Comforting The Miserable

I suspect that if I asked you to, “think of someone who is hurting” you would quickly have several candidates in mind. That’s because all of us know people who have had their heart bruised and their life crushed. Someone has said that there are only two things certain in life: death and taxes. I think we could add a third: pain.

Because pain is so prevalent we know that we will have many opportunities to help someone who is crushed by life. There will be funerals to attend, divorced friends to encourage, people facing the horror of disease. In these times we can either run, hide, or we can minister. It is my desire to help us do the later this morning.

In our text we read the continuing account of the raising of Lazarus. But as we do, it is tempting to run ahead to the grand and incredible miracle while missing all the other instruction available to us. Last week we looked at some key truths to help us in the new year. This week look at how Jesus related to these grieving sisters. We can learn much from His approach. I see three principles in this text for helping us to comfort the miserable.

In our text we read,

On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

In Martha’s first words, “Lord, if you had been here . . . ” we see FIRST, a cry of rebuke. She is disappointed that Jesus wasn’t there when she needed Him. SECOND, a cry of faith. She is confident that Jesus could have healed Lazarus. THIRD, a cry of unbelief. She didn’t understand that Jesus had the power to heal even with a Word.

But in these words we see something very common to those who are miserable. They are always saying, “If only . . . ”

  • If only the Doctor had been different
  • If only we had come sooner
  • If only I hadn’t . . . .
  • If only I had . . . .

But all these possibilities don’t change a thing. Jesus does what all of us need to do:

Point the Person Toward Jesus

Jesus responds to Martha’s comment by saying “You’re brother will live again.” Martha agrees but misunderstands. Jesus has already turned Martha aware from “what might have been” to “what will be”. Martha hears these words similarly to the one who says, “Well, you’re loved one is in a better place.” It’s true but it isn’t always a comfort . . . . because it seems so far removed from where we are.

Jesus goes further. He tells Martha that HE is the resurrection and the life. He is the answer to her dilemma still.

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Jesus is the answer to whatever dilemma we have today:

  • He is the assurance of life beyond the grave
  • He is the anchor for the storm tossed soul
  • He is the companion of the Broken-hearted (Ps. 38:18)
  • He loves with an everlasting love (Romans 8)
  • He is the One who brings good from the ruins of life (Romans 8:28)

Nothing is as helpful to a suffering person than to point them toward Jesus. We can (and should be) a good friend but they need to find Jesus, the perfect friend. We can give them books, we can give the name of an attorney or physician . . . . but they cannot do what only the Savior can do. Only Jesus can breathe new life into these dying lives.

The key question asked of Martha is: “Do you believe this?” There is the key question. We say we have faith in Christ. When things are tough do we really trust Him?

Putting your hand in the hand of the Savior will not answer ever question but will help you to live on in the confidence that life is not meaningless. By the way, do you believe Him?

But, let’s go on with our account.

And after she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there. When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. Jesus wept.

This leads us to the next guideline for helping the miserable,

Share their sorrow

Let me make a bold statement very carefully: There is no greater hindrance to compassion than a well-developed theology.

Be very careful here. Note what I did NOT say. I am not saying that theology is bad.

There are some who would say, “I don’t care about theology, I just want to follow Jesus.” But they lie! Disagree with them about something they believe and you will see how fervently they care about theology. What we believe determines who we really follow. If our theology is wrong our faith is skewed and our eternity may be in danger. We must study to show ourselves approved. And we are to be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope that is within us. Pursuing a solid theology is one of best pursuits we can engage in.

Here is my point: When our theology is well-developed we are very prone to give answers rather than to quietly share the pain of one who hurts. We barge in with our theories, our books, our gospel tracts. Rather than bring people to Christ, we offend and push them away. Sometimes people don’t need answers, they need a friend.

We must always be careful that the key motivation of compassion is THE OTHER PERSON’S NEED . . . NOT OUR AGENDA.

Note how differently Jesus reacts to Mary. She makes the same “If only . . . ” statement but this time Jesus doesn’t respond with an explanation. Instead, He cries with her.

Max Lucado has written,

Tears. Those tiny drops of humanity. Those round, wet balls of fluid that tumble from our eyes, creep down our cheeks, and splash on the floor of our hearts…. They are always present at such times. They should be, that’s their job. They are miniature messengers; on call twenty-four house a day to substitute for crippled words. They drip, drop, and pour from the corner of our souls, carrying with them the deepest emotions we possess. They tumble down our faces with announcements that range from the most blissful joy to darkest despair.

