After a friend from college passed away, someone told me that death is a natural part of life. The sentiment was meant to be a kindness, but it stung the way few comments have. And it stuck with me. The more I thought about it, the more I realized my heart’s trouble with it lay in the fact that it was an out-and-out lie.
There is nothing natural about death. We were not created to die, young or old or anywhere in-between. We were created in God’s image. We were made to share in His eternal life. Death, then, is a foreign invader in our world, a troublemaker of the worst sort, an unrelenting villain in each of our stories. The reason the death of a loved one is so hard for us to process is that we were never meant to die.
The Day Jesus Cried
The shortest verse in the English Bible can be found in the passage where Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). It’s brief, but it’s powerful. What’s amazing to me about this verse, though, is that Jesus knew He would raise Lazarus from the dead — that was His whole point in coming to Bethany (vv. 11,14-15). Jesus should be smiling with anticipation, giggling even. Yet here He is, standing at His friend’s tomb, crying.
Why was Jesus crying?
Because He felt the pain of death — not merely the physical pain Lazarus likely suffered in his final days and hours, but the grief that Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary, and the other mourners were experiencing at the loss of their brother and friend. It broke Jesus’ heart to see death in action, a reality He and the Father never wanted for humanity. That’s one of the reasons the Son came: To put an end to death once and for all and to deliver true life to those who are willing to receive it.
But have you ever wondered why Jesus bothered to raise Lazarus from the dead at all? Think about it. Assuming Lazarus was as good a friend to Jesus as the Gospel of John tells us he was, when Lazarus passed away, his spirit would have entered immediately into the presence of God (2 Corinthians 5:8), where there is “fullness of joy” and “pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). Lazarus would have been more alive than he had ever been before. It would seem a significant downgrade to be experiencing such bliss one moment only to be called back into this broken world the next. It would be like waking from the best dream ever — only it wasn’t a dream at all. Besides that, Lazarus’ resurrection was only temporary. Sometime later, he would die again.
So why did Jesus do it?
The answer lies in what Jesus told Martha that day: “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).
In this statement, He first affirmed what will happen at the end of history. The dead will indeed be raised, and those who are still alive at that time will never die.
Second, and more astounding, He said that resurrection is not merely an event, and life is not merely a state of being. When He said, “I am the resurrection and the life,” He was saying that resurrection and life are a person: Jesus himself.
Jesus’ point is that it’s our connection to Him that brings life, whether we have breath in our lungs or we’re six feet under. It’s why the apostle Paul wrote, “To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” It’s why Jesus could bring Lazarus back from the dead without the poor man being disappointed.
The Abundant Life Today
We can experience the joys of heaven today — this very minute — in Christ. This can be difficult to believe, and even more difficult to walk in. We’re often more comfortable talking about the life to come than the abundant life we’re supposed to be experiencing right now.
But why is that? Is it because we’re afraid to believe we can have the sort of life Jesus described? Or is it that we don’t know what it would even look like if we did?
Just as we’ve believed the lie that death is a natural part of life, many of us have also been deceived into thinking that a frail kind of survival, dotted with momentary and fleeting pleasures, is all we can hope for in this life.
If you have any doubts about the life Jesus wants for you, listen to His own words on the subject: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Even eternal life is not something reserved for heaven: “This is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). It begins not when we die, but when we’re born again. It’s not about having an easy life, finding a spouse, achieving the so-called American Dream or any other form of success. It’s about Jesus.
He is our comfort when tragedy hits a bit too close to home. He is our peace when chaos begins to close in. He is our hope when life seems to offer nothing but dead ends. In these difficult moments, the abundant life of Jesus shines most brightly, because the brokenness of this world is all the more apparent. The hope of the life to come becomes that much more precious. Those who mourn with this kind of hope shine like a beacon in the night to a world that really needs light.
Some of the poorest and least influential people on the planet are among the most joyful because of Jesus. Likewise, some of the wealthiest and most powerful have discovered that nothing can bring true satisfaction, not apart from Jesus anyway. No matter where life takes us — to the highest mountain or the lowest valley — our hearts were made for Him. Vibrant, overflowing life is the true natural order of things. It is our hearts, apart from Christ and bent by sin, that are unnatural.
True life, eternal life, resurrection life — it’s ours in Christ. But that doesn’t mean our lives will be without struggle. In His life on earth, Jesus was tortured and killed. We cannot expect a problem-free existence, nor can we expect to be free from suffering or the sting of death. Until God’s kingdom comes in its fullness, people will die. This includes our loved ones. And like Christ, we too will weep.
Someday, when Jesus returns, the graves will all be opened and those who knew Christ will step out, alive and transformed, never to die again. On that day, the natural order — a world without death — will be restored once and for all.
But the good news of the gospel is better than that. Jesus has come to give us the freedom of this resurrection life today. We can set aside the worries of this world because Jesus has them covered, one way or another. As He did with Lazarus, He calls us from death to life, not from the tomb and not yet at the end of history, but right here and right now.
Copyright 2018 John Greco. All rights reserved.