Teaching Sermons For Pastors and Laymen

 9-06-03

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

 

Introduction

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 worshipped 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.

The second truth is CHRISTIANS CAN HELP.

Jesus confronts the doubt of death with confidence. 

He challenges the despair of death with hope. 

He said to Mary, “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.  And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26). 

He is saying, there is life on the other side of death. 

He says that death will never have the final victory: “….whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (v. 25). 

But do you notice the necessity of faith in this verse. 

To believe in Jesus means that He becomes the Lord of your life. 

When you surrender your life to Him in faith, trusting that He is indeed God’s power to deliver us and God’s grace to save us, you are delivered from the worst death can do.

The third truth is this, FRIENDS CAN HELP.

In John 11:31 it says, “Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and comforting her….” 

Here we see a picture of the common experience of all people down through the ages. 

We see Mary surrounded by friends from the village who are seeking to comfort her. 

Friends know that even though they can’t heal the pain, they can at least share in the grief. 

But the friend the sisters really wanted to see was Jesus, because they knew He could have prevented their brother’s death, and they still had hope in Jesus’ power.

Jesus often brings comfort to a family through the love of those who come in His name and offer their hands and hearts on His behalf. 

When a family has suffered the loss of a loved one, friends can help in many ways. 

The things that help most are practical activities, such as cleaning the house, taking care of children, standing by to answer the phone or welcome visitors and accept food that is brought to the house.

The acts of service that mean the most to the bereaved are those that don’t require know-how on the part of the volunteer, but simply a desire and a willingness to help. 

In a caring church family, the pastor is never the only one who is able to help the family. 

Indeed, the whole church body can, and should, offer help and communicate Christ’s love.

The fourth truth is GOD’S HELP IS NEVER FAR AWAY.

God knows about death. 

He warned Adam and Eve from the very beginning that disobedience would bring death. 

Even after they sinned, God did not abandon them, nor has He abandoned us. 

He shoulders our grief on His own back and bears the burden with us. 

The cross on which our Savior died became God’s bridge to draw us back to Himself. 

When a mother lost her only son to a car accident, she cried out, “Oh, where is God when I need Him most?” 

A friend close by replied, “I suppose He’s in the same place He was when He lost His Son.”

The reality of God’s grief is nowhere made clearer than in the scripture we have before us. 

“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.  Then the Jews said, “See how He loved him!” (John 11:33-36). 

At this point Jesus gives no words of explanation, no call to courage and great faith. 

He simply shares in their grief as they walk to the place where they had laid Lazarus. 

The Greeks would read John’s gospel in disbelief. 

To them, God is the Unmoved Mover. 

He is above our petty emotions. 

He cannot be touched by our sorrow and pain. 

But John’s gospel is clear: God is not unconcerned; He is concerned for His people. 

In these verses, John gave insight into the deep compassion of Jesus.

Even though Jesus knew He could restore Lazarus to physical life, He wept with sorrow and sympathy.

Here, the word “wept” did not refer to the wailing that customarily accompanied funerals in that day.

Funeral wailing ordinarily meant uninhibited loud crying, even screaming or shrieking.

This open display of emotion was often done by people who did not know or care about the dead person.

Many were paid to grieve openly.

The more dramatic the wailing, the greater tribute the Jews believed they paid to the deceased.

In Jesus’ case, the word “wept” simply means “shedding tears.”

Obviously, Jesus suffered a deep agony of spirit and was genuinely moved by Lazarus’s death.

Jesus’ tears provided remarkable insight into His true humanity.

We should never be ashamed or feel guilty when we mourn the loss of a loved one. 

As Christians, however, we know that death is not the end. 

Paul wrote, “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14). 

Those who have fallen asleep are believers who have died. 

This phrase focuses on the status of the body at the time of death and suggests a temporary state of rest, from which the body will awaken at the Rapture.

At the moment of death, the believer’s soul is immediately in the presence of the Lord, a truth which will be confirmed when Jesus brings with Him those who sleep in Him.

At the Rapture, believers who are still living are caught up.

The Lord will change their bodies into a glorified state. 

That is according to God’s Word, and it is our blessed hope. 

Because of our Lords power over death, we don’t have to grieve like those who have no hope.

The last truth is CHRISTIANS SHOULD BEAR WITNESS TO BOTH THE GRIEF AND VICTORY IN DEATH.

Dwight L. Moody once said that when he was called to preach his first funeral sermon, he searched the scriptures to find what Jesus said at funerals—only to discover that Jesus had no funeral sermons! 

Jesus turned around every funeral he ever attended. 

And Jesus still turns our grief into victory today. 

Jesus’ resurrection of others was a sign of the great resurrection that would soon come in His own life. 

His own resurrection was the undeniable sign of God’s victory over death, which He freely gives to those who trust Him.

 

Conclusion

The greatest help a family could have when dealing with the death of a loved one is a vibrant faith in God and a close relationship with Jesus Christ. 

When the waves of grief threaten to engulf you, remember the words of Fanny Crosby, “Down in the human heart, crushed by the tempter, feelings lie buried that grace can restore; touched by a loving heart, wakened by kindness, chords that are broken will vibrate once more.” 

Today, we have funeral plans and Hospice to prepare us for death. 

But the most important thing that any of us can do is to believe the gospel; that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and three days later He rose from the grave. 

The resurrection of the Savior is our assurance that He has overcome death. 

Because of the resurrection we will pass from death into life. 

Even though we die, we will live again.

Amen.

Do you have any questions or comments?

 The government of Mexico added the “double nationality amendment” to their constitution in March of 1998. This amendment allows citizens of Mexico, who live in the United States, to retain Mexican nationality rights even when they adopt citizenship in the United States. There are obviously some very strong political opinions surrounding this practice of allowing people to receive benefits from two countries. Regardless of your political views, such an amendment can help us understand our own tendency to straddle the fence spiritually. Although Mexico has joined the ranks of Britain, France, and Israel, where dual nationality is also permitted, we must all decide whether our citizenship will be in Satan’s kingdom or God’s. Dual nationality does not and cannot exist in the spiritual realm.

Houston Chronicle, Dec. 10, 1995, p. 31A; Mexico Consulate, Telephone Interview, May 2000

Make a Free Website with Yola.