There’s this beautiful story in John 11 about Jesus, his friends and a miracle. When we read this story, it’s almost always about the ending. Which I think is rightfully so because that’s often the sign of a really good story.
But it’s the middle of this narrative that I find most intriguing. And maybe most relatable, so let’s not rush to the end.
The story begins with Jesus hearing that his friend Lazarus is sick. But Jesus doesn’t rush off to help. Instead he waits a couple days. And by the time he gets there, his friends are confused.
Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:21)
This must have been the conversation among the family while Lazarus was sick, because Mary says the exact same thing to Jesus later in the story. The idea is clear: If Jesus was here, Lazarus would be healed. So what is he waiting for?
It’s a valid question, really. These are Jesus’ close friends. Sure, he’s doing great ministry other places, but wasn’t this the most important? Pressing? Urgent? Why would he wait while Lazarus got worse?
The easy answer is that Jesus knew what he was going to do. That’s obviously part of it. But it’s not all. It can’t be. Because Jesus doesn’t act like a man who is telling everyone, “Chill out, I’m about to do something really cool.” No, he gives their questions space. He welcomes their feelings.
And then this happens:
When Jesus saw [Mary] 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.
Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” (John 11:33-36)
Jesus doesn’t act like someone rushing to do a miracle. Instead of calming everyone down, he is moved by the scene of everyone’s sadness. He dives in.
Jesus weeps. He mourns along with everyone else.
We have this temptation to downplay Jesus’ humanity sometimes. He raises people from the dead, for goodness sake. But this is an incredibly human moment. And it’s real. These are not fake tears or feigned emotions. Jesus is deeply moved.
Instead of rushing to the miracle, Jesus chose to dive into mourning. This is why he waited. He willingly pours himself into the human grief and sadness of the moment.
This is so foreign to us, especially in America. We are just not very good at grief. Dr Brene Brown (who is incredibly brilliant and real — you should know about her) has done a ton of research in this area. She often talks about how we will do anything to avoid grief and shame. These things terrify us. So we will numb ourselves to their existence or ignore them altogether.
Sometimes Christians are the worst at this. I have been in several situations where death has touched a family and a well-intentioned Christian has said something like, “This is not a time to grieve; it’s a time to rejoice because they’ve gone to a better place.” Now, I know what they mean. I understand what they’re trying to do. But it’s not helpful. In fact, it can be extremely harmful.
When we experience death or disaster, the best thing is to grieve. To mourn. To deal with the sadness and doubt and despair. Because there is comfort to be found as we mourn together. There is strength and peace available on the other side.
Faith doesn’t avoid the darkness, it simply finds its way through it.
Because resurrection doesn’t happen without death.
This is why Jesus waited. It’s why he is so moved by the mourning around him even when he knows resurrection is around the corner. And it’s why he can say:
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)
There is blessing even in mourning.
And this is where the end of the story comes into play. Mourning is so much more than sadness. It’s being grieved to action. So Jesus, who enters into mourning with his friends willingly, is moved to bring Lazarus back to life.
Maybe the reason we aren’t often motivated to combat the darkness in the world is because we too often avoid or ignore it. And perhaps if we would instead dive into it more fully, we could allow ourselves to grieve the great injustices in our world and bring a little resurrection to the world.
Because through the darkness, we find blessing.
And through the darkness, we can become blessing.