Monday, March 10, 2008

This week's sermon: Jesus raises Lazarus from the grave

John 11:1-44.
At the beginning of this story, Jesus is some distance away from Bethany, the hometown of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. And the sisters, knowing that Jesus loved them and Lazarus, sent him word that their brother was sick. Now, they know the miracles that Jesus does. They know he has healed the sick, fed thousands, cast out demons, and we have to believe that they were sending for Jesus not just to come, but to come and heal. This is what we do. When we have trouble in our lives, we don’t typically stop at asking for God’s presence with us, we want him to do something. And that is fine. We can ask. But in this situation, and at times in our lives, God had something planned that was better than a simple healing. In order for him to accomplish his work, Jesus had to stay where he was and not come immediately to do the thing that the sisters wanted: healing Lazarus.
We see the conversation on the disciples’ side. They must have been terribly confused when, at first Jesus says “This sickness is not unto death.” No wonder they didn’t get it when he told them that Lazarus was sleeping. Have you ever experienced a time when things were not going the way you thought they should, or even when you heard so clearly from God one thing, but everything around you seemed to point some other way? That is where the disciples were. Jesus said, “This is not unto death,” and then, “Lazarus is dead.” Those seem to be contradictory statements, only Jesus knew what was coming next. No wonder they didn’t know what to do. Lazarus is dead, and they are going back to the very place where the Jews are plotting to kill Jesus. Dear Thomas, always the realist, is convinced that they are marching to their deaths. And that is not far from the truth, it will not be long before Jesus will go to the cross, but he wants to show them first that death is not the final victor. They are going, as Jesus said, to bring glory to God, and glorify the Son.
Jesus came into the town, and before he could get to the house, Martha was on her way to meet him. She comes to him with a mixture of faith and doubt. She knows that if Jesus had come sooner, Lazarus could have been healed, and here she is hoping against hope that even now, God will do whatever Jesus asks. Martha doesn’t ask for Jesus to raise Lazarus from the dead. She is not even sure she believes it, but oh, how she wants to. Jesus tells her that Lazarus will rise again, and she confirms her belief in the resurrection of the last day. And here Jesus says words that would blow us all over if we could just take them in. He says I am the resurrection and the life. We know those words. We have heard them time and again. But do we take them in? Martha said I believe in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus says I am the resurrection. She was talking to the one who would make the resurrection possible. The one who stood in front of her embodied the resurrection. Do we realize that every time we pray, we are speaking to the one who is the resurrection? How often do we forget the awesome power, might, and majesty of the one we ask to bless our food and keep us safe as we go through our day? Far beyond raising just Lazarus from the dead, he is the one who will raise us all on the last day. And he is the one who gives us power to live that resurrection life now, with power to walk through the most difficult circumstances knowing that he is bigger and beyond them all. He is the resurrection and the life!
Jesus asks Martha if she believes, and she tells him she knows that he is the Messiah, the son of God. And she goes to get her sister, Mary. Mary has been at home, mourning and weeping, and waiting for Jesus to come. Martha is the pro-active one, she is always taking charge and making sure everything is done right and on time, it is not surprising that she would be the one to run out to meet Jesus on the road. Mary has been waiting. I don’t know what was in her mind as she waited. Was she wondering why Jesus didn’t come? Was she doubting his love for her and her brother? Was she questioning, why? We don’t really know, but when she comes to Jesus, she also says to him, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” But the way she says it is different. Martha comes as the practical one, still looking for Jesus to do something. Mary comes and falls at his feet. I can only imagine the grief and sadness with which she says those words. Her tears are so great; they weigh heavy on the heart of the Son of God. Jesus was troubled in spirit when he saw her crying. And after asking where Lazarus is, Jesus himself wept. Jesus wept. There is a verse that says that God treasures and saves our tears, storing them up in a bottle (Ps 56:8). When we hurt, it does not go unnoticed. Every tear that you cry, God knows about it and he cares enough to keep account of them. Here Jesus is moments away from raising the dead man, and relieving all of the grief around him, and it still moves him to tears to see the pain in the hearts of Mary, Martha, and those who are mourning with them.
And people talked. People always talk. Some were moved to see Jesus weep from love. Others were saying, why is he crying, surely he could have done something to prevent this!
Jesus has them take him to the gravesite. And he is again moved with great emotion. What did those around him think was happening? Perhaps they thought he was going there to mourn his friend. His disciples are with him, but they are silent. They don’t know what to think, maybe like Thomas said, they are going there to join Lazarus in death. Mary missed the words Jesus spoke about being the resurrection and the life. Martha knows she has had this conversation with Jesus about the resurrection, but even she is skeptical about what they are doing at the gravesite, and especially with Jesus asking that they remove the stone from the entrance. She says, don’t you know that after four days, the smell is going to be horrendous? How embarrassing for Martha, to think that everyone would be subjected to the smell of her brother’s decaying body. But Jesus reminds her of their conversation, and says, “If you believe you will see the glory of God.”
They move the stone, Jesus prays aloud for their benefit, calls Lazarus by name and Lazarus comes out of the tomb. He is still wrapped in his grave clothes, and Jesus has them help unwrap their resurrected friend. Everyone there that day got a preview of Jesus own resurrection. They saw that this man, this prophet, this messiah was greater than death itself. That is why Jesus did not come sooner. That is why Jesus stayed where he was two more days and went to Bethany only after he knew Lazarus was dead. They had already seen him heal the sick, the lame, and the blind. They had heard about his feeding the thousands, making wine from water, and casting out demons. They still needed to see him defeat death in order to believe in him. The purpose of this whole situation, as Jesus himself said was to bring glory to God and glorify the Son of God. Lazarus was resurrected that day, yes because Jesus loved him and his sisters, yes because they asked him to come, yes because they had faith, but ultimately the purpose was to glorify God. The reason for this miracle, like all the others that Jesus did, was to give evidence that he was the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God.
What in your life is being delayed so that glory can be given to God? So often we hear from popular Christian writers and speakers that if we have faith, God will do what we want him to do. They argue if that miracle hasn’t happened for you yet, you must not have enough faith. I tell you today that sometimes there are greater miracles around the corner that you and I have not dreamed of. If you have asked in faith, and there is a delay, trust God to know his own mind and purpose. Trust him and know that the one who delays does not take your tears, your pain, your waiting for granted. Trust him to know what will bring him glory and honor and give you the greatest cause for rejoicing.

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