Matthew 14:13 – The Death of a Loved One Sucks (How We Deal With Sudden Death)

Posted: December 31, 2015 in Gospel of Matthew
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Matthew 14:13
Jesus Withdraws To Solitary Place

Have you ever got bad news that someone has died suddenly? It’s a gut punch when someone you know who was alive and vibrant one minute and then the next thing that you hear is that they are dead. You are stunned and sometimes you just have to be alone with your grief. When you get shocking news of death, it can knock you for a loop. I experienced such a thing twice in my life.

On June 28, 1980, two weeks before, I got married the first time to my high school sweetheart and first wife, Lisa, her brother, Lex, was killed in a single car accident while on his way home from the nightclub where he was a part-time DJ back in those days. He was home on Christmas break from Clemson University. He was a radio DJ on weekends and spun records at nightclubs as well. While on Christmas break, he was working at WQOK and at O’Sullivans as much as possible. While on his way home, he fell asleep at the wheel and ran off the road and flipped over several times in a field and died at the scene. Gut punch to his sister and the whole family. Life changed for Lisa that day and it consumed her. She drifted into a life of defeatism and medications from which she never really recovered. Although she had periods where she would function fine in the world, she was never really the same. The Lisa that I knew from dating died with her brother that day. She never was the same. She medicated her way through life, to the point that she quit working in her early 30s and died at the relatively young age of 54, one month shy of her 55th birthday. Her body was just wore out from the strain of grief, medications, and self-imposed exile. Death can consume you and defeat you. Since it was not my brother who was killed suddenly, I cannot condemn Lisa for her way of dealing with Lex’s death, I can observe how she let it defeat her and let it consume her. Life was viewed from a point of view of being defeated by a severe blow. Sure, we grieve and we should. No one should tell us that we should not grieve. Death of family member suddenly does change us. We will never be the same nor should we be. If we love, we risk pain. We are left behind. However, the shame lies in that Lisa had the potential to be whatever she wanted and could have been this amazingly talented nurse but she let her brother’s death and other factors in life defeat her and she permanently withdrew from the flow of life. Certainly, Lisa had more than her share of death and pain in life. Her father was killed in a car accident when she was three years old back in 1963. In that same car accident, her mother was left partially paralyzed and could only walk with the assistance of others. She raised Lex and Lisa from a wheelchair. Life dealt Lisa a raw deal. No doubt about it. And in the end, she let the raw deal defeat her.

The second time I experienced this news of sudden death was when I was married to my second wife. My stepson, Trey, was killed in a car accident on February 25, 2002. Even then, at the accident scene, although injured, he was still conscious and we held to the belief that he was going to be OK. While in the ambulance though (his mom in there with him), he started to drift in and out of consciousness and began to complain of severe pain in his stomach area. The medics recognized that something was wrong and began working on him in the ambulance. When they arrived at the emergency room at Greenville Memorial Hospital, they whisked him away to the operating rooms immediately. He was in surgery for what seemed like forever. Periodically, someone from the OR staff would come out and tell us that there problems with internal bleeding that they were working through. He was in surgery long enough for his stepsisters and brothers to get there and many members of the extended family that lived in Greenville and Spartanburg. Never though did we imagine that the doctor would call Trena, the kids and I into a separate meeting room and tell us that the invincible sixteen year old, Trey, was dead. It was gut punch that changed the course of life for us all, especially for his mother. Although Trena was permanent and irrevocably changed by the death of her son, she did carry on. I have lost touch with her after our divorce was final and since all the kids and stepkids are now grown and we never conceived any children together. I last spoke to her on the day of our final hearing which was in November 2004 so I am not clear as to how she has handled life these last 11 years but I do know that she got back to work, got back into the world and carried on in whatever changed form that might be following the death of her son.

I am not condemning Lisa and exalting Trena here. Surely, if anyone had an excuse to take the road of death overwhelming and occupying us, Lisa was the poster child. Surely, I do not know how Trena has handled Trey’s death since we split in 2004. However, I simply look back at what I observed. They did deal with death differently during the time I observed. I am not claiming that one handled better than another and most definitely do not claim to have any knowledge of the relationship that either one had or has with Jesus Christ.

Why do I bring up these ex-wives at all? They are examples of how we humans process death of a loved one. It is also to transition into today’s very short passage for review today. It is one verse, but yet it so packed with power that there is a whole blog in this one verse. It is to show us Jesus knows this experience (the loss of a loved one) and his reaction to it is what we can learn from. Let’s read of Jesus and his reaction to sudden death of a loved one in Matthew 14:13.

 
13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns.

