Join for our live streamed Sunday School (9:30am) and Worship Service (10:30am). You can view them HERE.
A sermon by Jack Lash, preached on September 15, 1991, the Sunday after his wife Mary Ann’s miscarriage
As most of you know, this last Tuesday night, Mary Ann had a miscarriage. I thought it would be helpful and constructive to reflect on the concept of grief with you this morning.
I am not elevating our pain over the pain of others. Many of experienced much more intense grief. For some, grief is virtually an everyday experience. But I thought that in the midst of our grief would be the best time to address the subject of grief in general. I will preach on this topic better now than when the subject is more abstract. And you may also listen better now as well, because you know that for me this is not merely theoretical.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-4 “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 2 a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 3 a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”
There is a time when it is the right thing to weep, indeed, when it is wrong NOT to weep. The fact is, we live in a cursed world. And it is wrong to forget that. It is wrong to expect to escape from the power of the curse before the great day of resurrection when Christ returns. Grieving and weeping are a part of human life under the curse. It is true that one day all of our tears, and all of our griefs will be gone. But for today, it is wrong to act as if there is no reason for grieving on this earth. Some Christians have what the theologians call an over-realized eschatology: thinking about our lives here on the earth as if the last day has already arrived, as if we are now in paradise. They act as if a Christian is not supposed to ever be sad or grieved if he has enough faith. This is wrong-headed. In the Bible God tells us that there is a time to weep, there is a time to mourn. There is a time when it is not only permitted to grieve, but when it is the right thing to do.
We see this in the example of Jesus when His dear friend Lazarus died in John 11:33-36: “When Jesus saw Mary 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!”
The shortest verse in the Bible is right here in John 11:35: "Jesus wept." What a powerful verse! What a comforting verse! What an amazing verse! God the Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity, took upon Himself human nature to the extent that He even wept at the death of one He loved. As God the Son He was the One who had appointed the day for Lazarus to die. And presumably He knew He was going to raise him from the dead in a few minutes. But Jesus let Himself enter into the grief and mourning over this death of His beloved friend Lazarus. He was willing to serve God even by weeping. (Jesus, being who He was, was able to do things we cannot do, like fully and truly grieve even when He knew that Lazarus was to be raised up again.)
What if Jesus had not wept? What if He had remained emotionally detached – no identification with our pain, no suffering like us, no experiencing the agony of the curse upon human life, no feeling what it was like to be a real human being? But because He did weep, we know that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses.” (Heb.4:15)
What a blessing it is to us that Jesus wept, that He identified with our pain, that He suffered like us, that He experienced the agony of the curse upon human life, that He truly felt what it was like to be human! As Heb.4:15 says, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses.”
In John 11:1-16 it is clear that Jesus allowed Lazarus to die. It is equally clear from v.5-6 that He allowed Lazarus to die because of His love for Lazarus and others. Though Mary and Martha didn’t realize it at the time, it was actually a great blessing to them (and to us) that their loved one died. Otherwise, we would be deprived of this fabulous demonstration of the tender compassion of our Lord, who wept in love over the death of His friend. We would also have been deprived of this fabulous demonstration of the Lord’s resurrection power over the curse and death. Would they really have preferred it any other way? Would they really have preferred that Lazarus not get sick and die? I don’t think so. The death of their brother helped them in so many ways. And it helps us too – to deal with the deaths of OUR loved ones. And it gives us permission to weep.
In the days of the Bible, there was a period of grieving set aside when a person died. The friends and relatives gathered for a few days or even weeks devoted to mourning over the one who had passed away. They would weep and wail for a certain period of time and then they would get up and go home. There is some real wisdom in this. It is good to reflect on and consider and think about and receive and accept the hand that God has dealt you. It is often good when something like this happens to set aside some blocks of time: for special prayer and solitude and meditation, and to do some fasting. It is a good time to read and reflect on Psalms which call out to God in the midst of grief.
Some might wonder why we would grieve when we have seven other children? Our grief is not because we are so eager to have more kids. Nor is it because of the physical trauma and discomfort involved in a miscarriage. Our grief is because our child died, although we had never met or seen him/her. He/she was still our child. Seven children may sound like a lot, but suddenly to us, it sounds like one too few.
But there is another time the Bible tells us to weep besides when something grievous happens to us. It is when something grievous happens to another one of the Lord's people. We are told in the Scriptures to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice (Romans 12:15). It is our obligation. “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (1Corinthians 12:26) And we are deeply grateful for our brothers and sisters who grieve with us.
Is there any hope in a loss like this? Is there anything but despair for us in a time like this? We trust in God's sovereignty. "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away" (Job 1:21). But we are not left to find rest merely in God's sovereignty. We also trust in God's goodness. And not just in the confidence that God is going to bring good out of this as He does in all things. We have real hope from an eternal perspective. In Jesus, there is an answer to death! There is victory over death! The story of Jesus Christ did not end at the cross! Christ has overcome death by His resurrection! And if Christ is not raised then we have no hope, no hope at all (1Cor.15:14-19). All is vanity! “But in fact Christ HAS been raised from the dead!” 1Corinthians 15:20.
I've read to you before the words that I love so much from the second verse of the song Because He Lives (William J. Gaither): “How sweet to hold a newborn baby, and feel the pride and joy he gives, but greater still the calm assurance this child can face uncertain days because He lives.” In light of our present circumstance, let me reword this: How sad to lose an unborn baby, to miss the love and joy he would have given, but even still we have assurance: this child can face the curse of death because He lives. "Because He lives, I can face tomorrow."
For some, the question still lingers: Why did God do this? (and not just to us) What good is there in a miscarriage? or a premature death? Though the Bible doesn’t answer this question specifically, it does give us reasons why God allows suffering: to reveal His comfort (How could He reveal it unless He allowed us to suffer?), to teach us to comfort others (2Cor.1:3-5), to teach us to trust in Him (2Cor.1:8-9), to help us appreciate what we have. Is God really willing to let a person die in order to teach us to be thankful? Yes. What is wrong with God ordaining a person's existence and sending him to earth for a very short time to fulfill a very short but significant mission like teaching us gratitude, like helping us to face our own mortality, like reminding us of the curse (how our hope is not here in this world), like cementing our marriage bond. Woe to us if we do not benefit from hard things like this. What a tragedy to waste a person's whole earthly life by neglect and default. This is why it is right and good to spend time pondering what the Lord is teaching us in these things.
So, although we are sad for ourselves that we will miss the joy of this little life, we are not bitter: “We are afflicted, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; struck down, but not destroyed.” 2Cor.4:8-9 There is good in all things because God ordains all things, and in the end all things will be reconciled in Jesus, even believing parents with their departed children.