How many times in my Christian life have I heard that Jesus rose from the grave?
How many times did I hear that I would be resurrected from death?
These were facts that I knew, but until I personally walked through the valley of the shadow of death, the knowledge was only in my head.
September 24, 2010, was a beautiful autumn day. The weather was perfect. My baby girl was 3 months old, and the happiest baby you've ever seen. My 2-year-old son loved her, and we were looking forward to a fun family weekend with my husband, David, who had recently done a lot of traveling.
Life couldn't have been better.
I knew something was wrong when I came home from an afternoon appointment with the pediatrician; my husband wasn't home like he was supposed to be. He was nowhere to be found. I called his cell phone but it went to voicemail. No one had seen or heard from him in hours. I went on a mad search looking for him all over town, and when I got home there was a police car waiting for me.
A terrible nightmare
"Ma'am, your husband is dead." Those words blared in my head like a giant gothic church bell, drowning out the sounds of everything else. I struggled to hear. They explained that he was involved in a head-on collision and died instantly. No last words, no hugs and kisses goodbye. He was just … gone … forever.
My mind raced to explain it all away. I felt like I was in a terrible nightmare that I couldn't wake up from. In my mind I tried to find some hope: Maybe he just appeared dead but wasn't. Maybe they had the wrong guy. I demanded proof.
I loved that man with all my heart—how could he be dead? That meant all of it was over—the happy ending, the laughter, the private jokes. He was the one I trusted with everything, the father of my children, my very best friend. He couldn't be dead!
But the terrible tragedy of death is the permanence. And no matter how many different ways you try to fix the problem, there is no solution.
That was the day that death became real to me. It wasn't just for the elderly or criminals or people who live an unhealthy lifestyle. It doesn't discriminate; and no matter how well you live, eat, or treat people, no matter how godly you are, death will come to the flesh of all of us, and there is no way to stop it.
A serious spiritual battle
The next several months were a blur of paperwork and legal issues, and then the winter set in with its cold, isolating darkness. The house seemed so lifeless when the children went to bed, save for my sobbing and desperate pleas for God's help. I had many wonderful people to help me through, but on the inside I was fighting a serious spiritual battle between darkness and light.
I felt like Jesus in the wilderness—exposed, starving, and away from the shelter of those who love me, especially my reassuring spouse. Satan attacked me with all kinds of doubts about the love and sovereignty of God.
"If God really loves you, why did He let this happen?"
"If God is really in control, why didn't He stop that wreck?"
"Is all this God stuff real?"
"Has God abandoned you?"
"What have you done to deserve such a curse?"
The book of John became my milk and bread. I held onto every word of Jesus. As the worship song "Rescue" so perfectly explains it, "I need You, Jesus, to come to my rescue; where else can I go?" As much as Satan tried to separate me from the love of God, there was no other place to go. No one could offer hope except Christ.
Jesus and Lazarus
Of all the people throughout history, Jesus understood my grief, just as He displayed in John 11 through the death of His beloved friend Lazarus. The story begins with messengers who told Jesus that Lazarus was sick, but Jesus purposely stayed longer so Lazarus would die! Everyone thought Jesus would rush back and heal His close friend, like He had done so many others. But He did just the opposite.
When Jesus finally came, Lazarus had been dead four days. Both of Lazarus' sisters said, "Lord, if you had come, our brother would not have died."
I had said those same words so many times after David was killed! It was like hearing my own voice. They knew Jesus could have healed their brother if He wanted to, but now Lazarus was dead.
Then Jesus said these powerful words to Martha: "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die."
What a declaration! Jesus is not just saying He has power over death, but that He is the very essence of life!
Yet, even in His confident power, He was compassionate in the midst of the mourning people, and He wept. I knew then that He wept for me. Inside of His sovereign control, He could feel my pain. He wasn't looking down at me from His throne demanding, "Get over it, Sabrina. If you really trusted me, you wouldn't whine like this." No, He was there with me in depths of darkness, weeping with compassion for me.
Jesus instructed the people to remove the gravestone, despite warnings that the body would smell, and He called to Lazarus, "Come out!" And Lazarus came.
Jesus had shown the glory of God and displayed His authority over man's greatest enemy. Many think that enemy is Satan, but the real adversary is death. In the words of Matt Maher's "Christ Is Risen": "Oh Church! Come stand in the light! The glory of God has defeated the night!"
Jesus knew when He let Lazarus die that His purpose was greater than just healing. Even then He told His disciples, "This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified" (John 11:4).
Jesus brought Lazarus to life, and one day He will shout out David's name in the same way. And mine too, if the Lord tarries. With a loud shout, the graves of all those who believe will answer to the call of our Savior and King.
Life coming from death
I made it through the winter beaten and bruised and battle weary. And then came Easter.
It was early that year, and I saw it for all its glory for the first time in my life. Resurrection seemed to be everywhere as the blooms of the dogwood and redbud trees peaked out of the bare branches. Leaf buds portrayed promise; birds sang with the sun; and daffodils were reaching for the sky with their yellow petals of praise.
It was Resurrection Day, and I could see life coming from death all around me, just as God promised through His son Jesus. Lazarus was alive; Jesus was alive; David and all the rest of us who proclaim the name of Christ were alive forevermore!
That's where the hope is. If death hasn't been conquered, then what is this life all about? It all fades into nothing. If death has not been conquered, there is no need for a better tomorrow or an inheritance for future generations. There is no reason for growth, investment, or legacy. Life has no meaning without the work that Jesus accomplished on the cross and in His own resurrection.
But because Jesus' own tomb is empty, we can face tomorrow with all its trials, tribulations, even the death of our most precious loved ones.
How underrated we have made the Easter holiday! It should be a celebration of epic proportions, fit for the greatest Bridegroom in the history of mankind.
Something happened to me that bright Easter morning after David's death—a miraculous healing of sorts. The grief wasn't gone, but the hopelessness was. Heaven opened up to me, in a way, and everything shifted into an eternal perspective. I realized Easter isn't just about the day the stone was rolled away from Jesus' grave. No, it's much more than that. It's about the day that Jesus rolled away the stone of every believer's grave. Easter is about our resurrection, through Him. Because of Him, we are alive.
I know beyond a doubt why all this happened to me and my family. I know why Jesus wasn't there to stop the wreck that took David's life—it was for the glory of God, so the Son of God would be glorified. But this story does not end in death; it ends in resurrection.
Copyright © 2016 by Sabrina Beasley McDonald. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
1. Read "Finding Comfort in the Midst of Grief" and other articles by Sabrina Beasley McDonald.
2. Barbara Rainey is passionate about Easter. Listen as she helps FamilyLife Today® listeners understand and explore Easter, the pinnacle of the Christian holiday season. And learn about some of Barbara’s creative Easter resources.