I read a statement the other day which struck me – and stuck with me. The context was the death and burial of the Lord Jesus, when He died for our salvation. After quoting John 19:41, which says, “Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid.” After quoting John, the man went on to say: “In EVERY garden there is a tomb.” Our lives may be a bed of roses, or a field of thistles, but at the far end there is a graveyard. We have a wonderful garden of vegetables, or we may have an English garden filled with flowers. We may have a garden of half an acre, or just a couple of flower pots. But there is death in every garden – in every garden there is a tomb.

I am going to take this opportunity to deal with a subject which I probably would never ordinarily preach. But just because it doesn’t make a good devotion before prayer, and it might be hard to develop into a gospel message, it needs to be shared. I’ll make this our lesson, and you may do with it as you choose. I want to talk to you about death and, more specifically, about the grief which follows a death. When is the best time to consider these things? It is not immediately after the death angel has visited your house, because you probably won’t be in a good state to hear it. Funeral directors encourage people to plan their funerals in advance, because in the hours after death, the deceased’s loved ones may not be able to make wise choices about caskets, burial plots and memorials. And in the same way, I’d like to address the subject of grief before you are grieving.

To do that, let’s look at the sisters of Lazarus in John 11.

Verse 1 – “Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. (It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.) Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.” I won’t try put Lazarus down, but notice that he is known primarily through his sisters, not vise versa. Those were two well-known and godly ladies, who are found in several New Testament scriptures. The Bible tells us that one sister was more worshipful than the other, but they were both servants of God. Whether or not they were separated by several years, even twin girls will have different personalities, going their separate ways and responding to circumstances differently.

“When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.” The OMNISCIENT Son of God, not only knew that Lazarus was sick, but He knew that he would die. In fact, the OMNIPOTENT Son of God – LET Lazarus die. He could have prevented that death, but He did not do it. However, in this very special case, Christ also knew that this death would not be permanent, and that is why He said, “This sickness is not unto death.”

Verse 5 – “Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was.” The death of someone, even the death of a child, or a husband at the prime of his life, does not mean that Christ doesn’t love that person, or that He doesn’t love you. The truth is: death is not the worst thing that could befall a person. It could be a great blessing. For the child of God, death is simply the doorway into the presence of the loving Saviour. But, for the person without Christ, death is entirely different; it is a stairway into hell. It is not that death is a terrible thing for the unbeliever, it is was takes place afterward. Luke 16:22 is typical of all unbelievers: a certain “rich man died, and was buried, and in hell he lift up his eyes.”

Now skip down to verse 17 – “Then when Jesus came, he found that he had lain in the grave 4 days already.” Death had come to family of Mary and Martha. But why and how? Well, it is appointed unto man once to die, except in rare cases like Lazarus where he physically died twice. Was that a good thing? Was Lazarus’ second death less painful; less prolonged; less problematic? Some deaths are quick and essentially painless, but they are much more rare than the painful deaths. So why do people die? The answer is: it is because of the corruption that sin has placed upon us. You could say that there is a faulty gene in every living chromosome which is always in decay. Try as much as the body would like, it keeps replacing faulty genes with faulty genes, until finally the failure finally catches up and the body dies. Death is as natural as life. The Bible tells us, “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” – Romans 5:12. “For we must needs die, and are as water spilt on the ground” – II Samuel 14:14.

“Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off: And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother.” It needs to be understood that there is a difference between “mourning” and “grief.” Most of these visitors came to comfort and mourn with the two sisters, but they didn’t bear the same pain. Mourning is external and may be short lived, but grief is internal and may go on for a very long time. In the Jewish society of that day, professional mourners often attended important funerals, weeping and wailing in the most profound, but hypocritical, way. Among the true friends, there were some mourners there at Bethany who were like that.

“Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat still in the house. Then said Martha unto Jesus – Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.” This of course is true. It seems that death cannot co-exist with the Son of God – who is life. But Martha wasn’t speaking out of a mind full of Biblical theology; This was an expression of her grief. And here is an important point: even Christians may blame God for the death of their loved one. While in a sense it is true, in another sense – Lazarus’ death was the natural result of sin – as is all death. And just because you as a sister or a spouse may be grieving and in pain, that doesn’t mean death wasn’t the best thing for the deceased. Remember, Jesus delayed His arrival so that glory might be brought to God.

Then in verse 23, “Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again.” I have been involved in many funeral services in fifty-years, and I have counseled many people in grief. I have found that even when God’s word is shared with folk, it may not be well received. Grief can suck the ability to trust, even the ability to think, right out of good people – Christian people. In Martha’s case, she didn’t stop to fully consider what Jesus meant: “Thy brother shall rise again.”

As I said, I have participated in quite a few funeral services – Elderly Christians, young Christians, unbelievers of various ages, close friends, complete strangers and even a suicide. Some of those deaths were anticipated, but others were sudden and shocking. There are always things which are unique to the deceased, to his family and to the memorial service. But I have always tried to follow our Lord’s example here – to preach a gospel message of some sort. Verse 25 – “Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.” Again, notice that Martha’s response to Jesus’ profound statement was totally out of its intended context. Grief often robs even the best people of their ability to think and reason.

