Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 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 seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “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.” So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 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?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”” (John 11:1–44, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
It is important to understand Lazarus was rotting and the grave. He was four days dead. When word reached Jesus that Lazarus was sick he had time to intervene. But he didn't. He stayed two more days where he was. "This illness will not lead to death. It is so that the glory of the son of God may be shown." Was Jesus response. After the two more days Jesus said it was time to go. The disciples were reluctant because Jesus enemies were looking for opportunities to kill him. But Jesus said, "our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, I go to awaken him." The disciples misunderstood they thought Lazarus was resting. Jesus knew Lazarus was dead. In fact, the two days were to make sure of it. "Lazarus is dead. If I had been there he would not be so, but this is so that you may believe."
It took two more days for Jesus to arrive in Bethany. When he was out of town Martha, Lazarus sister, went out to meet him. "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, he will give you." It's an amazing statement of faith. And yet, she still misses the point. "Your brother will rise again." Jesus said. Martha says that she knows that he will rise in the resurrection on the last day. This is not what Jesus meant. "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." Jesus is telling Martha that he has the power to raise Lazarus, now. He is the Word made Flesh. He is the Word that spoke the world into existence. In him is life. He will bring it to Lazarus again, now. And although Martha believes she still doesn't see.
Lazarus other sister Mary, comes to see Jesus. The large group of mourners followed her. She meets Jesus in the same place Martha did. She says the same thing, "Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died." Now Jesus is "greatly troubled." Mary doesn't see what's going to happen, either. "Where is the tomb?" says Jesus. They took him to see it. And Jesus wept. Lazarus was dead. The disciples didn't understand. Martha didn't understand. Mary didn't understand. The Lord of life was standing before them, Lazarus was dead. Something miraculous was about to happen. None of them see. And then the crowds there, the mourners, speak the truth but missed the point. "It's too bad Jesus wasn't here, Lazarus would not be dead."
"Take away the stone." Commands Jesus. It's Martha who comments on the smell of rotting Lazarus. "It's not a good idea the smell of death will be in the air. He is really dead. Four days dead." Jesus response could be said, "Didn't I tell you that you would see the glory of God? Don't you see what's about to happen?" And Jesus prays. He doesn't pray for the sake of himself. He doesn't pray for the sake of Lazarus. He prays for the sake of the people who are standing with him. "That they may believe that you sent me."
Jesus turns to the tomb. He cries out in a loud voice "Lazarus, come out!"
The hymn "Amazing Grace" has the well-known line "I was blind, but now I see." but, do we? Jesus disciples who lived with him, walked with him, ate with him, heard him preach, didn't see. Mary and Martha, Jesus good friends, didn't see. The crowds gathered around the tomb didn't see. They understood that Jesus could have prevented Lazarus' death. They likely knew that Jesus waited, delayed his coming. It was all to be sure that Lazarus was dead. And not just dead but four days dead. They didn't see. God had other plans then a miracle like all the others that Jesus had done. He allows Lazarus to suffer and die for the sake of what was about to happen. Jesus probes for faith among the crowds, Mary, Martha, and the disciples. He wants them to see who he really is. He wants them to have faith in him even while they stare death in the face. They all confess the truth and yet they miss the point.
Many are offended when they see any of those who are pleasing to God suffering anything terrible. There are those, for instance, those who have fallen ill or have become impoverished or have endured some other tragedy. Those who are offended by this do not know that those who are especially dear to God have it as their lot to endure such things, as we see in the case of Lazarus, who was also one of the friends of Christ but was also sick. Chrysostom. (Homilies on the Gospel of John; 62.1; Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture; volume IV b page 3)
Do we see? When illness enters our family. Do we see? When we are troubled by the cares of the world that seemed to close in on us. Do we see? When life ebbs away in the hospital. Do we see? When the world around us threatens us. God's purposes are above our understanding. We cannot always see what God is about to do. Jesus probes for faith among you and me. Faith is not trust that we will see that things turn out for the best. Faith is trust that they will turn out for the best, in spite of how things seem. It's just as the writer of the Hebrews says,
"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." (Heb 11:1, ESV)
And the author of Romans who says,
"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." (Rom 8:28, ESV)
These are the promises of the one who spoke to Lazarus in the grave. You realize that if he had not said Lazarus name specifically everyone in the grave would've walked out alive. Such is the power of the Word of Life. He speaks life into a dead rotting corpse. The smell of death that surrounded Lazarus faded into nothing. He allowed Lazarus to die so that we would see exactly who he is and what he is able to do. He allows Lazarus sickness that seems to lead to death to progress to death and then through his word back to life. Mary, Martha, the disciples, the crowds gathered around, and even Lazarus himself could not see the wonder of what Jesus was about to do. Do you think, that some years later, when they gathered around the body of Lazarus once again, the second funeral was somewhat different than the first?
It was different from the first because of Jesus. They had seen Jesus raise Lazarus. They had seen Jesus dead on the cross. They had mourned at the tombs. And then they all rejoiced in seeing Jesus after three days again a life. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. He did it to show them his great power over death. And then he suffered and died on the cross for the forgiveness of all people. And again showed his power over death in his own resurrection. Jesus is the Word of Life. He raises the dead. He rises from the dead himself. And this is his promise to you. If you go to the graveside this week as we commit the body of our brother Al to the ground you will hear Jesus promise through Paul's pen.
Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:51–57, ESV)
And for the sake of all of this, Jesus' friend, Lazarus, was allowed to pass from life to death to life and into death again. And so it is for you and me. Your troubles, your problems and your trials are all there for the purposes of seeing your faith in the Word of Life grow. You can be sure that the one who raises the dead will work them all out for your good. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.