 
There is some debate as to how closely related Jesus and John were. Many believe that Jesus and John were second cousins based on Luke saying that Mary and Elizabeth were cousins when describing the relationship between the two women. So, without definitive evidence otherwise, we will go with the fact that Jesus and John were second cousins. So, they were related. As well, Jesus and John ministries intersected as well so there was a professional relationship as well. We know from Scripture that these guys knew each other well. John knew that his cousin was the Son of God and knew it to the point that when Jesus asked John to baptize Him, John balked initially at the idea. Jesus earlier in this Gospel spoke of the greatest of John the Baptist. Could you imagine being at their extended family get-togethers? John and Jesus hanging out in the corner talking shop about their respective ministries. I don’t that such things happened but just imagine! Since Mary and Martha were so close because of their mutual understanding of the significance of the children that they gave birth to, it would be safe to assume and a good bet that Jesus and John probably saw a good bit of each other growing up. So, these two knew each other well. They knew each other’s divine and scripturally foretold missions. There had to be great love and respect for one another from their family connection and from their divine respect for each other’s place in God’s plan. Although Jesus knew, as God in the flesh, what was going to happen to John, it does not take away his human reaction to the death of dear, dear friend and family relation. From a human point of view, as Jesus was as fully human as he was fully divine, the death of John was a gut-punch. He knew it was coming from his omnipotence but it doesn’t lessen the human emotional impact of it. A dear friend, a family relation, it probably hit Jesus pretty hard. He had to get away from the crowd. He couldn’t handle the overwhelming emotions that He must have been feeling. He just wanted to be alone with his Abba Father. He withdrew from his mission for a moment. He needed time to grieve privately. Although I am sure that Jesus knew better than anyone that John was eternally safe in the arms of the Father in heaven, but in His humanness, He was going to miss His fellow cousin and preacher, John. We can sometimes tell ourselves that our loved one is in a better place but it does not take away the pain of them not being physically present in our lives anymore. Jesus I am sure felt that same pain. Add to it the fact that John was taken way too young through a sudden death and not by old age, Jesus had to be filled with shock and grief. He need to pray and commune with His Heavenly Father. He had a range of emotions that He had to process through with His Father.

Here we see that Jesus did grieve over the death of a loved one and a dear, dear friend. Jesus grieved. We know that He wept over death from the Lazarus story. Jesus grieved and Jesus wept over the loss of loved ones. Although not stated here, we are safe to assume that in His humanness that He probably wept over John when he got away from the crowd. He probably had emotions of humanness that He was having difficulty processing and He had to get away. From this, we know that Jesus understands our grief when in this fallen world, loved ones are taken from us far too soon. In His humanness, He could not process that this was part of God’s plan. He knew that it was but in His humanness, it was emotionally difficult to process. John died horribly. At the whim of a teenage girl at the request of her politically driven and jealous mother, John was beheaded. That had to hurt and even anger Jesus. From this episode, we knew that Jesus knows grief. He experienced it. He lived it. So, let no one tell you that you cannot grieve over the death of a loved one. It is a natural human response. We love. We grow attached to the people in our lives. When we love, we risk pain. Pain happens when we have those relationships severed through the loss of the relationship or when people die. Jesus knows this pain and He wants us to come to Him with our confusion and anger and all those wild emotions that overtake us in grief. He knows those emotions. He has felt them. He experienced life as we experience it and He wants us to know that He can not only sympathize with our feeling, He can empathize with them. He has been there and done that. He wants your anger to be expressed to Him. Tell Him that you are angry at Him. He can handled it. He knows why you are angry when someone dies. He has had the same range of emotion. We see it here in this one verse. He wants to come to Him when you feel like your control over life is gone. He wants you to seek Him in this dark hour where nothing seems to make sense anymore. He wants you to cry out to Him at this time when it seems that you do not know what to do and what to do next. He wants your raw emotions and feelings of helplessness. It is now that we learn that we do not control our lives and it is now that we see that life is limited. It is now that we see that we do not control the world around us and we feel helpless. It is now that we need Jesus the most. It is now that we must rely on Him to get us through each day or we can let death consume us.

I love the reality of this passage, because it has so much to teach us as well. In the same sentence, we see Jesus withdraw to be alone with His Father, but the world crashes in. The crowds follow. Jesus had to get away but the crowds follow. Life crashes in during his time of solitude. I like the way that Justin Deeter says it, “Put yourself in Jesus’ shoes for a second. How would you respond to seeing the crowd on the shore? You might think, ‘Really God, ministry now, I just want to be alone!’ You might even hate these people, wishing they would just all go away.” No matter how much we want to withdraw, life marches on. For Jesus, ministry needs continued. For us, life goes on. We still have bills to pay. We still have kids to raise. We still have job and/or home responsibilities that continue. We must process grief on the fly. We must process grief. Yes, we all need time to grieve particularly in the immediate aftermath of a sudden death. Jesus did too. The emotions are overwhelmingly intense in the immediate aftermath. The emotions are so raw and so overwhelming that we cannot even think of handling even the most mundane routines of life. We need the time of grief. We need that time to wrestle with emotions and feelings of helplessness. We need to cry out to God. We need to real enough to admit that we are angry with God. We need time to realize that we are overcome with emotion and that we are helpless to move forward. It is in these times, we can come to realize that we need God more than ever. We come to realize that we are not in control and that we are not made to understand everything under the sun. We are changed by the death of a loved one. We will never be the same and should not expect ourselves to be. Death in our midst changes who we are and how we view life. It is right to grieve. It is right to cry. It is right to be changed. It is right to have loved someone so much that we feel pain at their passing. It is right to have difficulty trying to reconcile our pre-loss of a loved one person with the post-loss of a loved one person. Our friends most surely just need to be there for us and let us process in their presence. We need their comfort and presence more than we need for them to tell us how to process our emotions. So, don’t get me wrong in this blog, it is alright and perfectly normal to grieve and carry that grief with you for the rest of your life.