And in this light, I remind all of you: Don’t judge anyone for anything when they have recently lost a dear loved one. They may be irrational. They may be angry and seem to take it out on you, but they don’t really mean it, and they may later regret it. They may want to sell the house or throw away their spouse’s treasures; don’t let them do it just yet. Force them to slow down and consider what they are doing. They may not be able for a while to connect any of the dots in their lives. Be patient with them; try to join them in their grief and in their thinking; encourage them to delay decisions. And if you receive a bruise or two in the process, chalk it up to their broken hearts – not their dislike of you. “Lord, if THOU hadst been here, my brother had not died.” Someone, less spiritual than the Lord Jesus, might have considered that to be a slap in the face.

Eventually Christ came to the tomb – the one which was at the end of Lazarus’ garden. Verse 31 – “The Jews then which were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up hastily and went out, followed her, saying, She goeth unto the grave to weep there. Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled, And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see. Jesus wept.” Without getting too theological, let’s just simply say that the Lord Jesus understands our grief, our tears and our agony. And being infinitely more the man than I am, Jesus was a man of tears. Tears are good; tears are even important.

Of course, in the case of Lazarus, Christ restored his life and gave him back to his loving sisters. In that there is the true and reliable application that at there is going to be a resurrection some day. As the prophet has told us, they that “sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” – Daniel 12:2. But as the Apostle John says, “I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.”

At this point I’d like to leave the text, and add a few points about mourning and grief in general.

Remember that these were two very different people, and they had different temperaments. Martha was more of a servant, and Mary was more worshipful. Despite their similar, initial response to Jesus delay and to His arrival in Bethany, I’m reasonably sure that if Lazarus had not been resurrected, the similarities in the sister’s grief would have eventually begun to differ. And today, there will always be family members who respond to a loved one’s death differently. For example, we can’t expect people to grieve for the same length of time – for some it will be quick and short. There is no timeline; there is no expiry date on grief. And twin sisters will recover differently. And for you, as a friend, that means be patient with them both, and don’t judge them against one another – and don’t judge them against yourself. There are very few principles laid down in the Word of God to govern our recovery from grief, and it is no under our control. And, of course, Christians will be different than non-Christians

Second: grief requires energy – more energy than you might have imagined earlier. Most grieving people feel exhausted in the days and weeks which follow. Some grieving people, even you yourself, may find it difficult to get out of bed. But that doesn’t necessarily mean a weakness of faith or lack of resolve to move forward. Give those people whatever time they need. Feed them and encourage them, but don’t condemn them.

Third: their grief – your grief – may not be simply about the person whom you have lost. You may have had plans for a vacation together, and when the date comes up or you see ads for a cruise, the grieving starts again. Furthermore, you may grieve on behalf of others who will no longer be able to enjoy your mutual loved one; your grandchildren for example.

Fourth: the forms of grief can change over time. At the beginning it may be as raw as a physical wound, but after that it may become more subtle. The wound may stop bleeding, but yet the scar remains, and every time that person sees the scar he/she is reminded of the loss and that earlier pain. If after a year of mourning, the grief still pops up, it is not necessarily a mark against a person’s faith.

Fifth: grief can impact every area of your life, because earlier your loved one was IN every part of your life. Ie., going to church may hurt, but you need the fellowship of others, and you need to hear God speak. Perhaps you think you’re good at compartmentalizing, and you stuff your grief into one little box. Maybe two years after the funeral you appear to grieve only when you go to be alone. But it may still pop up at the coffee shop that you used to visit together. Grief affects every part of us – but each differently – social, physical emotional and spiritual.

Sixth: people may tell you that over time your grief will subside or disappear. They tell you that you’ll always love him/her, but the pain and emptiness will pass. But the fact is that grief does not follow a logical line of decompression. It may be more like a roller coaster, with dramatic ups and downs. Don’t be worried if that is the case.

Seventh: your grief may involve an identity crisis. You may have not thought of yourself as an individual in fifty years; you’ve been a part of a pair or a team. But now you are the star of the show, and you have to do the things that your partner once did. Now you have to be the accountant. Now you have to be the gardener. The chief cook and bottle washer. Whereas you have been Mary, sitting at the feet of the Saviour, now you have to be Martha as well. You may question: Am I even the same person I once was? With half my life gone am I still who I was? Of course, you are, but you do have more responsibilities.

One more thing: you SHOULD miss that person who has died. You should always miss them. But missing them should not keep you from moving forward, which of course you will have to do anyway. How can you find new meaning and peace and contentment? Some mourners attend support groups related to what took their loved one, but that might not be best for you. Maybe it is time to think about yourself and ways to improve your own health and life. And of course, there is the One who has always been closer than a brother. The best thing a grieving soul can do, despite its temporary difficulties is to “draw nigh unto God.” Remember He as been described in the Bible as “the God of all Comfort” – II Corinthians 1:3. Every Christian needs other Christians and their fellowship, worship and the Word of God which can only be found in church, but the person in grief needs these things more than most.

With that I will conclude where I began: There is a tomb in every garden – just as there was in Jesus’ and Joseph of Aramatha’s case. That tomb needs to be properly prepared, because we never know when it will be needed. And for that matter we never really know who will need it, as Jesus borrowed Joseph’s tomb for three days. When we are properly prepared – by the grace of God we can cope with almost anything – even death.