Hope and Life in the Face of Death

"The Resurrection of Jesus" by James I Tissot
Click here to listen to this sermon.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
The sisters were frantic when their brother Lazarus took ill. They realized that unless something was done soon, he would not live much longer. The prospect of losing their brother was painful and frightening. In fear and frustration, Martha and Mary did the right thing. They brought their need to Jesus.
That is something for us to think about carefully. We, too, have urgent and frightening needs. It may be sickness and the threat of death, such as this family faced. It may be the loss of a job or a troubled marriage … a wayward child … loneliness … a pet sin or addiction that is controlling our lives. Whatever they are, these needs often dominate our lives and threaten to overwhelm us.
Unfortunately, we often handle these needs badly. In our desperation, we may go from one person to another, looking for some encouragement or relief. Or we may simply give up. The way that Mary and Martha took was far better. They brought their need to Jesus. And, notice how they didn’t tell Him how to address the need. They simply told Him about it and expected Him to deal with it in the best possible way. Bring your needs to Jesus. He already knows about them, of course. But He wants you to bring them to Him anyway. Then when help comes, you will more easily recognize it as coming from Him.
When Jesus received the message, He reacted in a strange way. "This illness does not lead to death," He nonchalantly assured His disciples. Jesus didn’t say Lazarus wouldn’t die, just that his death was not to be the end. The sickness was for the glory of God, so that Jesus might be glorified through it.
Even though Jesus loved Lazarus, He still waited two days before going to see him. That doesn’t sound like love, does it? We often interpret a delay as a lack of interest on someone’s part. But here we learn that there is such a thing as a loving delay. Our Lord has a wonderful sense of timing. Because He loves us so much, He waits until we will get maximum benefit from His help.
The disciples, however, were actually less surprised by the delay than by Jesus’ announcement two days later that He was going back to Judea. They were quick to remind Him that the Jewish religious leaders wanted to stone Him. But Jesus was following His Father’s timetable. Neither the enemies’ plots nor the disciples’ precautions would change it. Now it was time for Jesus to go toward Jerusalem.
Jesus said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go to awaken him.” When the disciples didn’t realize that Jesus was speaking about Lazarus’ death, Jesus spoke more bluntly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
Thomas, who has become well known to us for his doubting after Jesus’ resurrection, revealed another side. Was it courage or sarcasm? We can’t be sure. But based on the known threats to Jesus’ life and Jesus’ own predictions of His death, Thomas clearly feared Jesus could be killed in Judea. But since none of this seemed to faze Jesus, Thomas said, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.”
Finally, two days later than expected, Jesus arrived at Bethany where His grieving friends lived. Many of their other friends were paying their respects and extending their sympathy. But when Martha heard that Jesus was near, she realized that He could provide help and hope that no one else could offer. Even in her grief, Martha expressed faith and hope. She had no doubts that Jesus could have and would have healed Lazarus, if Jesus had arrived in time. Even then she knew that Jesus could help. She knew that whatever Jesus asked God, God would give Him.
“Your brother will rise again,” Jesus assured Martha. But she didn’t know He meant that day, by a miracle. She thought Jesus meant the resurrection of the dead on the Last Day. Jesus offered spectacular, powerful hope for the sisters in the face of death. Jesus brings this hope to you when death is staring you in the face. When you’re mourning the loss of a loved one, Jesus assures you that He can and will do something about that death: I AM the resurrection and the life.
In just a short while, Jesus would personally experience death and resurrection. He'd die the death that you have earned by your sins. He’d come back from death again to show that your sins have been paid for, that He has made a way through death to a life that never ends. That means that all those who live and die in the faith have relationships with one another that last beyond death, too. In the day of resurrection, you will also be reunited with all of our Christian loved ones. What incomparable hope and comfort in the face of death!
When Jesus brings hope to those who need it, He expects a response of faith. He expects faith, because with hope He also provides the power to believe through His Holy Spirit. “Do you believe this?” He asked Martha.
Martha’s reply was as fine a confession of faith as anyone could make: “Yes, Lord; I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who was is coming into the world.” Such faith gave her hope in the face of death.
What about you? Do you believe this? Jesus’ question probes every human heart. We can do no better than to make Martha’s confession our own.