However, what is not right is to let the death of a loved one effectively kill two people. We can let death conquer us or we can go on living. Jesus could have said “Sorry, folks, I cannot deal with you guys. Go away.” Jesus doesn’t respond in that way. Jesus sees the crowd and he has compassion on them and he immediately got to work healing their sick. Although Jesus grieves the loss of his dear friend, his grief empowers him for ministry. In the midst of his emotional pain, Jesus turned outward instead of inward. Rather than turning in on himself and thinking “woe is me”, he turns outward to serve and to love the crowds. If we give in to death, let it overwhelm us permanently, let it become an excuse for not continuing on to live the life that God has given us, Satan has won. We live in a fallen world where death is part of life. Sudden, gut-wrenching death is often part of life. We have a choice to let Satan win or to let death of a loved one become part of our ministry to the world. We can let it rule us or we can make it part of the changed person we are post-death of a loved one. We can withdraw from the world and show the world that it is a hopeless place or we can take one step at a time in recovery from death and show the world that death does not define us and that it can be conquered through complete and utter dependence on Jesus Christ. He knows our pain. We must cast our cares on Him because He knows what we are going through. Jesus carried on with life, even though I know in His humanness that he probably felt the pain of John the Baptist’s sudden death with Him the rest of His earthly life. Jesus carried on with His ministry. Jesus teaches us that we can use our use our grief for ministry. We must be so very careful that in our mourning we don’t turn our sorrow in to self-pity and self-loathing. We can become self-ish, self-centered, in our grieving. One of the dangers of life is always seeing life through how it affect us only. By nature, we are selfish creatures and we can be self-ish in death as well. We can make the world about how it has dealt us a raw deal. We can make the world about how people do not understand me because I have lost someone close to me. We can make life about people making exceptions for us because we lost someone. We can make life about excusing our behavior because we lost someone. Death of a loved one can make us give in to our own selfishness and even deepen it to a point that we lose everyone in our lives because we can only see ourselves. Satan smiles. Death claiming more than one victim!
We have a choice. We can let ourselves be consumed by death or we can use it to power on in life in complete and total dependence on God. We can use our own pain to either destroy ourselves or to help others. Our sorrow can empower us to love and serve others who suffer. We can identify with them and minister to them. We can be examples of the power of the cross to move on. All that hurt, all those emotions you feel, take them and use them to show compassion on people who desperately need the love of Jesus. In your brokenness, God is able to use you to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others. In your desperation, your dependence on Jesus serves as a powerful testimony to this lost and dying world. It is ok to grieve. It is ok to cry. It is good to mourn for lost loved ones, but may our emotions turn outwards to radical, Gospel driven, compassion rather than self-centered, self-destruction. We can choose to let Jesus’ resurrection be an example of conquering death or we can let Satan win and go to the grave with the ones we love and stay there.

Jesus shows that that we can and must grieve the ones we have loved and have lost. It is right and natural for the death of a loved one to change us and make us different from who we were before. Our grief is evidence that we have loved hard and deep. We must mourn. It is natural to mourn. It is natural for sudden death to blow us away and change us. It is part of life. We all have lost a dear friend suddenly. We all have lost a family member suddenly. And if you haven’t yet, it is a certainty that you will experience the pain of death of a loved one in some way or another during your lifetime. That’s what makes this passage so practical, so powerful, so real. Jesus mourned. Jesus needed time. Jesus needed time to grieve. Yet, even though he carried His grief over John the rest of His life because he was equally human as He was divine, He did not let the sudden death of John end His life and His ministry. He is our example. We must carry on. We are left behind for a reason. We have opportunities to minister as a result of our pain and through our pain. We can turn our grief into ministry. We can minister to others that you can survive this. We can minister to others that we will never be the same and should not expect to be. We can minister to others that life can give us a raw deal but in Christ we can carry on as we deal with grief. We can minister to others that the only way we get through these things is to hold the hand of the Man that understands, Jesus Christ.

Pointing people to Jesus Christ is what Christ followers are to do in this life, even in things that we do not understand in this life, like the sudden death of a loved one. Pointing people to Jesus through our pain. Using our past as our ministry, that’s what we do. Amen and Amen.

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