Cross Words: Jesus understands grief

By Isaiah Pauley

Christmas is a difficult time for a whole bunch of people. It has a way of reminding us of what we don’t have. A tree stands tall. Stockings dangle from the mantle. The smell of gingerbread lingers in the hall. Hallmark movies play on the television. And piles of presents sit happily nearby.

But something is missing. Actually, someone is missing. And Christmas looks more like a bucket of sorrow than a cup of good cheer.

If so, this message is for you.

For the past three weeks, I’ve been writing about the incarnation. It’s the beauty of God placing Himself in our shoes through the person of Jesus Christ. That’s the reality we celebrate during Christmas. And it’s because of Christ coming into our world and walking in human flesh that He understands our plight. He understands temptation. Rejection. Suffering. And yes, Jesus understands grief. Let me show you.

“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’” (John 11:1-3 ESV).

Most of us are familiar with this story. Lazarus is sick. But he is a friend of Jesus. And his sisters call for Jesus to come and heal their sick brother. Upon hearing the news, however, Jesus stays where He is.

“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” (v. 5-6 ESV).

By the time Jesus makes it to Bethany, Lazarus has been buried for four days.

“So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died’” (v. 20-21 ESV).

It doesn’t take long before Mary comes to Jesus and reiterates those same words.

Mary and Martha can’t help but wonder why. Why does Jesus come so late? Why does He not heal their brother? Questions like these weigh heavy on our hearts as we grieve. After all, we know God is capable of healing. He is capable of protecting. And when He doesn’t, it’s easy to question Him in our hearts.

The same is true for Mary and Martha. But let’s see 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!’ But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?’” (v. 33-37 ESV).

Through this passage, we learn that while God doesn’t always give the answers we’re looking for, He does relate to us in our grief. He doesn’t leave us to mourn on our own. With unparalleled empathy, Christ comes alongside us in our sorrow. And what a marvelous reality that is.

But there’s something else I want us to see. Not only does Christ relate to us in our grief, He is the champion over death.

Listen to what Jesus tells Martha when she comes to him: “‘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?’” (v. 25-26 ESV).

“She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world’” (v. 27 ESV).

Indeed, He is the promised Messiah. And He is coming into the world again one day. Just as Christ raised Lazarus from the dead, so will He raise all who have died believing in Him.

“For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:21-22 ESV).

Christ is victorious over death. And when we receive Him as our Lord and Savior, we share in that victory (see 1 Cor. 15:55-57).

No matter what kind of grief we face, we find life in the arms of a Savior who understands. We find comfort in the arms of a Savior who understands. Why? Because He came as a baby on that day we call Christmas.

Christmas may not look the same this year. Perhaps someone is missing. But Christ has come. He understands your pain. He is life. And I pray you find comfort in that most precious truth.

By Isaiah Pauley

Isaiah Pauley is the Minister of Worship for Faith Baptist Church in Mason, W.Va. Find more at

Isaiah Pauley is the Minister of Worship for Faith Baptist Church in Mason, W.Va. Find more at