Friends, Funerals and Faith
Clayton Lockhart has told me time and again that Terrill Mosley was a true friend to him. I have a picture on my desk of my dad shaking hands with Clayton at our Christmas party in 1999, and Terrill is sitting right beside him with a big grin on his face.
Since Jenny and I moved here, this church has buried at least five of our members: Bob Pierce, Myra Conners, Terrill Mosley, Philip Melson, and Jennie Sue McKissick. Besides members here, several of you have lost family and friends to death.
Aren’t you thankful to God that what happens between your birth and your burial is not all there is! God’s word celebrates: O grave where is thy victory! O death where is thy sting! The sting of death is sin and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Because of Jesus and our relationship with God through Him we can echo the words of the apostle Paul who said, “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain!”
Can you say those words today and mean it? Can you look squarely at death, the final enemy, and confidently trust in Jesus Christ who defeated death and rose from the grave never to die again? I remember hearing a Christian speaker once boldly proclaim, “When I face off with whatever powers earth or hell can ever array against me, I know, by God’s grace that it will be those powers that will blink first!” How can anyone say that? Because we believe and know by faith what all Christians know, “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ!” Amen?
Now that doesn’t mean that we don’t feel the loss. It doesn’t mean that we don’t suffer when friends and family leave us behind. And in fact, John 11 shows us that Jesus joins with us in our sorrow and understands our grief.
As we look at this chapter today, I hope we will all be able to experience the event together and walk with Jesus and his friends through their valley of grief over death and into the joy of victory in life.
This chapter opens with this simple statement: “Now a certain man was sick…”
This is not just any man, it is a friend of Jesus. Verse three calls Lazarus, “He whom you love.” Verse five specifically says, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” Why is the Bible pointing this out so clearly? We need to know that Jesus had friends too! Jesus was very much like you and me. Jesus was not some distant, other-worldly figure who was unconnected with the affairs of this life. No, Jesus felt. He wasn’t Super Man; the bullets didn’t bounce off. When Jesus went without food or water he experienced hunger and thirst, he got cold in the winter and felt the heat of the summer, Jesus experienced waking up with energy and then weariness after a long day. When he clapped his hands together it sounded just like when you and I do it. And when Jesus came to the tomb of a friend who had recently died, he did what many of us would do, “Jesus wept.” Now the Bible doesn’t tell us why. It doesn’t have to. You know why. When someone you love dies, it hurts. Sometimes when you hurt, tears are the response. God’s word gives us permission to weep over the loss of loved ones. It tells us that some day God will wipe away all tears, but not yet. Doesn’t that imply that there are some things that happen now that we should be weeping about?
Let’s follow this account and walk through this experience together.
Verses 1-16 introduces the event by telling us about a friend of Jesus who is sick and a message sent to Jesus to let him know. The message is brief. It doesn’t say, “Come quick.” It simply informs Jesus of what is happening: Lazarus is sick.
At this point Jesus sends a confusing message to his disciples. He says, “This won’t end in death, but God’s glory, and the Son of man’s glory.” Two days pass and Jesus says, “Let’s go back to Judea.” If you read chapter 10 you will see that Jesus has just fled from Judea because the Jewish leaders there want to kill him. The dialog that follows is actually humorous. Jesus says something, then the disciples respond, then Jesus says something else, and they respond again. Everything Jesus says makes no sense to them. But their responses are very reasonable. Follow this with me:
Jesus: Let’s go to Judea again…
Disciples: But Lord they want to kill you there…
Jesus: Walk in the daylight and you won’t stumble…
Disciples: Blank looks… scratching their heads…
Jesus: Lazarus is asleep and I need to go wake him up…
Disciples: Lord if he’s sleeping, he’ll get better…
Jesus: Lazarus is dead…
Disciples: Blank looks (but you said…)…
Jesus: And I’m glad I wasn’t there so that you may believe, let’s go…
Thomas pipes up, “Yeah, let’s all go and die with him.”
(The “him” Thomas mentions can be either Jesus or Lazarus, you can’t tell by the text).
This conversation demonstrates that the disciples and Jesus were not on the same wave-length here. This happens all the time in John’s gospel. Read it and you’ll see. The journey from where Jesus and the disciples are to Bethany is probably two days walk and it’s all up hill. They arrive to find that Lazarus has been buried four days. There is still a crowd gathered with Mary and Martha to grieve with them and console them. Little did they know that those tears would turn into triumph.
Let me throw in something here. We are so busy today, we rarely have time to stop and grieve like this. In Biblical times people might take 30 days or more to grieve and mourn the loss of a loved one before attempting to return to life’s routine. Today what sort of leave time do businesses generally give for death of a loved one? It is very important that we surround those who lose loved ones with support and encouragement.
Back to our text: Verse 20 indicates that someone lets Martha know that Jesus is near and she leaves Mary and goes to meet him. Listen to her words to Jesus: verses 21-22. She’s saying, I wish you had been here, but I still believe in you. What happens next is an amazing conversation. Jesus is going to say some things here that show that she’s not on his wave-length either.
