March 22, 2017
Pastor Gunnar Ledermann
“He will live on in our memories,” the funeral director said. He was trying to offer comfort to the family as they sat their looking at their loved one lying in the coffin. You have heard similar phrases offered at funerals and may have said something like this yourself. We say things like this because we want to comfort people, but nothing we say can change the fact that death separates us from those we love.
In the gospel lesson from John chapter 11, Mary and Martha were struggling with the fact that their brother Lazarus was near death. The sisters hoped Lazarus could be healed by Jesus so they sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”
The news of Lazarus’ sickness did not come as a surprise to Jesus. He was ready for the news and had a plan in place to heal Lazarus.
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea…Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”
His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.
So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
Jesus was glad to go to comfort Mary and Martha. He knew Lazarus’ death would allow him to provide real comfort to them. Jesus’ presence would not be a distraction from reality nor would he attempt to minimize what had happened. Instead, Jesus was going to use this event to teach Mary, Martha and the disciples about the power of their Savior. Jesus began his lesson by describing Lazarus’ death with the words, “Lazarus has fallen asleep.” Jesus said it in this way to show the disciples that for Jesus, bringing someone back from the dead, is as easy as waking someone up from being asleep.
On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
Martha wasn’t sure what to make of all that had happened over the last few days. Her brother’s sickness had become so severe that he died. She and her sister had sent word to Jesus, but by then it was too late. Then, Jesus arrived and Martha spilled out all her thoughts. If Jesus had been there maybe her brother would still be alive because Jesus had healed people before. She also recognized that Jesus could ask God for anything and it would be done, so maybe Jesus could bring Lazarus back to life. Finally, when Jesus assures her that Lazarus will rise again, she concludes that even if Jesus couldn’t bring Lazarus back from the dead now, God will bring him back to life on the last day, at the end of the world.
Martha trusted Jesus, but she was struggling to see what God’s power meant for her in that moment. Perhaps she recalled a passage like Isaiah 26:19: “But your dead will live, Lord; their bodies will rise—let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy”
This verse reveals the hope even Old Testament believers had in the resurrection. Martha knew she would see her brother again on the last day when all people would be brought back to life, but what if Jesus brought him back to life now. If Martha didn’t recall this passage, then maybe she would have remembered what happened in the Old Testament lesson for today from 2 Kings chapter 4.
The prophet Elisha had been staying in the home of a Shunammite woman and her husband. To repay her for hospitality, Elisha asked God to give the barren Shunammite woman a child. One year later, God blessed the couple with a son. They loved and cherished their gift from God as he grew from infant to toddler and then one day the child went to his father crying, “My head! My head!” His father told a servant, “Carry him to his mother.” After the servant had lifted him up and carried him to his mother, the boy sat on her lap until noon, and then he died.
As soon as she laid the boy down, she called for her servant to bring her a donkey and she went to Elisha. When she got to him, she felt at his feet crying, “Did I ask you for a son, my lord?” she said. “Didn’t I tell you, ‘Don’t raise my hopes’?”
Elisha was overcome with sorrow for the woman and decided to go back with her to see her son. Elisha sent his servant ahead of him to lay his staff on the boy’s face to wake him, while he and his mother traveled behind him. Elisha’s servant did as he said and laid his staff on the boy’s face, but he did not wake up.
When Elisha reached the house, there was the boy lying dead on his couch. He went in, shut the door on the two of them and prayed to the Lord. Then he got on the bed and lay on the boy, mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes, hands to hands. As he stretched himself out on him, the boy’s body grew warm. Elisha turned away and walked back and forth in the room and then got on the bed and stretched out on him once more. The boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes.
Elisha summoned his servant and said, “Call the Shunammite.” And he did. When she came, he said, “Take your son.” She came in, fell at his feet and bowed to the ground. Then she took her son and went out.
Elisha and the other great prophets from long ago did many great miracles. Martha knew Jesus was a great prophet and great miracle worker. She wondered if he could ask God to bring her brother back from the dead too. At the funeral of her brother, her hope was restored when she saw Jesus. She knew he would offer her some comfort at the loss of her brother.
And then Jesus said to her, “Martha, I’d like to tell you about a time when me and Lazarus were back in high school and we,” no that’s not what he said. And then Jesus said to her, “Martha, your brother Lazarus lived such a good life, he was so caring and always followed the golden rule. I’m sure he is smiling down on you right now,” no that’s not what he said. And then Jesus said, “He will live on in our memories,” no that’s not what Jesus said.
Jesus didn’t use any of the empty promises of this world to console Martha. Jesus was not just Martha’s friend, come to cry with her. He was not just a great teacher, full of clever sayings and philosophies about the beauty of life and death. He wasn’t even another great prophet like Elijah or Elisha. He was far more than those things. Jesus was, is and will always be the Son of God, our Savior. So, when Martha came to him and said “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.”
She was talking to God himself. If she asked Jesus to bring Lazarus back from the dead, then she was asking God to bring him back.
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.
These words from Jesus change everything because
the one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
Martha was only just beginning to realize what it meant that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, and Savior.
