Jesus Is Our Comfort
in Times of Grief
By J. R. Miller
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Many in bereavement, though believing the doctrine of the future resurrection, fail to get present comfort from it. Jesus assured Martha that her brother should rise again. “Yes, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day,” she said. The hope was too distant to give her much comfort. Her sense of present loss outweighed every other thought and feeling. She craved back again the companionship she had lost. Who that has stood by the grave of a precious friend has not experienced the same feeling of inadequateness in the consolation that comes from even the strongest belief in a far-off rising again of those who are in their graves?
The Master’s reply to Martha’s hungry heart cry is very rich in its comfort. “I am the resurrection.” This is one of the wonderful present tenses of Christian hope. To Martha’s thought the comfort of resurrection was a dim faraway consolation. “I am the resurrection,” said Jesus. The resurrection was something present, not remote. His words embraced the whole blessed truth of immortal life. “Whosoever liveth and believeth on Me shall never die.” There is no death for those who are in Christ. The body dies, but the person lives on. The resurrection may be in the future, but there is no break whatever in the life of the believer in Christ. He is not here, our eyes see Him not, our ears hear not His voice, we cannot touch Him with our hands; but He still lives, thinks, feels, remembers and loves. No power in His being has been quenched by dying, no beauty dimmed, no faculty destroyed.
This is a part of the comfort which Jesus gave to His friends in their bereavement. He assured them that for the believer, there is no death. There remains for those who stay behind the pain of separation and of loneliness, but for those who have passed over, we need have no fear.
How does Jesus comfort the friends who are left? As we read over the story of the sorrow of this Bethany home, we find the answer to our question. You say, “He brought back their dead, thus comforting them by the literal undoing of the work of death and grief. If only He would do this now, in every case where love cries to Him that would be comfort indeed.” But we must remember that the return of Lazarus to his home was only a temporary restoration. He came back to his old life of mortality, temptation, sickness, pain and death. He came back, too, only for a season. It was not a resurrection to immortal life; it was only a restoration to mortal life. He must pass again through the mystery of dying, and the second time his sisters must experience the agony of separation and loneliness. It was merely a postponement for a little while of the final separation.
But Jesus gave the sisters true comfort besides this. His own presence with them brought them comfort. They knew that He loved them. Many times before, when He had entered their home, He had brought benedictions. They had a feeling of security and peace in His presence. Even their great grief lost something of its poignancy when the light of His face fell upon them. Every strong, tender and true human love has comforting power. We can pass more easily through a sore trial if a trusted friend is beside us. The believer can endure any sorrow if Jesus is with him.
The trouble with us too often is that we do not realize the presence of our Master though He is close beside us, and miss altogether the comfort of His love. Mary stood with breaking heart by the empty grave, crying out for her Lord, who even then was close behind her, but unrecognized, “she supposing Him to be the gardener.” A moment later, however, the speaking of her name in the old familiar tone of voice revealed Him to her, and instantly her sorrow was turned into joy. So we stand oftentimes in the deep shadows of grief, longing for comfort, yearning for love, while Christ is close beside us, closer than any human friend can be. If only we will dry our tears and look up into His face, believing, our soul shall be flooded with His wonderful love and our sorrow shall be swallowed up in fullness of joy. There is never the least doubt about the presence of Christ in our times of trouble; it is only because we remain unaware of that presence that we are not comforted.
Another element of comfort for these sorrowing sisters was in the sympathy of Jesus. There was a wonderful gentleness in His manner as He received first one and then the other. Mary’s grief was deeper than Martha’s, and when Jesus saw her weeping He groaned in the spirit and was troubled. Then, in the shortest verse in the Bible, we have a window into the very heart of the Master, and we find there the most wonderful sympathy.
“Jesus wept.” It is a great comfort in time of sorrow to have even human sympathy, to know that somebody cares, that someone feels with us. It would have added something—very much indeed—of comfort for the sisters, if John, or Peter, or James, had wept with them beside their brother’s grave. But the tears of the Master meant incalculably more. They told of the holiest sympathy this world ever saw—the Son of God weeping with two sisters in a great human sorrow.
This shortest verse in the Bible was not written merely as a fragment of the narrative—it contains a revealing of the heart of Jesus for all time. Wherever a believer in Christ is sorrowing, One stands by, unseen, who shares the grief. There is immeasurable comfort in the revealing that the Son of God suffers with us in our suffering, is afflicted in all our affliction, and is touched with the feeling of our infirmities. We can endure our trouble more quietly when we know this.
There is yet another feature in the manner of Christ’s comforting His friends which is suggestive. Human sympathy is a sentiment. Our friends weep with us; they tell us they are sorry for us, yet they can do very little to help us. But the sympathy of Jesus at Bethany was very practical. Not only did He reveal His affection for His friends in coming all the way from Peraea, to be with them in their trouble; not only did He show His love by speaking to them words of divine comfort, which have made a shining track through the world ever since; not only did He weep with them in their grief, but He also wrought the greatest of all His miracles to restore to them their heart’s joy.
No doubt thousands of other friends of Jesus in bereavement have wished that He would comfort them in like manner, by giving back their beloved. Often He does what is in effect the same—in answer to the prayer of faith He spares the lives of those who are dear and who seem about to be taken away. When we pray for the recovery of our friends who are sick, our prayer, if we pray acceptably, always ends with, “Not my will, but Thine, be done.” Even the most passionate longing of our affection we subdue in the quiet confidence of faith. If it is not best for our loved one, if it would not be a real blessing, if it is not God’s way, then, “Thy will be done.” If we pray thus, we must believe that the issue, whatever it may be, is God’s best for us. If our friends are taken away, there is unspeakable comfort in the confidence that this was God’s will for them. If they recover, it is Christ who has given them back to us, as He gave back Lazarus to Martha and Mary.
It is important that we have a clear understanding of the subject of sorrow, in order that when it falls to our lot to suffer, we may receive blessing, and not hurt, from our experience. Every sorrow that comes into our life brings us something good from God. There is in Jesus Christ an infinite resource of consolation, and we have only to open our heart to receive it. Then we shall pass through sorrow sustained by divine help and love, and shall come from it enriched in character and blessed in all our life. Our griefs set lessons for us to learn, and we should diligently seek to get into our life whatever it is that our Master would teach us. In every pain is folded the seed of blessing—we should make sure that the seed shall have an opportunity to grow, and that we may gather its fruit. In every tear a rainbow hides, but only when the sunshine falls upon the crystal drop is the splendor revealed.
Excerpted and adapted from The Ministry of Comfort (Hodder & Stoughton, 1901). Published on Anchor October 2013. Read by Gabriel Garcia Valdivieso.