Christ Jesus calls you from death to Life
John 11:17-27, 38-45 (Ezekiel 37:1-14, Romans 8:1-11)
Lent 5 – Series A
John 11:17-27, 38-45 (ESV)
17Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, 19and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. 21Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
38Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
45Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him.
Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Never one to waste an opportunity, the devil is rubbing his hands in glee. COVID-19 is sweeping the world and God seems to be AWOL. Why doesn’t He top the virus? Why are so many people dying from it? Where’s His love? Where’s His mercy? He must not exist after all. The atheists were right all along. And so, we are tempted to use this time of isolation and social distancing to isolate and distance ourselves even further from God. To believe that He doesn’t care, or that He doesn’t exist. And it is easy to succumb. It is especially hard to make God and His church a priority when stay at home orders are in place throughout much of the country while the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature spends a lot of energy questioning the value of God, dismissing Him as irrelevant, claiming He is a myth, or even a dangerous way of thinking.
The temptation to question and dismiss God is nothing new. It’s been happening since Eve first questioned and then dismissed Him in the Garden of Eden, and has continued on ever since. Thanks for the wonderful inheritance Father Adam and Mother Eve. Thanks for the inheritance of sin that leads to death and decay. And yes, the sarcasm is intended to be thick in these thanks.
It is into a situation of death and decay, a situation of questioning God and perhaps even the temptation to dismiss Him that Jesus is in in today’s Gospel reading. Lazarus is dead. His sisters are burdened greatly with grief, and their friends and neighbors as well. Now, keep in mind why Lazarus was dead. And I’m not simply talking about the wages of sin here. He is dead because he had fallen ill and his life slowly drained away. Similar to what COVID-19 has done for some 29,000 people throughout the world so far. And it was slowly because there was more than enough time for Mary and Martha to send a message to Jesus, begging Him to come and heal their brother, and Jesus’ friend. Jesus received this message well before Lazarus died. In fact John makes it clear that Jesus intentionally delayed two days before starting out to Bethany, where Lazarus lived. A delay that could be taken as the reason Lazarus died. A delay that brings up many questions. Why didn’t He heal Lazarus from a distance like He did with the centurion’s daughter? Does Jesus care? Is He perhaps not as powerful as He says, unable to heal all diseases, so He delayed to keep people from seeing this? Is Jesus really worth following and trusting if He won’t or can’t help out in the time of greatest need?
I suspect that was all behind Martha’s statement which was actually more of an accusation and question rolled into one. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Yet even now, with all the questions and grief weighing her down, or perhaps because of her questions and grief giving her nowhere else to turn, she still has faith in Jesus, no matter how small. “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” After all, her life had been turned upside down. Her brother was dead. Her life would be very difficult now without a male in the household, that’s just a fact of society at the time. And worse, the one she thought she could count on, the one who she relied on to give her an inside track to the Lord God Almighty, well, He also appeared to fail her. But she also trusted Jesus enough to not give up yet.
“Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Well of course he will Jesus. Lazarus and all who follow God will be raised up on the last day. And yes, that is a great comfort, knowing death is not permanent, but only a passing from this life of sin and grief to life eternal in heaven for all who follow God. But in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t help all that much right now. What will she do today, tomorrow, next week? “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
So Jesus makes it plain, just as he had to do for the disciples earlier in the chapter when he said that Lazarus was dead. “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.” What powerful Words these are. What comfort they are. What mind twisting, say again, Words they are. For they are hard to wrap your head around. They are hard to understand. How can a man be the resurrection and life? How can a man be the only way to the God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth? Especially when this man seemingly failed to act to prevent the death of Lazarus? It is hard to logic out and understand isn’t it? But fortunately, salvation and forgiveness don’t rely on our ability to understand and rationalize. They only rely on the One who gives them and the faith that He gives to believe what He is giving.
Thus Jesus asks Martha, “Do you believe this?” And this is really the same question that was asked of all of you who have been confirmed. “Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death? Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?” To which we respond the only way we can, “I do, by the grace of God.” Martha used different words to say the same thing, “She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
Remember those questions that the world throws out, that we also have? Does Jesus care? Is Jesus really worth following and trusting if He won’t or can’t help out in the time of greatest need? Is he relevant? Is he real? Well by God’s grace they are answered here. “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world” And that simple statement is the foundation of all that we believe and trust in Jesus for. Christ is the one whom God promised to Eve when cursing Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed. He shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel.” This same promise was repeated and made clearer and clearer until the day it was fulfilled. A day that we will be celebrating in two weeks, just not in our usual way this year. The day on which the Lord Jesus went to the cross, not for anything that He had done, but because of Who He is, the Christ, the Son of God in human flesh. The One who willingly took our sin and the wages that it earns unto Himself so that He could pay the price in full. And pay he did, suffering on the cross, enduring the full wrath of God the Father, experiencing the pain of hell, the separation from God and all that is good, kind, and loving. This Jesus did for you, so that you never have to. Instead, Jesus sees to it that you are able to go from this life, to life eternal with Him in heaven. If that doesn’t make Jesus relevant I don’t know what does. If that doesn’t show the love and care of Jesus, I don’t know what will.
Now, we could end right here and take comfort in what our Lord Jesus has said, repeating the confession of faith that Martha said. It would be a fine ending to this narrative. But our Lord Jesus is not content with just a fine ending. He gives us so much more. You see, His delay in coming to Bethany, was to help everyone see the truth of who He is. His delay that allowed Lazarus to die was part of His plan to strengthen faith in those who He has called to be His own. It was to help us see that even when we can’t understand how or why, Jesus is always with us, even in our time of greatest suffering and turmoil. He will never let you go.
As the Bible continues, “Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” And after some debate as to whether the human nose could handle the smell of the decomposition that surely had occurred, they did as Jesus said. Then “Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” And what happened? Well, it wouldn’t be much of a miracle if Lazarus stayed dead in his tomb, would it? “The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
“Lazarus, come out. Unbind him, and let him go.” These same Words have been spoken to you as well. From the death of sin Jesus calls your name, come out. And to the church He says, unbind him or her and let them go. These words are spoken to you in Holy Baptism, where you were first washed clean and made alive in Christ. They are spoken again and confirmed at conformation, when Jesus asks, “Do you believe this?” Do you believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life? And those aren’t the only time you hear them. For every time you hear Christ’s absolution, His declaration that all of your sins are forgiven, he is calling you to come out from sin and death into His forgiveness and life. And in a few minutes you will hear Jesus calling you again, as He invites you to His own table to partake of the sacrifice that He made for you, giving you His own broken body and shed blood that you may know all your sins are forgiven, and that your faith may be strengthened even further in Him.
In this Lenten season I urge all of you to remember the promise that you made before the Lord as you were confirmed. I urge you to remember the Lord Jesus and all that He has done for you. I urge you to take the time to listen to the voice of Jesus as He comes to you asking, “Do you believe this?” responding as Martha did “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God” For this is the truth, no matter what the world tries to say, Jesus is the Son of God crucified and resurrected for your salvation. Amen.