Merry Christmas, all! I didn’t create a holiday gift guide this year. Instead, The Holy Spirit led me to write about grief from the perspective of Jesus in John chapter 11. Usually, this sort of conversation is directed toward the grieving. I am writing to those surrounding the grieving. Jesus did some significant things while comforting Mary and Martha after their brother, Lazarus, had died. If someone close to you is grieving this season, holidays and milestones can be triggers as we notice those not at the dinner table, or gathered around the tree. Let’s point out some strategies for comforting the grieving directly from Jesus, our ultimate example. Keep in mind every person is different, but I believe there are helpful ways to be present, loving and supportive of those we know are experiencing sorrow due to grief.
In John 11, Lazarus dies. Picking up in verse 20, Jesus is on his way to Bethany where Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived. Martha hears He’s coming and goes to meet Him. “Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask from God, God will give You.’” Jesus, being fully God, could have cut her off and told her the plan. Instead, He listened. Persons experiencing grief aren’t always looking for a solution. They may, however, want a willing ear from someone they love and trust. Even when you know the answer, listen.
This may sound simple. But, it’s incredibly powerful. Sympathy is a Greek word that can best be defined in Scripture. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin – Hebrews 4:15. Jesus doesn’t just feel bad for us when things happen. He actually shares in our sorrow because He’s experienced it before. So when Mary came to meet Jesus, The Bible says she fell at His feet weeping. “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and greatly troubled” – John 11:33. Then, in verse, 35, Jesus wept. Here is why this is so incredible. Jesus was God. He came to Bethany, specifically, to resurrect Lazarus. He knew that shortly thereafter, Lazarus would be alive again. Yet and still, Jesus’ humanity led Him to weep for His friends Mary and Martha, and because He deeply loved Lazarus. Sometimes, grief doesn’t have to be explained. Your sympathy speaks volumes to those suffering. Try comforting others by actually suffering with them.
Do what you can
Beginning at verse 41, “So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.’” Jesus then calls Lazarus, and he walks out alive. I am not suggesting that we, in some way, ask God to resurrect loved ones. No. What I’m saying is that Jesus was able to do that. When my brother passed away, a friend called and asked for my grocery list because she was going shopping. At the time, I was home with my mom and we hadn’t thought about the grocery store. That was what she could do so she did it. It helped a lot. The point I’m making is do what YOU can do. You may not be able to send flowers to the funeral, hug a person experiencing grief during each holiday or remember to check on them on their loved one’s birthday. You CAN pray, cook a meal, spend some time, send a card, something. Do that. And don’t feel guilty when you’ve reached your limit. Trust me. It’s appreciated.
After Jesus resurrected Lazarus, The Bible says that the Jews that saw what He did believed in Him. And earlier in verse 4 it 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.’” This perspective isn’t one that comes overnight. Use every opportunity to believe God on behalf of those grieving. Remind them that Jesus actually came, not so that we can forever have smiling pictures on Instagram with our loved ones, but for the hurting, broken, lonely, abandoned, suffering, and yes, for the grieving too. Believe that the Son of God is glorified in the mending of their broken heart and pray that your faith encourages theirs. Challenge them to continue holding fast to the truth that Jesus died “for the joy that was set before Him.” He overcame and we can too. After all, “The LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations” Psalm 100:5. There will come a time when that will require more demonstrating than quoting. God may call on you as the vessel to remind them. Be available. Do not despair if they are in despair. Believe. And continue believing and expecting God to meet them in their suffering. They need you.
In verse 53 it reads, “So from that day on they [Pharisees] made plans to put him to death.” Jesus knew the miracle of resurrecting Lazarus was going to be a caveat to His death. He openly and publicly resurrected Lazarus anyway. THAT’S how much He loved him, and how passionate He was about the Father’s glory. Further, we know that “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” 1 Peter 4:8. Jesus knew that His blood was the ultimate sacrifice to cover our sins. So He died. The story of Christmas is one of incarnation – it’s of Heaven coming down to Earth so that we, on Earth, may have access to Heaven. It all comes down to love. A person grieves because they love the person they’ve loss. Jesus wept because He grieved Lazarus, His brother and friend whom He loved. You are reading this perhaps because you love someone grieving and want to support them. Comfort is love in action. Pray that God, the person of love, leads you to comfort the grieving and suffering in your life. This is especially important during seasons when it’s hardest to love them. Do it anyway. I believe God will be moved by your love. We see in John 11 that’s when miracles can happen.
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” 1 Thessalonians 4:13. Our hope was born over 2,000 years ago. And today, we celebrate Hope with an invitation into our homes and hearts…even the broken ones.
Remember, God loves you and so do I,