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Chapter 03

The Grieving Sisters

Randall Moss

Thursday, January 18, 2024



So far we have seen how Jesus patiently deals with the skeptic in revealing himself, and how he speaks to the heart of the insider and outcast to show them what’s wrong with the world. In chapter 3, Keller takes us to Jesus’ encounters with Mary and Martha who are grieving the death of their brother Lazarus in the gospel of John chapter 11. Keller aims to show how these encounters reveal to us who Jesus is and what he came to accomplish.

The first encounter Jesus has in this story is with Martha. While Jesus was away teaching, her brother Lazarus had grown very ill. Martha and her sister Mary had sent a messenger to Jesus, but by the time Jesus made it back, Lazarus had already died and been buried in the tomb for four days. When Jesus arrived, Martha was the first to go out and meet him. In her frustration and grief she said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus lovingly but firmly responds, “Your brother will rise again.” When Martha acknowledges her belief in the resurrection to come, Jesus makes an astounding claim that he is the resurrection and the life. In her grief, Martha is expressing her disappointment that Jesus came too late. Jesus pushes back against the flow of her grief and tells Martha that he is the resurrection, he is the one who gives life. With him, it is never too late!

The second encounter is with Mary. After hearing Jesus’ astonishing claim, Martha went and called her sister Mary to come see Jesus. When Mary reached Jesus, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” This was the same grief and the exact words that her sister had spoken. But this time Jesus responded differently. Rather than push against the flow of her grief and point her to the hope of resurrection, Jesus shared in her grief and wept with her. He was so moved by his own grief and compassion for the grieving sisters that all he could say was, ”Where have you laid him?”

Why did Jesus respond to the same grief and the same words expressed by the two sisters so differently? Keller argues that the difference in his responses is a beautiful and profound expression of Jesus’ identity. Jesus is both fully God and fully human. His first response to Martha demonstrated his divinity. “Because of his divinity, he is high enough to point her to the stars” (Keller, p. 50). His second response to Mary expressed his humanity. “Because of his humanity, he is low enough to step into her sorrow - with complete sincerity and integrity - and just weep with her” (Keller, p. 51).

When Jesus arrived at the tomb where Lazarus was buried, Jesus commanded the people there to roll the stone away. Then, in another clear display of his full divinity and full humanity, Jesus shouts with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” And he did! After four days of death and decay, Lazarus was made alive again. Keller argues that this whole episode is an incredibly important one that clearly displays who Jesus is and what he came to accomplish. Jesus is fully God and fully human. He came to put the world right. He came to die in our place so that God’s just wrath against our sins would be satisfied and we could have eternal life as reconciled worshippers of the one true God. By calling Lazarus out of the grave, Jesus set in motion the events that would take him to his own grave (John 11:45-57).

(!) Something Helpful

Jesus is both truly God and fully man. Not just God disguised as a man; not just man with an air of deity; but the God-man. His encounters first with Martha, then with Mary, show us he is both God and human. (Keller, p. 44)

This truth is fundamental to a correct understanding of the gospel and, while it certainly was not a new idea to me, the way Keller presented this through Jesus’ encounters with Martha and Mary was very helpful. First, this was a helpful reminder to me of the sufficiency of Jesus’ substitutionary death and resurrection. Only a human could rightfully stand in the place of punishment for humanity’s sin debt and only God could perfectly meet God’s standard of holiness to atone for our sin. 

Second, it was a helpful reminder of how Jesus’ outright claims of divinity are a powerful apologetic tool. In the face of Jesus’ claims, one cannot write him off as simply another prophet, a wise teacher, or a good man. His claims were so audacious that the only three possible conclusions are that he was a heretical fraud, he was a deranged lunatic, or he is indeed God Almighty, the great I Am.

Third, this was a helpful reminder that, because Jesus is both fully human and fully God, he can empathize with me. He knows me more intimately and completely than I could ever comprehend. Jesus alone can understand my frail humanity, confront my sinful heart of stone, and replace it with a heart of flesh, tender with affection toward the God who created me in his image. Jesus alone can satisfy my soul. Jesus alone can bring me from spiritual death into spiritual life. In Jesus alone, I have a sure hope of a resurrected and glorified body in which I will spend all of eternity in his presence in the new heaven and earth.

(?) Something to Think About

The founders of every other major religion said, “I’m a prophet who shows you how to find God,” but Jesus taught, “I’m God come to find you.” This means we can’t look at Jesus as only one more religious teacher supplementing the world’s store of wisdom. He was either a conscious fraud, was himself deranged, or was in fact divine. (Keller p. 46)

This truth left me wondering how well I truly know and appreciate Jesus and his teachings at this level. If I truly know Jesus as the God-man come to find me, do my thoughts and my actions reflect a deep affection for him that drives my obedience to him? Does the way I interact with others demonstrate that I truly know Jesus and long for them to know him too? Do the ways I use my time and my resources reflect an abiding knowledge of Jesus and love for him?

(.) Something to Do

Everybody needs a ministry of truth and a ministry of tears at different times. Sometimes you need more of the bracing truth; you need to be shaken by a loving friend who says, “Wake up and look around you.” Other times you really just need somebody to weep with you. (Keller, p. 51)

This chapter challenged me to take action in three specific ways:

  1. Spend more time beholding Jesus for who he is in the Scriptures, finding both transcendent truth and intimate nearness in him.

  2. Take the time and effort to follow Jesus’s example in how I interact with people, discerning when to offer firm truth and when to simply hear their heart with empathy.

  3. Stand ready to make a defense to anyone who asks me for a reason for the hope that is in me, with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15).

Questions to Ask Your Cell Group

  • Can you think of a recent time when you experienced “the ministry of truth” through God’s word? What were you wrestling with? Who or what did God use to confront you with the truth you needed to be reminded of?

  • What about a recent time when you experienced the tender heart of Jesus through “the ministry of tears?” What were you going through? Who or what did God use to comfort you and draw you nearer to his heart?

  • If someone doubted Jesus’ divinity, how confident are you in your ability to give them an answer and point them to supporting Scriptures? What about similar questions that a skeptic might ask? What are some things we can do together over the next few months to grow in our ability to articulate the gospel and defend our faith?

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