Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Walk Through John 11 and the Raising of Lazarus

Sermon for Lent 5A, preached on Sunday, April 10, 2011   (note this is an atypical sermon in which we follow the text verse by verse to comment on the abundant details offered here in John 11:1-45)

Today we recall the long account of Jesus raising Lazarus.  Instead of focusing on a couple of verse, I want to walk through the whole account with you so keep the reading handy as see what all is there in this powerful text that prepares us for and prefigures Jesus own resurrection from the dead.
•    vs 1 - a certain man – the closest of friends to Jesus, almost family – name Lazarus means God has helped
•    vs 2 - Mary of the ointment – to identity Mary as believer and follower, one of the intimate circle of Jesus’ friends
•    vs 3-4 - whom you love – emphasizing the closeness - this is no stranger       “this illness will not lead to death” – but it did  – yet he did not stay dead “so that the Son of God may be glorified” - glory hidden in suffering/death or where we least expect to find God’s glory... why it is called “hidden”
•     vs 6 - Jesus stayed where He was - not for lack of love for Lazarus but that His power might be manifest in him; delay doesn’t mean he doesn’t care; think of that next time you pray and cannot see God’s answer
•    vs 7 - “Lets go...” – but surely it is too late now.... or is it?  Why go now when Lazarus is dead or is there something more to this all?
•    vs 8 - If you could not spare him death, do not endanger yourself Jesus; it is not worth it... except love makes it worth it
•    vs 9-10 - night and day – euphemisms of faith and unbelief
•    vs 11-14 - sleep or death – no real death – if he has died, why bother?
•    We are told that when Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, he remained where he was for two days. With friends like Jesus, who needs enemies, we think.  But consider how one early church father preached on this:
•    You see how he gives full scope to death. He grants free reign to the grave; he allows corruption to set in. He prohibits neither putrefaction nor stench from taking their normal course; he allows the realm of darkness to seize his friend, drag him down to the underworld, and take possession of him. He acts like this so that human hope may perish entirely and human despair reach its lowest depths...
•    vs 15-16 - Thomas - we just as well go because we are all gonna die anyway
•    vs 17 - four days - Jewish rabbis taught the soul remained for 3 days
•    vs 19-21 - burial within 24 hours – no delay even for the Son of God;             The “Jews” shows that this was a well placed, highly respected family   “If you were here, he would not have died” - God’s job to prevent tragedy – it is still how we see things today, isn’t it....
•    vs 23 - Jesus did not deny He could have prevented it – He could have – but holds out the promise of the resurrection – consolation prize or more?
•    vs 24 - Martha thinks like we do: “I know, I know, the last day – but what about NOW?”  Yet that is exactly what Jesus is talking about is NOW – I AM the resurrection - I make the dead rise and I keep the living alive – not a little hope at the end but hope for NOW
•    vs 27 - I believe – note the creedal form – but it is future; Jesus is not to come but present with them in their sorrow
•    vs 28 - not for Martha only – she speaks the Gospel to her grieving sister but in private - not to cause a ruckus in front of the rest of the people
•    vs 29 - Mary got right up and left – so in need of consolation and comfort
•    vs 31 - but everyone followed anyhow, thinking time for more wailing – grief is no private sorrow; death affects all and weeping & wailing shows it
•    vs 32 - Mary offers the very same complaint as Martha– Lord, you could have prevented this...
•    vs 33 - Jesus is moved, is deeply troubled - joins in the weeping & wailing but why? For the death of His friend Lazarus? For their unbelief?  For the glory to be revealed when He raised him?  For the death that awaited Him? – all of these.  He cries for our death as our death cries for Him...
•    vs 34 - where is Lazarus?  Didn’t Jesus know or was this for effect?   And the onlookers are confused: see His tears but He is a miracle worker, could Jesus not have kept this man from dying – or you or me?  Is this not our expectation still – if you loved me, Lord, you would keep bad things from happening to me...  Do we cry because He does not answer or because we do not like the answer He gives... glory comes in suffering?
•    vs 38 - A cave – where will Jesus be buried? And a stone He will roll away
•    vs 39 - he stinks.  Death stinks.  We all wear the stink of death and no amount of deodorant or cologne can mask its stench.  Only God can wash us of death’s smell.  How can the glory of God be found in the stink of death?  Look at Good Friday... and then look at your own death...
•    vs 40 - “Did I not tell you you’d see the glory of God?”  But who expected it would be seen in death, amid tears, facing loss?  Still our problem... we look in all the wrong places for the glory of God...
•    vs 42 - “on account of...” – everything Jesus does is for you and for me
•    vs 44 - the dead man comes out wearing death... He will die again... His is not Jesus’ resurrection but a sign of that more powerful resurrection to come.  We do not hope to get our life back.  We cannot settle for the old life given back to us. We hope for a resurrection in which death cannot touch us and life is our eternal possession.  We hope for radical new life.
•    vs 44 - unbind him – only Jesus unbinds us from the chains of sin & death
•    vs 45-46 - some believed because of this sign; others were hardened in their unbelief – signs do not bring people to Jesus but they point us to Jesus; miracles don’t help you believe but show you in whom you believe
•    vs 46-53 - the act of raising death seals the fate for Jesus’ death  – the plans were laid... it is only a matter of time now... the march toward the cross has already begun... and where is the first stop along the way, you guessed it, a visit to Mary, Martha, and the newly resurrected Lazarus...

Of all the accounts recorded in Scripture, this one has the most details.  It is as if God is saying to us... there is important stuff here.  Pay attention.  Still we stand wondering with Martha and Mary why God doesn’t make all the bad things go away... still we miss that Jesus is here with us in our sorrows and struggles... still we are surprised that life is hidden in death, grace in suffering, and hope at the brink of despair...  But now you know... now we know... so that when Good Friday comes... we will remember.... this death will reveal the glory of God to us and for us.... if we look with eyes of faith!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

re. vs 33.

Joins in the weeping? He wept, but did He weep for the same reasons they did? If not, then He did not join them. We need to understand that the people wept for their own sorrow; our Lord, when He wept, wept for others.

For the death of His friend Lazarus? He let Him die on purpose. The story makes it clear. He also knew that He would raise Lazarus.

For their unbelief? Then He would have spent all of His time weeping, especially in His home town.

For the glory to be revealed? So they were tears of joy?

For the death that awaited Him? John 14:28, “If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I.” Hebrews 12:2, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

May I suggest that our Lord wept for Lazarus, but not because Lazarus had died. Only He knew the immensity of the price He was imposing on Lazarus by bringing Him back from the joy of heaven. But our Lord felt He had to do it so that hundreds of future generations would believe that He was indeed the Resurrection and the Life – not only because He said so, but because He was able to demonstrate that He was. He wept for the price Lazarus had to pay by postponing his eternal bliss and bringing him back to a life of suffering and pain.

Peace and Joy in the firm hope of our resurrection.
George A. Marquart