The principle is simple; when words are most empty, tears are most apt.

A tear stain on a letter says much more than the sum of all its words. A tear falling on a casket says what a spoken farewell never could. What summons a mother’s compassion and concern more quickly than a tear on a child’s cheek? What gives more support than a sympathetic tear on the face of a friend. [No Wonder They Call Him the Savior p. 106]

When Job was first afflicted, his friends simply came and sat with Him. They did more good at that point than with all their well-meaning (but wrong) advice.

Consider a time when you were deeply distressed. At that time you probably didn’t hear anything that people said to you. What you remember is who came and spent time with you. You remember the presence even though you don’t remember the words. A shared hurt is easier to bear.

There is a story about the six young men that were to run a hundred yard dash. They lined up, waited for the starting gun and then they were off running. About halfway down the track the young man out in front stumbled and fell. Almost immediately, the other five men stopped and helped him up. When they had dusted him off and decided that he was alright, they then decided to finish the race. None of the judges could tell who won the blue ribbon for none of them could see through their tears of joy. No one in the stands that day would ever forget this incident or how proud they for each of the persons that participated in these Special Olympics

If you will, what Jesus does with Mary is to stop and pick her up. He knew that until He picked her up, the race could not be completed.

Allistair Begg writes,

Many times the immediate sense of failure and disappointment is so overwhelming that we are unable to grasp the benefit package. We need to remember this when talking with our friends who are in the eye of the storm. At that moment our presence is more important than our pronouncements and our silences more eloquent than our words.” [MADE FOR HIS PLEASURE, p. 109]

I have one final question which leads to one final principle . . . . How did Jesus know what approach was needed by Martha and which by Mary? I think the answer can be stated in a final principle:

Listen With Your Heart

Jesus understood that people are different. Martha was the kind of person who was always working. She handled difficult times with activity. She attacked problems. Martha would have handled death by making coffee for those who come to visit. Martha wanted answers because she could not move on until she had those answers. To her Jesus gave direction.

Mary was the kind of person who reflected. She handled problems by thinking. She handled grief by remembering and mourning. With her, Jesus shared her tears. Two different people, two different approaches.

But it’s not just that simple. Hurting people ride a roller coaster of emotions. Some days they want to talk, some days they want you to sit silently with them, some days they want someone to cry with them. The only way to know what they need is to listen.

  • Listen to their tone of voice. Sometimes I’ll meet someone in the Post Office and say, “How are you?” They respond with “Oh, fine.” And I’ll detect something in their tone and say, “You don’t sound very confident of that answer”. Often this leads to deeper sharing because I listened.
  • Listen to what the eyes tell you. There are times when you see a tear. Other times when you see fear.  Others when you see that they are trying to please you with their words.  Listen and respond accordingly. Sometimes I will go to the funeral home and one of the family will say, “O, I know he/she is now at rest with the Lord.” It’s a true statement for all who believe, but I can see in their eyes that they are just mouthing the “party line.” At these times I put my arm around them and say, “That’s true, but it still hurts doesn’t it?”
  • Listen to the body. Tense features, biting the lip, nervous hands, all tell you that a person is crying out. At these times it’s appropriate to say, “This is difficult, isn’t it?”

If in doubt, be a friend. If the person wants answers they will continue to ask the questions. It is always better to err on the side of compassion.


There are certainly people reading this who are being crushed by life. Maybe it is a loss through death, divorce, re-location. Maybe you have received a bad report from a physician. Perhaps you are facing a bitter disappointment. Perhaps you feel unappreciated, are concerned for your job, or feel you have failed. It may be something that happened a long time ago. It may be something that happened today. One thing for sure . . . .many hurting people will read this. To you, I urge you to hear these two things:

  1. Jesus cares about your pain. He is not just concerned about your church attendance, devotional life, baptismal record and whether you put money in the plate. Jesus cares about the things that bruise your soul. He weeps with you and he bends low to catch your tears as they fall. He is not indifferent to you.
  2. Jesus can be depended on. He came to earth because of our needs. He went to the cross. He wept. He wants to help you. He CAN help you. Draw close to Him.
  3. Crushing times are made more bearable by caring friends. You may be tempted to withdraw. Don’t do it! You may pretend that things are fine. Don’t do that either. Tell people of your hurt. If they won’t listen . . . . tell someone else. God made us to need each other.

For those who wish to help . . .

I remind you of the three ingredients to true compassion

Listen with your heart

Share their sorrow

Point them to Jesus

St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel at all time, if necessary, use words.”

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