Jesus was never easy to figure out. John 11 tells the story of one of Jesus’s greatest miracles, but also of some very strange behavior on the Savior’s part. Lazarus, the brother of Jesus’ close friends Mary and Martha, was very sick; near death. But when Jesus got word, he promptly did nothing, waiting a couple of days to leave for Bethany. When he finally arrived at his friends’ home, they were mourning their brother who had been in the grave for 4 days. And they were very confused; almost accusatory. “If you have been here, my brother would not have died,” Martha said. She knew of the thousands he had healed and could not understand his cavalier approach to the sickness of a close friend. But she held fast in her faith in Jesus and he rewarded her with words that have been the source of great comfort to millions at the time of their death or at the grave of a loved one.
I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. John 11:25-26
Eventually, they led Jesus to the tomb where Lazarus’ body lay decaying. And that is when Jesus did something even more incomprehensible than his delay. He wept. John 11:35 is not only the shortest verse in the Bible, it is also one of the oddest. The One who would be the ultimate victor over death stood beside a tomb and cried.
Why? Why would Jesus weep?
Was it because Lazarus was dead; because Jesus was sad about losing a friend? Not likely. He knew very well what he was about to do. He was going to cheat death and bring Lazarus back. Not only that, but in a few days he would deliver the ultimate death blow to death itself! What was there to cry about? This was a moment of excitement, of anticipation, even of glee, but not of sorrow. Or perhaps it was simply as an example to us that grief is okay. If the Savior grieved over the loss of a loved one, I can too. That is a comforting fact, but it is not likely all that there is to the story.
So, why did he stand there and weep?
I believe that Jesus wept because he saw, as he stood before the tomb of his friend, the full weight of the power of sin in the world God created. He was part of the creative act of God, making this world as a paradise. But as soon as Adam and Eve listened to Satan’s temptation and embraced sin, that which God created was polluted and destroyed by the power of sin. And the greatest enemy is death. When Jesus stood face to face with the horror of sin, he wept. He mourned.
The writer of Ecclesiastes told us
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…
When Jesus looked at a man in a tomb, put there because of death which came into this world because of sin, when the Savior came face to face with the reason the world needed a savior, when he saw the awful effects of sin, Jesus did the only thing that made sense. He wept. Because of sin’s powerful effects over creation and human life, it was not a time to laugh or dance, but a time to weep and mourn.
Our world has given itself over to laughter, to dancing, to fun and frolic, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. We worship at the altar of pleasure, making gods out of athletes who run or jump or throw or catch, actors who help us escape, musicians who make us dance and comedians who make us laugh – regardless of how messed up or sinful their lives might be. We give our bodies over to drugs and alcohol because if we can’t be truly happy, at least we can avoid feeling the pain. We are all about the fun.
The rich fool Jesus spoke of said, “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die.” And America says amen.
“Here’s a little song I wrote, you might want to sing it note for note. Don’t worry. Be happy.”
Unfortunately, this is not just a problem in our sinful world; this attitude has invaded the church as well. One of the core values of the modern American church is that everything has to be fun, positive and encouraging. We ignore those passages that talk about sin, that demand sacrifice, that promise hardship – the difficult parts of scripture. Who wants to attend a downer church like that?
Some have turned Jesus into their personal Aladdin. Rub the Jesus lamp with a little bit of prayer, some church attendance and other religious activities and all your wishes are instantly fulfilled. Make a wish, claim it by faith, and it is yours.
We can do just as we please, living in whatever way we wish with little regard to God’s Word, his will or his ways. As long as we are happy, God must be happy, right? The highest value in life is my own happiness and God would never ask me to do anything that made me unhappy, that made life hard, a burden or a struggle, would he?
It is a time to laugh and a time to dance.
But I am quite sure that God’s word would not agree. James said it this way to the early church (James 4:4-10):
“You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”
I am afraid that when God looks down on this land, on the lives its people live, even on what is going on in the church and in the lives of believers, he might not say that this is a time to laugh and a time to dance. I think that he might say it is a time to weep and a time to mourn.
