John 11: 32-38
When Mary came where Jesus was and saw Him, she knelt at His feet and said to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how He loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not He who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb.
Just a few hours after we celebrated World Communion Sunday, Stephen Paddock fulfilled his reign of terror in Las Vegas, keenly planned, and executed according to plan.
Jesus was the first to cry, when He knew the intent of Stephen Paddock. The Christ wept in pain as He watched the plan build and unfold, and as the bullets flew into the night sky. 58 dead, plus the shooter by suicide, hundreds injured, 25% of those critically. Some have been laid to rest to the earth from which we come, some lie in hospital beds still fighting for life, others walked out. People ran away from gun fire, people ran to it. Victims, first responders, hospital staffs all carrying within them the heart and hands of Jesus Christ Himself. This is a story told too many times.
Among the victims, who were from across the country: a special education teacher, a car mechanic (a stranger stayed with him and held his hand until he drew his last breath), an off duty Las Vegas police officer, a registered nurse, a commercial fisherman, an attorney, a wrestling coach, a flower shop owner, a pipeline manager for a mortgage company, a college student with her whole life ahead of her, a 30-plus years’ employee of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Bo, Heather, Austin, Thomas, Brian, Jordyn, Sonny, Denise. Different people, different ages, different lives enjoying music. And they were shattered. Whether they lived or died, they were shattered.
Same old story. Different logistics, same old plan—destruction.
Why didn’t God stop him?
The question rings throughout the ages when tragedy rises. Where is your God?
God is the first to weep, God is in the one holding your hand while you take your last breath, the stranger who covers your body to protect you, in life savers, in those who weep with you, including a country that is becoming numb to this new normal in our lives.
God does nothing apart from love—God is love, acts in love, gives love to us, and wants us to share it. “We love because God first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) God has no part of evil, doesn’t plan it, doesn’t endorse it. Stephen Paddock served evil, as do so many others. He had that choice. And so do we.
When we took the fruit in the garden, we declared that we wanted to be like God, so God nodded to us. OK, but there are consequences for it. From Genesis 3:
The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”
To the woman God said “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”
And to the man God said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
I wish I could say with absolute certainty that if it were you and I were in the Garden that we would have made a different choice. What do you think? Would we succumb to temptation to turn our backs on God’s love and providence for us? When something else other than God says, “but look how beautiful this is. God won’t hurt you for this.” Anytime we’re told you can everything except this, the “this” is all we can think about, sort of like Chick Fila on Sundays.
We are infected by sin and we are in need of a Savior.
Jesus came for such a time as this.
We can only grieve for so long. We’ve started to move on. Work has to be done, homes tended to, football games to watch. We cannot move permanently into grief or we would be utterly destroyed. It’s ok to weep, to ask God, “how long?” Jeremiah asks “how long?” in Lamentations as he sits in the rubble of Jerusalem. Righteous anger has its place here. Once we move through grief, we have to move onto the next thing, and so we ask, What do we do now? How do we live now? How do we share Christ’s tears with others?
Of course, our responses will be different because we are different, just like those who attended the concert in Vegas. God doesn’t make things boring. Our responses may even be at odds with each other, we may disagree. But God doesn’t make things boring and implores us, in the words of Paul, to work out our salvation in fear and trembling.
The end of the story is not the tomb.
The end of the story for Lazarus is not the tomb.
The end of the story for Jesus Christ is not the tomb.
The end of the Las Vegas story is not the tomb.
It is resurrection, something new coming from the ashes. That’s what God does, over and over again.
Jesus asks Martha, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
How long will we weep before He asks us, “Didn’t I tell you? How many times did I tell you? You will see the glory of God.”
In a foreshadowing of the resurrection of Jesus Christ by the power of God, Jesus raises Lazarus from death. “Unwrap him and let him loose.”
Unwrap him and let him loose.
What weeping, what death cloth binds us? What hopelessness or hatred have we tightly wrapped around us? Are our clinging burial cloths made from the things we want our way, instead of God’s way? We have convinced ourselves that our way is the best way, and God doesn’t understand. Isn’t that why Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden tree? Are our death cloths made from the fabric of the inability to hear Christ say to us, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see the glory of God?”
We are here to worship and to receive Christ once again.
What binding needs to fall off of us? Anxiety? Hatred? Self-hatred? A grudge? Judgment? A need for retribution? Do we need someone else to help us get the death cloth off of us?
Yes, yes we do. We need the Christ.
Unwrap him. Let him loose.
The death cloth is removed from us. It was abundantly and tightly wound around us. But now it’s gone. Praise be to Jesus Christ.
What would we do with new life? You and I have choices to make.
What if we trusted Christ’s timing over our own? Can we make peace with and settle into His reasons and into His timing?
What if we believed that when our tears come, they are the tears of the Christ first? That our tears are His falling down onto our faces? That we have a great high priest whose compassion is a gut-wrenching oneness with us?
What if we believed Jesus? What if Jesus never again had to say to you and to me, “Didn’t I tell you?” Didn’t I tell you that you are loved beyond all imagining, that God’s glory is revealed even now? All you have to do is see. Didn’t I tell you that there is nothing to fear because even in death there is life?
It is my earnest and deepest prayer that the Las Vegas shooting is the absolute last. Come what may, God in Jesus Christ is faithful and that is what I cling to.
Let us pray.
To the One who calls us Beloved,
We bring hurting hearts to You this morning,
Our fearfulness, and our worry. Our anger.
Your world is not as it should be.
We are a world at war with each other, either with weapons or with words.
The proud and the comfortable say,
“Everything is fine. There is no problem.”
But others know better.
They hunger, they weep, and they bleed.
They wait for your justice to vindicate them, just as You promised.
Teach us to hold on to what unites us, especially within the Body of Christ, Your Church.
It is tough to find common ground
Our humanity is lost in argument.
Where would You have us start to make peace with each other? To love each other as You do?
Keep us from the temptation to fall into hopelessness, cynicism, or despair.
We feel powerless in the face of widespread suffering, and the evils we face.
Your world seems ready to crack under the pressure of forces that are beyond us. Earthquakes, hurricanes, wildfires, volcanoes. Nature groans – and with it, Your people.
Come, Lord Jesus, we pray.
We are sorry for the violence and for the loss in Las Vegas. We are better than this. You make us better than this. Help us to look ourselves and answer the question: now what? What is our faith worth?
Hear our spoken or silent prayers for those for whom we have love and deep concern….
We are not strong enough nor are we wise enough to make peace and to bring healing. But You are,
You are the one who planted peace in our hearts.
You are the one who planted love in our hearts.
You are the one who has given us everything in Jesus Christ.
Come, Lord Jesus.
Strengthen the bruised reed.
Make weapons into ploughshares.
Comfort the weary and heavy-laden.
Make a home for the homeless.
Still the waters.
Calm the storm by Your Word.
Come, Lord Jesus, You and Your kingdom, Come.
Hear us as we pray the way You taught us:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil; for Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.
This prayer was adapted from Becky Bonham’s prayer, Taylor Seminary in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.