We attended the funeral and memorial service this week of my good friend and ministry partner of more than twenty years Doug Harris. Doug founded a ministry to cults, Reachout Trust, in 1982 as a result of seeing Jehovah’s Witnesses streaming into their annual conference near his home in Twickenham, England. In 1989 my wife Ann and I got involved having come, ourselves, from a Mormon background.
Since then there have been many conventions, conferences, seminar and preaching engagements. We have written books and articles, made films, shared trustee responsibilities and been about as involved in the ministry as it is possible to be. Family members and friends have joined us, sometimes speaking, often playing instruments in times of worship, always enjoying Doug’s good company and wise counsel.
It is a strange world inhabited by “colourful’ characters. Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, witches, pagans, new agers – the list seems endless. But for Doug the goal was always the same, sharing the Jesus of the Bible with the lost. Pointing out the error by holding it up to the light of truth and allowing people to make comparisons and come to their own conclusions. Doug trusted if he played his part God would always play his so ministry simply involved telling the good news.
I shed more than a few tears at his memorial service and, I think for the first time in my life, seriously asked that question – why? I believe the Lord gave me an answer and put in my mind the story of Lazarus.
If you recall, Lazarus was a close friend of Jesus. When word came that Lazarus was dying Jesus seemed deliberately to delay his coming to his friend’s bedside. Finally, he arrived only in time to comfort Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha, because Lazarus had died.
“Lord,” cried Martha,” if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” You can read the story in John chapter 11. Later we read:
“When Jesus saw [Mary] weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. ‘Where have you laid him'?’ he asked. ‘Come and see, Lord.’ they replied. Jesus wept.”
Here are those wonderful but puzzling words, ‘Jesus wept.’ Wonderful because they appear to speak of God’s complete identification with our sorrows, yet puzzling because the story goes on to tell how Jesus’ intent all along was to raise Lazarus and demonstrate his power over sin and death.
The words translated, ‘Jesus wept,’ do not carry the meaning of loud grief. What was in those tears was not sadness and regret at loss, nor simply sympathy with those around him riven with genuine grief. His tears were tears of rage, indignation at the audacity of death. Jesus was enraged, as am I, that his friend should be so stricken so. B B Warfield puts it like this:
“It is death that is the object of his wrath, and behind death him who has the power of death, and whom he has come into the world to destroy. Tears of sympathy may fill his eyes, but this is incidental. His soul is held by rage: and he advances to the tomb, in Calvin’s words, ‘as a champion who prepares for conflict.’
The raising of Lazarus thus becomes, not an isolated marvel, but…a decisive instance and open symbol of Jesus’ conquest of death and hell…not in cold unconcern, but in flaming wrath against the foe, Jesus smites in our behalf. He has not only saved us from the evils which oppress us; he has felt for and with us in our oppression, and under the impulse of these feelings has wrought out our redemption.” (The person and Work of Christ, quoted in Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, John.)
Why? we ask. Why do we have to stand by and watch our loved ones die? Because of sin, that brings death. And Jesus was as enraged about Doug’s death, and finally yours and mine - for the mortality rate in this world is still 100%. But, what Jesus’ achieved temporarily for Lazarus – because Lazarus was raised not resurrected – he would, on Golgotha, achieve for all who trust in him.
He approached that gibbet with the same determination with which he approached the tomb of Lazarus. He views our tombs with the same rage and indignation and his set purpose is to free all who trust in him from the curse of sin, death and hell. We may feel today that death has its small victory, but in eternity death is conquered by life and Doug enjoys fully now the life won for him at Calvary. To wish him back is to rob him of the prize to which he has looked all his life.
See you there Doug.