Opposing doctrine and pastoral care, or theology and evangelism, is to make enemies of friends and introduce a rivalry where none exists. You may have heard the kind of thing I’m talking about: “You might be interested in theology but I’m interested in people.” Good doctrine is good pastoral care. Good theology is good evangelism.
This week, I had the privilege of officiating at my first funeral as a curate. Earlier in the week, I visited the family, and as we talked about details for the service, I read out a number of Bible passages. They chose John xi.17-27, recounting Jesus’ conversation with Martha on the death of Lazarus.
In the section which follows, when Jesus sees the weeping of Lazarus’s other sister, Mary, and of those who accompanied her, he becomes angry (ἐνεβριμήσατο) and his feelings are stirred up (ἐτάραξεν), like water shaken in a bottle (John xi.33). And rightly so. Death was never part of God’s original plan for the world. It’s an intruder, an enemy. Jesus was fully human. When people are angry at the death of a loved one, or their feelings are in turmoil, we can offer them a Saviour who knows and feels and understands as a human being, who will not turn them away, just as he didn’t turn Martha away.
While Jesus is no less than a human being like us who can therefore sympathize with us in our grief, he is more than that. As Martha confesses, he is the one ‘who is coming into the world’ (John xi.27). He is the one who, in the beginning, was with God and was God (John i.1). He is God himself, who came into our world as a human being to defeat death by dying and rising again. He is the resurrection and the life (John xi.25). Those who entrust themselves to Jesus in life and in death can therefore have the comfort of knowing that he will raise them up to new life with him in God’s new creation forever.
…two whole and perfect Natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God, and very man…
– from Article II. Of the Word or Son of God, which was made very Man