2014-03-09 – Rev. Dr. Ryan Sato – First Baptist Church Edmonton
GodStory, Act IV: Jesus
Key Event #27 of 40
Reading: John 11:1-45
Title: “Jesus Raises Dead Things” or “Lazarus, Life & the 7th Sign”
TSN turning point in the gospel of John…it’s the 7th sign…Jesus’ last public act…
Review the 6 signs: [Note…it all started with a wedding!]
Today it gets really personal…and close to the heart of Jesus…this is Jesus and his BESTIES!! And yet the first part of today’s story involves “deliberate dawdling”… Jesus has done this time and time again in the Gospel of John…my time has not yet come – – my time has not yet come!
But really Jesus? This is first century Jewish culture…it is to the families shame if one of the best friends of the deceased does not show up!! Why would you wait? What on earth is going on here? Maybe it’s not just about earth….hmmmmmmm…
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
We find ourselves 10 miles north-east of Jerusalem, near the river Jordan. Jesus and his disciples have been pushed beyond the outskirts of the city again…Jesus was talking about being God again and that really riles up the religious leaders…his latest zinger was this: “The Father is in me…and I am in the Father!”
“Let’s get him out of here”, yell Andrew and Peter. James and John grab him by the scruff of the neck and they run out of the city…again. Let’s go north this time…remember the good old days when John the Baptist was doing his rural “I’ll baptize-you-with-water-but-Jesus-will-baptize-you-with-the-Spirit tour?” Let’s go back and get a little nostalgic.
Instead they’re met by crowds and crowds of people: “John performed no signs, but everything that John said about his man Jesus was true!” Many came to believe in him as prophet and messiah.
It’s in this setting that Jesus gets the news that “the one whom he loves is ill.” His best friends Mary and Martha had sent a messenger from Bethany to North of the Jordan to get his attention [this was no cheap, quick endeavour!]. Jesus’ response is a curious one “Lazarus’ illness does not lead to death…it leads to God’s glory.”
Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
The disciples had ju-s-t gotten comfortable and “jitter-free” after a couple of days in the country and Jesus surprises them with the “let’s go back to the city where we were just chased out of” declaration. Are you sensing a pattern here?
A life of following Jesus is not comfortable…it’s not a life of ease and putting up your feet and saying: “Now that was a great ride, Jesus, that was a great ride.” (can you imagine, cigar in mouth, blowing smoke rings? Swirling cognac in a clay snifter)
For Jesus’ first disciples (and us?!) it’s not about the agenda, or the perks, the programs or the profile…it’s a matter of abiding. The word “abide” is a recurring verb/image that shows up most frequently in the gospel of John…and as we follow Jesus in his final days to the cross in these weeks of Lent…this word and image of “abiding” is going to be important.
We abide with him who is the “light of the world.”
That is to be enough for disciples.
And when Jesus informs the disciples that Lazarus is dead, they are ready to go with him…to be with him…to share in his grief and disappointment…Thomas is so amped up that he’s ready to lay his life down with Jesus…no matter where they go! They are “getting it” and “not getting it” at the same time…is that not comforting for us? We too, are followers of Jesus who “get it and don’t get it” – – this is the life of abiding. We stay close to the one who just in the last chapter, assures us that he is the Good Sheperd…and no one will snatch us out of his hands.
Now to the heart of the story…and we’ll voice it out with a few characters:
NARRATOR: When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home.
Martha said to Jesus,
MARTHA: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”
N: Jesus said to her,
JESUS: “Your brother will rise again.”
MRTH: “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
J: “I AM…(pause)…the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.
Do you believe this?”
MRTH: “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
NARR: When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately,
MRTH: “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.”
N: When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him.
Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him,
MARY: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
N: When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.
J: “Where have you laid him?”
MRTH & MARY: “Lord, come and see.”
N: Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said,
“See how he loved him!”
Others said: “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.
J: “Take away the stone.”
MRTH: “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.”
J: “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
N: So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said,
J: “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.”