Martha and Jesus were soon joined by Mary. Her words echoed what Martha had said earlier, then she broke down, weeping. Her friends wept with her. Even the hope of resurrection, doesn’t prevent mourning. God had not created us to die. Death is a cruel and sad result of sin. The entire scene troubled Jesus, and when they brought Him to the grave site, Jesus wept silently. Even though He was about to meet their need in a decisive way, their grief troubled Jesus.
The next time you weep at the grave of a loved one or friend, remember that tears can be an appropriate and healthy reaction. Jesus Himself cried. Even though you know that the person’s soul is with the Lord now and that the body will be raised at the Last Day, you and others are separated from a loved one for a time; that hurts. Remember: Jesus understands how you feel. Believe in Him. Lean on Him. He will comfort you and eventually turn your sorrow into joy.
Jesus approached the tomb and ordered them to remove the stone that sealed the entrance. But Martha objected, saying that the corpse, now four days old, would smell of decay. So Jesus reminded Martha of His earlier promise. Lazarus’ illness would not end in death. It was for God’s glory.
As they moved the stone from the tomb, Jesus looked up and attempted to turn the thoughts of the onlookers heavenward. With them listening, Jesus thanked His heavenly Father for listening to Him and prayed that the people standing there would believe. Jesus didn’t have to speak the words, because He and the Father are one, in perfect harmony with each other. But Jesus spoke for the benefit of all the others there, so they would know that He was sent from the Father.
When His prayer ended, Jesus cried out: “Lazarus, come out!” Incredibly, Lazarus did just that! Still wrapped in grave clothes, with no smell of death about him, Lazarus walked out of what was supposed to be His final resting place! Many of the Jews who saw what Jesus did, believed in Him. God was glorified, and would be glorified even more as a result of this miraculous sign.
The death and resurrection of Lazarus was a prelude to Jesus’ own death and resurrection. Only, in less than two weeks, Jesus would experience something far more dreadful than the sickness and death that Lazarus went through. On the cross, Jesus would undergo severe suffering and physical pain. Even worse, He would experience eternal death, total separation from God. But three days later, Jesus would come crashing out of death again in an even more glorious resurrection.
Lazarus’ death and resurrection, in a sense, brought on the death of Jesus. It prompted His enemies to move more quickly than they might have otherwise. Many of the Jews who saw what Jesus did believed in Him. Some even told the Pharisees what had happened, perhaps hoping to convince them that Jesus was the Christ. But this only made the Pharisees’ more determined to get rid of Jesus. They met with the chief priests. “He is a serious problem—a threat to our nation,” they argued. “His group of followers continues to grow as a result of these miracles. The Romans might come in to punish us and take everything from us. Our city and our temple will be lost.”
Caiaphas, the high priest, spoke up. He explained that it was expedient to get rid of Jesus. Better that one man die than all of them. Caiaphas’ concern was political, but God made his words prophetic. Caiaphas wanted to preserve a nation on earth, which would be destroyed 40 years later anyway. But Jesus, Caiaphas’ intended victim, came to establish a kingdom that can never be destroyed. Jesus would die as a sacrifice for everyone in the world so that all who believe in Him are saved from death and made one in His holy church.
Martin Luther called this “The Great Exchange” and wrote, “Our sins must either be upon our own necks or upon Christ. If they remain upon us, we are lost forever, but if they be upon Christ, we are saved.” St. Peter declared the truth about this when He wrote: “Christ died for your sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).
In the marvelous wisdom of God’s mercy, the death of the innocent Jesus, would be the occasion for the substitutionary atonement of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The Righteous One would be given up for the unrighteous, by laying our sins upon Him. Here is the unfailing source of pardon and salvation for all who are guilty before God—from the malicious plotters in our text to you today. Here is your hope and life in the face of death.
Baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, you don’t have to grieve without hope when a loved one dies. You don’t have to quake in fear as you contemplate your own inevitable death. When faced with trials and troubles and your own struggle with sin, you live in the newness of life, which not only holds hope and promise of your resurrection, but gives strength for living here and now.
Life for you does not end in death. You will rise again on the Last Day and forever celebrate the joy of life you have in Jesus Christ, who is the resurrection and the life. Only Jesus and His life-giving Word can give you true hope and life in the face of death. Only Jesus brings forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Indeed, for Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

A Hospice for Sinners

Small Church Sunday

A Wonderful Mystery: An Address for the Wedding of James & Rebecca Dubro