When a nation “call(s) evil good and good evil, substitute(s) darkness for light and light for darkness, bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter,” when people become “wise in their own opinion and clever in their own sight,” (Isaiah 5:20-21) instead of submitting themselves to the teachings of God’s Word, it is a time to weep and a time to mourn.
When a culture rejects God’s plan for marriage, arrogantly thinking that we can improve on what God created, when we embrace the god Mammon, living for money and the things that money buys, when pornography is among the most profitable businesses in this land, when dishonesty, graft and corruption are rampant in our government, it is a time to weep and a time to mourn.
When there is little difference between the values, convictions and behaviors of Christians and those who are not Christians; when the life of the church is marked by strife, power-struggles and division; when there is little spiritual power and evangelism is largely ineffective, it is a time to weep and a time to mourn.
When Christians are so invested in the things of this world that they have little time for eternal things or spiritual pursuits, it is a time to mourn. When we examine our lives and see the days without prayer and the rarity of the deep study of God’s Word; when we sit idly by and watch our friends, family, neighbors and co-workers stampede toward hell without uttering a word to them about Christ; when we are deeply in love with this world and the things that are in it and our passions and priorities are so far from what God has demanded of us; when we do not love the Lord our God with all our heart and all our soul and all our strength, it is a time to weep and a time to mourn.
I would ask you to consider something today. Jesus Christ gave himself to us with abandon, without anything held back. His blood flowed from his head, his hands, his feet, his back, every drop demonstrating just how complete his love is for us. He suffered death, endured the hell of God’s wrath for our sins, and demonstrated God’s love in the most profound way imaginable. His body was beaten, battered and broken for you and me.
And we respond with carnality, indifference and spiritual adultery. We love ourselves more than we love the Savior. We seek our own kingdoms instead of his. We would rather enjoy life in this world than store up treasures in heaven and invest our lives in making Jesus known. Our commitment is weak, our love is shallow, our priorities are misplaced and our lifestyle is worldly.
I saw a statement one time that stopped me in my tracks. “He did not die like that so I could live like this.” Are you living the life that Jesus died to give you? If not, then stop pretending it’s okay. It is not! We cannot treat Jesus as some kind of lap dog we can ignore when it suits us, throw some tables scraps to when we feel like it, and still expect his blessing and favor in our lives.
It is time we see this world from God’s perspective. This is not a “happy, happy, happy” world. It is a place of sin and death; a spiritual war zone because of our sin, which has marred the beauty of God’s creation and defaced the wonderful life he prepared for mankind. There is a great spiritual battle going on among us, as the forces of darkness seek to drag millions into hell for all eternity. We must see wickedness as God sees it – a spiritual cancer destroying marriages, causing all kinds of wickedness, destruction, moral decay and eventually death. We cannot sit idly by and cheer as the parade goes by on the wide road to destruction.
No, it is time to mourn, to grieve, to look at sin and its destruction and grieve for what it does to the human race.
But in the midst of all this mourning, this grieving, this face to face confrontation with the darkness of the human soul, there is light. We come to the second of the Beatitudes and we see these strange words of Jesus.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Matthew 5:4
The progression from the first Beatitude is clear. “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” The kingdom of heaven is comprised of those who realize that they are spiritually poor, that they are sinners who do not have what it takes to earn the favor of God, that nothing they could ever do would earn a place for them in heaven.
It is not an accident that Jesus spoke these words next. Those who recognize their spiritual poverty will grieve and mourn over their sin.
Note here the key word. Blessed – those who mourn are the ones who are blessed. We do everything we can to ignore our sin. We rationalize it – it wasn’t that bad. We justify it. “I had every right to do what I did!” “If you only knew what he did to me!” We compare it with others. “I’m not as bad as they are.” We ignore it. We fill our minds and hearts with noise so we never have to stop and consider our standing with God. But none of that brings a blessing. None of that opens the door to the gracious favor of God. That comes when we face our sin and see it as God sees it, when we recognize it for the horror that it is and we repent of it.
