************ Sermon on John 11:43 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on April 10, 2016
"Lazarus, Come Out!"
"Bernie Sanders still prays. Many of his constituents? Probably not." "Bernie Sanders still prays. Many of his constituents? Probably not." That's the caption I saw under a picture of Bernie Sanders praying. The news article went on to say that millennials, who by and large support Sanders, are the least religious generation in memory, and possibly in American history; in a recent poll, one third of this group said they were "secular." The next generation, often referred to as iGen, is even more secular; 36% reported no religious affiliation.
One odd quirk, however -- even while belief in God is declining, belief in the afterlife or heaven is increasing. Isn't this typical of what we see too often today? Thinking you can get something for nothing. You don't need to believe in God. You don't need to pray. You don't need to go to church. Yet, you can still think you will get to heaven!
It is our privilege to witness five baptisms today. In baptism, God calls us and our children to put our trust for life and death in Christ our Savior. Millennials may not think this is necessary. Those who are iGen may not think this is necessary. But we know better.
The emphasis in John 11 is on believing; you find some form of the word "believe" at least eight times in this account. Jesus wants the disciples to believe. Jesus wants the sisters to believe. Jesus wants the Jews to believe.
I The Disciples (vs 1-16)
A Jesus was constantly admonishing the disciples for their lack of faith. Obviously, the disciples were not super-saints. They often failed the Lord Jesus. For instance, when Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, everyone of the disciples fled though Peter and John did follow at a distance. Telling us what? Telling us Jesus had to constantly increase their faith. That's what we see Jesus doing in our Bible reading this morning: His goal was to increase the faith of the disciples.
B Jesus was across the Jordan River near the place where He had been baptized by John the Baptist (Jn 10:40). While there, a messenger arrived with the news from Mary and Martha that Lazarus was sick: "Lord, the one you love is sick" (Jn 11:3). If the messenger traveled quickly, he could have made the trip from Bethany in one day. Jesus sent the messenger back to Mary and Martha with the message recorded in verse 4: "This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it" (cf Jn 11:40).
Yet, as all of us know, when the messenger arrived back at the home of Mary and Martha, Lazarus was already dead and buried. Jesus, being the Son of God, knew Lazarus was going to die yet He still sent a message that the sickness will not end in death but in glory. Imagine being that messenger trying to explain to Mary and Martha what Jesus said: the sickness will end in glory and not in death.
C Christ's disciples are witnesses to all this. They hear that Lazarus is very sick. They hear Jesus' promise that the sickness will end in glory and not in death. And, they see Jesus doing something strange: He stayed where He was two more days (vs 6).
Think about this: The situation is serious, even critical, and Jesus waits. Jesus knew the anxiety of Mary and Martha. I can just picture the two sisters kneeling at their brother's bedside, their faces lined with worry. I can just imagine them looking up every time they hear footsteps outside -- wondering if Jesus has finally come. I can hear their questions to one another: When will the Lord arrive? What is taking Him so long? In fact, by the time Jesus does arrive in Bethany, Lazarus has been in the grave for four days.
The disciples must have been perplexed and puzzled by all this. If Jesus loved Lazarus so much, why did He permit him to become deathly ill? If He loved Mary & Martha, why did He delay going to Bethany? And, why didn't He heal Lazarus from a distance, as He did with the nobleman's son (Jn 4:43-54)?
Jesus waited until Lazarus was in the grave four days. Why? Popular Jewish thought at the time believed the soul periodically revisited the body for a few days after death and with it there was the possibility of a resurrection. Jesus postponed His coming until this hope was completely banished. Jesus postponed His coming until everyone knew Lazarus was good and dead. Jesus postponed His coming until only a miracle could raise Lazarus from the grave.
Did you catch what Jesus said to His disciples about this? "Lazarus is dead, and for you sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe" (Jn 11:14-15). Jesus waited because He wanted to strengthen the faith of His disciples. By waiting until Lazarus was dead four days, Jesus knew that God’s power would be more greatly displayed than if He had arrived earlier.
Try to imagine being one of Christ's disciples. Don't forget, Jesus' goal is to increase your faith to the glory of God the Father. His goal is not to pamper you. Though He loves you, His goal is not to shelter you from the problems and pains of life. After all, God the Father loves His Son; yet, the Father permitted His Son to drink the cup of sorrow and experience the shame and pain of the cross.
When we find ourselves confronted by disease, cancer, disappointment, delay, and even death we are to live by faith. In life and in death, we and our children are to live by faith. That's the message here. That's the message we are to teach our children. That's the message we are to hold before one another. That's the message Jesus held before His disciples.
II The Sisters (vs 17-40)
A Jesus was concerned not only about the faith of the disciples, but also about the faith of Mary and Martha (Jn 11:26,40). Every experience of suffering and trial ought to increase our faith, but this kind of spiritual growth is not automatic. For growth to happen, we must respond positively to the ministry of the Word and Spirit of God.
Back in verse 4 we read a promise Jesus sent to the two sisters: "This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it" (cf Jn 11:40). So now we ask, how did they receive this promise?
B Both Martha and Mary meet and talk with Jesus after the death of their brother. What is the most important word said by the two ladies? It is not a big word. But it is a crucial word. I am talking about the word "if."
Martha said, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died."Do you hear their faith in Jesus? Do you hear their belief in the power of Jesus?
Mary said, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."
C Now, remember, Jesus wants to deepen and grow their faith. He does three things.
