Sunday, November 08, 2015
Sermon: John 11: 1-44 Resurrection and Life
On this Remembrance Sunday, we honour those who served and gave their lives for the cause of peace and freedom. It is estimated that 17 million people lost their lives in WW1, and around 60 million died through WW2. Yet we also remember those who have died since, through war and terrorism. The sheer scale of loss is unimaginable, yet behind those numbers lie the human stories - sons, husbands, fathers, daughters, wives, mothers, sisters and brothers.
Each death brings the pain of loss, the weight of sorrow, the sense of hopelessness in the face of death. And sometimes, death can even bring out some questions about God. Does he really love us - and if he does, why did he let this happen? Does he not care? Why did he not do something to prevent it?
Those are the questions that were spoken around the village of Bethany in our Bible reading. Does God love? Does God care? Is God powerless to help? The chapter opens with an ill man. Lazarus is ill, near death, and so his sisters send an urgent message to Jesus. ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’ They remind Jesus that he loves Lazarus, and urge him to come. We’re told in verse 5 that Jesus loves the family, but his love leads him to do something very strange. Look at it with me. ‘Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.’
It’s because Jesus loves that he waits where he is. It doesn’t sound like the loving thing to do. Imagine the sisters, frantically watching Lazarus get sicker and still no sign of Jesus. Where is he? Why has he not come? Does he not love us? Jesus loves them, and he allows them to go through the grief, the sorrow, the heartbrokenness, the sadness - because through their pain, they will see God’s glory all the more. Does Jesus love us? Yes - even though we might not think it.
But does he really care? Jesus had waited two days, then travelled to Bethany, and by the time he arrives, Lazarus has been dead four days. His funeral has finished, and the days of mourning are in full swing. And did you notice that both Martha and Mary said the very same thing to Jesus when he arrived? Verse 21 and 32. ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ You could have helped, but you dillydallied. Don’t you care?
In verse 33, we see the care and compassion of Jesus up close and personal. When he sees Mary weeping, and the crowd weeping, then he is deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. So much so that we get the shortest verse in the whole Bible - John 11:35 ‘Jesus wept.’
Even though Jesus knows what he’s about to do, he cares for those in need. He is troubled by the things that trouble us. Some of the people watching recognise that care: ‘See how he loved him.’ Yet other people bring up the last of our questions - he might love us and he might care for us, but is he powerless to help?
Verse 37: ‘But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?’ Throughout the autumn we’ve been working through John’s Gospel, seeing the amazing things Jesus did, watching as he met with people and brought about change. He made water out of wine; made the lame walk; healed the official’s son by his word 25 miles away; and even made a blind man see (as we’ll see in two week’s time). Was Jesus powerless to help in this instance?
It’s the same question the two sisters asked. Don’t you care, can’t you help? Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. Do you see what they’re saying? Before Lazarus died, you could have helped him, but you’re too late now.
He might have been able to stop Lazarus from dying, but is Jesus powerless against death itself? Can he give us sympathy but that’s about it? Is he all right to tackle some things, but others are too much even for him?
We’ve looked at how Jesus answered Mary, with compassion, his tears flowing with hers. But it’s with Martha that Jesus shows that he is the answer to the power of death. You see, Martha went a wee bit farther than Mary. She says the same, but then she goes on to say: ‘But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.’ Along with the accusation comes a little bit of faith, a mustard seed.
Jesus tells her that her brother will rise again. So she jumps on the Jewish hope of resurrection on the last day. She looks ahead to the end of time, to an event away in the future. It’s what the Jews believed, and it’s what we have affirmed as well - that on the last day there will be the resurrection of the body, the judgement, and eternal life.
But look at what Jesus says. She sees resurrection away in the future. Jesus says: ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.’
Jesus is saying that he gives life, new life, resurrection life in the here and now. To receive Jesus is to receive life, and to have to promise of life eternal. Everyone thought that Jesus was powerless to help, but Jesus says that he has overcome the power of death, and he spells out what it means for all who believe in him. Even though he dies, yet shall he live. Death will come, but it does not have the final say; it is not the last word. Jesus brings resurrection, being raised in a new and perfect body, because he himself would rise from death.
But it’s one thing to say it. It’s another thing to demonstrate it. When Jesus gets to the tomb in verse 38, he tells them to roll the stone away. Practical Martha steps in - ‘Lord, by this time there will be an odour, for he has been dead four days.’ But look at how Jesus replies. It’s all about faith: ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?’
The stone is rolled away. Jesus shouts with a loud voice ‘Lazarus, come out’, and (to make absolutely clear) John tells us ‘The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth.’ This was a dead man walking. Jesus has the power over death because he is the resurrection and the life.
When we’re faced with death, it brings all sorts of questions. Does God love me? Does God care? Is God powerless to help? The answer to each comes in the Lord Jesus, because he has demonstrated his love, his care and his power by surrendering to death, the death of the cross, dying for our sins, to bring us to God; and by rising from death, the firstfruits of resurrection life, to never die again.
Lazarus came out of the tomb that day, but Lazarus would one day die. Indeed, the chief priests plotted to kill Lazarus (12:10) because of his witness to Jesus’ power. But Jesus will never die. As he says in Rev 1:19 ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.’ Jesus loves you. Jesus cares for you. And Jesus has power over death. Will you trust with your death, as well as your life? Jesus says: ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’
This sermon was preached on Remembrance Sunday 8th November 2015 in Aghavea Parish Church.