April 6, 2014
Whatcha Talkin’ Bout Jesus? May you have grace, mercy, and peace in the name of our Triune God, Amen. During these Sundays in Lent we have spent time looking at some of the most memorable events and characters of the Bible. We have looked at Nicodemus, the woman of Samaria, and the man born […]
Whatcha Talkin’ Bout Jesus?
May you have grace, mercy, and peace in the name of our Triune God, Amen. During these Sundays in Lent we have spent time looking at some of the most memorable events and characters of the Bible. We have looked at Nicodemus, the woman of Samaria, and the man born blind. This week we look at one of the most familiar stories in the entire Bible, the story of the raising of Lazarus. Almost anyone who is only faintly acquainted with the Bible has heard of how Jesus raised Lazarus from the grave. The scripture from the Book of John, chapter 11 is a long one. But rather than going through the story in the chapter from top to bottom, I have chosen to isolate some outstanding lessons from it which can be of benefit to all of us no matter what our situations may be.
The first lesson is this: the delay of deliverance is not the denial of deliverance. We notice something unusual in the first part of this chapter. Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was sick. Evidently his illness was serious. No doubt the sisters believed that when Jesus heard the news of their brother’s illness he would immediately come to their aid and possibly heal Lazarus. They were issuing a cry for deliverance.
When a loved one is sick we send out the news in the hope that someone will come to attend to us in our need. The natural reaction when we hear that relatives or dear friends are sick is to rush to their side to see what we can do for them. We would expect Jesus to come immediately to assist his dear friends, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. But Jesus does just the opposite.
One of the most amazing verses in the Bible is verse 6, which says that when Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick he spent two days longer in the same place where he was. Imagine that! He deliberately waited for two more days before he came to them. But when he got there we know the results of his coming. His delay in answering their call did not mean a denial of their call. Jesus came late but he was still on time. God always has our best interests at heart, but God acts according to God’s own agenda and timetable, not ours. Jesus has a purpose in waiting to come to Bethany and to Mary and Martha.
In fact we are told in verse 4 why he delayed coming. It was so that God would be honored and glorified through it. Martha sort of scolded Jesus when she saw him by saying, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” There is something within us that wants to tell God what to do. Mary and Martha looked for a healing of their brother, but Jesus had in mind something different, a resurrection of their brother. God would receive greater glory from a rising from the dead than by a healing of the sick. God acts from God’s sovereign perspective. In most cases we don’t know the purpose of God.
In this setting we see why Jesus delayed his coming. But most of the time in our lives when Jesus seems to delay his coming to our rescue, we don’t know the reason for the delay. We get impatient and wonder why God doesn’t do something about our situation. But a delay does not mean a denial. God uses God’s divine prerogative as to when to make a move on our behalf. God always shows up at the right time.
Of course we’re using the term show up, or comes, in a figurative sense, since God doesn’t have to show up since God is always with us. But God makes a move at the right time. God may seem to be late, but God is always right on time. God doesn’t act on our timetable, but God’s. God doesn’t act on our terms, but on God’s terms. God knows what God is doing. God moves in mysterious ways God’s wonders to perform. God’s ways are past finding out. God will bring deliverance. God’s answer may be not now but God does answer. The hardest thing we have to do is to wait on God for our change to come. We have to realize that a delay is not a denial. God always comes to deliver us in God’s own way and time. Whenever God chooses to deliver us we are blessed by that deliverance.
Martha reflects this attitude when she says that even though her brother might not have died if Jesus had been there, she knows that whatever Jesus requests from God will be granted. Jesus may have been late coming to her, but he has a blessing for her anyhow. She wished Jesus had been there earlier, but now that he is here she believes everything will be all right. She has confidence that Jesus will meet her needs in her situation. We must believe and trust that God is in our situations of life. No matter how long our troubles might last, no matter how long we have prayed for deliverance, we must continue to hold on and trust God anyhow. Have you ever asked God for something that was denied? But God gave you something better than what you asked for. God does exceedingly abundantly above all we can ask or think. We ask something from God and God surprises us and gives us more than what we asked for. God is full of surprises. You can’t figure God out so we might as well trust God in all situations of life. One of the best lessons we can learn from the Lazarus story is that delay does not mean denial. God will come in God’s own time and in God’s own way.
The second lesson from Lazarus is this: the display of grief is not the despair of grief. The shortest verse in the Bible says that Jesus wept. That may not only be the shortest verse in the Bible, but it may be one of the greatest. Jesus wept. Jesus displays sorrow. Some say that Jesus wept because in keeping with a couple of verses earlier he seems to be disturbed, perhaps over the people’s lack of trust and dependence on him in time of trouble. But I disagree with that interpretation.
