Hope in the Face of Tragedy

Today we celebrated the life of Samson Charles Bidan. Here is the audio recording of my message I gave at the service. (To listen to the entire audio of the service, click here). To learn a little bit more about Samson, you can read my previous post about him and my response to the news of his death.


Sermon Manuscript:

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”  But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”…Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. …After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him. – John 11:1-6, 11-15, 25-26

 

For those of you who don’t know, Samson lived with my wife and I since May. Being from Tanzania meant that going home over the Summer would have been fairly difficult. Sadly, less than a month into Samson living with us my wife and I decided that at the end of Summer we would be moving to Kentucky so I could attend seminary. This meant that for a week or so, Samson would need to find somewhere else to stay – but we knew lots of people in the church who would be happy to do that and it didn’t think that would be that big of a deal. Samson didn’t think so.

Samson was quiet, stoic looking when we told him. He almost looked angry. He wouldn’t look at us and kept bouncing his knee as we talked. We told Samson our reasons, our belief that God was calling us there, and how we’d still have the whole Summer together, but none of it seemed to help. He’d just shrug his shoulders, like it was already decided so why bother. We thought this would be a simple conversation, we didn’t anticipate this. After several more attempts at failed explanation, eventually I said, “Samson, you know that we aren’t happy about leaving you, right? You know that we really care about and love you, right?” His knee stopped bouncing. His head slumped forward, and to our surprise, streaks of tears suddenly ran down his face. I repeated it again, “Samson, you know how much we care about you, right?” Nodding up and down, his normally booming voice now thick with emotion, the only words he could get out were, “So much.” Little did we know that we wouldn’t be the ones leaving Samson, but him leaving us.

Samson was easy to love. We spent one happy summer learning from one another, praying for one another, and often laughing together. When I first heard the news that Samson had died the first passage of Scripture that came to mind was John 11:32, “Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Mary and Martha’s brother, Lazarus, died a sudden and tragic death. And Jesus, though He could have, did not prevent it from happening. Last Monday night all I could think was, “Lord, if you had been there, my brother would not have died.” Samson did not die on Monday because God lacked the power to save him – God could have saved Samson, but He didn’t. Like Lazarus, Samson’s death was something the Lord allowed to happen, and I want to look at why.

John 11 has been a life raft for me this past week, and I hope to share some of the comfort and sweetness it has brought me, with you. At the opening of John 11 we hear news that one of Jesus’ closest friends, Lazarus, is sick. Jesus, who by now is famous for healing the sick, shockingly doesn’t rush to His friend’s side to heal him. Which is what you’d expect, right?

Well, at the end of John 11 we find out that Jesus’ plan all along was to raise Lazarus from the dead, which He does. But when you read the story, never does Jesus clue anybody in on that. Come on, Jesus! Why wouldn’t you alleviate people’s fears, why wouldn’t you give them some comfort that their brother was going to only be dead for a few days? Heck, why wouldn’t you tell Lazarus?!

And the answer, of course, is that Jesus is more concerned with us trusting Him, than with us feeling like we are in control. If you’re a parent, and you ask your child to obey you, there are plenty of times where they may ask why and you will gladly give them an explanation. But at a certain point you will look at them and say, “Look, this might not make sense to you right now, but it makes sense to me. I’m your parent, trust me.” If Jesus had looked at everyone and said, “Don’t worry, I’m going to raise Lazarus from the dead,” then there wouldn’t be anywhere near the depth of faith forged in them that was created by Christ’s silence. And now, we too might be shocked and confused that the Lord’s mysterious plan would lead to what seems like a needless loss of our dear brother. It doesn’t make sense to us, and God isn’t spelling out in the sky all of the intricate reasons for why He took Samson from us, but He is today calling out to us, “Trust me.” And that step of faith, the step taken in the unique pain of tragic loss, forges a faith that cannot be created with any other circumstances.

But if you’re like me, and maybe a little skeptical by nature, the immediate question that jumps into your mind is, “Why? Why should I trust this Jesus that much?”

First, look at Jesus’ tenderness. When Mary collapses in front of Jesus, crying and questioning why He would let her brother die, take notice of how Jesus responds, “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” (John 11:33-36). Let me point out three phrases that might not be as powerful to you as they would have been to the original readers.

