In preparation – read Ezekiel 37:12-14
Have you ever sent a card or letter to your pastor? Over the years, I have received quite a few notes from church folks. Most of the letters have been encouraging. Every now and then, they are, shall we say, quite memorable. Some of the best ones come from children. Allow me to share some genuine messages from children to their pastors.
Dear Pastor, I would like to go to heaven one day, because I know my brother Arnold won’t be there. Sincerely, Sally – Age 9
Dear Pastor, I know the Bible tells us that God loves everybody, but He never met my sister. Yours truly, Arnold – Age 7
Dear Pastor, Please pray for our little league team. We need God’s help, or a new pitcher. Thank you, Alexander – Age 9
Dear Pastor, Please say in your sermon that Peter Peterson has been a good boy all week. I am Peter Peterson – Age 8
Dear Pastor, I liked your sermon on Sunday. Especially when it was finished. Sincerely, Ralph – Age 11
While on His way to Jerusalem, Jesus received a message one day. It was from some of his dearest friends. To find out what it said…
Read John 11:1-3
Jesus had a special relationship with this family. Verse 5 tells us that He loved Martha, Mary and Lazarus. The Scriptures record His visiting this family on a number of occasions. Just as we visit grandparents or parents for holidays or birthdays, Jesus would travel to visit this family because they meant so much to him. The Scripture says, “He loved them.” These dear ones were from Bethany, a city almost two miles outside Jerusalem. The name Bethany means one of two things. It may mean “place of affliction.” Or, it may mean “place of grace.” We will see as this narrative unfolds……that both of these names are appropriate.
The first thing I want you to realize, is, The Love of JESUS.
Read John 11:3-6
Have you ever received really bad news? Jesus was sent word from the two sisters that their brother Lazarus, one that Jesus loved, was sick. Imagine that you hear one of your children or grandchildren is sick and needs you. What would you do? Most of us, if we can, will drop everything to go to them.
What does Jesus do when he finds out his dear friend is ill? Jesus loved Lazarus so much that he waits two days to go to him!! This is completely counter intuitive! It would be like calling 911 and the dispatcher says, “We understand you have an emergency. Don’t worry, the ambulance has been dispatched and should arrive sometime early next week.”Jesus’ love for Lazarus is so clearly established and yet, Jesus does not go to him right away. Instead, Jesus lingers two extra days before going to his loved one, Lazarus.
Why did Jesus delay? Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Can it be that Jesus loved Lazarus so much that he wanted Lazarus to be a part of glorifying God in a dramatic, miraculous way? No doubt, Lazarus would barely be a bit actor on the stage of Salvation History without the unmistakable spotlight that was about to shine on him.
Should we view our difficulties, challenges and suffering in a similar way? Do you ever see suffering as an opportunity to glorify God? Might our darkest days be ways for God to receive glory? If so, suffering for the Lord becomes a privilege! You see, even if we die, “for us to live is Christ, to die is gain!”
Noted Christian author, Malcomb Muggeridge wrote, Contrary to what might be expected, I look back on experiences that at the time seemed especially desolating and painful with particular satisfaction. Indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in my 75 years in this world, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my experience, has been through affliction and not through happiness.
When we suffer, God may well be teaching, forming and shaping us. But, there may be something else going on as well. He may be using our suffering as a sign to others. Lazarus sickness and physical death, as we will see, made an eternal difference in the lives of others! We are still talking about him today!
Some of you are experiencing great suffering in your lives. One dear lady I know has recently been diagnosed with cancer. At the hospital, before a procedure recently, she said, “I just want my journey to be a blessing to others.” That’s exactly right!
Because Jesus loved Lazarus so much, He said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” We have seen the Love of Jesus, now let’s consider the Faith of MARTHA.
Read John 11:17-27
When Jesus arrives, Lazarus has been dead four days. The Hebrews had a traditional belief that after three days the spirit of the deceased departed. The point of mentioning the four days is simply this: without question, Lazarus was dead! Notice the response of Martha when she sees Jesus. “If you had been here, Lazarus would not have died!” Jesus does not seem to mind this question. We might learn from this that questioning the Lord is okay! But, this must be done in faith, trusting that God’s desired outcome is for the best.
Martha then asks Jesus indirectly to raise Lazarus from the dead. She asks in faith, believing that God will grant any request that Jesus might make. Jesus said, your brother will rise again. Martha says, “I know he will rise again at the resurrection on the last day.” Martha, like the Pharisees, believes in the general resurrection at the culmination of the age. Jesus’ response is one of the most profound statements ever uttered. He said, “I Am (ego eimi) the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Jesus is not talking about the general resurrection at the final judgment. He is talking about a personal resurrection that is offered to His followers. Those who are united to Him in His death, says Paul in Romans 6, will also be united with Him in His resurrection. If we are buried with Christ, we shall also be raised with Christ to walk in newness of life! Jesus ends His statement to Martha with a question. Do you believe this? Get this question right, and death is no longer an issue!
