33 ¶ When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled, 34 And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see. 35 Jesus wept. 36 Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him! 37 And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died? 38 Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it. 39 Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days. 40 Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God? 41 Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. 42 And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. 43 And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. 44 And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.
Our sorrow over death, our fear of it, and the grief it brings have always been a burden on the mind of man and woman. Some people have come up with philosophies that deny a just and compassionate God, or a God at all, could exist with such facts presented to us. A famous evolutionary scientist and militant atheist, Richard Dawkins, understood what we see around us but applied this false conclusion that the universe is an undirected thing with no God present. He said;
The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive; others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites; thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored….In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. (16)
Another atheist scientist does not go so far in his explanation but confirms an important fact of biology;
Humans on rare occasions may survive to 120 years, some turtles to 200. But all animals eventually die. Many single-cell organisms may die, as the result of accident or starvation; in fact the vast majority do. But there is nothing programmed into them that says they must die. Death did not appear simultaneously with life. This is one of the most important and profound statements in all of biology. At the very least it deserves repetition: Death is not inextricably intertwined with the definition of life. (17)
The Bible, however, tells us that death, not present in God’s original creation, was caused by man’s sin, his disobedience;
Romans 5:12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:
For arrogant humans who object to being compared to the beasts, with whom we have death in common;
Ecclesiastes 3:19 For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity. 20 All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.
The Bible tells us that the whole creation is in agony with pain and trouble abounding;
Romans 8:22 For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.
Before the Flood, the great physical disaster in human history compared to Adam’s Fall, the great spiritual disaster, neither beast nor man ate flesh by the evidence we have in the Bible.
Genesis 1:29 ¶ And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.
It is difficult for us to understand how different that world was. But, it was after it that beasts became afraid of man and man was given the authority to eat them.
Genesis 9:1 ¶ And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth. 2 And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered. 3 Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.
Christ is the only answer for our grief and suffering, for our anticipation and fear of death. Let anyone who says they are not afraid to die ask themselves what measures they take each day to ensure that they will live. Do we not consider someone who wants to commit suicide as mentally ill or, in some cases, possessed by a devil? We, as humans, like the beasts, wish to avoid death as long as we can. Death is a specter that hangs over us all. Christ is the only answer to the question of death.
Revelation 21:4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
And here, in this passage, the Creator of the universe, in the form of a human being, looks on the misery and grief caused by sin and mourns with us, being one of us.
Have you ever wept for sin and its consequences in the history of the earth? Have you ever wept for the sorrow of death, just in general, not necessarily for a loss you’ve suffered but for the despair all mankind and, indeed, all creation faces as a result of man’s sin?
Although I cannot be sure if this is exact or not one source (http://www.ecology.com/birth-death-rates/) reports that 55 million people die every year, over 105,000 per day, or two people every second. This statistic does not take into account the untold millions suffering from starvation and disease. Nor does it take into account the million and hundreds of millions suffering mentally and emotionally, grieving, distraught, anxious, and afraid. There are millions of children and women who have been sexually and physically abused and elderly people with no way to care for their own needs. Adam’s sin, which we have inherited, has a devastation that is its consequence that is unimaginable.
In many of the houses you drive by on your way to work or the store there are dramas in play that revolve around heartbreak, betrayal, manipulation, exploitation, and disillusionment. Many of you suffer from things you have done or things others have done to you, in your life. Many even suffer from seemingly random acts, chance acts, that deprived you of someone you dearly loved. And, in the end, there is, on top of all the pain and suffering, a grave.
It is not a “glorious” death most of us face but a whimpering, gasping, drug-clouded death in a hospital, nursing home, or at home, perhaps alone with strangers who see death every day and many times without a familiar face nearby to look for compassion and sorrow in at our passing. I want to impress upon you, who in this age have been so removed from death in a way our ancestors were not, the despair and the grief that Jesus stood facing.
Some commentators have insisted that the following phrase, spoken by Jesus in the popularly called, “Sermon on the Mount,” is about mourning for the existence of sin and its consequences.
Matthew 5:4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
God sees the anguish and sorrow of heart that death, the primary result of our sin, causes. He, too, wept. Have you? Thank God, Jesus Christ has overcome death.
Hebrews 2:14 ¶ Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; 15 And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.
When Lazarus’ name was called he arose to meet the Lord.
1Thessalonians 4:16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
But, like many of us adults who were saved in our prime of life he needed help directed by the Lord to be unbound from the vestiges of his former condition. Unlike the little 12 year old child who arose immediately and was commanded to be fed by the Lord in Mark 5:42 or the son of the widow of Nain in Luke 7 who was perhaps older and needed help even to get up to be delivered to his mother Lazarus represents that middle age between childhood and the older adult who believes.
God can save us, call us forth, to leave the tomb of our sin and wickedness, but we are often still bound in our graveclothes and need help. It is the duty of the body of Christ on earth to edify and instruct the Christian newly delivered from the grave, not to bind them in different graveclothes, keeping the living person bound nonetheless. The call to every preacher and teacher, indeed, to every mature Christian is to take the new believer and, as Jesus commanded, “Loose him, and let him go.”
(16) Richard Dawkins, River out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (New York: Basic Books, 1995), 154-155.
(17) William R. Clark, Sex and the Origins of Death (London: Oxford University Press, 1998), 54.