  • Deeply moved” this would be more accurately translated as “indignant”. Righteously angry.
  • greatly troubled” this phrase is only used two other times in John’s gospel and it is used to describe Jesus’ personal agony he experienced the night before He was crucified.
  • Jesus wept” this isn’t a silent, single tear – this is a sobbing, chest-heaving kind of weeping.

So here we have Jesus, upset, in turmoil, and weeping at the tomb of Lazarus. Why? Jesus doesn’t look at Mary and say, “Mary, where is your faith?” He isn’t angry with her. He also isn’t despairing and losing all hope – He’s minutes away from raising Lazarus! So why on earth is He so tormented? Because, no matter what, death is an ugly thing. Death is an unnatural thing. We were never made to die. Death is the byproduct of sin entering our world, it isn’t part of God’s original good design. That’s why no matter what, death always feels wrong. For however many millennia human beings have walked this earth, one thing is always certain – we die. And you’d think by now our race would have adapted, would have evolved into accepting the reality of death as a simple, natural process. But we haven’t – it tears us apart, it breaks our hearts. And it should.

And we can know that in our pain, Jesus shares in it with us. He is not indifferent, He is not cold, He is not remote and removed from our heart-ache. While that may not seem like something that is impeding you from trusting Jesus, once you see Jesus’ willingness to share in our anger and our tears at death, walls that you didn’t even know you had put up to Him will begin to fall.

But Jesus’ sympathy with our pain isn’t enough to trust Him.

What we need is victory over death. Look at Jesus’ words to Martha, “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 11:25-26). What kind of audacious promise is that? Never die? How could Jesus talk like that?

He can make that promise because in just a few more chapters in John Jesus is going to be nailed on a Cross. While the Romans thought they were just silencing a potential revolutionary, and the Jews thought they were just snuffing out a prophet who tried to usurp their power, they both were unaware of the deeper things going on. From eternity past God was planning this ugly day. Both the Romans and the religious leaders were blind to who Jesus really was. He wasn’t some political revolutionary or religious prophet; He was God in the flesh. And He came for a specific reason.

Remember we said that death is a byproduct of sin, so the only way that God can wipe away death is by first dealing with sin. This is why Jesus came. The wages of sin is death (Rom. 3:23), and this isn’t just death here on the earth, this is eternal death. So if you are a sinner, which everyone in this room is, this is the judgment that hangs over every one of our heads, and someday we all are going to have to pay up. But Jesus steps in, graciously and gloriously steps in, and say, “No, you’re not going to die! If you will receive me, you will never die.” Why? Because in Matthew 20:28 Jesus tells us, “The Son of Man came…to give his life as a ransom for many.” When Jesus died on the Cross, He died in our place and absorbed the bitter sting of death and sin. Jesus, though innocent, died as if He were guilty, so you and I, though guilty, could be treated as if we were innocent. That’s the gospel.

If we were of another faith or other religion we would be asking ourselves whether or not Samson lived a good enough life to deserve to go to Heaven. But that isn’t Christianity. The question we ask as Christians is whether or not Samson believed in Christ, whether or not Samson trusted Christ to be the payment of His sins, whether or not Samson believed it when he sang, “Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe, sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as now.”

And that is what Samson believed in. So now we can read John 11:25-26 in full confidence knowing that this is describing Samson’s reality. Samson has died, yes – but, he also hasn’t died, ‘though he die, yet shall he live.” Death has been dealt its final death-blow and for those who believe in Christ, it is emptied of its crippling power. Awhile ago, a minister in New York lost his wife in a tragic accident, leaving behind their small son without a mother. A few weeks after her death the dad was trying to think of how to convey the hope a Christian has in the face of death, when suddenly while trying to cross a busy street a large truck drove by right in front of them and frightened the little boy. The dad knelt down and said, “Did the truck hit you?” To which the boy said, “No, just its shadow hit me.” And the dad responded, “That’s exactly what happened to mommy. Death didn’t really hit her, just its shadow did.”

Samson is now more alive than he ever was while he walked this earth. “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known,” (1 Cor. 13:12). Samson once saw the Lord dimly – no longer. He know sees Him, face to face.

“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?” Jesus question hanging at the end is meant to press into us. Friend, do you believe this? Do you trust Christ? When your day comes, will death just be a shadow for you? I invite you now to not leave that question unanswered. Seek the Lord while He may be found. Let’s pray.

 

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