Evangelical Community Chapel at Liberal: a Molalla, Oregon Church

Molalla, Oregon

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Lazarus

October 9th, 2009 by Vic

John 11

Facing the death of a loved one is never easy, but it is inevitable.  I remember when my dad died in 1970.  I went to tell my grandpa.  He was out weeding in his garden.  I felt like all the world should stop and cry.  My dad had died.  Surely God would give some sign from heaven so everyone would know that my dad had died.  Everyone should honor and respect his life.  Surely God will send an earthquake or something.

But even my grandpa’s response seemed cold and short.  He just said, “The Lord gives; the Lord takes.  Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

As I grow older I understand the faith expressed in my grandpa’s statement.  He knew that God was in control.  He knew that death was a part of this life.  God has given us many blessings, memories, and a sure hope in the resurrection.  We are not a people who weep with no hope.  My hope is built on Jesus, the solid Rock of my faith.  The story of Lazarus confirms Jesus’ power over death.  Jesus does not want us to weep as those who have no hope.  We are given this story to confirm our hope.

This home in Bethany is a place where Jesus could come and rest, a place where he could laugh and not be laughed at.  He was always welcome even if he could not call ahead.

To understand the heart of Jesus a little you need to do some adding and subtracting.  Jesus was 1 day’s journey from Bethany, so it took 1 day for the message to arrive (11:3) and it would take Jesus 1 day to travel to Bethany.  In 11:6 the Bible says that Jesus waited 2 more days.  2 plus 1 plus 1 equals four days.  1 for the messenger, 2 to wait, and 1 to go.  In 11:17 we read that Lazarus had been dead 4 days.  4 minus 4 equals 0.

What does that mean?  Lazarus died soon after the messenger left.  What does that tell you about Jesus?  He knew Lazarus was dead when the messenger arrived.  Mary and Martha were not complaining that Jesus waited 2 days.  The characters in this story are where they are because of God’s timing.  Every character responds differently to Jesus.

The timing tells you something about Mary and Martha.  They did not want to bother Jesus until they realized that it was very serious.  They did not want Jesus to come and endanger Himself with the plotting Jews, but they did not want to be discourteous and not inform Him that Lazarus was very sick.  Maybe Lazarus had made his sisters promise not to tell Jesus, because he was sure Jesus would come if He knew.  Lazarus did not want Jesus risking His life for him.  They loved one another.  I have some friends like that who are hesitant to ask.

I read a story about 2 friends who served together in WWI.  The one was wounded and lying helpless in no man’s land, between the trenches.  After dark his friend risked his life to crawl out and help.  When he reached him, the wounded friend looked up and said, “I knew you’d come.”

1. Why does God delay?  John 11:1-7

So if Jesus knew that Lazarus was dead, why did he delay?  In fact why does He delay answering our prayers for human needs?  I don’t know why, but some things we know.

a. He works in his time.

I don’t believe that Jesus delayed because He wanted to do a more spectacular miracle.  I do not believe that Jesus delayed because He was afraid of the Jews.  He trusted God completely.  I do not believe that Jesus delayed to teach us a lesson although there are some lessons we can learn.  In the routine of life Jesus had an opportunity to do good and He chose to do good in His time.  John’s gospel tells us several times that Jesus does not live his life by man’s schedule.  Jesus’ focus is the will of his Father.  When Jesus is present, all is done to the glory of God in God’s time and for our good.

b. Jesus loved Mary and Martha.  Jesus delayed because he loved his friends.  His ability to see all the consequences of His decisions forced Him to wait because of His love.  I believe in a God who loves me and I believe that His delays are for my good.  In a crisis it is wise to trust God.  Jewish tradition said the spirit of the dead left the body after 3 days.  The face becomes unrecognizable to the spirit.  After 3 days there was no chance of resuscitation or a zombie.

Trials and delays come that your faith may be proved genuine.  If you really believe that God is good and that He is in control, then in all things God works together for good with those that love the Lord and I can trust Him.  He comes in His time?

c.  Time is in God’s hands.

Today we see an illustration of God’s delays.  However, some Scriptures sound like prayer brings an immediate answer.  God promised, “Before you call I will answer and while you are speaking I will hear.”  James says (4:2) “You do not have because you do not ask God, or you ask with the wrong motives.”  Jesus said (Matt 21:22) “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”  That sounds like immediately.  Some Scriptures promise immediate answers, but today for Mary and Martha there is a delay.

