Monday, March 27, 2023

Lazarus rises so Jesus may die. . .


Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Lent (A), preached on March 26, 2023.

In one short sentence that is one of the most profound moments in all of Scripture, Jesus weeps.  He weeps for the loss to Mary and Martha His friends.  He weeps for what death has stolen, His own friend as well as a brother to a family in grief.  He weeps for all that death has stolen from all humanity even though death came into the world by the will of man.  He weeps for all the future that death has taken and for the marks of death in the lifeless flesh and the broken hearts we all know.  Jesus weeps like we weep when death takes from us those whom we love.  It is a rude and unfeeling person and God who would tell us ‘don’t be sad.”  But God refuses to allow us the hopeless grief that is only loss.  Jesus weeps even as He knows He will call Lazarus from the grave to live so that He might enter that grave to die for Lazarus, Mary, Martha, you, me, and all sinners.

Lazarus will live again.  Jesus will join back together the soul to the body and give that body the life that sin had taken away.  Jesus will cast off the clothing of death and the tears of grief of Lazarus and his family.  Jesus will roll the stone away and empty the grave.  Though everyone will rejoice, it does not mean Lazarus will never have to go through this again.  He will rise to live again the old life that is still in the shadow of death and the grave.  Lazarus empties one grave so that Jesus might enter the grave in which death itself will die and tears of grief will forever be transformed.

The next time Lazarus dies, Jesus will not restore his old life to him but will give him the new and everlasting life that proceeds from His own time spent in the cold darkness of death and His own mighty resurrection to empty death of its power once for all.  For that to happen, Jesus must die.  Indeed, this miracle is not merely some sympathetic act for the sake a family with whom Jesus was friendly.  This will become the reason why Jesus dies.  For while Mary and Martha and the disciples are rejoicing that Lazarus is back, the Pharisees and chief priests and the Sanhedrin are meeting to figure out what to do about Jesus.  They have decided that it is expedient that one man die for the many.  It will be an act to solve all their problems and in this Satan is an accomplice, almost giddy at the delight of seeing the Jesus who raises the dead killed and put into his own grave.

In this, the enemies of Jesus are correct.  If they let Jesus go on like this, everyone will believe in Him and the Romans will come and take everything we know away.
But they are wrong.  Putting Jesus in the grave where Lazarus had been will not end what God is doing nor will it relieve the religious leaders of the Jesus’ problem and keep things as they are.  Lazarus returned from death still subject to death but when Jesus rises from the dead, Lazarus and the whole world meets Him who has power to end the reign of death once for all, for you and me and for all sinners.  

Do we weep still?  Of course we do.  Like Jesus we know that those who die in the Lord live and wait for us to be with us together in God’s presence forevermore.  But death is still hard and its pain overwhelming.  Even for those who know that Christ is raised and that we shall be raised with Him.  But we do not weep as a people without hope, without an end to the tears, and without the beginning of joy everlasting.  In our sorrows we cannot forget that the devil will not have the last laugh, that Satan’s plot has been undone, and that the grave will not win – not for Lazarus and not for your loved ones who die in Christ and not for you who live in Christ.

Do you believe this?  Mary and Martha wept honest tears of sorrow over their brother’s death.  Jesus was calling them to look past the tears and the pain and the loss and to see the day when Jesus would enter where Lazarus had been, to trust that His death ends death and His resurrection opens the door of death so that it no longer ends our lives but begins our eternal lives.  Jesus was calling them to take their vision of death and replace it with the vision of Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life.  This is not simply about a healing that could have taken place but a death that would marshal the enemies of Jesus to their plans to put Jesus to death and about His own life which would end the reign of God once for all.

The devil put all his resources in arranging for Jesus’ death.  He laughed when Lazarus walked out because he knew he would put Jesus where Lazarus had been. But the devil has nothing left to laugh about.  He has nothing left to use against you.  Your sins have been forgiven by the blood of Christ.  You were lost but have been found by God’s grace and all the prodigals are welcomed into the arms of the waiting Father. You who had no name are named in Christ in baptism to belong to the Lord and you have been moved from the lower seats to the places of honor at His banquet table here in Holy Communion and there in the Marriage Feast of the Lamb without end.  That devil invested everything in death and now he has nothing left.  The sin that caused death has been forgiven.  The pain of death has been answered by the resurrection.  That is our comfort and our peace.

My friends, I cannot tell you not to weep when death comes near.  To do so would  contradict Jesus Himself.  But I can tell you this.  Do not grieve as a people without hope.  Do not grieve as those who surrender to death.  Lazarus walked out of that grave so that Jesus might walk in.  But just as the stone was rolled away for Lazarus, the stone was rolled away for Christ.  He rises not simply to console us in our sorrows but so that through Him we might be reunited with those who have gone before and rest in Christ and be joined to the Father and the Spirit in Christ forevermore.  This is no consolation prize to make up for what death has stolen, this is the end to death forevermore.

In a couple of weeks we will celebrate not the return of the dead Christ to the old life still lived in the shadow of death but the resurrection of Him who died that death might die.  In that respect, this news is not a seasonal greeting which we share but the constant confession we repeat for every Lazarus among us who dies and for every eye filled with tears and for every heart stung by grief.  Jesus knew that when He raised Lazarus, it would seal the deal for His own death upon the cross.  Yet this He is willing to do out of love for you and me and all those who, like Lazarus, are laid in the grave.  Do you believe this?  Death is always a test of our hope and the crucible on which the genuineness of our faith is revealed.  Thanks be to God who gave Lazarus the victory and gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Truly He is the resurrection and the life.  In the Holy Name of Jesus.  Amen.

1 comment:

gamarquart said...

Dear Pastor Peters: I have not met anyone who agrees with my view of the resurrection of Lazarus. Nevertheless, because truth is not a matter of majority vote, neither have I met anyone who can disprove my view based on Scripture.
Our Lord did not weep for what death had stolen. When the child of God does what we call “die”, nothing is stolen from it. Rather, it receives the inheritance, which it became entitled to, when our Lord died. Our entire faith points us to the future, when we will spend eternity in Paradise with our Lord.
This is what we are taught from the very beginning, when we learn about our faith. This is what Lazarus knew, and all of the people who mourned him knew. This is what we know and confess, until a person dies, and then we mourn because “death had stolen something.” Even His best friends could not believe that where Lazarus was after he “died”, was the greatest gift our Lord would earn for him with his life and suffering and death.
Our Lord was angry, He did not mourn. What is translated as “greatly disturbed in spirit”, literally refers to the “angry snorting of a horse.” Our Lord was angry; because all of the people, even His best friends, did not want the most precious gift our Lord offered them, the gift for which He would undergo mind bending pain. They preferred that their brother should return to this vale of tears.
He wept, because of this. He knew that in order to prove His words, John 11:25, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in Me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die”, He would resurrect His friend Lazarus, even though that was a burden and a cross for Lazarus, and no reason for rejoicing.
Did our Lord want His Disciples to weep and mourn when He died? No, this is what He said in the night before His death: John 14:28, “If you loved Me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father …” Yes, the Gospel turns our world upside down. When we rejoice in this world, our Lord weeps, and when our Lord rejoices, we weep. Mea maxima culpa.
1 Corinthians 15, “54But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory. 55“O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?” 56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; 57but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
What we call mourning is actually feeling sorry for ourselves. We weep because of our feeling of loss, and that is understandable. Nevertheless, it is a selfish act, because there is no cause for mourning a Christian who has “fallen asleep.” That person is in everlasting bliss and happiness. Do we really want to take that from him?
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart