My friend Derek Anderson died unexpectedly last week. His family gave me the honor of delivering a message at his funeral. The manuscript is below. (See the end of this post for a way to honor Derek by supporting the Benton High School baseball program.)
Larry and Dena, Chris and Christina, Jay and Kristie — I want to express my deep sorrow over Derek’s death. I also want to thank you for the honor of speaking today. Derek was one of the best men that I’ve ever known, and I count serving in his funeral as a high honor.
Our family moved to Cedar Rapids in the summer of 2006, the same time Derek returned to Iowa to teach and coach. Jay and I had known each other since college, and so (at Jay’s encouragement) Derek, Chris, and I met and quickly became friends. Derek and Chris soon felt like more than friends to me; they felt like brothers. They cried, mourned, laughed, rejoiced with me. We ate many meals at Derek’s place, followed by games of RISK or watching comedies so ridiculously stupid they lowered your IQ. Larry and Dena would join us at the church. The Andersons have always felt like family.
When I close my eyes, I can picture Derek sitting stage-right in the second or third row in church. He’s leaning forward, Bible open, taking notes—listening to the sermon as intensely as he might focus on coaching a post-season ballgame. Derek loved Jesus. So I want to honor Derek now by sharing a few words about Jesus and how he loves you, even in this loss.
In John 11, we find three siblings that Jesus loved: Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. John goes out of his way to emphasize how much Jesus loved them. The sisters send this message to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” After Jesus receives the news, John writes, “Now Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus.” It’s not a stretch to say that these three siblings were like family to Jesus. This is the closest we get in the gospels to Jesus experiencing the death of a family member, to losing a brother.
This is where Jesus’ love gets challenging to understand. John writes, “Now Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus. So…” What do you expect to follow the word “So”? “So, Jesus spoke a word and healed him.” “So, Jesus departed at once to heal him.” But here’s what we read: “Now Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus. So when he heard that he was sick, he stayed two more days in the place where he was.” Because Jesus loved them, stayed put until Lazarus died. Jesus did not love them despiteLazarus’ death. Instead, his death is an outcome of Jesus’ love for them. Lazarus died because Jesus loved them. Here’s what Jesus wants you to hear, Anderson family: Jesus loves you—even in a death he could have prevented.
That’s not a natural way to think about love. It doesn’t feel like love. Our souls cry out, “Lord, if you really love me, then why did you let this happen!” That’s exactly the reception that awaits Jesus in Bethany. “As soon as Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Then Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.’” And later, “As soon as Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and told him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died!’”
We all know that Derek’s death didn’t take Jesus by surprise. He knew it would happen. He could have stopped it—but he didn’t. When I heard the news, my first response was “WHAT!? WHY!? Why this man—who blessed so many as a son, brother, uncle, church member, neighbor, co-worker, teacher, coach, mentor!? I can’t make sense of this.” Perhaps you’ve said the same this week.
Notice this: When Martha and Mary voice their complaints, Jesus doesn’t rebuke them for being shallow Christians or having weak faith. Lament is a form of prayer in which one confronts God about why he allows painful circumstances to continue when it is within his power to change it. Lament is not sin or unbelief. To lament, you must believe that God exists and is who he says he is, that the world is broken and that God could stop it but has chosen not to for now. Lament expresses of faith in the face of seemingly senseless pain. Jesus himself would lament, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” So, don’t be afraid to shout your complaint to Jesus—he hears and welcomes it.
Jesus doesn’t merely hear and receive our sorrow; he joins us in it. Seeing Mary crying, Jesus asked to be shown to Lazarus’ grave. Then, we read, “Jesus wept.” A better translation is “Jesus burst into tears.”[i] This is not quiet sniffles. This is Jesus sobbing from his gut, collapsing to his knees, tears streaming down his cheeks, snot hanging from his nose, salvia running down his beard as his whole body convulses in inconsolable grief.
This means that Jesus knows your weeping and joins you in it. When those tears and gut-wrenching sobs come over you in the days, weeks, and life ahead of you, let them come. Weeping is not a sign that you aren’t hoping in Jesus; it is a sign of faith. For what is Jesus expressing in his tears except that life, friends, and family are good gifts from God that should not end in death?
