Hope in the face of death, part 3

“Jesus wept.”  It’s known as the shortest verse in the Bible.  Some make jokes about it being an easy place to begin memorizing Scripture.  But to me, those two simple words point to a remarkable truth upon which a true Christian hope may be founded.

In the previous post, I suggested that Jesus wept, not merely because he was bereaved, but because he understood better than anyone the insult that death represented to his Father’s beautiful work of creation.  I’ve also suggested that Jesus’ promise in John 14 should be read in light of the Lazarus event three chapters earlier to avoid letting our thoughts of heaven degrade into escapism.  Why?

I’ll give you the punch line up front (punch paragraph, really): Jesus went willingly to the cross having already demonstrated his power over death.  Resurrection was the culminating event of a God-centered ministry that had always pointed in the direction of life.  It should not have been a surprise to the disciples.  Had they truly understood all that Jesus taught and did, had they fully grasped the nature of the kingdom that was unfolding right under their noses, the resurrection would have been more of a joyous confirmation than a bewildering new truth.  But because they could not understand, Jesus’ death represented the final defeat, and they lost hope.

We are Jesus’ disciples.  What defeats us?  Why is our hope so fragile?  What are we missing or forgetting?

When Jesus spoke to the disciples of preparing a place for them in his Father’s house, he had already demonstrated the reality of his bold claim to Lazarus’ sister Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).  For our part, we live in the time not only after the resurrection of Lazarus, but of Jesus himself (and for that matter, of a lad named Eutychus, Acts 20:7-12).  We look forward to our own bodily resurrection, knowing that Jesus has already gone before us as “the first crop of the harvest of those who have died” (1 Cor 15:20, CEB).

What I’m suggesting, then, is a shift in how we think about hope relative to our own personal stories.

When my own drama–say, a battle with cancer or mental illness–is paramount, I may pray for divine intervention to preserve my life or well-being.  There is nothing wrong with this, and indeed, it would be folly to withhold our deepest human longings from God.  But to push the dramatic metaphor a bit, it’s as if my hope is for a deus ex machina, a miraculous resolution that sweeps away the problem.  The question then is: what if the miracle doesn’t come?  A common response would be to stoically resign myself to “fate,” deferring my hope to the post-mortem gift of life after death.

But what if we shifted the framework of the story?  What if the primary plot line was not about my heroic struggle against the odds, but God’s continual unfolding of his kingdom?  What if–in other words–my hope was grounded not in what God might do for me, but in what God has already done?  In a Jesus who wept over death, raised Lazarus, and was himself raised to life by his Father?

That shift in dramatic perspective could make all the difference.  I’ll try to spell that out in the final post.