Sunday, April 2, 2017

Sermon -- 5th Sunday in Lent (April 2, 2017)

JOHN 11:17-45

HE EVEN RESTORES THE DEAD.

In the name + of Jesus.

    If you have ever gotten the phone call, you will never forget the feeling.  A close relative on the other end of the line says, “Your loved one is dead.”  You may have begun to cry immediately.  Perhaps you said nothing, just trying to wrap your mind around it all.  Your loved one who had taken care of you or whom you took care of—that loved one is gone.  There will be no more conversations, no more laughing jags, no more memories.  Your blood runs cold.  Your mind goes numb.  Your emotions pour out of you in tears.  And you will never forget the feeling of getting that phone call.
     Jesus did not get a phone call in Galilee.  A messenger came to him from Martha and Mary in Bethany: “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” (John 11:3)  Jesus knew what this meant.  Urgent messages don't get sent for sniffles or for a fever.  Lazarus was dying, and Jesus knew it.  Jesus even knew that Lazarus had died even before he left for Bethany.  Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.  Martha went out to meet Jesus and said to him: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:17,21)  
     Jesus was well known for healing the illnesses and disabilities of strangers.  Martha was sure that Jesus would have healed the illness of a friend.  Whether Martha had heard the stories or not I don't know, but Jesus had also raised from the dead the daughter of Jairus and the young man from Nain.  Here was the catch—those had just died.  They were not even buried yet.  Lazarus had been in the grave four days.  His body was already decaying.  Martha and Mary had accepted the finality of death.  There was nothing left to do for them but cry and grieve and mourn.
     That is all death allows any of us to do.  We know it is coming for us and for our loved ones, but we have no answers for it.  We use medicine and make healthy choices to try to prolong life as much as possible, because life is good.   But every life comes to an end.  Even if someone dies peacefully at an old age, their mourners still recognize that it is tragic.
     Jesus was not immune to these emotions when death struck his friend.  Lazarus was not some nameless face in the crowd.  Lazarus was the man who had Jesus lodge with him and his sisters when he visited Jerusalem.  Jesus feasted with him, spoke with him, and laughed with him.  Death severed that friendship.  While it is true that Christians look forward to the blessed reunion of saints in heaven, that does not erase the scars that death leaves behind when death so cruelly rips apart family and friends.  So, when Jesus stopped at the grave of his friend, Lazarus, Jesus wept. (John 11:35)  
     The wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23)  That is why death marks and snatches all people; for, all are sinners.  Sin makes its marks on us throughout our lives too.  Our death makes us aware of our sin and guilt because we fear the judgment that follows death.  But even the death of loved ones makes us aware of our shame and regret.  When a loved one dies, we are filled with regret because we did not love our loved ones the way we should have.  We were sarcastic, impatient, and self-absorbed.  Once a loved one dies, we have no more chances to make amends for our poor behavior or to put aside the grudge.  We cannot atone for our sins against our loved ones or the God who gave them to us.  This is all part of the pain of death.
     Then after death, we face the sentence for our eternal judgment.  Just as sin cuts us off from life and marks us for death, so our sin cuts us off from God and marks us for everlasting death.  There was nothing Lazarus could do to save himself from the grave.  And he certainly could not fix his condition once he was dead.  So also there is nothing we can do to prevent our own death, and there is nothing we can do to fix our sinful condition and the judgment we deserve.
     Jesus had not come to Bethany just to console Martha and Mary in their distress.  He came to do what no man could do—provide a remedy for death and victory over the grave.  He even restores the dead.  Jesus assured Martha, “Your brother will rise again.” (John 11:23)  Through her tears, Martha made a good confession: “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” (John 11:24)  Jesus revealed to her that a more immediate solution was at hand.  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.” (John 11:25-26)  
     Now, this is not simply a matter of God doing what only God can do.  Certainly, God who gives life can also restore it as he pleases, such as he did on a few occasions in the Old Testament.  But now we have a man, Jesus, who claims and exercises authority over death and the grave.  He does this by removing every blotch of sin and every smear of guilt from you.  Jesus took all that is yours and made it his.  Jesus took every sin from you.  He made himself accountable for the wages of all our sins.  This man gave himself into death and the grave for all mankind.  This man paid the price for us so that we will be free from all the charges against us.  This man was sentenced so that mankind will be set free.
     But Jesus lives.  This man has overcome the grave.  This man has taken away our guilt.  This man has robbed the grave of its power.  This man gives this everlasting victory to all who believe in him.  He even restores the dead.  He promises, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” (John 11:25)  Though your body will stay in the grave for a while, your soul shall live with Jesus.  The grave does not have the last laugh.  Just as it had to give up Jesus' body, so it will give up yours.  And no longer will there be any mark of sin or death upon you.
     That is the promise that Jesus made to Martha at Lazarus' tomb.  And to show that his promises are not just empty, happy words, Jesus demonstrated his authority.  After Jesus had prayed to his heavenly Father, 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 11:43-44)  Death had to obey, because it knew its master.  He even restores the dead.  The man, Jesus, gave life to the dead man.  Though the man's ears were dead, he heeded Jesus' words.  Though the man's lungs were dead, they breathed new life.  Though the man's legs were dead, he walked out of his grave.  And even though Lazarus' body had already begun to decay, Jesus restored it to full life.  It was not just to the residents of Bethany that Jesus had declared, “Unbind him, and let him go” (John 11:44); Jesus also gave that order to death.  Since death was undone, it had to let Lazarus go.  He even restores the dead.
     You may never forget the feeling of getting that terrible phone call about the death of a loved one; but never forget the promise of Jesus: “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.” (John 11:25-26)  By faith in Jesus, you have received the victory Jesus has won for you.  Sin-marked bodies will go to the grave, but Jesus will raise you up anew, in fact, better than new.  You will be raised up glorified and incorruptible, free from sin and guilt, free from shame and regret, free from death and hell, free from all pain and sorrow forevermore.
     He even restores the dead.  All who believe in Jesus Christ will live.  We will all enjoy the blessed reunion of the saints who have gone before us.  We will once again converse with each other, feast with each other, and laugh together.  Death will be done.  Mankind will live because of the Son of Man.  And we will live with our Savior forevermore.  For, he even restores the dead.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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