When Good News Comes in a Cemetery (On John 11)

“Jesus comes into the cemeteries we frequent with the best of news” – Dale Ralph Davis

I love this line from one of my favorite preachers. I first heard it when I listened to a sermon of his on John 11, which is when Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. 

I’ve struggled for a long time with fear over death. I now realize it all started when we lost our first child to miscarriage and death felt personal. For months after the loss I never wanted Daniel to leave our house. If God can take my baby, he can surely take my husband, I thought to myself. Of course, that is true, but I know now that grief makes you think irrational thoughts. Those were irrational thoughts. Those irrational thoughts have stayed with me through every other loss and every other threatened loss. 

So when I read John 11, I get really emotional. Death feels real to me. Death feels like it’s always hovering over me. It feels like it’s always right around the corner, ready to jump out at any sudden turn. 

But John 11 gives me hope. John 11 reminds me in beautifully compassionate ways that while death is real, devastating, and certain, Christ “comes into our cemeteries with the best of news.” In John 11 we have a sympathetic Savior. In John 11 we have a grieving Savior. But in John 11 we also have a powerful Savior. 

In Adam all die, but in Christ we live (1 Cor. 15:22).

Teaching John 11 a few weeks ago reminded me in fresh ways that it is good and right to be grieved and angered by death. Jesus certainly was affected by it. But it also reminded me most hopefully that death doesn’t win for those who trust in Christ. It might feel like the final enemy, but Jesus is the resurrection and the life, so all who trust in him live even though they die (John 11:25). 

One of my favorite books to read with the twins is Dangerous Journey, the children’s version of Pilgrim’s Progress—as Christian walks through one last trial before he reaches heaven’s shores he feels the waters of death rising to his head and he is scared. He had to pass through the River of Death if he was to get to the other side and reach heaven’s gates. And as the waters continue to rise, the book says:

But the troubles a man goes through in these waters are no sign that God has forsaken him.

And in that moment, he finds that he is reaching the shore and death is not the end for him.

It gets me every time.

In that moment, where death is rising up, it feels like God has forgotten him. And for all who are facing death, it probably feels that way for you, too. Death is ugly. It’s messy. It’s final. It’s painful. It’s distressing. It’s your soul being ripped from your body, which was never God’s intent for his creation. But just like the ground being formed underneath Christian in those final moments, the same happens for us. Even though we die, yet shall we live.

Death is no sign that God has forgotten you. He has defeated the last enemy, death. He has defeated sin that leads to death. And resurrection is coming. This miracle in John 11 is a foretaste of what he will do once and for all at the Cross. At first glance, it looks like Jesus has forgotten Lazarus and his family, but he hadn’t. He waited until Lazarus had died to even show up. That doesn’t look like love. But sometimes God’s way of loving us doesn’t feel like love. And even in death, he is loving us.  

Just as Jesus stands over Lazarus’ tomb, he will one day stand over ours, and all who love Christ, and tell us to rise. And we will. The word made flesh will speak a word and resurrect us all to redeemed and perfected bodies, free from sin—he is the resurrection and the life.  It’s not just a story about Lazarus rising from the dead, it’s about all of us rising from the dead. 

“I am the resurrection and the life,” he says to us death plagued people. And death is no sign that he has forgotten us. Even though we die, yet shall we live.

*Note: I am co-teaching John this year, so occasionally I’m going to start posting extra thoughts on the text I’m teaching or studying. I’ve really enjoyed the exercise of studying John, so I’ll use this outlet to say what can’t get said on Thursday nights!