There are many things that are disturbing about modern American Christianity, but one of the most alarming things is that because we have discounted sin and ignored it, because we have adopted the positive and encouraging message that pretends that sin is not significant, we are actually cursing our people instead of blessing them. In a desire to encourage them and help them feel better, we are actually preventing them from experiencing all the blessings of God! Our positive, sin-ignoring religion is cursing us to lives without God’s blessings, in the grip of sin and without the power of God displayed through us.
You are only saved when you come to the place of realizing your guilt before God. Many people cannot be saved because they refuse to acknowledge that they are lost. They cannot be forgiven because they do not really believe in their own sinfulness. Jesus died to save sinners and if you do not face that sin, grieve over it and mourn your condition, there is no salvation.
But it doesn’t stop there. As we walk through the Christian life we must also face our failings, our sinfulness. When we do, we learn to depend on God, not on ourselves for the righteousness we need, the power we need, the holiness we need.
It is those who face their sin who are blessed. Those who deny, rationalize, justify or minimize their sin forfeit the blessings of salvation. Those Christians who ignore sin, who refuse to face it, who whistle a happy tune in spite of the weight of their own sins will not see God’s blessing on them.
They Shall Be Comforted
What is that blessing? The second half of the verse tells us that those who mourn will be comforted. Of course, there is a literal component to this. There is no greater comfort than the Savior in times of hurt and pain. He is a father to the fatherless, a balm to the wounded, he is a comfort in all our grief. But this verse is not primarily meant in literal terms. The first beatitude makes it clear that this is a spiritual issue at stake. Those who mourn over their sin find the comfort that they need.
Never ignore the conviction of sin, the still-small voice of the Holy Spirit whispering to your heart that it is not aligned with God’s. Face your sin. Look it square in the eye and realize how horrendous that sin is to a holy God. But don’t stop there. Give that sin to God and repent of it. Put your faith in Jesus Christ as your savior and Lord and you will be saved. God will give you true comfort – eternal and unbounded. You will be forgiven, adopted as a child of God, destined for eternal glory and indwelled by God. He is faithful. If you mourn over your sin, he will comfort you with salvation.
If your walk with Christ is not all it should be, do not be afraid to mourn. Don’t listen to those who curse you with the positive message; those who say, don’t worry about your sin, just be happy. Blessing comes when you realize your sin and repent of it. Those who confess their sins find him faithful and just. He forgives their sin and cleanses them from all unrighteousness.
But, for the love of God, don’t pretend you don’t have sin. Don’t pretend it’s no big deal. There is no blessing for those who refuse to face their sin and mourn.
You Are the Man
David was oblivious to his sin. Something happened to this man after God’s own heart and he fell deeply. It culminated one day when he spied a lovely woman taking a bath and desired her. Instead of honoring God he acted on that desire and he committed adultery. To cover over that sin, he arranged the death of the woman’s husband and reached depths few even among the sinful reach. He was an adulterous murderer.
Worst of all, he was a self-righteous sinner. When the prophet Nathan told him a story about a man who had many sheep but stole one from his neighbor, then killed the neighbor when he complained, David was incensed. Who would do such a thing? I will find him and make him pay, he declared.
Imagine Nathan staring him down, pointing a finger at him and saying, “David, YOU are the man.” In a moment, it all came crashing down on him. Gone was the pretense, the self-righteousness. The Spirit of God came on him like a ton of bricks.
Permit me be the voice of the prophet here today. I don’t know what sins you are struggling with, or what failings are prominent in your life, but I know that you, like all of us, are a sinner. “You are the man. You are the woman.” And its time we stopped playing church games and grieved over our sin. It’s time we repented, returned to God and experienced the blessing he has for us today.
Blessing comes to those who face the depths of their depravity and are comforted by the amazing grace of God!