Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me” (John 11:41).
“The sequence of events in this passage seems strange and unusual. Lazarus was still in his tomb, yet Jesus’ thanksgiving preceded the miracle of raising him from the dead. It seems that thanks would only have been lifted up once the great miracle had been accomplished and Lazarus had been restored to life. But Jesus gave thanks for what He was about to receive. His gratitude sprang forth before the blessing had arrived, in an expression of assurance that it was certainly on its way. The song of victory was sung before the battle had been fought. It was the Sower singing the song of harvest—it was thanksgiving before the miracle” (Cowman, L.B. 1925, 1953, 1965, 1996, 1997, Zondervan. Grand Rapids, MI).
It has been a difficult summer. Two fires in our community, the last of which snatched nineteen of our beloved hometown Hotshot firemen out of our lives, have changed the landscape of our community and the landscape of our hearts . There are so many stories surrounding this event that it would be pages to recount them all. As news spread from fire department to fire department around the State, then around the nation, and then to various parts of the world, it was becoming profoundly evident that something much bigger than we knew was being orchestrated by God as it seemed to be taking on nuances and undercurrents of miracles. Stories trickled in of dreams, of Angelic appearances, of salvations and of a knitting together of lives in ways that are intricately and forever intertwined.
In my own life, I and my friend Diane heard the news while we were in a hotel room in Denver, returning from a women’s retreat high up in the Rocky Mountains. We had been filled with that sweet aroma of having enjoyed the fellowship of women we had never met before but with whom we now had formed forever bonds in the Spirit. I have often said that when we are gathered together and the topic of conversation is Jesus, hours and even days can pass, and you realize that time has ceased and you have entered a sort of eternal place. Coming from an experience such as this, you are filled up to the brim, as if you had just enjoyed a satisfying and leisurely meal with rich, deep conversation. Words fail in my weak attempts to describe these sorts of experiences, but Scripture puts the fine point on the experience:
If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me (Rev. 3:20).
Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, And the LORD listened and heard them; So a book of remembrance was written before Him For those who fear the LORD And who meditate on His name. “They shall be Mine,” says the LORD of hosts, “On the day that I make them My jewels. And I will spare them As a man spares his own son who serves him (Malachi 3:16-17).
Jesus is there when we are together, speaking of Him, enjoying His presence. He is dining with us and he is listening to us as we speak of Him, and He is recording it all in a book. I don’t know about you, but this is food for my soul—this satisfies like nothing else in life.
On the same weekend that I and other friends were enjoying our new friends at this retreat, another sort of retreat was taking place here in my hometown of Prescott, Arizona. A three-day worship event at Tim’s Toyota Event Center was in full swing, with the top Christian worship groups from around the country, all in one place. It was Church at its finest! Not a denomination, but a congregation of thousands of believers, lifting up praise and worship as one body—as Christ’s body. And there He was, right in the midst of them, singing with them, dancing with them, the whole place was glorious with His presence and He was recording it all in a book of remembrance.
But, at that very same moment, while praise and worship were being lifted up, He was in the middle of a raging fire on a lone mountain, weeping as He gathered up nineteen young Hotshot firemen, carefully lifting them off of the earth and into His eternal Heavenly home. He was not weeping for them; He was already weeping with their families.
None of us could have envisioned that one week later, we would find ourselves in that same event center, hearts now broken, tears streaming down our faces as we joined our grief and sorrow with the families of the Hotshots and with thousands of firemen, policemen, military personnel, pipes and drums from around the country and even from other parts of the world to mourn and honor these brave young men. Dignitaries, including the Vice President of the United States, came to honor our nineteen young men. Unlikely alliances formed between the Police Department and the Hell’s Angels, as they and other motorcycle clubs surrounded the building with Flags raised to mourn and to honor the fallen Granite Mountain Hotshots. The whole scene was surreal—breathtaking. In the same building where a week before, worship and praise was lifted high—uniting the body of Christ into one body, now a terrible loss was uniting not only the Body of Christ but also those who would not call themselves the “Body of Christ,” together as the name of Jesus Christ was again lifted up in that building. Ecstatic joy and profound sorrow all mingled into one in that week. And Jesus Christ was among us, singing, and weeping and working in deep and mysterious ways. The entire country and other parts of the world mysteriously melded together in this loss.
Could the praise and worship of June 27th, 28th and 29th have been the prayer of Jesus at the grave of Lazarus as He wept and cried out “Father, I thank you that you have heard me…?” He knew–He knew in advance—that on that very afternoon of June 29th, 2013 somewhere around 4:30 MST, nineteen young men would cross over the threshold of the tomb as he removed their old grave clothes and clothed them with new life with Him in eternity. And He made certain in advance, that they would cross over into Heaven.
Did these young men die in vain? No, they did not. The message of Jesus Christ has been raised like a banner over our city—preached from that memorial ceremony to untold numbers, as Darrell, the Wildland Fire Chief and Dan, another fireman proclaimed, standing at the podium in front of the Vice President of the United States and heard by untold numbers around the world that, all nineteen Hotshots had given their lives to Christ from the top of a mountain after the Doce Fire and before the Yarnell fire.
There are no accidents in the eternal realm of God. There are no mistakes. This was not merely an unfortunate “accident.” It was a miraculous event and today, Jesus is standing alongside the Mary’s and the Martha’s at the graves of their beloved husbands and children, weeping as He proclaims the eternal message: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26).
In the “above the line” eternal realm, they are alive! They are singing and worshipping and praising and we, if we believe in Him, as the above verse proclaims, will live and we will see them alive again. This is why the Psalmist could write the seemingly strange words “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” (Psalm 116:15). There is another realm where it all makes sense—it will all make sense and there will be no more grief, only praise and worship—it is a “precious” thing to Him; it is “costly, valuable” to Him.
We mourn on this side of that line which separates the temporal from the eternal, but we who believe in that Resurrection and Life will see them again! This event has caused me to once again weigh the things that really matter carefully—the things I consider “precious things” in my life, and to take stock of the things that seem important to me in this temporal place. Do the things I call “precious” have value in the eternal? In light of the monumental works of God in the midst of this tragedy, I don’t think I am making too much of it all. I think a very Big God has made a very big thing of the death of these Hotshots and their lives and their deaths matter more than we can imagine.