Luke 7:11-12: “Soon afterward Jesus went with his disciples to the village of Nain, and a large crowd followed him. A funeral procession was coming out as he approached the village gate. The young man who had died was a widow’s only son, and a large crowd from the village was with her.”
Some of you understand how that woman must have felt because you too have lost someone you loved more than life itself. Maybe it was a grandparent, a parent, or your spouse, or worse – a child or grandchild! When they died, you felt as if your heart were being ripped from your chest. You cried until you had no more tears, you prayed until you had no more faith! And you wondered where God was in all of this pain, you wondered – “Does Jesus care?”
Martha can empathize with us at times like this. She’d hoped Jesus would show up and heal Lazarus, but He didn’t. Then she’d hoped He’d show up to bury Lazarus – He didn’t. By the time He made it to Bethany, Lazarus was four-days dead and buried and Martha was wondering what kind of friend Jesus was.
She hears He’s at the edge of town so she storms out to meet him: John 11:21 – “Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.” There is hurt in those words, hurt and disappointment. The one man who could have made a difference didn’t, and Martha wants to know why.
Maybe you do too. Maybe you’ve done what Martha did. Someone you love is near death and you turn to God, the only one who can pull a person back from the edge of death.
Like Martha, maybe you thought, “Surely He will come. Didn’t he help the paralytic, the leper, the blind, and they hardly knew Jesus. Lazarus is his friend, we’re like family.”
But Lazarus got worse, and the knock at the door never came. Now the funeral is over, the body is buried, the grave is sealed, and Martha is hurting. Maybe you have felt her hurt – “If you had been here, God, my brother would not have died, my husband would have survived, my baby would have lived.”
There are some things we need to understand about death:
Because of sin, death is certain: Romans 5:12 – “When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned.” With every birth comes an appointment with death.
When that day finally comes: Ecclesiastes 12:7 – “For then the dust will return to the earth, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.”
At the same time the Bible says that death is uncertain. In Genesis 27:2 Isaac says “Behold now, I am old. I do not know the day of my death.”
Death is no respecter of persons – death is something we will all face in our lives. Hebrews 9:27 – “And it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.”
Life is short. In God’s eyes, no matter how long you live, it’s short. James 4:14 – “For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.”
Death challenges our definition/view of God – how we look at Him and what we believe, which in turn challenges our faith, which leads me to ask a serious question. “Why is it that we interpret the presence of death as the absence of God? Why do we think that if the body is not healed then God is not near? Is healing the only way that God demonstrates His presence?”
Sometimes we think so, and as a result, when God doesn’t answer our prayers for healing, we get angry, resentful, and we start blaming God instead of believing in God. “God, if you had been here doing your part, then this death would not have happened.” Sometimes we wonder if God really does care.
Is there anything good that comes from death? Part of the answer may be found in Isaiah 57:1–2: “Good people are taken away, but no one understands. Those who do right are being taken away from evil and are given peace. Those who live as God wants find rest in death.” (NCV)
So what do we stand to gain in death, what is there to look forward to? What do we gain by being in Christ?
I. New hope
When John Todd, a 19th century preacher was six years old, both of his parents died. A kind-hearted aunt raised him until he went to school to become a minister. Later this aunt became seriously ill, and in distress she wrote John a letter – “Will my death mean the end of everything or can I hope for something beyond?”
1 Corinthians 15:20-28: “But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back. After that the end will come, when he will turn the Kingdom over to God the Father, having destroyed every ruler and authority and power. For Christ must reign until he humbles all his enemies beneath his feet. And the last enemy to be destroyed is death. For the Scriptures say, “God has put all things under his authority.” (Of course, when it says “all things are under his authority,” that does not include God himself, who gave Christ his authority.) Then, when all things are under his authority, the Son will put himself under God’s authority, so that God, who gave his Son authority over all things, will be utterly supreme over everything everywhere.”
Because Jesus is alive, we also have the hope that we too will live on past this life. His resurrection is the guarantee that ours will follow, but things will be different.
II. New body
1 Corinthians 15:50-58: “What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever. But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.”
This is a magnificent passage that tells us that we are going to get new bodies that won’t decay, get sick, hurt, hungry, or sleepy. We will get this new body whether we are dead or alive when He comes back.
III. New Location
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18: “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.”
We have to go meet Jesus in the air, because this world we live in now won’t exist anymore. Where will we go? John 14:1-3: “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”
Where Jesus went to is described as the:
IV. New Jerusalem
2 Peter 3:13: “Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”
Revelation 21:1-7: “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.” And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.”
Life here is a probation period. We know God exists but we still worship Him from a distance and sometimes go through awful pressures while we do it. But in heaven we will be in His very presence, look at Him and worship with no distractions or pain or unfulfilled needs. As one song puts it, “We will meet in the golden city in the New Jerusalem, all our pain and all our tears will be no more, we will stand with the host of heaven and cry holy is the lamb, we will worship and adore you ever more.”
Friends, heaven truly is a far, far better place we go to, than we have ever been before – it is a far, far better resting place, than we have ever known. Revelation 14:13 – “And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this down: Blessed are those who die in the Lord from now on. Yes, says the Spirit, they are blessed indeed, for they will rest from their hard work; for their good deeds follow them!”
So why did Jesus raise Lazarus? It wasn’t for the sake of the dead, but for the sake of the living:
John 11:14-15: “Then Jesus said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him.”
The same question Jesus asked Martha is the same question He asks us now – John 11:25-26: “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
Is the answer she gave to Jesus our answer: John 11:27 – “She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
John 11:43-44: “Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go.”
Luke 7:13-15: “When the Lord saw her, his heart overflowed with compassion. “Don’t cry!” he said. Then he walked over to the coffin and touched it, and the bearers stopped. “Young man,” he said, “I tell you, get up.” Then the dead boy sat up and began to talk! And Jesus gave him back to his mother.”
Many people to include many Christians have the false idea that God is always angry and looking to strike them down any time they make a mistake. Friends, God is not mad at us, He is mad about us; He isn’t looking to level us, He is longing to love us; God does not hate us, He desires to help us; God doesn’t want to hurt us, He wants to heal us; God doesn’t want to be separated from us, He wants to save us. He wants to be more than our creator; He wants to be our Father. God cannot love you more – He will not love you less!
So does Jesus care? O yes, He cares; I know He cares, His heart is touched with my grief; when the days are weary, the long nights dreary, I know my Savior cares!