For God's Glory
Fifth Sunday of Lent
John 11 1-45
In Lent sermons we have three events from John’s Gospel. Nicodemus was in the dark when he came to Jesus, the Light of the World; The Samaritan woman at the well thirsted for life and in Jesus she found Living Water; Now we have Lazarus, a friend of Jesus, he couldn’t go to Jesus like the others because he is dead, instead Jesus comes to him the Resurrection and the Life.
Jesus is beside the river Jordan, teaching and caring for people when a messenger arrives from Martha and Mary it simply says “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” There is no request for him to come because they knew he would come.
After hearing the news of his friend’s grave illness, Jesus does something rather puzzling. He does nothing. He delays going to Lazarus’ side for two days, despite the fact that, as the text tells us, he loves both Lazarus and his two sisters. Jesus delays, and he gives a reason for delay that is troubling. He says, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, and Jesus is going to reveal his glory. But this glory comes at a cost of one dead brother and two sisters who mourn and suffer terrible grief, not only at the loss of their brother, but at the failure of Jesus to act in time to save him. When they arrive at the outskirts of Bethany, Lazarus has already been in the tomb for four days and the sisters are distraught. Their reaction to Jesus when he arrives is anger. Where were you when we needed you? If you had been here Lazarus would not have died. You were not here.
If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that there are times when we feel this way about God. When things go terribly, horribly wrong, especially in moments of crisis as we have now in the midst of a pandemic virus and all of the knock-on effects from it. Other bad and upsetting things are of course still happening - a marriage fails, a grave illness is diagnosed, children go off the rails, you find yourself in debt. These and other difficulties make the lesser traumas pale into insignificance someone—maybe a friend, maybe the vicar , maybe a member of the church, disappoints us or hurts us. In these and all manner of difficult situations we find ourselves in - we wonder and ask ‘where is God in all of this is’?
We struggle to make sense of loss and disappointment. Sometimes we are not able to make sense of it for a very long time. We grieve our losses. And why shouldn’t that be the case? Isn’t grief about love, after all? Surely it is natural for us to wonder why? Even to say to God, “You didn’t get here in time”?
But of course there is an answer, we are bound up in time, but God is timeless. Peter reminds the congregation: ‘But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.’
It becomes clear as John’s story unfolds, that Jesus is operating very much in God’s time. It becomes clear that the story of the death of Lazarus, painful as it is for his sisters, even for Jesus, is a part of God’s story, and Jesus’ story. And so we come back to the story, and Jesus arrives at the tomb, here we have the shortest verse in the Bible. ‘Jesus wept.’ This story is about Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, the Anointed One of God, yet here we see Jesus at the point of utmost humanity – a grown man weeping in public. I suspect most of us are comfortable with one Jesus or the other: the human or the divine. It is very hard to get our minds around this notion of Jesus being fully human and fully divine. To say that Jesus is fully divine, that he is of the same substance as God is to say something that many people are not prepared to accept.
For some of us, it may be more helpful to take our cues from Martha, she is the one who challenges Jesus. When Jesus arrives, her first words ring out as an accusation against him.
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” You’re late, Martha says, but then she adds, “But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”
Jesus replied “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?”
Imagine being in Martha’s shoes. She is talking with her good friend Jesus, and suddenly she is confronted with a statement that must have seemed bizarre. “I am the resurrection and the life. Do you believe this?”
More to the point - Do we believe this?
Do we believe that Jesus had and has the power to change our experience of life and death forever? Do we believe that faith in Jesus means that we don’t have to be afraid of death ever again, and that the quality of our lives can be transformed into something called ‘eternal life’? That is the foundation of our Christian Faith, or it should be.
Martha answers Jesus, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah”
What she is really saying is I trust in you. I may not know what you’re about letting my brother die, but I trust you completely.”
And our response - I trust you, Jesus, even though I am frightened of this virus, my business in failing, I am falling into debt, my children are hungry, and relationships are falling apart. I trust you, Jesus, even though this illness keeps returning. I trust you, Jesus, even though I don’t know how I’m going to pay the rent this month. I trust you Jesus even when I am lonely and afraid of the future. I trust you because I can do no other and because I believe you hold me in love through all of this.
There is one very puzzling part to this story. Why did Jesus wait for three days before coming to Lazarus? He was his friend and he was ill? Martha and Mary were his friends and they were desperate, yet Jesus waited.
I think it is significant that he waited three days. It was the final sign. Jesus had spent the last three years telling his disciples in a variety of different ways, who he was, and that he was to die and in three days God would raise him from the dead.
They had not taken any of this in so this is the last chance. Listen to the echoes of Jesus’ death and resurrection in this account.
We are told that the tomb Lazarus was in was a cave and that there was a stone against it. ECHO of the tomb Jesus would soon be in. Jewish belief held that the soul left the body after three days, just in case they were wondering if Lazarus was really is dead, Jesus waits until he has been in the tomb four days and he has begun to decay, he is going to smell.
How is Lazarus raised? By hearing Jesus. Lazarus hears his name being called. ‘Lazarus come forth. ’ He recognizes the voice of the Jesus and the dead man comes out, If Jesus can call the dead Lazarus out – surely God will call the dead Jesus out. Jesus will hear the Father call him and He will come out. The ECHO of the resurrection to come.
When we think of the resurrection we often focus on the hope for ourselves as a distant promise, our guarantee of salvation, our eternal life with God and Jesus in heaven, which is wonderful and certainly not wrong. But, Jesus is the resurrection and the life. That means when we believe in Jesus we are raised to life everlasting, not in the future, but to life everlasting right now, right here. It is not just the death of Jesus but the resurrected life of Jesus that brings salvation. For the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
The raising of Lazarus is a wonderful story, and we are reminded that he was raised to die again one day, but that is not the most important point.
Now more than ever is the time to trust in Jesus whose timing is always right, who weeps with us when we are weeping. Trust in Jesus who is alongside us, with us, and in us. Here with us this morning. Trust in Jesus who died, heard the voice of God and was raised again. It is good to stop and take a look at our faith. Who do I trust? What do I believe? As we read this, let it be with renewed faith and trust in God, as we receive his life in us by faith. It is the greatest miracle, it is a thing most wonderful.
Thanks be to God.