(sermon note: 03-06 sermon note)
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’ But when Jesus heard it, he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
Then after this he said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?’ Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.’ After saying this, he told them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be alright.’ Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’ Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow-disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’
When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘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. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.’
When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, ‘The Teacher is here and is calling for you.’ And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’
Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about three friends who died in a car accident. They were gathered into an orientation meeting shortly after arriving in heaven. An angel approached them and asked, “So when your friends and family are mourning you at your funeral and they pass by your open casket, what would you like to hear them say about you?” The first guy responded, “I’d like them to say that I was a great doctor and a loving, family man.” The second guy then said, “I’d like them to say that I was a caring husband and a schoolteacher who made a huge difference to kids.” After pondering the question for a while, the third guy finally piped up, “I’d like them to say—LOOK, he’s moving!”
When it comes down to those final days, I imagine a lot of us would wish for a little more time in this world. I know those final days can be difficult for so many of us who have already endured long, unending suffering. Death comes as a welcome relief to all the agonizing pain and suffering. No way would you want to return to it if given heavenly bliss. But there are also many whose lives were tragically cut short. Many don’t get done all that they had hoped to get done in the time they were allotted. If only they were given more time, they’d gladly take it. Sometimes I wonder if those who endured agonizing pain in their final days were given relief from it without having to die to receive it, then they, too, would prefer to stay in this world longer as well. This world and all that’s in it can be awfully delightful at times! This world isn’t meant to be hell despite how we might perceive it as such. This world is indifferent to us. It is how God created it to be, filled with both joy and suffering, gladness and sorrow. It’s up to us how we want to perceive it. If we only see the suffering of the world, then we will only dwell in suffering. But if we choose to look at the joy of the world instead, then we will most certainly live in nothing but joy. Even in suffering there is joy to be found so it’s all just a matter of perception and awareness. We create the world that we perceive…
Oooph, that’s one way to get this reflection on Jesus’ raising of Lazarus going! Maybe I jumped into the deep end a little too early this morning. But it’s an interesting reading to start our journey through this season of Lent. It is a season meant to prepare us for the death and resurrection of our Lord. What better way to do that than to first look at the death and resurrection of Lazarus! Of course, we then can’t help but ask the question, “So why is Jesus’ resurrection all that special?! It wasn’t the first (or only!) resurrection to happen in scripture!” And it’s true, Lazarus’ resurrection preceded Jesus’ resurrection but the power behind and purpose of each resurrection is the same. Jesus is the source of life in both resurrections, instilling life in both Lazarus and himself. And for what purpose? To show his love for Lazarus and those who loved him and to show his love for all of us. Jesus died and rose again as a great act of love for all people, not just a select few. Yes, it’s odd that there are two resurrections in scripture but they’re both rooted and purposed in Jesus. Jesus’ resurrection simply revealed the full magnitude of his love for the world.
Jesus loves the world and everyone in it. His own death and resurrection revealed this to us most clearly. But making such a blanket statement can inadvertently minimize his love. How can anyone actually love everyone?! It’s hard enough to love the few people God blesses us with in a lifetime as it is! The only possible way he can do it is by giving each of us just a tiny fraction of his love. He’s got a lot of people to love, over 7 billion and counting…surely each of us can only expect just a small portion of his love. Well, guess what?! That’s not how Jesus works! No, Jesus loves each of us exactly the same: with ALL his love! How? His love simply grows as our numbers grow. And isn’t unable to show all his love to each of us. This encounter with Lazarus proves this to us. Just as he singled out the blind man last week, Jesus singled out the dying Lazarus to reveal his resurrecting power. Yes, Lazarus was a man whom Jesus knew and loved already. That’s what gets Mary and Martha so upset: “How could you let someone you love die, Jesus?!” Well, perhaps because he saved his mighty resurrecting power for only the one he loved. And to his credit, Jesus wept over the death of his friend. Jesus didn’t enjoy staying back and allowing his friend to die. No, Jesus was deeply saddened that Lazarus had to die in order for his resurrecting power to be revealed. He was just as saddened at his own death: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)
Jesus loved Lazarus with ALL his love. He cried, “Lazarus, come out!” Lazarus had died and was buried and yet Jesus instilled his life and love in him. There are times in life when any of us can seem to die. We can get embroiled in addiction, get caught up in grief and sorrow, get bogged down with depression. We may not be physically dead but certainly mentally or spiritually dead to the world. And Jesus can see it. Jesus knows when we’re mentally or spiritually checking out of our lives and the world around us. Jesus knows and cries, “Come out!” “Come out!” “For the love of God, just come out!” And with a little trust and faith, we, too, can out of that tomb, strips of cloth dangling from our arms and legs…the walking dead! Why? Because Jesus loves each of us! Jesus loves all of us but more importantly he loves each of us! What an important distinction to make…again, it’s all how you perceive life and this world.
The wisdom of scripture further reiterates this hope found in the love of Jesus. Proverbs says, “Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off.” (23:18) There is life after death, Lazarus’ resurrection reveals this to us. We can rejoice in this! We can sing with David in his 71st psalm, “but I will hope continually, and will praise you yet more and more.” (vs. 14) Friends, never give up your hope! Even in death there is hope and joy. Nothing is lost in death, only changed. Jesus calls each of us out of death into new life in him. The prophet Micah writes, “but as for me, I will look to the Lord, I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.” (7:7) He most certainly hears us and calls us from our graves: “Come out!” Let us rejoice and give thanks for his resurrecting power. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.