We were not made to know the pain of death. Weeping acknowledges that what God says about the world is true: The world was created good, but now it’s broken, cursed, in need of redemption. If that is true, then weeping is right.
The tears of Jesus also remind us of Psalm 116:15: “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.” Jesus loved Lazarus and counted his death as a significant event. Likewise, Jesus loved Derek and considered his death a moment of great importance. Derek didn’t die alone. When Derek’s eyes closed and he went to sleep, there in the room with him was the person who loved Derek more than all of us combined—Jesus, who personally ushered his beloved brother into glory.
An untimely death, like that of Lazarus or Derek, can also evoke deep anger. Perhaps you’ve been angry this past week. If so, you’re not alone. We read, “When Jesus saw [Mary] crying, and the Jews who had come with her crying, he was deeply moved in his spirit and troubled.” And later, “Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb.” The word translated “deeply moved” means “indignant.” It’s the word used for the snorting of a warhorse as it’s about to charge.
When Jesus saw his friends weeping, when he saw the grave of his friend, he was furious. God did not create us to die. He created us to live forever. It was only when Adam sinned that death entered the world as the penalty for our rebellion against God. Jesus was born to put death to death.
Scripture says, “The last enemy to be abolished is death.” So when Jesus saw grief and the grave, his eyes narrowed, his muscles tensed, anger boiled up within him, and he stood like a Sheriff outside a saloon calling out an outlaw, “DEATH! Get out here! I’m the Lord here. I’ve come to town with your name engraved on my bullet—and now you’re gonna die!”
So don’t feel like something is wrong with you today when you stand at Derek’s grave and feel angry. Anger can be an expression of faith. In it, you join Jesus in believing that death is an outlaw intruder that is only to be hated and destroyed. Jesus knows your anger at death—and he shares it. In fact, Jesus is angrier at death than you are.
Here is how angry Jesus gets at death: After this event in Bethany, Jesus enters Jerusalem with his eyes fixed squarely on the cross. Jesus knows that if sin is eliminated, then the devil is powerless and death must die. So, he willingly gives himself over to be tortured and executed, nailed to a crossbeam of wood like a slab of meat until his heart stopped and he breathed his last. In the Old Testament, being hung on a piece of wood meant you were cursed by God. That is what Jesus sought.
Jesus had no sin; he lived a life of spotless righteousness. But God’s wrath was poured out on Jesus because he was being punished for the sins of his people. He took our place in death so that we could join him in eternal life. His resurrection signaled that sin had been atoned for, the devil had been conquered, and death received a death sentence.
That’s why Jesus let Lazarus die—so that people would believe this. He said to Martha what he says to each of us today: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me, even if he dies, will live. Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Jesus asks you today: Do you believe this? Do you believe that he—the sinless Son of God—has paid for your sins with his own blood, conquered death, and offers you the forgiveness of sins and hope of eternal life? If so, then I can offer you the same assurance that Derek had in life and death: By grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, all your sins are forgiven. You belong, body and soul, to your faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who shall raise you from the dead, which brings us to the end of our story:
Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. “Remove the stone,” Jesus said.
Martha, the dead man’s sister, told him, “Lord, there is already a stench because he has been dead four days.”
Jesus said to her, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God? ”
So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you heard me. I know that you always hear me, but because of the crowd standing here I said this, so that they may believe you sent me.” After he said this, he shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out! ” The dead man came out bound hand and foot with linen strips and with his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unwrap him and let him go.”
I love those lines: “Lazarus, come out!” “Unwrap him and let him go.” They remind us: Jesus knows how to deliver us from death—and he will. The day is coming when Jesus will shout again: “Grave, let them go! Death, go to hell! And Derek, Larry, Dena, Jay, Kristie, Chris, Christina—and everyone who believed in me—come out!” And we will. And then we will hear a loud voice from the throne declare:
Look, God’s dwelling is with humanity, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and will be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away.
Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!
I wanted to do something to both remember Derek and to support the baseball program that he so loved.
This design incorporates a Bible verse from my sermon at Derek’s funeral. It is available in several styles (adult/child sizes), in Benton Bobcat and Iowa Hawkeye team colors.
All proceeds and tips will be donated to the Benton Bobcats baseball team. Find items here.
[i] See note on John 11:35 in the Christian Standard Bible Study Bible.