As God, Jesus has the power to raise people back to life. He was going to show this to Martha, Mary and the disciples by bringing Lazarus back to life. Jesus’ plan to do this only about a week before he was put to death would allow these followers who were closest to him to see that he does in fact hold the power over life and death, even the power to bring himself back to life.
After Martha gave her confession of faith in Jesus as the Savior,
She went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet
Mary was so overcome by her grief, she was only able to say the first phrase her sister Martha had said to Jesus,
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Martha had gone on to talk with Jesus and receive his assurance that he is the resurrection and the life through his words. Emotionally, Mary was not able to carry on a conversation. Jesus saw the pain in Mary’s heart and did not push her to talk. Instead, he loved her in the way that was best for her. Jesus had used his word to calm Martha and now he would use actions to comfort Mary.
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Jesus revealed his love for Mary, Martha and Lazarus in his tears. They were not tears of doubt or hopelessness as if Jesus was in despair that Lazarus was now gone forever or that he lacked the power to raise him. Jesus did have the power to raise Lazarus, just as he had the power to open the eyes of the blind. The tears Jesus cried that day were tears of sorrow at the pain and grief sin and death caused not only his friends, but the human race. It was for these very reasons Jesus came to the world; to rescue us from pain of death and restore to us the joy of life.
Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
Jesus had made good on his word to the disciples, that Lazarus was only sleeping. He showed them that all it took to wake him up was for Jesus to call out his name. Jesus had made good on his words to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Jesus had resurrected her brother from the dead. Mary, who was at a loss for words as her emotions drove to withdraw from those around her felt her faith renewed as she saw her Savior’s work first hand when her brother walked out of his tomb alive. Jesus revealed that he had the power over life and death as the Son of God.
Here is the question then, when you cry out to Jesus for help like Mary and Martha did, does he come to help you? You may be thinking right now of countless times when you have prayed to God to help you with things big, small or even life threatening. You may be thinking of many times when God did not answer your prayers how you wanted him to or when you wanted him to, times when you have doubted God’s power in you life, but consider this.
The disciples when they heard Lazarus was dead, didn’t think Jesus understood the gravity of the situation. If Lazarus had been dead and lying in his grave for four days, then Jesus would not simply be able to wake him up. Yet, Jesus walked up to the entrance of his tomb, called to him and he walked out alive. When Jesus spoke with Martha, she expected a resurrection for her brother on the last day, but Jesus resurrected Lazarus at that very day. Mary expected to live in grief and sorrow the rest of her life at the loss of her brother, but Jesus allowed her own brother to walk out of his tomb and wipe away her tears with the grave linens still wrapped around his hands.
Your life may not be what you want it to be at this moment. There are things in your life you wish God would change. However, the greatest problem you face right now is this, you are too focused on your earthly life which ends in death. In other words, your greatest problem right now is your lack of focus on the life you have through your Savior, Jesus.
In the second lesson, from Romans chapter 8, Paul wrote:
And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.
This is the hope we have in the deliverance Jesus won for us from sin and death. In the place of sin and death, Jesus gives us life and the Spirit to live in us creating the desire in us to live with God’s will in mind, not our own selfish desires. This means that we will use our time in this world to forward God’s kingdom and not our own. We will use our gifts in the service of the church, rather than use them only when it benefits ourselves. It means that when we think we know best and God isn’t there for us, then we need to take a step back and remember he has a bigger plan at work to help and heal us how he knows best.
Paul moves from sharing the life-giving gospel message of the Spirit to these words that show how the gospel not only gives us hope in the life to come in heaven, but it gives us a reason to live now.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.
Your new life as a believer means living a new life. Your words will no longer be filled with hopeless or worthless talk, instead your words will reflect the new life you have in Christ. Your works will no longer hurt others for your own selfish gain, instead your actions will reflect a heart of love, eager to go out of your way to help others. This means your life will have moments of suffering. There will be times when the world, those closest to you and your own sinful heart pushes back at you because you no longer live for sin, but you live by the Spirit.
Paul encourages suffering believers with these words,
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.
Mary, Martha, Lazarus, the disciples, you and I all face suffering in this world. It comes in varying degrees and lasts for different amounts of time, and for all of us this suffering ends in death. Jesus understood the suffering you and I go through, at times it even brought him to tears as he watched the pain sin and death caused people. Jesus wept, but he was never overcome.
As the Son of God, Jesus used his power to destroy death’s grip on us and he went to the cross to suffer in our place. Jesus lay in the grave three days and on the third day the stone was rolled away and he burst forth in shining white to prove the victory had been won. Death no longer holds any power over you. Jesus has the power to wipe away all your tears and give you hope in something real.
When you talk with someone who has lost a loved one, give them hope in something real. Share with them the hope you have in Jesus. Tell them, you are confident in him that you will not only live on in the memories of your loved ones when you die. You will live on with your Savior Jesus in heaven. You will live forever dressed in shining robes of white where you will join the angels to sing praise to the Lord of Life. You will join all those you love who have passed away trusting in their Savior. You will stand with those who heard Jesus say, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Amen.