Sunday Sermon, May 3,2020


The Death of Lazarus

 

Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.  (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.)  So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”

 

When he heard this, 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.”  Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.  So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days,  and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

 

“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”

 

Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”

 

After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”  John 11:1-11

Several years ago, the father of one of my closest friends died. He was an incredible man of God and a spiritual mentor to me. I attended his funeral, but since it was a long drive to Florida, I brought with me one of international staff who was staying at the camp with me while attending a local college. This college student was not yet a believer, and try as I might to persuade him into receiving Jesus Christ as his savior, he demurred each time. I prayed for him but came to the conclusion that my task was to feed and water him spiritually, and to wait upon someone else to led him to that life-changing decision.

At the funeral, the student was touched by the retired military officers the and a senator that spoke so highly of my friend’s father. Old men wept as they shared how this fallen friend of theirs was the most godly man they had ever met, of how selfless and “other-focused” he was, and what an incredible father, husband and brother he had been.

At the end of the service, as we returned to the hotel, the college kid told me, “No one will ever say things like that at my funeral. I am ready to do whatever it takes to live a life like he lived. I am ready to receive into heart Jesus Christ.” And so, that night, on the beach in Florida a college student came to know Jesus Christ because of the death of a man he had never met! But it took the funeral of this warrior for Jesus Christ to break open the heart of this young man. 

Ten people recorded to have been raised from the dead in the Bible.  But other than Jesus, the most famous was Lazarus.  We’re not sure what happened to Lazarus, but he got sick and died—-and he was most certainly dead.  He was placed in a tomb for four days and was beginning to stink as he decayed.  He was a young man, unmarried, and had two sisters that he was living with—Mary and Martha.

But to go back to the narrative, when Jesus was told that His good friend Lazarus was ill, Jesus was fully aware that it was a severe illness. Yet He waited two full days before beginning the long two day walk back to Lazarus’ home. By the time He got there Lazarus had died and had been in the grave for four days.

What strikes me (and I am embarrassed to admit it) is how Jesus responded to a crisis compared to how I respond to a crisis. I have a long way to go in my walk with Jesus. 

First, Jesus did not get frantic, upset, or lose His self-control. He never did in the face of trouble and He never does. He never let Himself get caught-up in a frantic attempt to solve the problem or “take control of the situation.” He took His time, finished His tasks, and later addressed Lazarus’ sickness (and by that time, of course, Lazarus was dead). Those excited, hurried, fearful actions of mine never seem to be in the narrative of men and women properly connected to God. The inner peace and reliance upon God’s sovereignty dispels any need for rushing or losing our heads!   I need to remember this when I am tempted to give up and get disheartened.

You see, Jesus knew what was going to happen, and He had an absolute certainty of God’s hand was all over what was happening! Friends, God hands are all over this virus and what it is doing to our communities, nation and world! We can be certain that there are no uncertainties with God.

Oswald Chambers once said this; “The nature of  our new life in Jesus Christ is that we are certain about Him, but absolutely uncertain about what’s going to happen tomorrow!  Consequently we should not make our nests anywhere.  “Certainty” is the mark of the commonsense life: but “gracious uncertainty” is the mark of the life devoted to God. To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways, we do not know what a day may bring forth. …We are uncertain of the next step, but we are certain of God.  When we determine to abandon to God, and do the duty that lies nearest, He packs our life with marvelous surprises all the time. …Jesus said, “Except ye…become as little children.” Spiritual life is the life of a child. We are not uncertain of God, but uncertain of what He is going to do next.…when we are rightly related to God, life is full of spontaneous, joyful uncertainty and expectancy.

Second, it was not the calamity of Lazarus being at death’s door that was of primary concern to Jesus, but rather it was God being glorified in the midst of the calamity. The crisis was required so that God could be glorified, for Jesus’ power over death to be manifested, and for billions of future men and women to have a concrete example of how God can take an absolutely heartbreaking event and turn it upside down! What if the crisis you or I are going through will one day inspire millions or even billions of people by the manner in which we calmly trust Him?  This present pandemic might have more far-reaching significance than any of the past 1000 years of human history.

But what if Jesus had done what Martha and Mary begged Him to do and rushed back and cured Lazarus of his disease? This narrative would have been lost to history and we probably would never have heard much about Lazarus.  They would have been grateful to Jesus, because He had healed many others during His three years, but it would not have resulted in what followed.

