My dad has been in the ministry for 25 years. I have seen him work with couples through premarital counseling, challenge them in their marriage ceremony, celebrate with them at the births of their children, and sit beside them as they say their final goodbyes. But in the past six months, the goodbyes have far outweighed the hellos, and the church family of my childhood is pressed down with the burden of grief.
Some of the goodbyes have been easier to handle because they were expected for a person who had lived a long, full life of ministering for the Lord. While we grieve the passing of someone we love, we know that we all come to the end of life at some point and can anticipate seeing that person again in heaven. But what do you do when it’s unexpected? What do you say when they are young and “had their life ahead of them”? How can we trust in a God who would allow an otherwise-healthy baby to never wake up from his nap or a newlywed couple to “walk through the valley of the shadow of death” (Ps. 23) or a young father to pass away? Who is this Father who allows suffering?
I have to admit that I have questioned God. Why does He allow trials? Doesn’t He care about us at all? Does He just sit in heaven and laugh at us? Does He even understand our suffering?
Today is Palm Sunday. While the Jewish people lined the streets of Jerusalem in celebration of the promised Messiah, Jesus knew their hearts. He knew that these were not people who were truly devoted to Him. In fact, following His grand entrance into the city, He immediately started to show them the hardness of their hearts.
- He threw out the money-changers in the temple (Matt. 21:12-13).
- He chastised the religious leaders for rebuking the people who praised Him (Matt. 21:14-16).
- He challenged the faith of the religious leaders (Matt. 21:23-27; Matt. 23).
- He brought into question their salvation (Matt. 22:1-14).
- He tested their knowledge of scripture (Matt. 22:41-46).
- He rebuked his disciples for setting their eyes on things that are temporal (Matt.26:6-13).
- He called attention to one who would betray Him (Matt. 26:20-25).
- He prophesied that Peter would deny Him (Matt. 26:30-35).
- He sorrowed when three of His friends could not even stay awake for an hour to pray with Him (Matt. 26:36-46).
And then He was betrayed and arrested. And the time for Him to speak had come to an end. He was a young man, mid-30s. He had many friends and followers. He was on God’s mission. He healed the sick, the blind, the lame, the deaf. He cast out demons. He restored broken hearts. His presence in the community brought great blessing to the many who believed on Him.
And then He was killed. He died for crimes that humanity committed. He suffered because the men in power were too cowardly to stand up to the people, the very same people who had praised and honored Him just a week before. He was a young man “with His whole life ahead of Him.” He didn’t know 40, 50, 60. His mother and followers were left to bury Him. He could have spent a long life leading people to God and then died at the end of His life. He could have healed so many more people, cast out more demons, raised children to follow after Him.
Death is all around us. Most of the time, we are left with more questions than answers. We are left with sorrow and disbelief. And I am sure that the disciples of Jesus were left with some of the same questions. In fact, the disciples were forced into hiding, knowing that the authorities would now be after them with their leader gone. All that they had believed was crushed in one heartbreaking moment of unbearable loss. I imagine they were crushed, fearful, and confused.
The truth is that death is unnatural to us. It goes against God’s original design for His creation. Sin has come in and taken away the perfect world God had created for us to enjoy. So for today, we weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15).
But Friend, for those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, Easter is coming. God did not end the story with death because He is a God of love and everlasting life.
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep – I Thess. 4:13-14.
Because of what happened on Easter morning, we can say with the psalmist:
You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
you have loosed my sackcloth
and clothed me with gladness,
12that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever! – Ps. 30:11-12
I don’t have empty words to share with those who are experiencing loss. I have Jesus! Christ overcame death, so we can have hope – even in the midst of great sorrow.
For those of you who are suffering, my prayer is that God will show Himself faithful to you in your trial, that you will feel His presence as you cry out to Him, and that you will experience a “peace that passes all understanding.”