope. Our hope is based on truth, not fantasy or speculation. Our hope is based on historical events—the death and resurrection of Jesus. Our hope is in the One who spoke to Martha saying, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” Gray believed in him, therefore, though he has died, he lives. He lives now more fully and more gloriously than he has ever lived before. He is with Christ which is “better by far” (Philippians 1:23). He is “at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). He is in his presence where is “fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11).
So, in times of grief and loss, the ground of hope is truth. Today I remind you, and I remind myself, of the truth. As the dark cloud of grief hangs over us all I remind you of the words of Jesus. I point you to the cross and to the empty tomb.
And, may I ask you, Do you have grounds for hope if you were to die today. Have you believed in Christ?
Believing involves three things: knowledge, desire, and commitment. You must know the facts concerning the life and death and resurrection of Jesus and you must believe them to be true. You must feel your need for forgiveness and desire to have the pardon Christ offers. And you must make a definite commitment of your life to Christ.
Illus: Marriage involves knowledge, desire, and commitment
Like Martha and Mary, we’re grieving today. We are grieving the loss of Gray. And to us in our grief Jesus comes, as he did to Martha, with his truth. But he also comes to us, as he did to Mary, with his tears.
Twice in Scripture we read of Jesus weeping. When he looked over sinful, unrepentant Jerusalem, he wept for the nation. And on the way to a friend’s grave, he wept for those who grieve. What an incredible Saviour! Weeping not just for us in our sin, but with us in our suffering.
Today, as we mourn the loss of Gray, Jesus weeps with us. He is “deeply moved” (vv33, 38) as he sees our hearts broken with grief. He is not distant and uncaring.
Illus: My experience of NBHS field
The hymn writer capture this truth so well—
Does Jesus care when I’ve said ‘Goodbye’
To the dearest on earth to me,
And my sad heart aches till it nearly breaks,
Is it ought to him, does he see?
Oh, yes, he cares! I know he cares!
His heart is touched with my grief.
Though the days are weary, the long nights dreary,
I know my Saviour cares.
“We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16).
As we journey with grief, let us go again and again to him, our sympathetic Saviour, to “receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
The event that occurred in Bethany reveals Jesus as a man who raises the dead and as a God who weeps. Which is more incredible? Today as we grieve the loss of Gray, his truth gives us hope and his tears give us comfort. Thanks be to God! As we journey with grief in the days ahead, let us again and again remember this incredible moment at Bethany. May he come to us again and again with his truth that gives hope and his tears that bring comfort. Amen!