Together in Christ: 'Comfort Beyond the Frustration, Anger, and Grief from Death' — John 11:20-23

Monday, December 16, 2024

When Martha got word that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him. But Mary stayed in the house. Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask."
Jesus told her, "Your brother will rise again."
— John 11:20-23 NLT

Key Thought

What do we do with brothers and sisters in Christ who have lost loved ones to death?

When we look at John chapter 11 and Jesus' journey to be with Martha and Mary after their brother Lazarus died, we can learn some important ways to help those grieving around us. When we lose someone we love who is a follower of Jesus, we have one solid bedrock truth we can share with them. While this bedrock truth is not something we should probably share first, it is the truth on which we build everything we say and do! What is that truth? Your loved one will rise again! [1], because of their faith in Jesus, they are not dead but with Jesus. [2] You will be reunited with them when Jesus returns in glory, and we will all share together in the joy of the Lord's victory and our reunion with believers from all times and places. [3] Our hope and confidence in grief are in this future that we have in Jesus!

That said, we probably don't need to lead with cheerily sharing these things with them from afar — social media, text, phone, or letter. At least not initially. Jesus didn't send a message from far away. He didn't send a messenger to tell Martha and Mary of His sadness, grief, and anger. [4] Jesus waited a few days, then He went in person to comfort and bless them. While we cannot know all the reasons He delayed, we can notice that He did not rush His conversations with Martha and Mary, nor did He have them from afar. He went in person. He not only empathized with their grief and anger, but He also demonstrated his grief, anger, and love. Bodily presence, listening, and loving are often the three most needed companions for someone in grief. They don't need greeting card slogans or refrigerator magnet trite-isms in the face of their profound loss. They need our loving presence and empathic listening.

What do we say?

Usually, not much at first. We love them. We demonstrate that love through practical and loving actions, especially listening and affirming their sorrow. Notice that Jesus didn't reprimand Martha and Mary for their frustration with Him not being there to stop Lazarus from dying. [5] Instead, Jesus wept with them in their sorrow! [6] God does not need us to be His defense lawyer in moments like these. Instead, God wants us to be His loving, supportive, listening presence. The collection of Psalms reminds us that God allowed and even condoned people to be honest, even brutally and angrily honest, with Him in their sorrow, grief, loss, and pain. They need to know that nothing can separate us, or their loved ones, from the love God has for us in Christ Jesus. [7] That promise never to forsake us includes our times of anger and frustration with God in our grief!

Eventually, God will open the door for us to remind our grieving friends about the truths of our first paragraph and the promises for our futures in glory. That reminder usually waits while the person expresses grief, anger, sorrow, loss, disappointment, and frustration. Our being there to love them during this time helps them know God is not abandoning them. As time passes, however, we can say the powerful truths to them that Jesus said to these sisters:

  • Your loved one will rise again with Jesus and share in His glory — John 11:23.
  • Even now, your loved one is in the presence of Jesus; their body may be dead, but the living part of them isn't — John 11:25-26; Philippians 1:18-23.
  • God made clear that they and those of us who follow them in death as disciples of Jesus will be raised and given immortal bodies far more glorious than we can imagine — Romans 8:18; 1 Corinthians 15:35-55; Colossians 3:1-4.
  • Jesus will welcome them into His presence, dry the tears from our eyes, and reunite them with all who have died in Christ — Revelation 7:17, 21:4.
  • We will be with the Lord and each other in glory forever — 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18.
  • Until then, we can take comfort in Jesus' victory over death and ask for the comforting and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit to sustain us — John 14:15-23; Romans 8:35-37; 1 Corinthians 15:54-58.
[1] John 11:23.
[2] John 11:25-26; Philippians 1:18-23.
[3] 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18.
[4] The message of the Gospel of John is that God loved us so much that He came to us Himself in Jesus — John 1:1-18.
[5] John 11:21, 32.
[6] John 11:35.
[7] Romans 8:35-39.

Today's Prayer

Father, I ask for Your help, Jesus' love, and the Holy Spirit's compassionate concern as I seek to bless those walking through grief. Guard me against using trite sayings and throwaway platitudes that can wound the person I am trying to comfort, strengthen, and bless. May my words be what You want to be said. May my demeanor reflect the kindness and strength of Jesus. May my presence be loving, tender, supportive, helpful, and encouraging. Most of all, Holy Spirit, please do Your work of comforting the brokenhearted through me. I pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.

Related Scripture Readings

  • 1 Corinthians 15:35-58
  • Philippians 1:18-26


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Illustration of John 11:20-23 NLT — When Martha got word that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him. But Mary stayed in the house. Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask."    Jesus told her, "Your brother will rise again."

About This Devotional

Together in Christ is a daily devotional that focuses on what Scripture teaches about godly living in relationships.

'Together in Christ' is written by Phil Ware.

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.