There are many in the world who get this wrong. Archaeologists have dug up first century cemeteries in Greece and Rome and have found many tomb stones that bear the Greek or Latin inscription for, “No hope.” Imagine living your entire life with no hope! Imagine going to your death, to that eternal night, with no hope!
Martha’s statement of faith reveals that she gets it right. Do you believe this? “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” That is exactly right! Martha’s confession of faith rivals that of Peter – “You are the Christ,” and Thomas – “My Lord and my God.”
How we answer Jesus’ question makes all the difference. If we answer “yes” to Jesus, then we can say with Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
We have seen Jesus Love and Martha’s faith. Let’s move on to the Tears of MARY and JESUS
Read John 11:28-38
Martha was always known as the worker bee. Mary was the more contemplative one. She is the one who will later anoint Jesus with expensive perfume. Jesus was calling for Mary so she quickly went out to Him. When she meets him, her words echo her sister’s. “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” How does Jesus respond to Mary who is crying for her brother? He asks where they have laid Lazarus. Then, the shortest verse in the Bible follows, “Jesus wept.”
John’s Gospel, more than the other three, goes to great lengths to demonstrate the divinity of Jesus. The eight “I Am” statements – the seven miraculous signs – all reveal that Jesus is God. But here, we can see His humanity. Jesus is moved deeply by His friend’s death and by the grieving of his mourning sisters.
But, would you notice something else about Jesus’ emotions. In verse 33 and again in verse 38 we learn that Jesus was “deeply moved” and “greatly troubled”. The Greek here may be translated that He was angry! Why would Jesus be angry? Could it be that he is upset at sin’s effect on mankind! The wages of sin is death – and Lazarus has died. Death and sin are the enemy. So, i may be that Jesus is angered that the enemy has touched one he loves!
But, quite clearly, Jesus had other plans, for sin and death would not have the final say. The glory would belong to God!
After the tears of Mary and Jesus comes the Raising of LAZARUS
Read John 11:39-44
Again, Martha’s obsession with cleanliness and pragmatism shows up. Jesus says, “Take away the stone,” to which Martha warns, “Lord, by now there is gonna be an odor after all, he’s been in there four days!” Jesus isn’t worried about tidying up and spraying Fabreeze around the tomb. He is consumed with showing forth the Glory of God! Jesus then lifted up his eyes – a common prayer posture, and cried out to the Father to hear his prayer. His desire was that everyone there would believe!
What were they to believe? In our Old Testament reading, Ezekiel 37:13 says, You shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. At the conclusion of His prayer, Jesus cried out, “Lazarus, come forth!” In that instant, Lazarus came out of the grave! His hands and feet were bound – Jesus said unbind him. The Greek word for unbinding is used In Luke 13:16, 1 John 3:8 and Acts 2:24 to mean being loosed from Satan’s power and death. Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead! And, He had given a vivid display of God’s power of sin, death and Satan! Bethany, the place of affliction had indeed become a place of grace!
This is the sixth and final sign before Jesus would experience His own death and resurrection (the seventh sign). By the power of God, Jesus would overcome death and be raised to life. This resurrection power is shared with His followers which we see this quite clearly in the raising of Lazarus!
Let’s conclude with the Response of the PEOPLE
Read John 11:45
Why would Jesus express his love for Lazarus by allowing him to die of his illness? It is simply this: by Lazarus’ death and resurrection, many believed in Jesus. If you are suffering…if you are struggling…would you simply trust God with your situation. Recognize that His plans are not always our plans, nor are they easy to see.
In the mid 1980’s, a young man was playing center field in Jessamine County for his high school team. It was a very pretty day with only a cloud or two in the sky. Out of nowhere, a bolt of lightning struck the young man and killed him instantly. His family, who happened to be strong Christians, trusted God through it all. At the funeral of their son, a large church sanctuary was filled with the young man’s classmates. That day, many of those young people believed in the Lord Jesus and gave their lives to follow Him. “Death was swallowed up in victory!” What does God want to accomplish with your life? Yield to Him and allow your suffering to become your mission.
Jesus is, indeed, the Resurrection and the Life! And this resurrection is offered to us as well. Jesus said, “Lazarus, come forth!” Take out Lazarus and put your name there. _____________, come forth” If you are still “dead in your trespasses and sins,” I pray that you will hear His voice calling for you! As Ezekiel said, “You shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people.”
As you journey with Jesus on the Pathway to the Passion, listen for His voice. And when you don’t sense that He is near, remember that He loves you. He might just be waiting a few extra days. There is no telling what He will accomplish in the lives of those He loves!