I believe Jesus shed real tears. Jesus experienced real sorrow. This says to me that Jesus knows and understands what we are going through. Jesus weeps when we weep. Jesus does not stand detached from the human experience and separated from our dimensions of feelings. He understands and cares. How much more could he express the fact that he cares than by weeping with us?
Jesus knows all about our troubles. He has been where we are. He has experienced what we experience. He not only came to save us from our sins, he went through it all. He suffered as we suffer. He was bruised as we are bruised. He was hurt as we are hurt. He was weary as we are weary. He was forsaken as we are forsaken. He was ridiculed as we are ridiculed. He wept as we weep. Yes friends, Jesus wept.
There is something therapeutic about weeping with others. Have you ever walked almost literally in the footsteps of others that you could weep with them? When I did my Clinical Pastoral Education at Lancaster General Hospital we were taught to be objective as we ministered to people in their distressful situations. We were not to get too emotionally involved. We were to maintain some objectivity. We were not to drag our own emotional baggage into their situation. That may be true to a certain extent. But sometimes I believe you must get as close to people as you can so that you can almost feel what they are feeling. Sometimes you may weep with them.
I remember when I was doing chaplaincy work at Dover AFB’s Port Mortuary comforting parents whose sons or daughters were killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, I would get so emotionally involved with them that I sometimes I would weep with them in their grief. I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing. For my part I am glad this verse is in the Bible. Jesus wept. It means when we are weeping Jesus is also weeping. He understands our situation so completely that he experiences the same things we experience. Jesus can put himself in our situation. God can put himself in our shoes. God really does understand and God weeps with us. We can’t put ourselves in another person’s situation. We may even weep with them but we can’t really experience what they are experiencing. Only God really understands what we are going through.
But the display of grief does not mean the despair of grief. Paul says we weep and grieve but not as those who have no hope. Some have asked why did Jesus weep when he knew that in a few minutes he would raise Lazarus from the grave? Only Jesus knew what was going to happen. His display of grief was not the despair of grief. He knew that the one who was dead would rise in a few minutes. We may display our grief and sorrow. It is natural to grieve on any sad occasion such as the death of a loved one. But display does not mean despair.
We may display grief but we are never in despair because of grief. We may be grieving, yet despite our tears we know that earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal. We grieve but we are not in despair because although weeping may endure for a night, joy comes in the morning. We grieve but we are not in despair because God can make a way out of no way. We grieve but we are not in despair because the Lord is on our side. We grieve but we are not in despair because God is walking with us each step of the way. We grieve but we are not in despair because our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. We grieve but we are not in despair because we are leaning on the everlasting arms. We grieve but we are not in despair because our faith looks up to Jesus, the Lamb of Calvary. We grieve but we are not in despair because we know that God will take care of us. The display of grief is not the despair of grief. We grieve but we are not in despair.
Now we come to the next lesson. The next lesson is: the dread of death is not the destiny of death. We cannot deny the dread of death. Death can be a dreadful event. There is something within us that wants to keep on surviving and living no matter how bad things are. After all none of us really knows what is on the other side of the veil. Very few of us get to the point that we can sing a song written by one of the great classic composers called “Come, Sweet Death.”
In most cases death is not sweet, but bitter–bitter for the one experiencing it and bitter for those left behind. There is an element of dread in death, no matter how we try to sugar coat it. We are hesitant in saying that so and so died. Instead we say that he or she passed away or expired. You can’t get around it, but there is an element of dread surrounding death.
The lesson in the Lazarus story is that death does not have the final word. When Martha told Jesus that if he had been there her brother would not have died, Jesus said, “Your brother shall rise again.” She replied, ”I know he shall rise again in the resurrection of the last day.” But Jesus uttered in return one of the great I am’s of the book of John. Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me although he may die, yet he shall live and he who believes in me shall never die.” Do we get the importance of what Jesus is saying here? The dead shall live and the living shall never die. That’s what he is saying in a nutshell. The destiny of death is to be defeated.
After Jesus made his I am the resurrection and the life statement, he asked Martha if she believed that. Martha could have answered Jesus, like Arnold from the 70’s and 80’s era TV show Different Strokes, Whatcha talkin’ bout Jesus? But she didn’t. She answered that she believed that he was the Christ, the Son of God who was to come to the world. In a sense she did not answer the question. But in another sense she did answer it. She believed in Jesus Christ who is the resurrection and the life. You see there is no death with Jesus Christ. Christ who has borne our sin and carried our sorrows. Christ who has defeated death for us. Christ who has promised that we will live forever with him. Just like Lazarus we too, will rise again and spend eternity with God. Amen.