Ezekiel 37:1-4; John 11:1-45

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2He led me all round them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3He said to me, ‘Mortal, can these bones live?’ I answered, ‘O Lord God, you know.’ 4Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.’


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 all right.’ 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.’

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

And so we close out this Lenten sermon series with a powerful account of Jesus raising his dear friend from the dead and instilling new life within him. Jesus’ commanding words, “Lazarus, come out!” certainly echo the words spoken to the prophet, Ezekiel, in our first readings: “O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.” In both instances, God infuses life into the dead, something that only God has the power to do. Even in the most miraculous accounts of science and medicine reviving a presumably dead person, the person hadn’t been dead for very long. Life wasn’t completely gone from the person the way it would be after 4 days of being dead. Bones themselves can’t live outside of the body. It’s the blood and tissues that give them life within the body. And no living thing can just spontaneously live after 4 days of being dead. Life just can’t exist in both situations. And yet God somehow finds a way! Life is restored, new life.  So what does this have to do with our call to give up our lives?

On the one hand, it’s an unavoidable call. We all give up our lives whether we want to or not. We all die! Perhaps the calling has more to do with to what or to whom we give up our lives. What are we dedicating our lives to? Our families? Our careers? Our hobbies? Our passions? To what or to whom have we given up our lives? We all have been blessed with free will despite whatever obligations or restrictions life may impose on us. We can all choose how we run the race set before us. God gives each of us this gift and we each get to choose what we’re going to do with it. Some of us squander it away unwisely while others maximize it to benefit many other people. To what or to whom are we giving up our lives? To ourselves and our own selfish pleasures or to others and their needs?

Regardless of what we dedicate our lives to, perhaps we ought to consider dedicating our lives to following Christ. Perhaps we ought to consider giving our lives to Christ. After all, he does offer ETERNAL life in exchange! “Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Not a small exchange for belief, eternal life. And not just eternal life in this world but rather eternal life with God. To be in God’s loving embrace for all of eternity is not a small gift! When I hear Jesus say, “believe in me,” I hear him telling us to give up everything we’ve discussed in this sermon series. When we believe in him, we naturally give up control and expectations and superiority and enemies. When we believe in him, we entrust our lives with him. We trust that he will love us and support us and encourage us and guide us. He will reign over us as our one, true Lord and Savior.

Jesus gives us eternal life in exchange for our belief and trust. It is a new life, an impossible life, much the same as the new life in the dry bones and the dead man. When we give up our lives to Jesus, we receive not only eternal life but impossibly new life in this world. We no longer live as slaves to sin. We no longer live in fear of death. We are made alive, truly alive, in Christ! It matters to what and to whom we give up our lives. Is there anything remotely as satisfying as being freed from the bonds of sin and death? I can’t think of anything that comes even close! What a gift to be given the opportunity to give up our lives to Christ! Friends, please consider giving up your life to Christ. Please consider believing and trusting in Christ. There is no greater joy than that found in following Christ! Let us give thanks for his love and wisdom. Thanks be to God!

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.