Jesus says (11:4) that this is occurring so that God’s Son will be glorified.  And Jesus is glorified in His death and resurrection.  This event with Lazarus is going to be the final straw that infuriates the Jews and brings the glory of Christ to the world.  Jesus knew what He was doing.  He knew the consequences of this healing.  Jesus is going to help his friends knowing the risks.

Jesus loves us.  From His perspective there is no delay.  Maybe we think it’s a delay because we ask with the wrong motives.  Maybe we have failed to distinguish between spiritual blessings and physical blessings.  We seem to forget God created time.  The things that are unseen are the most important.  God looks at your attitudes.

But I think some delays are reminders that God is in control and not our prayers.  I believe Jesus stayed 2 more days because He loved them.  Like the other miracles recorded by John, we see Jesus here refusing to be compelled by any man.  He does things in God’s time and way.  If we could influence Him to work in our time then whoever prayed first, best, or longest would get his prayers answered.  Or if He only healed where the need was great then many of us would never see God working in our routines.  God has a plan.  Jesus is in control.  His life reflected the nature of God.  He works in His time, which is the best time.  When His mother told Him the wine was running out, Jesus did things in His time.  When his brothers wanted Him to go to Jerusalem with them, Jesus waited for His time.  Now a close friend asks for help.  The request of man does not control the activity of God.  God loves us and has our best interest in mind.

2. What were the disciples thinking?  (John 11:8-16)  Why are we waiting around here?

Maybe the disciples thought He was delaying because of the Jews (11:8).  But He reminded them of the lesson of nature.  God sets the limits of a day.  God gives 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness.  There is darkness; there is light.  God sets the limits of our lives just as He does all creation (11:9).  Learn to walk in the light of God’s time.  Trust Him.  Participate in what He is already doing.  You will not understand Him.  His ways are higher than man’s ways.  His thoughts are higher than man’s thoughts.  To digress from God’s purpose is to walk in darkness.  To walk in the light is to experience a radical new life style.

Some things are fixed.  There is physical darkness for rest and light for doing good.  God gives us time to work and time to rest.  We have to do good when God gives us the opportunity to do good.  Metaphorically you cannot do good in the dark.  If we walk in the light we do good and have God’s protection.  Walking in the light is walking in God’s constant opportunity and protection.

But do not be foolish and presume on God’s protection.  There are wise ways to live.  Don’t act foolishly and harm yourself.  Trust God (11:10).  God will give you just enough time to do His perfect will.  “So let’s go to Judea.”

This was close to Passover time.  There were a lot of Jews in Jerusalem.  Bethany was just a short walk from Jerusalem.  Thomas did not claim to trust God, but he loved Jesus.

It is interesting that Thomas was willing to die for Jesus, and Jesus was going to die for him.  That’s friendship.  Maybe the disciples had had a committee meeting and decided to protect Jesus from the Jews.  Now Thomas is resigned to the fact that Lazarus is already dead.  It is stupid to go, but if Jesus is determined to go, I’ll go and die with Him.  Thomas was a courageous pessimist.  Thomas sees only death.  Jesus wants them to see God.  Death is not a sign that God has stopped working.

3.  Now what has been happening in Bethany the last 4 days?  (John 11:21, 32)  Maybe they were thinking that Jesus was delaying because they had done something wrong or had not done something right.

Just after the messenger left, Lazarus had died.  Within 6 hours he was probably in the grave.  Many friends had heard of his death and they were coming to Passover anyway so they were coming by to express their regards.  The house was full of friends and mourners.

For 4 days Mary and Martha had been saying, “If only.”  If only we had taken him to Jesus.  If only we would have hired a better doctor.  If only we had not done this.  If only we had done that.  If only we had not gone there.  If only Jesus had been here.  If only…

Notice Martha’s first words to Jesus in 11:21 and Mary’s first words in 11:32.  For 4 days they had been living with all these “if onlys” going through their minds.  Their sorrow had crippled them with “If only”.  They were blaming themselves for something they could not change.  Their sorrow clouded their vision of God’s plan.  They did not say like Job, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”  They assumed they could change the timing of God.  They did not know God as Jesus wanted them to know God.

“If only” had destroyed their hope and trust.  Notice how Jesus treats the 2 sisters differently.  Martha was the more active personality.  She still had a glimmer of hope and Jesus tried to build her hope.

