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Jesus’s Word to the Grieving

by Adriel Sanchez posted February 21, 2022

What do you say to someone who is mourning the death of a loved one? Recently, I heard from someone who had just suffered a terrible loss. As you might expect, friends and family gathered around wanting to console the grieving person. They said what we typically say at times like this: “I’m so sorry for your loss,” and “I can’t believe this happened,” and “I’m here if you need anything.” Try as we may, oftentimes in these moments our words seem more impotent than ever. The grieving person expressed an understandable frustration, “I’m tired of people telling me they’re sorry.” Who could blame them? As sincere as our sentiments are, they can’t raise the dead.

As a pastor, I know there isn’t a situation in which you feel more helpless than in the face of death. I was first struck by this reality when I was still a seminarian. I was called to Children’s Hospital in San Diego to pray with a family that had just lost their four-year-old daughter. I spent the entire trip to the hospital in prayer, asking God for the words to say. When I arrived, I realized I didn’t have any. We prayed and wept, and I shared Scripture, but my feeble attempts to speak comfort to this family felt hollow. When I approached the room of this lifeless child, surrounded by devastated relatives, I was struck by how desperately we needed the comfort that only Jesus can give. We needed the hope of resurrection. 

A Word from Jesus

If Jesus could speak to the grieving, what would he say? That’s what mourners need more than anything else—a word from Jesus. Fortunately, we don’t need to speculate about what he’d say when consoling his loved ones, because we have his words recorded for us in John 11. Mary and Martha sent for Jesus because their brother, Lazarus, was deathly ill. We aren’t told what his sickness was, but by the time Jesus arrived, it was already too late. Lazarus was dead. Crowds of people gathered around the family to console them. I’m sure there were lots of “I’m sorrys” and “I can’t believe this happened, Lazarus was so young,” but Jesus spoke a different word of consolation. In response to Martha’s pain, Jesus declared, “Your brother will rise again.” (John 11:23)

The first thing Jesus gives mourners is hope beyond the grave. The Christian faith teaches that those who die in Christ are immediately ushered into the presence of God (Luke 23:43; 2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:23). This begins what’s sometimes referred to as the intermediate state because it describes the time in between the believer’s death and the final resurrection from the dead. In the intermediate state, our loved ones exist in perfect holiness and glory in the presence of the angels around the throne of God in heaven (Heb. 12:22-23). Beyond this, they await the final resurrection, where they will receive new and immortal bodies through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:53-57).

In response to Jesus’s statement, Martha declared her confidence in the hope of the resurrection, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus replied, “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. Do you believe this?” (John 11:24-26) Jesus gives mourners the hope of life after death and specifies where that life is located. It’s found in him. It’s almost as if Jesus is asking Martha to look through the veil of her tears and raise her eyes to his. Jesus grieved with the grieving (John 11:35), but also offered them the sure hope of resurrection life in him. This hope doesn’t set aside our sorrows, but it can ground us amid them (1 Thess. 4:13).

If you’re mourning today, receive the word of Jesus to the grief-stricken: There is hope in the midst of death, and that hope is found in me. Look up from the grave to the one who conquered it. The Son of God partook of our human nature so that “through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Heb. 2:14-15). Christ has come to rescue us from the bondage of death, and through his resurrection we have the hope of immortal life by faith. May the sure promise of the almighty God sustain you!

Photo of Adriel Sanchez

Adriel Sanchez

Adriel Sanchez is pastor of North Park Presbyterian Church, a congregation in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). In addition to his pastoral responsibilities, he also serves the broader church as a host on the Core Christianity radio program, a live, daily call-in talk show where he answers listeners' questions about the Bible and the Christian faith. He and his wife Ysabel live in San Diego with their five children.

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