Jesus did not do things the way He was begged, He did it the best way for (a) His Father to get the glory, and (b) for the one requesting it to be the most blessed. He did not jump up and immediately do what they asked, but can you imagine the testimony of Lazarus because of the way He DID answer their requests in His own time?! Lazarus suffered, died, was buried and then was brought BACK TO LIFE! This was a precursor to the same thing that would soon happen to His Savior. And it terms of how it furthered the work of Jesus and the Kingdom of God, consider this: It would be a profoundly more difficult thing to deny the reality of Jesus if you lived in Lazarus’ neighborhood. Here was living, breathing, walking evidence of the Son of God’s power over death!  What a witness Lazarus was! You could not deny that something unseen and unheard of since the creation of the world was happening!

Crises in our lives are God’s gift to enrich our capacity to exercise trust, and more importantly, it is His opportunity to bring others to Him. Others will witness His miraculous intervention in our lives and how He preserves us;  they will come to faith in Jesus Christ! Friends, are we walking testimonies to what God can do? Is our church an epistle of God’s miracle?

But be aware of the events that occurred right after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Christ was at a home visiting some friends and crowds of people were pressing in trying to see Jesus and Lazarus, whom Christ raised from the dead. The following verses tell us that the Pharisees wanted to kill Jesus and Lazarus, because many were now following Jesus because of Lazarus’ resurrection.

 Lazarus had nothing to do with what Jesus did for him—that is, brought back from the dead four days after he was buried. But because Jesus had performed a miracle in Lazarus’ life, Lazarus was as much of a problem to these Pharisees as Jesus! Every time people saw Lazarus it was a reminder that Jesus was the Messiah—the Son of God who had power over the grave.

Am I a threat to those who want to stamp out Christianity as well? Has the resurrected life in me caused others to put their faith in Jesus? Do people see how I have suffered and then how He has rescued and restored me, and do they then determine that they want a Savior like that also? Or am I so concerned about my personal comfort, reputation, standing in the community, credit score and  personal gain that my display of the living Christ is muted, faded, and of no concern to those who want to abolish Christianity?

When the Holy Spirit filled Paul, Peter, James, and John they became threats to the forces of evil and the kingdom of Satan. When Lazarus was raised from the dead he became a marked man. He was the embodiment of what Jesus can do. May the same be said of me today! May my reborn and reformed life reflect something different, miraculous, outstanding, extraordinary, not of this world and may the people who oppose Christ hate me because of it.

 In a real way I suppose I need to wonder why I am not more opposed and why I am not under more attack. It would seem that an easy life is a sure sign that my life does not represent the resurrected Christ very convincingly.

Lazarus was hated because of what Jesus did for Him. So was Paul, and thousands of pastors in Cuba, China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran and the former USSR.   What has Jesus done for you? What have you allowed Jesus to do for you?   Are you ready to be hated because of Him?  Church tradition tells us that Lazarus had to flee from Judea after Christ’s resurrection because people were trying to kill him and he died 30 years later in exile.

But jump with me to John 11:35—-the shortest verse in the Bible. When Jesus was shown where Lazarus was buried, John said that, “Jesus wept”.    But why? 

-He knew that Lazarus was about to rise from the dead..

-He knew that the mourning and heartache of those that loved would be turned into a celebration

-But He also knew that because of what He was about to do, wonderful and glorious as it was, this man, Lazarus, a man that He loved incredibly, would soon be a marked man—one hated by the Pharisees and especially by the Sadducees, who deny that there is any life after death.  He knew that because of this sensational miracles, Lazarus would one day have to flee from Judea and live in exile far away from friends and family and that he would, for the rest of his life, live in danger of being murdered.

Jesus cried because He loved Lazarus.  If you want to know what God would do, if he were at a funeral, look at Jesus—-that’s the physical representation of God. It is GOD IN MAN-FORM.  God has allowed this pandemic—-just as God allowed the death of Lazarus. And God is mourning with us—-just as Jesus died at the death of Lazarus. Yes, Jesus knew that soon Lazarus would rise—-but also that later Lazarus would have to run away in order to avoid another early death.

But Jesus was grieved—-and so is God—-for those He loved because He knew about their fears of death, their frailty, and the pain and hurts they were bound to experience if they chose to follow Him and allow Him to produce miraculous things in their lives.  He was aware of what was coming for all of them.

“Believe also in Me,” said Jesus, not — “Believe certain things about Me.” Leave the whole thing to Him, it is gloriously uncertain how He will come in, or how this whole corona virus thing will pan out, but leave this to Him,,,,, He will come. Remain loyal to Him. Trust Him…

 


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