First, Jesus brought the doctrine of the resurrection out of the shadows and into the light. The Old Testament revelation about the resurrection is not clear or complete; it is in the shadows. In fact, there are some passages in Psalms and Ecclesiastes that sound like death is the end and there is no hope beyond the grave. False teachers like to use these passages to support their heretical teachings, but they ignore the clear teachings found in the New Testament. By His teaching, His miracles, and His own resurrection, Jesus taught the resurrection of the body. He has declared there is life after death and that the body will one day be raised by the power of God.
Second, Jesus put the doctrine of the resurrection into a person, Himself: "I am the resurrection and the life" (Jn 11:25). While we thank God for the Bible, we all realize we are not saved by the doctrines in Scripture but by the Savior. In Jesus we have all we ever need in life, death, time, and eternity.
Third, Jesus moved the doctrine of the resurrection out of the future and into the present. Martha and her sister and her friends looked to the past knowing Jesus could have prevented the death of Lazarus (cf Jn 11:21,32,37). And, Martha was looking forward to the future, knowing that Lazarus would rise again and she would see him (Jn 11:24). But Jesus directed her attention to the present: "I am the resurrection and the life." Not, "I will be." Not, "I could have been." But, "I am the resurrection and the life." Where ever Jesus is, there is life and power.
D Notice Martha's response: "I believe ..." She uses three titles for Jesus: Lord, Christ/Messiah, Son of God (Jn 11:27). "I believe ..." The original Greek indicates a fixed and settled faith. "I have believed and I believe and I will continue to believe."
Notice, also, Mary's response: she fell at Jesus' feet. Mary is found three times in the Gospels and each time she is at the feet of Jesus (Lk 10:39; Jn 11:32; 12:3). She sat as His feet and listened to His word; she fell at His feet and poured out her sorrow; and, she came to His feet to give Him her worship and praise.
"I am the resurrection and the life." Do you believe this? Will you continue to believe this? Do you fall at His feet to give Him your worship and praise? That's what Jesus wants. That's what He wants from those who were baptized today. That's what He wants from every person who is here today.
III The Jews (vs 41-45)
A This brings us to the Jews. Jesus wants the Jews, the spectators, the people who had come to comfort Mary and Martha, to also believe.
Jesus paused to pray. He thanked the Father that the prayer has already been heard (Jn 11:41-42). Then Jesus called out in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" (Jn 11:43).
I want to introduce the congregation to Melvin and Myra Miller. They are an older couple I pastored who loved the story of Lazarus. Twenty-five years ago, while dying from cancer, Melvin said something to me I have never forgotten. Melvin said, "If Jesus had not named Lazarus, He would have emptied the whole cemetery." I started to laugh when I heard this. I imagined all those dead bodies popping out of the graves left, right, and center. So Jesus couldn't just say, "Come out!" He needed to identify the person to whom He was speaking.
"Lazarus, come out!" Then the dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Don't forget, Lazarus was already in the grave for four days. His soul or spirit had long separated from his body. So, this was a miracle. No one could doubt this was a miracle. After seeing and hearing this, there was no doubt that Jesus was the resurrection and the life.
B I've always wondered, how did Lazarus feel about this? What did Lazarus think about being raised from the grave? Was he sad? Was he mad? Was he glad? What was his reaction?
Think about this. Where was Lazarus? His body was in the grave but his soul was in heaven. His soul was in the presence of Almighty God. He was in the presence of the throne. He was in the midst of holiness. He was in the presence of the Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominions, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Archangels, and Angels singing their praises to God. He was in the presence of the great saints of old joining with the angels in singing God's praises: Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Samuel, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist. He was in the presence of the Light.
And, he was taken away from all this. He was brought back into this sinful world and put back into the sinful flesh. Again he experienced change and decay. Again he was in the presence of darkness. Again he faced the tempter's power. Again he faced the hatred of those who hated Jesus. Again earth's vain shadows were part of his life. And, heaven's joys and glories grew dim. And, because he did not get his resurrection body, someday he would have to go through death and dying all over again.
Regardless of what Lazarus thought or felt or said, Jesus raised him from the dead so God may be glorified and the Jews may believe.
C Our Bible reading ends with a therefore: "Therefore many of the Jews ... put their faith in him" (Jn 11:45). That's what Jesus wanted. That's what Jesus wants. That's the whole purpose of this miracle.
Now we know why Jesus yelled/called in a loud voice. Jesus did not need to yell to awaken the dead. But He wanted the crowd to hear and to see and to believe.
But what did Jesus want them to believe? That He is the resurrection and the life. That life can come from no other source than Jesus alone. You and I can shout all we want, but none of us can make the dead rise. Only Jesus is able to bring the dead to life. Lazarus was dead and all sinners are dead. But only Jesus can bring life. I can preach until I am blue in the face for sinners to repent and believe, but only Christ can give life.
Based upon the Bible, our baptism form reminds us that every believer is like Lazarus: by the power of Jesus we have been brought from death to life. That is true for everyone who is baptized.
Remember, belief is the theme of our Bible reading. Jesus wants everyone, like Martha and Mary, to believe that He is the Lord, the Christ, and the Son of God. Jesus wants everyone to believe He -- and He alone -- is the resurrection and the life.
So I want to end, I need to end, with the question Jesus asked of Martha: Do you believe this?
Do you believe this? Because if you don't, you remain in the darkness of the grave and death. But if you do, if you do believe this, then you -- like Lazarus -- have been brought and will be brought from death to life.
Do you believe this? Many millennials and the iGen choose not to believe. But do you believe?
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