John 11:1-45 (2017)
Ezekial 37:1-14 Psalm 130 Romans 8:6-11
I want to start off my sermon today by saying one thing, it may sound a little crude but I think you may agree with me in what I’m about to say.
AND that is – that sometimes – “Life stinks” or some might say “life sucks”
We often comment about the – “if only’s”, or the “I should have’s.
We all accept that there are disappointing moments in life; times when it seems as though there may not be any hope, or that life seems so unfair.
And then there are those times when we are, literally, beyond hope – times when it would appear that, no matter what, there is no going back.
Both Ezekiel and John present stories this week that would appear to be the latter, situations where there is no possibility.
However in the deeper meaning of the story and in both cases, we are reminded that with God the impossible is, at best, just a slight inconvenience.
Or as Paul points out in Romans 8:11, “if the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, [this same Spirit] will give life to your human bodies also…”
For some the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead can stretch the limits of one’s believing. But getting hung up on whether or not the story took place as written can distract us from the great point of the story. We know that John presents us with stories that are not in the other (synoptic) gospels, and which – such as turning massive amounts of water into wine at Cana – in John 2 – the very first recorded miracle – seem questionable. But John’s points are not confined by fact; they are about something much more important and ill come to that important point shortly.
Let’s go back to the main story. Lazarus has died and has been buried and a stone placed over his tomb. We are told that Jesus stayed back 2 extra days before going to one of his best friends’ family. How inconsiderate and frustrating that must have been for his family and close friends! For them it was a point where – life stinks, this is very unfair.
When Jesus eventually arrives he asks for the stone to be removed and all that Mary and Marta can think and say is – it will stink.
It stinks first and foremost to them because if Jesus had only come earlier, – there is one of those – if only – then he could have easily healed Lazarus, preventing his death. And it stinks because Jesus didn’t act sooner when he could have, and others more than likely are thinking along the same lines. If only, if only if only.
But this is one of the main points of this story about which John makes the point that there can be no mistake: That Jesus can restore life when all hope, when all possibility, is gone.
The point is not whether Lazarus was literally dead for three days or not; the point is larger than that: Jesus Christ brings life into lifeless times.
Surely that is a message that resounded greatly in biblical times, and resounds well for us today.
Jesus does not need to rush into the situation – Jesus is not bound by any sense that “if you get here on time you can help” – for the point needs to be made that what Jesus offers can be offered at any time, in any situation.
Jesus is not just fixing individual problems; he is offering something much greater – new life.
Jewish understanding was that it took three days for a soul to completely leave the body; thus it is important to note that Lazarus has been dead long enough that there is nothing left other than a body decaying rapidly in the desert heat. No wonder Jesus points out that this is an opportunity for God’s glory to be revealed.
One of the lessons for us from this story is that God has a bigger and better plan in mind. As our reading states, Lazarus was four days dead when Jesus arrived.
Why did Jesus wait so long – there are for two reasons that I can see:
Firstly that He may be glorified.
The Pharisees believed and taught that your spirit left your corpse on the fourth day after you died.
So if Jesus had intervened any earlier they’d have said, ‘He wasn’t really dead.’ Hence He told His disciples, “This sickness is… for the glory of God” Verse four of our reading.
This reminds us that it is often when we look back in our lives that we clearly see God’s hand at work, and in our looking back – not only can we see where God has been at work but by looking back we can see that God in his working has been strengthening our faith.
That is partly why Jesus said before they even headed off to Lazarus’ place – in verse 15 – But for your sake I am glad that I was not with him, so that you will believe”.
In life, crises come and go. There will be times when – life stinks. Meaning that our next crisis will be different from our last one, but the thing that must remain strong is our faith. This story is very much about faith and it comes out again and again.
Again when we consider Martha who was very much Heartbroken, we can see a lesson about faith. Martha said to Jesus in verse 21, ‘…If You had been here, Lord, my brother would not have died’
This aspect of faith is called if “only’ faith”.
I’m sure we have all said at times “If only” – things like: ‘If only I’d lived in the days of Jesus,’ or ‘If only I could be prayed for by a certain person, if only I hadn’t missed that Sunday at church when the Holy Spirit was moving so powerfully.
But this, ‘If only’ faith, – plans for a funeral, not a resurrection. So this aspect of the story is about glorifying God – which builds up our faith.
Secondly God will ask us to remove the hindrances and deal with the stink.
Again on in our story from in verses 38-39 “where Jesus said, “Take the stone away”, and to which Martha replied, “There will be a bad smell, Lord. He has been buried four days”.
The question that arises for us is – Are we praying for an answer in one area, while God is telling us to take away the stone and deal with a ‘stink’ buried in another area of our lives?
If this is the case, then we just cannot win – but instead we must surrender.
When our heart’s right with God, then our prayers will be answered. Let me give you an example.
For most of us, when we have a problem we do what Mary and Martha did with their deceased brother Lazarus. We bury it and roll a stone in front of it.
Then Jesus comes along challenging our faith, and he tells us to roll the stone away so that He can deal with it and make us whole again.
It takes honesty, humility and courage to roll away the stone on a stubborn or shaming issue. But we will never become healthy and whole until we are willing to do that.
Abuse victims, whether from violence, sexual or other forms of abuse who have sought healing after suppressing it for many years, are like new people, they are set free. One prays that our children’s Seasons for Grief program does this for our young people – sets them free, rolls away a stone that has been put in front of them.
In coming back to what this story has for us today – the great thing for us is that no matter how far gone our situation may be or how unpleasant it is, Jesus can turn it around for us.
But we must be willing to roll the stone away and allow Him to work.
If we will let Him, He can give us back what life has been taken from us.
People may give up on us but Jesus won’t.
Like Mary and Martha, we may think it’s too late for a miracle, but it’s not.
Our finances may stink, our relationships may stink, and our prospects for the future may stink but, if we will believe, we will ‘see the glory of God.’
We all need to get into our heads the notion that God wants to make us a living testimony just like Lazarus.
After being raised back to life – everywhere Lazarus went, without even speaking a word; his life declared that Jesus is Lord. And the same should be true of us. God has saved and raised us up to be a testimony to His grace and goodness.
Maybe today there are aspects of your life that you think STINKS. Then seek prayer from others – or come for prayer this morning. Allow God to roll away the stones from your life – that makes you feel dead. And he will set you free and you can be like Lazarus – a living testimony.
And to concluded today on a totally different point – you may be wondering why this story appears here during Lent?
Believe it or not but it is here because the greatest point of Lazarus being raised from the dead, especially for those in authority, is that Jesus must be stopped, for other than killing him, there can be no stopping the amazing power of God that appears to exist in him.
And this, John wants us to know, is why this story appears where it is and what it is really about.
The authorities believed they had to kill Jesus because it was the only way to try and stop this.
Except, of course, as all the gospels portray – and as the last 2,000 years – have amply shown, you cannot stop God.
The work of God in Christ did indeed, and does indeed, continue.
The brief time of Jesus’ death is a mere blip in the ongoing story of God bringing new life and hope into situations that seem well beyond it, or as Ive illustrated today, the areas of our lives that stink or are blocked by a big heavy stone – God can remove and give us new life, a resurrected life in many different ways.
Let us pray.