THE TWO MOST COMFORTING WORDS IN THE BIBLE by Michael Horton for Core Christianity
America likes winners, not losers; triumph, not tragedy. Friedrich Nietzsche and Ted Turner have argued that Christianity is for losers, but pop Christianity in America has been trying desperately to convince everybody that this just isn’t the case. Become a Christian and you’ll be unfailingly happy, upbeat, in charge, with health, wealth and happiness; self-esteem, victory over debt and bad marriages and families. Meanwhile, we put our elderly, the terminally ill, those caught in the cycle of poverty, and others who remind us of our mortality where we can’t see them or at least where our lives do not ordinarily intersect when we do not intend them to.
We aren’t morbid when we take sin, suffering, and death seriously as Christians. Rather, we can face these tough realities head-on because we know that they have been decisively confronted by our captain. They have not lost their power to harm, but they have lost their power to destroy us. The hope of the gospel gives us the freedom to expose the wound of our human condition because it provides the cure. We see this in John’s remarkable retelling of the story of Lazarus’s resurrection (John 11:1-45).
The Death of a Loved One
Lazarus, along with his sisters, was a close friend of Jesus, we learn especially from verses 1-16 [of John chapter 11]. I’ve walked that short distance between Bethany and Jerusalem in roughly an hour. Jesus was entreated to come to his ill friend’s side when Mary identified him to Jesus as “he whom you love” (v. 2). The assumption here is that Jesus and Lazarus are so close that all Jesus needed was an announcement of his condition. Surely Jesus would come running.
Their plea for Jesus was not wrong, but short-sighted in its motivation. They were appealing to him for the healing of Lazarus, while Jesus anticipates using his friend’s death as an opportunity to signify his person and work. Mary and Martha knew that Jesus could heal their failing brother, and simply assumed that, given his love for Lazarus, Jesus would want to.