Jesus and Grief
by Jacob Hudgins
“And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep’”(Luke 7:13).
Jesus’ life is repeatedly touched by grief. It is very likely that Jesus lived to see his father Joseph die. His cousin John the Baptist is beheaded. His friend Lazarus succumbs to sickness, probably at a young age. Yet Jesus also knows that he will be raised from the dead himself, ushering in the hope of a final resurrection of all people. This means that Jesus’ reactions at the tombs of others are a great example to us of how Christians should deal with the pain of loss while holding out the hope for the future. What does Jesus teach us about grief?
Jesus feels compassion for the grieving. When Jesus and his disciples meet a funeral procession in the town of Nain, the grieving mother (also a widow) is in the crowd. “And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her”(Luke 7:13). As Jesus sees Mary weeping at the tomb of her brother Lazarus, “he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled”(John 11:33). It is here that “Jesus wept”(John 11:35) as he observes the grief of others. This compassion is all the more astounding because Jesus knows that he will shortly raise both of these people from the dead! Jesus seems drawn to their hurt and feel the pain with them. Yet there are no vague platitudes in the mouth of Jesus like “he’s in a better place” or “God needed another angel.” Instead, Jesus hurts and weeps with them. We would do well to feel the same compassion.
Jesus prays. When he receives news of John the Baptist’s violent death, “he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself”(Matt 14:13). Unable to have time to himself because of the crowds, he waits until evening. “And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray”(Matt 14:23). It is not just that Jesus grieves over his cousin who has died. John’s death is so brutal and so unfair that it must be hard to swallow. He takes his pain to God in prayer. Jesus also takes to prayer before raising Lazarus (John 11:41-42) and those in Nain respond to him raising the widow’s son by “(glorifying) God”(Luke 7:16). Grief is a time when we must reach out to God for help and stability. Only he has the power to conquer death. If Jesus needs to pray in such moments, certainly we do too.
Jesus points toward the future. When Jesus comes to the tomb of Lazarus with his sisters Mary and Martha, they are frustrated that he did not arrive soon enough to heal him (John 11:21, 32). They are looking to the past with regret. Jesus turns their attention to the future. “Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again’”(John 11:23). And again, “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”(John 11:25-26). Jesus looks ahead to a power and future that extends beyond death. The believer in Jesus, “though he die, yet shall he live.” There is hope despite death! What Jesus hints at here is more fully developed by the apostles, but it is what gives true assurance at the graveside of a loved one. While remembering those we love is important, Jesus teaches us to look forward with confidence, knowing that death is only temporary.
Jesus lived as a man and dealt with death just as we do. He helps us to see the importance of compassion, prayer, and hope to give comfort to others and persist through grief in faith.