John 11:17-35-17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. 21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 “Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” 28 And after she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there. 32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. 35 Jesus wept.
Rabbi Harold Kushner is best known as the author of the book, “Why Bad Things Happen to Good People” and it has been a book of encouragement for many, many folks who have gone through a difficult time. In fact, he wrote it as a result of his own suffering. One of the things that he wrote about in that book was an experience that he had on the beach. He said he was sitting on the beach one summer day, and he was watching two children play. One was a boy and one was a girl. They were building an elaborate sand castle very near the water’s edge. It had moats on it. It had towers. It had drawbridges. It had some internal passageways. They had worked so very hard and long, and wouldn’t you know as always happens, a wave comes along and reduces the sand castle to wet sand. He expected them, he said, to burst into tears and they did the very opposite. They grabbed each other by the hand, and they ran up from the shore to another place. They were singing, laughing and running, and they just plopped down and starting doing another sand castle. He said that it taught him a lesson. He said he realized an important lesson that all things in our lives, all the complicated structures that we spend so much time and energy creating are built on sand. Only our relationships to other people endure. And he said that sooner or later all the intricate things we try to build, all the things we labor for, sooner or later a wave is going to come and knock them down. And then he said, when that happens; only the person who had somebody’s hand to hold will be able to laugh.
Does someone have your hand today? Do you have someone’s hand? We all need people who will come alongside us in both the good and bad times of life. Perhaps you can think of a difficult time where you were surrounded with Christian friendship and encouragement, where someone walked with you in your pain and it made a difference. It gave you strength to go on. It was a lift to your spirit because someone cared what you were going through. Maybe you are thinking of a painful time that was particularly lonely and difficult because no one came around you to offer the encouragement you needed.
Colossians 4:10-14 lists some names of folks who were special to the Apostle Paul. We read: “10 My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. 11 Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me. 12 Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. 13 I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. 14 Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings.”
Aristarchus was Paul’s fellow prisoner and fellow worker. Aristarchus was one of Paul’s traveling companions. He willingly risked his life in that Ephesian riot. He sailed with Paul to Rome, which meant he also experienced the storm and shipwreck that Luke so graphically described in Acts 27.
Aristarchus stayed with Paul no matter what the circumstances were; a riot in Ephesus, a voyage, a storm, or even a prison. That’s what our expression “through thick and thin” means. We hang with someone no matter how tough life gets. It is not likely that Aristarchus was an official Roman prisoner. “Fellow prisoner” probably means that Aristarchus shared Paul’s confinement with him so that he could be a help and comfort to the apostle. He was a voluntary prisoner for the sake of Jesus Christ and the Gospel. He voluntarily endured some stuff with Paul because he believed in Paul’s efforts to advance the gospel. Don’t we all need a friend or two like that?
I have such a friend in a lady named Shelly Stewart who lives in Cincinnati. We had just started to become friends when God laid it on my heart to ask her to help me with the dissertation phase of my Doctoral work. The research I had chosen required that I do some statistical analysis work, and I was clueless. The truth is, I would never have finished my doctorate if it hadn’t been for Shelly. There were many days at her kitchen table, many emails exchanged, and many rough drafts printed and gone over during what I considered to be a grueling experience. Shelly was right there every step of the way, telling me we’d get it finished, telling me it would all work out, telling me I’d make the deadline. I couldn’t have made it without her.
Paul could not have accomplished all that he did apart from the assistance of Aristarchus. He didn’t look for an easy task. He did not run when the going got tough. He jumped in and got his hands dirty. He suffered and labored with Paul.
John Mark, the writer of the second Gospel, played a very important part in the early history of the church. John Mark was a cousin of Barnabas, the man who went with Paul on that first missionary journey.
When Paul and Barnabas set out on that first missionary journey, they took John Mark with them as their assistant. He probably took care of the travel arrangements, supplies, etc. As with a lot of friendships, Paul and John Mark had a bump in the road. John Mark abandoned the preachers and returned home to Jerusalem at one point.
Why John quit is not explained in Scripture. It was too bad that John Mark caused a division between Paul and Barnabas. But Paul did forgive John Mark and Mark was one who served as a special representative for the Apostle Paul. He could send him to churches that were having problems and trust them to help solve them. Don’t we all need friends who will accurately represent us before others? John Mark was one that Paul trusted to speak and act on his behalf.
Jesus Justus was a Jewish believer who served with Paul, but we know nothing about him. Jesus Justus represents those faithful believers who serve God but whose deeds are not announced for the whole world to know. He was a fellow worker with Paul and a comfort to Paul, and that is all we know about him. When I read about Jesus Justus, I thought about that song, “The Wind Beneath My Wings.” We all need those quiet, steady friends in our lives who simply serve alongside us, not needing the spotlight or notoriety, but who provide that steady, gentle comfort when we need it.
