Saturday, 12 April 2014
Sermon 6th April 2014 John 11:1-46 Anne What happened in Bethany that day led to a chain reaction of events. You know the kind of thing – something happens and it’s like lighting the touch paper and watching the fuse burn, before BANG and debris and sparks fly everywhere! Raising Lazarus from the dead was like lighting the touch paper. You see, opinion was divided; on one side there were those who saw what Jesus did that day and recognised the sign. On the other, there were those who just saw trouble. Signs are not always easy to interpret. Take the sign for ‘road works’ for example, it looks like a man putting up an umbrella, but he’s pointing it to the ground. And can you tell me why a sign with a bicycle on it means no bikes allowed? Surely you’d think that if it had a bike it means ‘go ahead bikes’! The sign in Bethany was the last in a long line of signs, which pointed to who Jesus was – to who Jesus is. And this one was the … hum-dinger of all signs. You’d have thought they’d have recognised him for who he was when he changed water into wine, or when he healed the official’s son, or healed the man at the pool, fed the 5000, walked on water, healed the blind man, but no, the Pharisees just saw trouble. Others saw trouble too and told them what Jesus did on that day and what he said. So the Pharisees plotted to kill him. Strange that, don’t you think? Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead – he turns death into life – and the Pharisees want to turn his life into death. But we know, they’re in for a bit of a surprise… I wonder if Martha and Mary were surprised too? They send word to their friend Jesus to tell him their brother, the one who Jesus loves, is ill. But Jesus doesn't come immediately. That must have been hard to take. To know, you’ve sent word to the one person you need, and he doesn’t show up. Perhaps he didn't come because he knew most of the disciples would be reluctant to go anywhere near Jerusalem; it’s a dangerous place for them all. It’s full of enemies and wagging tongues and last time they were there, the crowd threatened to stone them. Or maybe the time just wasn’t right yet. Then when Jesus does tell the disciples about Lazarus there seems to be some confusion or misunderstanding. Jesus says to the disciples, Lazarus’ illness won’t end in death. Then he tells them Lazarus is ‘asleep’ and he’s going to wake him. But then, when they think Lazarus is really ‘asleep’, Jesus tells them he’s dead! That must have been shocking to them. Of course, we know what’s coming; Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, but to the disciples the whole episode is like a ‘show and tell’ in reverse. Jesus seems to be telling them, in a roundabout way, that he plans to raise Lazarus from the dead before he actually does it. He tells them about the sign which points to who he is, before he’s shown it to them. Understandably, they’re confused! They’re not the only ones who seem confused. Eventually, Jesus arrives in Bethany, but he’s too late. Lazarus is already dead. Martha and then Mary go to meet him. Martha says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask”. Notice she doesn’t say, “What kept you Jesus?” or “Jesus, thought you were meant to be his friend!” No, she just says, “if you had been here...” she laments his absence, what might have been, but she doesn’t lose hope. And then the confusion sets in ... Jesus says, “Your brother will rise again”. And Martha responds, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day”. She’s talking about the Jewish tradition and belief that the dead will rise on the last day of judgement. But Jesus’ is not only talking about last days, about the future, he’s talking right now. He says to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life” … the resurrection and the life. It sounds like Jesus is repeating himself, but he’s not. You see, what he’s about to do, points to who he is. Lazarus has been dead for four days. Four days is significant because in the Jewish tradition, the soul or spirit lingered near the body for three days. Therefore, for three days there was still a hope that the person could be resuscitated. Lazarus was beyond all hope and possibility of resuscitation and Mary, mourning and weeping for her brother, goes quickly from the house when she hears from Martha that Jesus is in the village. The other mourners follow her thinking she’s going to Lazarus’ tomb. When she sees Jesus, she falls at his feet, grief stricken and in tears. And echoing the words of her sister she says, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died”. And Jesus this time says nothing, but deeply moved, he weeps with her. He doesn’t say “there, there Mary, no need to cry”. Neither does he say, “don’t worry all will be well in a minute” even though he knows it will. No, as she invites him to the tomb, into the source of her sadness, he cries with her. He shares in her grief and pain and bears her sorrow. As the crowd, Mary and Martha and Jesus arrive at the tomb, Jesus commands the crowd to “take away the stone” that covers the entrance. And Martha, bless her, worries that there will be a bad odour. She knows he is really dead – four days dead. And Jesus reminds her and us that this sign points to the glory of God, points to what we will see and witness if we believe. Then Jesus prays, he thanks his Father for hearing him and then he calls to Lazarus in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” And Lazarus comes out – bound in strips of linen, bound in his grave clothes. This is the sign that shows the world who Jesus is and why he’s there. This is the sign that divides the crowd, that threatens the Pharisees, that reassures the believers, that lights the touch paper towards the cross. In raising Lazarus to life, Jesus shows that he is the one who will conquer death and yet, paradoxically, raising Lazarus is the final nail in his coffin or more accurately, in his cross. But it doesn’t end there. Lazarus’ resurrection from the dead points to Jesus’ resurrection. He calls Lazarus out of the tomb because of who he is … God on earth, the Word made flesh. He is the resurrection in the future and also the life now. In verse 25, he says, “The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” And Lazarus is proof of the ‘life’ Jesus refers to. Jesus has raised him from the dead to enjoy life with him in the present. (Lazarus will die again – and be raised up in the age to come.) We too can enjoy life with Jesus now in the present; we can have that resurrection life now. Just as Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb, so too he calls to us by name. How many of us I wonder have felt like Lazarus, felt those strips of linen as they inhibit our very existence, as they inhibit our freedom to enjoy life. What are the strips of cloth that bind you – maybe fears or addictions. Maybe feelings of hopelessness and loss. Maybe resentment and a lack of forgiveness. But Jesus calls us out of our tombs of despair into a new life with Him…now. It’s a life where we can follow Him even though we might sometimes be confused and misunderstand like the disciples; He breaks into our lives by guiding and leading us. It’s a life where we say “Yes, Lord, I believe…” like Martha and have trust even in the times of despair. It’s a life where like Mary, when we are overcome with grief and sadness, we can throw ourselves at his feet and he will weep with us and give us hope for the future. In the next chapter in John’s Gospel we’re told what the resurrection life for Lazarus was like; he is with his friend Jesus, reclining at the table, eating with him. In our resurrection life now, let’s enjoy fellowship and friendship with him.