“And he was ill, coming near to death, but God showed mercy on him — but not him alone, also on me so that I might not have sorrow upon sorrow.”
As Christians we do not grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). We grieve with a knowledge that those who depart from us in faith are being taken into the presence of Christ and there they will know no end to the fullness of their joy. So, we rejoice for the believer who passes from this shadowland to the presence of the light of the glory of Christ, but we grieve our own loss of fellowship as those whom we love move out of our presence and into Christ’s.
What disturbs me is that I have heard many Christians saying things like: “there is no room for grief when a believer passes away” or that “a funeral is only a time of celebration.” On one level, we do celebrate…a beloved believer has traveled on to glory — that person has moved on from being a part of the “Church Militant” and has become part of the “Church Triumphant.” But is there no room for our own grief? The Apostle Paul reminds us here that there is room for our own grief as we lament what the person who has departed means to us here in this life.
Indeed, it might be said that remaining in grief indefinitely is not healthy for our souls and often distracts us from the calling that God has placed in our lives. Yet we all grieve differently and sometimes we go through seasons that are a kind of “re-grieving” process. These are seasons…it is not that we don’t grieve, we just grieve with hope — hope of joining the departed in the presence of Christ and hope that one day all death will be cast into the lake of fire and it will be no more. So, the next time that someone tells you not to grieve…point to this text where Paul speaks of God sparing him grief while at the same time remembering that while there is a time to rend your garments (a Hebrew expression of grief) there will be time for sewing them back together (Ecclesiastes 3:7).
“And Peter remembered Jesus’ word when he said, ‘Before the rooster crows, three times you will disown me.’ And he went out and he wept bitterly.”
“And at once the rooster crowed a second time and Peter remembered the word that Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows twice, three times you will deny me.’ And he fell down and wept.”
“And the Lord shifted position to look directly at Peter and Peter remembered the word that the Lord had spoken to him that before the rooster crowed today, three times you will renounce me.’” And he went out and wept bitterly.”
Three of the four Gospel writers remind us of Jesus’ prophetic statement to Peter about the rooster crowing, but only Luke adds that at the point that Peter made his third denial, Jesus shifted his position to look in Peter’s direction. It is as if Jesus was saying, “Peter, is this how you wish to leave me?” It is an act of discipline, but an act of grace as well reminding Peter of the forgiveness that is to come on the other side of this very dark night. We are told nothing about the look — good or bad — it is simply left to us as a reminder of Jesus’ care for his disciples. Some have struggled with the idea of Jesus, on the other side of an angry mob of people, being aware of Peter’s location, let alone his denials, but that criticism forgets that Jesus is also God as well as man, with a perfect knowledge of all that must come to pass.
During what we refer to as Jesus’ Passion Week — the week between the Triumphal Entry and his Glorious Resurrection — Jesus told an interesting parable. He was giving what we refer to as the “Olivet Discourse,” a sermon largely looking toward both the fall of Jerusalem and the end of times when Jesus would return. As Jesus closes the sermon he does so with a parable about not knowing the day or the hour of his return (Mark 13:32-36) — that he might come during the evening, midnight, or when the rooster crows. Now, it must be stated that the context is a little different given that Jesus is speaking of his own return, but given that this is the only other time in the Bible that Jesus (or any Biblical writer) mentions a rooster (let alone a rooster crowing), it is worth drawing the connection — a connection based simply on the principle importance of being aware.
How important it is for us to keep alert and keep up our guard when sin comes crouching at our door (Genesis 4:7). How quick we are to drop that guard either when we are comfortable or when we, like Peter, feel threatened. The question that the parable asks, though, is what will we be found doing when the Master returns? In Peter’s case, when the Master gazed over in his direction, he was found denying and disowning his Lord. In our case, when our Lord looks down on our lives from his royal throne, what does he see us doing? And when he returns again, what will He find us engaged in? May the crowing of the rooster always be a reminder to us to be engaged in our Master’s business. When Peter heard the rooster crow this second time, he came to his senses and fled — doing the only thing humanly conceivable — he wept bitterly. Holy grief overwhelmed him, but in God’s grace, it did not consume him. There is a difference. May we recognize our sin for what it is and grieve accordingly, yet not end there, but turn to our God for grace. Beloved, he will give it.
“And Sarah died at Kiryath-Arba (this is Hebron) in the land of Canaan. And Abraham entered to lament for Sarah and to weep for her.”
Grief for someone lost to us is an experience common to mankind in this fallen world, yet while common, radically is different from person to person. We often fall into the trap of judging another’s grief by the standard that we think we would hold ourselves to; yet that is neither right nor fair to the one struggling through that same time of loss. What we have here is a very simple picture of the grief of Abraham. The scriptures neither commends nor judges his grief; it is simply put forth as the natural expression of loss over the life of a faithful woman who has been Abraham’s companion, wife, and friend for many years. The simplicity of this statement is profound. He went into her tent to lament and to weep. Yes, he knows that he will see her again at the side of his Lord, but for now he weeps their separation in an honest and heartfelt way. To that, little more is added.
It should be noted that what follows in this chapter is the account of Abraham seeking a burial plot for his wife. Some may find Abraham stubborn in wanting to reject the gift of land and to provide fair payment for the location, but again we must recognize the grief of her husband and that in this state of grief, one of those things that is deeply important is being responsible for securing a place by his own hand. Do not think that when the weeping is done that the grief is over; his grief is being worked out in several of the things that follow. Even the search for a wife for Isaac is done in honor of Sarah (Genesis 24:67).
We are prone to wonder sometimes just what kind of impact we will have on the lives of those around us, and in some ways, I think that it is healthy that we don’t always know, lest our pride well up within us. Funerals often provide a place where people share what the deceased loved one meant to them, but at this point, we are with our Savior and truly giving Him the honor and praise for any good works that we might have been privileged to do in His honor. There is a trend in our modern culture, to have funerals before the death of an individual so that the person can hear all of the praises and accolades that people would say after their death, but I think that this is something that flows only out of the pride of men, not a humble heart committed to Jesus.
Grieving over the loss of a loved one is a task left to the living, not to the dead. Those who die in Christ will arrive in the presence of their Lord in joy and celebration. Those who die apart from Christ and will enter into judgment. And while mourning will then become an eternal part of their state; their mourning will be categorically different than what is experienced by those of us left behind on this earth. The mourning of the dead apart from Christ will contain no hope, no thoughts of joy to come, and no promise (or desire for) a reunion, just eternal lament. Such is not the character of the mourning of those still left with a promise of salvation in Jesus Christ.
If you are reading this and you know Christ, know that you have a promise that is sure and true in your Lord and Savior. If you do not know Christ, know that if you turn from your sins and accept Jesus in faith as your Lord and Savior, seeking to live out your life for Him, then you too can have this absolute assurance. If you are mourning a loved one; grieve and grieve deeply in a way that suits your soul. At the same time, if you grieve one who is a believer, remember that the person is only lost to you and is held by Christ in glory. If you have lost one who is not a believer, though that person is lost to all things good and meaningful in life, know that Christ is yet glorified even in the judgment that befalls those who reject him and know if you are believing in Christ, the same torment will not await you. Abraham is grieving, but grieving with hope; may each of you have the same hope that Abraham has for an eternal reunion at the foot of Christ’s throne.