I think of the time in our previous church in Cincinnati when Joel Barrow, a young teen was killed in a car accident. I think about the quiet people who sort of camped at the Barrow house as literally hundreds of people came and went. They were the people making food in the kitchen, running errands for the family, enabling the family to grieve with those who had come to mourn with them.
Paul says of all of these, Aristarchus, John Mark and Jesus Justus, they were a great comfort to him. He also mentions Luke.
Luke is probably the only Gentile writer of any book of the Bible. He was also a doctor, and was dearly loved by Paul. Even though Paul had the power of God to heal people, he traveled with a physician! Luke joined Paul and his party at Troas, went with him to Jerusalem, and was with him on the voyage to Rome. No doubt Luke’s personal presence and his professional skill were a great encouragement to Paul during that very difficult time. Luke remained with Paul to the very end according to II Tim. 4:11. He was a faithful friend who lent his professional services to Paul so that Paul could keep on keeping on.
Epaphras was called a fellow servant of Paul’s. His ministry was the ministry of prayer. Just this week I had the occasion to speak with one of you on the phone and before we hung up, this person told me that they prayed for me every day. That meant so much to me because this is a team effort. If this is a “one man show” it’s Jesus’ show and the rest of us just get to carry the water, hold the ropes and open the door to the center ring so that Jesus can be on display. I need people in my life that speak words of encouragement and stick with me through thick and thin, lending either their presence to comfort me or their talents skills to assist me. And most of all, I need friends in my life who will lift me up in prayer.
As you think about your life, who in your life is with you through thick or thin? Who do you turn to in this earthly life for support and help? Who weeps with you?
The story in our main text about Lazarus’ death contains the shortest verse in the Bible, yet it is probably one of the most profound. “Jesus wept.” Jesus was very close friends of Lazarus, Mary and Martha. What can we learn about friendship from Jesus’ actions in John 11? How can you become the kind of person that someone like Paul would write about and say of you that you were there for them when they needed someone the most? I’d like to point out five things about Jesus’ actions towards Martha and Mary that might indicate how we can TOUCH someone in Christian friendship.
Open a faith conversation.
Understand their emotions.
Closeness means comfort.
Hurt with people.
Jesus spoke positively to Martha when he first encountered her. He said, “”Your
brother will rise again.” Now Jesus knew he had a resurrection up his sleeve. He had every reason to be positive. We don’t always know that someone will get well or that everything will be alright in an earthly sense nor do we need to say that it will, but we can always speak words of encouragement, words of life, positive words to someone in distress.
The Bible tells us that our words are very important. Jesus wasn’t just speaking something to Martha that he would hope or pray for. He spoke something He knew would happen. Listen, we don’t have to have the answers for any particular circumstance, but we can speak positive and truthful things like “I’m here with you.” “I’m praying for you.” Our words can have a direct impact on the person in crisis either for the better or the worse.
“Proverbs 16:24 says, “Pleasant words are as honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones.”
Jesus didn’t tell Martha she should have more faith. He didn’t tell her that everybody has to die sometime or that at least Mary and Martha still had each other. I’ve ministered to families who have lost children and they have shared the pain they felt when they lost a child and someone said to them, “Well at least you still have another child left.” When someone is in crisis it isn’t the time to tell them to look on the bright side. We don’t need to patronize people with cliché bumper stickers, but we can and should speak positively and let them know we are on the scene to support them.
Proverbs 18:21 says, “21 The tongue has the power of life and death.”
Colossians 4:5 says, “Let your speech always be with grace.”
Proverbs 15:23 in the Melissa Pratt translation says, “The right words at the right time is a beautiful thing.”
You never have, I believe, a greater opportunity to speak truth and life into someone’s life than when they are hurting.
Jesus opened a faith conversation with Martha. He said, “I am the resurrection
and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 “Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”
When he did that, when he opened a faith conversation he reminded her of what she believed to be true, which was that knowing Jesus as the Christ makes all the difference in any situation.
You see if we stay focused on our problems and our crisis to the exclusion of seeing Christ, the Resurrection and the Life, in the midst of those problems in the midst of that crisis, we’ll feel totally defeated. But if we can remember that Christ is present and that He is life, we can hold on to hope that even dead things can come to life. Even crisis situations can be resolved miraculously because He is involved.
You know you may be speaking to a friend who is hurting and they don’t know Christ. In that instance you can engage them in a conversation of faith based on your personal experience. I can’t tell you how many times Tami Evans has ministered to one of her Avon representatives that didn’t know Jesus simply by using her personal testimony of how God came to her in a crisis, how He healed her of cancer. The friend you minister to doesn’t have to be a Christian in order for you to suggest that God can be involved in their situation.
