John 11:1-45

Pastor Jason Zirbel

Grace Lutheran Church
Greenwood, AR


Joy in the Midst of Regret


The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.

Like it or not, regret is a sad part of each and every one of our lives.  How many times a day do you hear, “If only things had gone this way?  If only I had done this?  If only I had not said that?” Just listen to the people around you some time.  For that matter, take the time to listen to what you say throughout the day, and it doesn’t take long to realize that regret is a part of everyday life. Sadly, we can’t go back and change things, can we?  You can’t unscramble eggs.  We understand this, though, don’t we?  We may not like it, but we know it.  This isn’t some grand secret I’m letting you on, is it?  This is exactly why the regret comes to the surface though.  We know we can’t change anything or make the past different in any way, and that brings us sorrow.  When things get difficult in life, what do we do?  We lament over how things could have or should have been different.  This especially becomes the case when death rears its ugly head in the midst of life.  “If only I had done this or said that, my loved one might still be with me today.  If only….”

As we turn our attention to the Gospel lesson for this morning, we hear Mary and Martha, in no uncertain terms, making their sinful regrets known to Jesus.  “Oh Lord, if only You had been here, none of this would of happened.  We’d still have our brother with us!” Now, some of you hear this and say, “Sinful?  What about that is sinful?  That’s just a natural human response!  Even Jesus expressed regret when He cried at the tomb!” Jesus did cry at the tomb, but WHY was Jesus crying?  Was Jesus’ sorrow an expression of regret or was He, instead, expressing sorrow because, in His humility, He had to stand there and behold the wretched and deadly grip that sin had on His people; not only Lazarus in the tomb, but everyone else around Him who was mourning the loss of Lazarus?

Consider, for a moment, what regret truly is and it may help answer this question.  Webster’s Dictionary defines regret as: “expressing sorrow over circumstances that are beyond one’s own power to control or repair.”  In a nutshell, we express regret because we’re not in charge, and that brings us sorrow.  You know, when it’s put into those terms, you can’t help but think about regret as the same sinful behavior spoken about in the First Commandment when we learn that we should “fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”  Our regrets in life repeatedly demonstrate the fact that we desire to be in charge.  We desire to fear, love, and trust in everything else but God and His Word.  Put this in contrast with Jesus, who had a perfect fear, love, and trust in His heavenly Father above all things.

Listen again to the words of Martha and Mary.  “If only You had been here, my brother would not have died.”  Now, while Mary and Martha have sinful regret, do they still have saving faith in Christ?  Absolutely!  In fact, Martha even makes a confession just like Peter’s confession, boldly proclaiming that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God.  Dear friends: this is knowledge that can only be known and confessed by one whom the Holy Spirit has first given this wisdom to in faith.  However, does having this saving faith mean that there is no longer any sinful chaff remaining in life?  Just take a look at your own lives.  Do you have saving faith in the all-redeeming work of Jesus Christ and God’s grace?  Do you still sin in thought, word, and deed?  Do you still find yourselves placing your trust in things of this world, even as you confess with your mouths that Christ is Lord?  I do.

It is because of mankind’s sin and the blinding, deafening effect of that sin, that Jesus is moved to tears.  Jesus was not regretting His absence at the bedside of Lazarus when he passed away, nor was He beating Himself up in guilt over taking a couple of extra days before responding to Mary and Martha’s summons.  Christ sheds tears because of the pain it brings Him in seeing the deadly and painful effects that sin has had on all of us in our lives.  Christ’s sorrow, plain and simple, is grounded not in regret, but in His love for us.  Christ experiences such great sorrow because of man’s sin and our complete inability to do anything about it in terms of bringing about salvation, comfort, or peace.

My friends: This point cannot be understated.  You cannot, by your own reason and strength, affect or produce your own salvation in any way, shape, or form.  You will not find salvation on your own, despite all the “seeking” and “searching” you may undertake.  Now while this all makes “perfect” sense to most of you here today when things are going well in life, it’s important to remember this same Scriptural truth when the going gets rough in your life too.  I can’t tell you how many people I’ve known who have confessed their faith in God when the going gets tough, all the while seeking comfort and wisdom in the likes of psychics, self-help books that help you find and trust in your inner-voice, or any other number of things that assault our senses today and seek to steal us away from the true comfort and peace that is found only in Jesus Christ and His life-giving Word of the Gospel.

And for those of you out there right now that may be thinking that none of this pertains to you because you’re such a true Christian who would never look to those things, think again because the issue at hand is the issue of a complete trust in God above all things; something which we’re all guilty of.  As I said earlier, Mary and Martha were outstanding Christians, yet when they were confronted with the brutality and ugliness of the wages of sin, they still sinfully placed their trust in things other than the Word of God.  When the going got tough, they looked inward, seeking to control the situation, instead of looking upward to God and trusting in His Will.  Their regret revealed their desire to have and exercise control over a situation which belonged entirely to God.  If only Jesus had been there when they had summoned Him, none of this would have happened.  “If only God would’ve paid attention to my plans, things would be a whole lot better right now.”  I ask you: Does this sound like something the person staring back at you from the mirror this morning may say from time to time?  More to the point: Does this sound like, “Father, Thy Will be done,” or “Father, My will be done?”

Brothers and sisters in Christ: All of these things we seek to control and put our trust in can, and do, give us a false sense of confidence or assurance, but that’s just it—it’s false.  None of these things bring life to our body of sin.  God, and God alone, grants us life in His Word—the Word made flesh and hung on the cross for our sins.  It is only because of Christ’s sincere and heartfelt sorrow over our sin that we can ever know the joy and peace of God.  Jesus Christ willingly went to the cross to lay down His life as an all-atoning sacrifice for us so that, in His death, we may have the true gift of life with our Heavenly Father.  In the midst of all the fear and pain that Christ endured for us, He willingly made this sacrifice out of pure and unsearchable love for us.  There were no regrets on Christ’s part for making such a supreme sacrifice.

In the same way, we can and should have no regrets whatsoever in boldly proclaiming and sharing this life-giving Word with all those in our midst.  God has promised to be present and at work wherever His Word of the Gospel is proclaimed, breathing life into the bones of death that hear His Word; a death brought about by our fall into sin, and a death we we’re all conceived into.  My friends: God’s Word, and God’s Word alone, is life.  God’s Word, as preached through a simple man like Ezekiel, brought life and salvation to an entire valley of bleached-out, dried-out bones.  God’s Word, as spoken by the Word made flesh Himself, crushed the power of death that held Lazarus in the tomb.  Christ simply called Lazarus by name, and the grave was completely powerless in holding Lazarus back from the call of His Lord and Savior.  My dear friends: Christ continues to come to us this very day with no regrets whatsoever, calling us by name to come out of our tombs and shed the sinful linens and trappings of this world which continually seek to bind us in our sin and death.  Our crucified and risen Savior speaks these wonderful words of comfort and life to you this very day through the likes of a very simple man, because the power of life in God does not reside in the man, but in the Word of God; the Word which reminds you that you have already been unbound and made free in His perfect life, death, and resurrection.  This, my friends, is most certainly true.  In the midst of a fallen and sinful world full of “What ifs” and “If onlys,” this blessed Gospel promise is our absolute and unshakeable joy and peace.  It is our very life in the midst of death.