Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
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 yourself. 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 at an intellectual level. We may not like it, but we know it. This isn’t some grand secret I’m letting you in on.
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 is especially true when death rears its ugly head in the midst of life. “If only I had done this or said that or not sinned in that way, my loved one might still be with me today. If only….if only….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. Regrets with a hint of blame: “Oh Lord, if only You had been here, none of this would have happened. We’d still have our brother with us!” Now, some of you hear this and say, “Sinful? What about saying that is sinful? That’s just a natural human response! Even Jesus expressed regret when He cried at Lazarus’ tomb!”
Partly it is sinful because it blames Jesus for Lazarus’ death, and partly is it sinful because it presumed that Jesus would have no other choice but than to prevent that death at that time. Yet thousands of people died during Jesus’ earthly ministry. He did not postpone them all, only a few. He raised a mere handful from death back to life in those years.
Yes, Jesus did cry at the tomb, but WHY? Was His weeping an expression of regret? Or was He, instead, expressing sorrow because, in His humility as the incarnate God, He had to behold the wretched and deadly grip that sin had on His people? He knew that death was the penultimate reality for everyone He encountered. Not only for Lazarus, but for everyone else around Him who was mourning the loss of Lazarus that day. Everyone He encountered during His ministry. Everyone He encounters sitting in these pews and chairs today, unless He returns before your earthly demise. Everyone you meet, and everyone you are, is a dead person.
But 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 lack of control brings us frustration, and then anger, and then sorrow.
When it’s put into those terms, you can’t help but think about regret as the same sinful behavior spoken about in the explanation of the First Commandment. There, 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. They simply tried to shape that faith into a particular process and toward a specific outcome, according to their own preferences.
But their statements of faith are still drawn from knowledge that can only be known—and faith that can only be confessed—by one to whom the Holy Spirit has first given this heavenly wisdom. Does having this saving faith mean that there is no longer any sinful chaff remaining in one’s life?
Well, just take a look at your own life for the answer to that. Do you have saving faith in the all-redeeming work of Jesus Christ and God’s grace? And do you still sin in thought, word, and deed? Do you still find yourself placing your trust in things of this world, even as you confess with your mouth that Christ is Lord? I’m sure you do. So do I.
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 from Lazarus’ deathbed; He knew exactly what was happening. Nor was Jesus beating Himself up in guilt over taking a couple of extra days before responding to Mary and Martha’s summons. If anything, that was to make the resurrection of Lazarus all the more miraculous—a man dead and buried four days, not just an emergency room resuscitation.
No, 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.
This point cannot be emphasized enough: 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, it’s just as important to remember this same Scriptural truth when the going gets rough in your life, too.
Many people who have confessed their faith in God when things are smooth suddenly fall into doubt when the going gets tough. Before you know it, they are seeking comfort and wisdom in the likes of psychics, self-help books, destructive habits, listening to their inner voice instead of the Word of God, or any number of other things. Yet all these are false hopes; temptations of Satan, society, and self that assault our senses every day. They 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 that right now 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. The issue at hand is the lack of a complete trust in God above all things; something of which we’re all guilty.
Mary and Martha were outstanding believers, 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 toward the solution their minds and hearts wanted, seeking to control the situation, instead of looking outward and upward to God, and trusting in His Will.
Their regret revealed a desire to exercise control over a situation which belonged entirely to God. If only Jesus had been there when they had first summoned Him, they thought, none of this would have happened. And how many times have you said, “If only God would’ve paid attention to my plans; responded sooner to my prayers, 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 each day might say from time to time? More to the point: Does this sound like, “Father, Thy Will be done,” or is more like, “Father, my will be done?”?
Dear children beloved by that heavenly Father to whom we pray, and 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 the key problem: They are false. None of these things can 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 you so that, in His death, you may have the true gift of life with our Heavenly Father. In the midst of all the fear and pain that Christ endured for you, He willingly made this sacrifice out of pure and unsearchable love for you. There were no regrets on Christ’s part for making such a supreme sacrifice.
In the same way, we 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 into which we’re all conceived. 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 to hold Lazarus back from the call of His Lord and Savior.
Christ continues to come to us this very day with no regrets whatsoever. He calls you by name to come out of your tomb of sin; to shed the sinful linens and trappings of this world which continually seek to bind us in our sin and death. To put on the new robe of righteousness, washed and made pure in His blood.
Our crucified and risen Savior speaks these wonderful words of comfort and life to you this very day through the likes of very simple, very sinful men, because the power of life in God does not reside in the man, but in the Word of God. That Word which reminds you that you have already been unbound and made free in His perfect life, death, and resurrection. This 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. It is Jesus, and His being here in Word and Font and Supper makes you alive, now and forever.
In His holy (X) name, Amen.