N: He cried with a loud voice,
J: “Lazarus, come out!”
N: The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth.
J: “Unbind him, and let him go.”
– – – – –
The heart of today’s story, puts on display, the heart of God!
In the Johannine writer’s minds…they have been creating a theological, mind-blower of a story line right from chapter 1….
In the beginning…GOD!
All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.
What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.
He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.
But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
No one has ever seen God.
It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
Boom! Blam! Kapow! All these themes have been playing out for us…
Light – life – LOVE – grace – TRUTH – – – God’s heart on display…and at the apex of all o’ this it’s…
(The WORD became flesh and lived among us…God moved into the neighbourhood)
On the first Sunday of Lent, it might feel a little premature to be heralding Resurrection…but think about this – – –
Jesus doesn’t assure Martha of resurrection after the stone has been rolled away and she and Lazarus are back at the dinner table eating pita sandwiches!
In the midst of Lazarus being “4-day-dead” [Lazarus was really dead, in every cultural/physical/spiritual sense of the word!]
….Jesus says “Your brother will rise again… I AM – – the resurrection and the life.”
That is the outlandish part of this story…that Jesus invites and asks us to believe in his ability to raise dead things when every inch of our present circumstances are filled with death and stench.
We cry out…. “Lord if you…”
If you had been there, I wouldn’t have lost…. My way…. My relationship…. My vocation…. My focus…. My educational path…. my confidence…. My wits….My friend… my child…my spouse….my parent…
We echo Martha’s heartbreak in a multitude of different ways…when she cries out:
“Lord if you had been here…my brother would not have died.”
Jesus says to her…and to us…
“I AM….resurrection and life.”
– – – –
Now just to be clear here…I’m not saying that we are, or are going to become the kind of church that puts “raising people from the dead” as one of our new outreach ministries…
BUT…I am saying, that the good news of today’s story is that JESUS RAISES DEAD THINGS!
And no matter how young or old you are…you have a perspective on the reality that death happens. Things die…people die…pets die…hopes and dreams die…
And the good news of the Jesus story is that Jesus is the face of God…who is making all things new. Not magically. Not snap a finger and your dead thing is going to spring to life…but in earthy, and cosmic ways…God is on the move.
DO YOU BELIEVE THIS?
Martha’s “faith-filled-going-out-on-a-limb” response is one that provides a model for us…
“Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
A-ha! Back to John 1….The God who was, and is and is to come… in him was LIFE…and LIGHT!
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
What will it look like, and feel like to believe alongside Martha this morning?
In the midst of the dead places of our life circumstances, in the midst of dry and parched places of our souls…in the midst of our feelings of hopelessness, despair, sorrow and loss…
Jesus says: “I AM….resurrection and life.”
And so, perhaps our response this morning is to pray individually…
Pray for the power of resurrection to show up in your life…in those places where you are bound up in the graveclothes of doubt, isolation, fear, anxiety, loss and grief.
Or let’s pray corporately…for the power of resurrection to show up in the lives of persons and communities bound by the graveclothes of war, genocide, poverty, disease, systems of abuse/oppression.
As we begin the first days of this 40-day season of Lent, may the humble cry of our hearts be… “We believe! We believe Lord Jesus, that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
May we live as people who are animated and empowered by that belief…hearing the life-giving command of Jesus…and speaking and embodying the prayers & presence of resurrection in those dark and hope-less places that we are sent to this day and this week…
As we close…I invite you into silence…to sit with the dead things that surround you or us in our life circumstances in these days…sounds a little morbid does it not? [ BUT….we are just on heels of Ash Wed. are we not?]
These are the realities of the lives that we lead…in the midst of these dead places…hear Jesus’ promise: I AM…resurrection and life.
Lord Jesus, come to us, and speak new life upon all our dyings.
Look upon us as we stand at the thresholds of our entombing experiences,
unable to see or move because of the grave clothes which bind us or the lives of our friends and neighbours.
We pray that you would “set us free”…in the name of Jesus. Amen.