28And after she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there. 32When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34″Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. 35Jesus wept. 36Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Death. It is a terrible word. It is a word that makes me shudder with apprehension, recoil in disbelief, grow nauseated in disgust. Death is not a happy word. Down through the ages, death has reigned. Ever since the Garden. Sadly, evolution has not found a way for man or any creature to overcome death. “It is appointed for each man [person] to die once, and after that face judgment.” We live each day, each moment, with the prospect that death is looming large, like a shadow we cannot escape. Death is always near. And death’s purpose is very clear: It is hungry, never satisfied, always lurking, waiting, hoping for another taste, another victory. Then came along one day Someone who changed all that. Along came One who turned death’s purposes upside down. One day, Someone came along and used death. Oh, yes. He used death to accomplish His own ends. Thus death became a tool, a pawn, another piece of the plan.
“For the believer, the time of death becomes far less daunting a factor when seen in the light of eternity. We have already seen that, granted we lived under the sentence of death, the exact timing seems less foreboding a subject that it does for people who feel that threescore years and ten are their due. But now something more positive can be introduced. Although death remains an enemy, an outrage, a sign of judgment, a reminder of sin, and a formidable opponent, it is, from another perspective, the portal through which we pass to consummated life. We pass through death, and death dies. Christians whose hope is genuinely lodged in what it means to be ‘for ever with the Lord’ cannot contemplate what the world would see as premature death with the same indignation. Indeed, from one perspective, such death is a great blessing.” (DA Carson, How Long O Lord, 133)
Along came Jesus.
You see, death was never part of the plan. Life was the plan. That’s why God put in the Garden the Tree of Life and not the Tree of Death. Although he certain gave an option in the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil: On the day you eat of it you will surely die. And die they did. It is perplexing though why, even then, we were more intrigued by death than we were consumed with life. But for some reason, that day, the day of Adam and Eve, they were hungry for something they had not before tasted: Death. So they ate; and all were satisfied.
I’m not a big fan of death. I have no particular interest in involving myself in any studies of death any time soon. I have no particular reason to want to do a thesis paper on death or write a doctoral dissertation on death. I don’t happen to think that Jesus was particularly enamored with death either: Death was, to Jesus, the greatest enemy. And part of his work on this earth was to destroy that enemy once and for all.
Mary said the same thing to Jesus that Martha had said: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Neither Mary nor Martha knew that it was precisely because Jesus wasn’t there that their brother would live.
Jesus looks around and what does he see? He sees scores of people weeping and grieving and mourning. Great distress had overtaken these people at the death of Lazarus. Jesus saw it and, John tells us, He was ‘agitated and angry.’ He was terrible bent out of shape, so to speak. He saw this death of Lazarus and he was outraged at the hubris of death, enraged at the coldness of death, beside himself at the capriciousness of death. Death is no friend of humanity and Jesus makes that known by his actions. Jesus was not weeping because he had lost a good friend or because he saw the others weeping at their lost friend. Remember: Jesus already had in mind what he was going to do (see verse 4). Jesus was weeping here at the outrageousness of death, at the implacability of death, at the violence of death. But even they misunderstood Jesus’ tears that day.
You see our greatest enemy is death. And can you imagine that the Son of God saw that and wept?
But many in this life are still on course for communion with death. People continue to lead reckless lives that are filled with the same hubris and madness that characterized Adam and Eve’s choice in the Garden. People are hungry for death and they don’t even take time to notice how offensive death is. They court death. They taunt death. They sneer at death. What they don’t do, sadly, is take time to realize that death can be, has been, and will be overcome at last. What evolution has failed to do: increase life expectancy to any significant degree, Christ has done. What evolution has failed to accomplish: the defeat of death entirely, Christ has done completely.
We preach the Good News of Jesus Christ in the hopes that more and more people will realize that death is conquered only in Christ. That apart from Christ, people are living dead, dying while they are walking, dead before they die. My hope is that all people will surrender to Christ and rise to walk in newness of life. Jesus hates death, and only Jesus has the power to do anything about it. As he will show us in our next meditation.
Soli Deo Gloria!