4.  What happens when Jesus comes?  (John 11:17 –34)  He brings healing, hope, love, and comfort.

For the Jews, deep mourning lasted 7 days.  The family (after burial) may turn all the furniture around and sit on the floor.  Neighbors brought food, usually bread, eggs and lentils.  The eggs symbolized life that was rolling to death.  You could not wear shoes, wash, anoint yourself, or study God’s word.

When Jesus sees Mary, (11:33) He saw that sorrow had crushed all hope and left only despair.  He did not try to talk with her.  He asked only a simple question that required no thinking.  (11:34)  This is a great technique to help those in despair.  Your goal is to get their thoughts off of themselves and eventually helping other people.  The first step out of despair is helping someone else with a simple answer to a simple question.  But she may not have been able to answer a simple question.

The second step in recovery from despair is to know someone cares.  (11:35) Jesus felt the heart of Mary and He wept.  Not because of Lazarus, but because of Mary’s deep despair.  Maybe because of Jewish unbelief.  He would soon be raising Lazarus from the dead and Mary would be happy, but He was concerned that her despair was so great.  Jesus identified with her grief and when He reached the tomb, He became emotional again.  He was grieved that Mary did not understand that Lazarus was still alive.  She did not understand that death does not separate Christians from God.  She did not understand God.  Nothing can separate us from love.

Jesus was weeping for all those who have no hope.  He was weeping for all who do not trust Him completely.  He was weeping because His life had not changed their worldview of God much.

He asked some of the friends to remove the stone.  They looked to get approval from Martha.  She argued with Jesus because Lazarus face would be very disfigured.  Tradition said the spirits left the man after 3 days because they could no longer recognize the face.

Jesus reminded her of their earlier conversation.  Martha became silent.  Jesus took control.

Several things we can learn about death here.  Wherever Lazarus was he heard Jesus.  He could hear a physical sound even though he was no longer living in the physical world.  Lazarus was only sleeping.  Jesus wants you to understand that death for the righteous is like sleeping.

Wherever Lazarus was he recognized Jesus’ voice and obeyed the voice of the Good Shepherd.  Death had not separated Lazarus from Jesus.  Do you know what this means for us?  If Jesus can talk to the dead and the living, and both are expected to obey, then He must be Lord of Death and Giver of Life.

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life.”  That means He has power over death.  That means He has power over life.  That means that nothing can separate us from Jesus.  Neither height nor depth, things present nor things to come, can separate us from the love of God.  He is Lord, both here and in the unseen world.  If we do not serve Him in this world, we will be judged by Him in the next unseen world.

In 11:25-26, look at the last 4 words.  Here is a direct personal appeal to each one of us.

“Do you believe?”  Jesus said if you believe you can see the glory of God.  Your belief and obedience in Jesus is a condition for God working in your life.

You can’t see the glory of God unless you believe in the unseen world of Jesus, the Kingdom of God.  The glory of God is seen by those who question the absolutes in this world.

“Do you believe this?”  This what?  What is this that Jesus expects each of us to believe?  This is the life and word of Jesus.  Do you believe Jesus is the resurrection and the life?  Do you believe that Jesus can communicate with the living and the dead?  Do you believe that Jesus can give life to all who trust in Him?

The gospel is simple.  Do you believe that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God?  Do you believe that Jesus, the Son of God, came from heaven as promised to give His life a ransom for all who believe?  Do you believe that He has gone to prepare a place for us and will come again?  The gospel story is Jesus.  Do you believe?  Do you recognize His voice?  Are you following His voice?  Jesus revealed the glory of God so the disciples would believe, so the sisters would believe, so the Jews would believe.

For many it just doesn’t matter.  They don’t care if God exists as long as they can have fun today.  But when you face death it will matter.

What was Lazarus thinking with the sheet over his face?  Do you feel like Lazarus, not sure what’s going on?

You may be dead in your sin.  This world’s grave clothes and shrouds can kill our hunger for God.  You may be dead in your desire for money.  You may be dead in your selfishness.  You may be dead in your deceit, dishonesty and critical spirit.  You may be standing there like Lazarus.  Jesus can give you life.  You are never too far away to hear His voice.  He may call to you “Come forth” or He may whisper, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Do you believe this?”  Then accept the freedom that Christ offers.

Jesus is the Son of God.  If you confess your sin and ask Him to be Lord of your life you will never die.  You will be free from sin and free from the penalty of sin.

Ask Jesus to give you life and set you free from this world’s molds.

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