Dear people pleading for mercy out of the depths,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I think that we have passed the phase of denial concerning this pandemic of COVID-19. We might now be in a phase of acceptance where just about everyone has come to grips with the fact that their lives are disrupted and it is the way it is and it has to be this way. What is next to come? Things don't progress as nicely and predictably as we might want in order to be able to prepare for them, but what is sure to come at some point is a feeling of helplessness, of anguish, and despair as people begin to realize that although we are able to do some things in order to protect and care for one another, we cannot do everything necessary to stave off the effects of this virus.
So, even now, we are beginning to become more aware of family and friends who are isolated and starting to have difficulty and we cannot run to their aid. In their loneliness there is only so much we can do. Perhaps they are not connected by the internet. Some may be in care homes that have closed access and we cannot get in to see them. When the virus breaks in to these places they are going to get sick and we will not be able to comfort them.
Last week I went for training at the hospital in order to be allowed to visit people, but it will be only people who are dying. Those are the only visits that clergy are allowed to make and not all clergy, only those who have been selected for the training. So, if you have to go to the hospital, you won't have any visitors. You will suffer alone. And when you are granted a visit for spiritual care from a pastor, for most people it won't be their own pastor. And if you are able to recognize him beneath the mask and gown and gloves, you will know that the healthcare team has come to the conclusion that there is nothing more that they can do for you and they expect that you are soon to die.
Lazarus of Bethany was ill. “So, when [Jesus] heard that Lazarus was ill, He stayed two days longer in the place where He was” (John 11:6). This is one of the most perplexing passages in the Bible, when we consider it from the point of Lazarus and his sisters suffering in despair and anguish, knowing that Jesus could help, and yet being left all alone to succumb to death. We see Jesus' love for Lazarus through His tears, and His care for Martha and Mary, and yet He did not run to their aid. He did raise Lazarus from the dead. Why did He wait and let those He loved suffer through such anguish. I am sure that He wanted to run to them right away, but there was a higher purpose for Him to fulfill.
“Out of the depths I cry to You, O LORD” (Psalm 130:1). Out of the depths of fear for loved ones, out of the depths of sickness and hopelessness, out of the depths of death.
Jesus did not answer Martha and Mary's call for aid right away. He waited two days and then by the time He arrived, Lazarus had already been dead for four. It seemed that He was too late, that He miscalculated the severity of Lazarus' illness, that He did not have His priorities arranged properly. We are all going to fall into these depths, questioning ourselves and others and what might have been done to help, prevent, or comfort that was not done.
Yet, even with their stinging confession of faith, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21, 32), they waited for Him to do something. “But even now, I know that whatever You ask from God, God will give You” (v. 22). What did Jesus do? He wept. He went down into the depths with Martha and Mary and all who grieved the death of their brother. And out of the depths Jesus cried to the heavenly Father. “O Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy! If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with You there is forgiveness, that You may be feared” (Psalm 130:2-4).
Lazarus was sinner, as we are all sinners. He had iniquities and death took him. He was not able to stand against it. He fell into the depths of death and was even unable to cry out to the LORD for himself. But Jesus cried out for him. Jesus, who had no iniquity stood before the almighty heavenly Father on behalf of Lazarus and cried out, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me” (John 11:41-42). And He cried out with a loud voice, “'Lazarus, come out.' The man who had died came out” (vv. 43-44).
“Out of the depths, I cry to You, O LORD! O Lord, hear my voice! Let Your hears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy! If You, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with You there is forgiveness, that You may be feared.”
The one who forgives is to be feared. That is another one of those perplexing lines from the Scriptures and perhaps it ties in with the reason why Jesus waited before going to help Lazarus: so that the one who forgives may be feared.
We are afraid of many things. Right now we are afraid for our family and friends whom we cannot visit or see or, in some cases, even contact. We are afraid of what may happen to them and what we will do or not be able to do. We are afraid that we won't be able to do enough for them, that others will not do enough for us, that God will not do enough. He might wait two days too long. These were the fears of Martha and Mary, and I'm sure of Lazarus also, although we don't have his testimony.
What Jesus revealed to them by waiting those two days, and arriving four days after Lazarus was already dead, was that there is something to be feared more than being helpless. There is something to be feared more than getting sick and dying. There is something to be feared more than the guilt of not be able to do enough for those you love. Your God is to be feared above them all.
He is to be feared more than any of these fears because He far surpasses them. He tramples all over them. He wipes them out with a single cry, “Lazarus, come out!” The one who was so helpless as to weep at the death of His friend, the one who went into the depths of grief with Martha and Mary, cried out of those depths and their brother came out of the tomb.
What was the reaction? Do you think they began to dance in the streets and sing songs? Did they all go back to the house in Bethany and have food and drink and invite people over? I don't think so. They were not relieved. They were scared. They just witnessed that this Jesus is far stronger than the things that they feared most. “What are we to do?” they asked (v. 47). The Jews were so afraid that they decided they needed to get rid of Him, to kill Him, to put an end to His fearsome signs of causing the blind to see and raising the dead to life.
It was a foolish reaction in fear. How stupid to try to kill one who has just shown that He is mightier than death? But they made their plans and they waited for their time and they killed the author of life. But, of course, it didn't work. On the third day He rose from the dead and through His death and resurrection there is forgiveness and resurrection for all.
He has trampled everything that you fear. He is victorious over death. Anyone you might lose to this pandemic or any other manner of death will be raised again. Jesus will give His mighty cry of “come out!” “The Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command... and the dead in Christ will rise” (1 Thessalonians 4:16). It is a fearsome thing, but it destroys our greatest fears.
This Jesus who cried out of the depths for Lazarus and Martha and Mary, also cried out of the depths with them. He cried out from the cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me” (Matthew 27:46). He joins you in your cries from the depths of your despair. Even if you feel you are all alone in your suffering, or that no one can come to your aid. There is one who is there with you. He cries to the Father on your behalf, and the Father always hears Him. The Father hears you, because Jesus is crying out with you. You are not alone, not even in the depths. Jesus is mightier than this fear of yours. He has conquered it and broken down its barriers.
This Jesus also cried out “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). He uttered this cry, not only because you have failed to come to the aid of those who need you at this time, but also because no one came to His aid when He was in anguish. You see, it is not just a blanket statement which He uttered from the security of the heavenly throne room. It is His own cry, as one dying alone with no one to help. He utters the cry for your forgiveness, knowing the complete extent of your sin. He tramples it underfoot, and in His anguish and dying woes, He proves Himself to be mightier and more fearsome than any iniquity that clings to your conscience.
We don't know what phases of suffering and grief we might have to endure as this pandemic takes its course, or any other sin or danger that befalls us. But we have a fearsome one who has conquered everything that might cause us fear. He is victorious over all of it. He waited before going to Lazarus and Martha and Mary, but that was only to show that He was mightier than the things that they feared.
Wait for Him to come to you. Wait for the Lord more than watchman for the morning. You know that He is coming. The fearsome one will come to destroy all your fears. Pray the psalm “Out of the depths” and wait. Wait for Easter morning. Wait for the resurrection dawn. “I wait for the Lord; my soul waits, and in His word I hope;... hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with Him is plentiful redemption. And He will redeem [you] from all [your] iniquities” (Psalm 130:5-8).
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.