When someone is hurting, the sooner a friend can point them to Christ, the better. It brings heaven’s perspective into an otherwise human and hopeless situation. “Can I pray for you?” always works to open a conversation of faith.
Jesus allowed himself to understand Mary’s emotions. Our John 11 text says, “33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” He empathized with her.
Jesus allowed himself to get emotionally involved in what was going on. His heart was stirred on the inside. We have no reason to believe from this text that he was visibly crying at this point, but he allowed himself to be touched by Mary’s emotion.
We need to accept that God created us with the capacity to feel and that emotion is a God-designed outlet for us. Thinking we need to be strong or brave or not get emotionally involved keeps us from entering into the experiences of our brothers and sisters authentically. Getting emotionally connected is important because it is usually that emotional connection that moves us to action.
Sympathy means you just feel bad for someone. Empathy means you feel bad with someone and that puts you in a unique position to do something that will help them.
God said that empathy is His design for us as the church. I Cor. 12:26 says “When one person suffers, we all suffer.” We’re supposed to be that connected. That’s hard to do if you decide that church is just one of your weekly stops, like getting your hair done or going to the grocery where you just come in an sit and leave and don’t engage in relationship with anyone.
II Cor. 11:29 Paul says, 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? Paul was saying that when someone else stumbled or was hurting, he experienced internal pain as well.
Listen, Christian friendships ought to be the most fulfilling and authentic friendships there are because we literally feel on the inside, sometimes through an ache in our stomach or heart or in moments of sleeplessness, the pain of our brothers and sisters who are hurting for any reason. They are part of us as we are one body, so we willingly take on a burden for them.
Jesus made himself available, getting up close and personal with their pain.
Closeness means comfort in a lot of situations. Jesus said in John 11:34 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. It might seem overwhelming to try to comfort someone when they are hurting. Our first instinct might be to run away from the situation, but Jesus didn’t do that. He got closer to the situation, closer to them in their pain.
To say, “Call me if you need anything,” isn’t a bad thing to say when folks are hurting. It’s just not enough because most people will never pick up the phone and ask for help or tell you that they are lonely. When God puts someone on your heart or mind or you hear that someone is in trouble or hurting, be present. Go. Get close and personal so that you can see for yourself what is needed.
I would rather have someone tell me they need their space or that I need to give them time before coming around or that I need to back off rather than have someone say, “You weren’t there when I needed you.”
The truth is words only go so far. Presence, being there, means so much. When Rachel called me a week ago Tuesday to tell me that Randall had colon cancer and the word started getting out, a small crowd began to gather at the hospital. Danielle Williams was there and even had people at the hospital that she knew stop and ask her what kind of church she went to that this many people would come out to support someone who had just gotten a diagnosis. Randall has testified to how much the presence of each of those people meant that particular night. I remember saying to him in his room, “I hope the presence of this many people doesn’t communicate to you that something is drastically wrong with you. It’s just the opposite. Something is totally right with you. You are loved!” and I believe he and Rachel felt it perhaps more that night than ever.
Maybe sometimes you’re afraid you’ll say the wrong thing so you just avoid the situation. You don’t often have to say anything. Your presence will communicate more than you know.
Finally, we see in Jesus a willingness to hurt with them out loud. Jesus wept.
Romans12:15 says “Weep with those who weep.” In seeking to be like Jesus in all ways, remember, Jesus cried. Jesus wept. Jesus allowed that empathy to spill out of him in the presence of his friends who were grieving. It showed them in a profound way that He was in this life not just for them, but with them.
As you walk with God, He will design moments of your life so that you can experience His comfort in order to then comfort others. II Cor. 1 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.
Perspective is everything. As believers, we know that all our times of sorrow will eventually turn into joy. Rev. 21:4 promises: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
But until then, God has ordained that you and I wipe away each other’s tears, that you and I touch one another with His touch.
Open a faith conversation.
Understand their emotions.
Closeness means comfort.
Hurt with people.
Who weeps with you today? If you can’t name a person that would come to your side in a time of need, a Christian friend who would offer the support and ministry of Christ, I want you to consider coming to an altar today to pray that God will give you such a friend. If you can’t think of someone that you have wept with in the last year, someone that needs the love and support of Christ, I want you to consider coming and praying that God will use you to minister His touch to them. Maybe you’d just like to come today and pray, “Lord, use me.” You see, being a Christian is about being in relationship. It’s not just “Jesus and Me,” but Jesus and me and you and you and you. Make an effort to deepen Christian friendships this year. It will enrich your life and give you the opportunity to be like Jesus.