Read with me verses 23-27. She ends by simply declaring her faith in who He is and going to get Mary. This is similar to Peter’s confession in John 6:68-69. When Mary hears that Jesus is near she jumps up and runs to Jesus leading a group of mourners in her wake. When she gets to Jesus, her pain spills out, Mary is a woman of few words. All she can say is, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Paul wrote in Romans 12: rejoice with those that rejoice and weep with those that weep. Jesus joins the flood of emotion here. He asks, “Where have you laid him.” They respond, “Lord, come and see.”
Most of you have been there, haven’t you. You’ve been in the presence of friends who have lost loved ones. You know that there are times when words don’t work very well, do they. Jesus spoke with his eyes this time. He wept. His emotions were real. People could see. The crowd noticed and commented on it. Again John reinforces that Jesus loves his friend Lazarus. Love and tears are tied together in a fallen world. How many people do you read about in the Bible who wept? Weeping is not weakness. Sometimes it is strength.
Jesus was never known as a weepy type. His enemies didn’t accuse him of raining on parades but of partying too much. Jesus attracted strong men to himself, and women also. Mothers with small children were drawn to him and he stopped and took time for them. Jesus was a warm and winning man among men. That warmth still reaches across the years and touches our hearts today. Jesus wasn’t weepy, but neither was he afraid of shedding tears. He was always real and his presence always had divine impact. God the Father worked through Jesus His Son. And here in the climax of John’s gospel, Jesus demonstrated his authority over death by raising a man who had been dead for four days.
They come to the tomb. A stone covers the entrance. The body of Lazarus lies on the other side where it has been for four days. His body is decaying. This is before embalming fluid. In those days the bodies were washed and buried the same day that the person died. Jesus stood there and ordered that they open the grave. “Roll away the stone,” he says. Martha can’t imagine what Jesus could be thinking. I mean, what’s he going to do, raise him from the dead? She has to remind Jesus that it’s too late. Lazarus is dead. He’s not just dead, he’s been dead for four days! Jesus, if you wanted to help us you should have been here earlier! Don’t embarrass us by doing this. His body is decaying by now. What is Martha saying? Not even you can help us now, not even you can bring back Lazarus.
Let me ask you this: Do you ever feel that way about your life and God’s power to help you? It’s too late; I’ve gone too far. The line has been crossed and there’s no help and no hope! God, if you’d only been here earlier, maybe it wouldn’t be this way. Lord, where were you when it was possible for you to help. Now it’s all over. Now it’s too late. Not even you can do anything now!
Well, listen to me, God is not limited by what you and I believe about him. God can do a whole lot more than you or I think he can. Jesus gives us something in verse 40 that everyone of us here ought to chew on and digest and let sink deep into our hearts and minds. Jesus said, “If you believe, you will see the glory of God.” Which comes first: seeing or believing? When it comes to God’s glory, believing is seeing. Surely we can understand that today. How much of what you enjoy in this modern world was imagined before it was ever designed. It was believed in before it was ever seen. Think of radio, TV, telephone, X-ray, atomic energy, airplanes, space travel, light bulbs, air conditioning, electric engines, gas engines, and on and on. Someone imagined it first and then developed and designed it. Faith is seeing the unseen. And Jesus says, if you want to see God’s glory, you have to first believe.
He has provided the evidence, but we must accept it and trust him enough to remove the stones that block the entry to our smelly decaying world of sin and sickness and death.
Jesus spoke the words and Lazarus came out of the grave. When everyone thought it was too late, the Son of God spoke and Lazarus rose.
One of these days Jesus is going to speak again. The trumpet will sound and the voice of the arch angel will shout and the call of God will be heard. Everyone who died is coming back. Is there such a thing as too late? Well, yes, there is a too late. If you die in your sins, it’s too late. If you do not accept Christ and obey the gospel, and die in that condition, it is too late. So you see the answer to that question depends on your faith. For those who fail to trust and obey Jesus, it will be too late. For all of us who believe and obey him, we will enjoy eternal life before the glory of our Lord and God and marvel at his majesty forever.
A tour group was on an elevator going to the top of the Empire State Building. At about the 102 floor a woman asked the tour guide: “If the cables on this elevator break, do we go up or down.” The tour guide answered, “Well, that depends on how you’ve been living.” Are you walking in faith in Jesus Christ today? Do you trust Jesus enough to listen to him and do what he commands? Will you believe in Jesus so that you can see the glory of God in your life? Please don’t wait till it truly is too late.
Friends, Funerals and Faith
Think of the people you know who have died in the past 3 years. God’s word is filled with hope for all who put their faith in Jesus and follow his commandments. Many scriptures speak of God giving us victory over death.
Here are just a few passages: 2 Samuel 2:6, Psalm 16:8-11, 49:5-17, John 14:1-6, Romans 8:35-39, 1 Cor. 15:54-56, 2 Cor. 5:1f, Phil. 1:21, Hebrews 2:9-15, Rev. 1:18, 20:13-14, 21:4.
John 11:1-45 Shows us that Jesus j_________ with us in our s_______________,
and u_______________ our g_____________.
What relationship does Jesus have with Lazarus?
Which 3 verses in John 11 give you specific information about this:
What is going on in the first 16 verses with Jesus and the disciples?
Where does this occur? See John 10:40
Why are the disciples worried? See John 10:30-33
Follow the conversation between Jesus and the disciples: John 11:7-16
What do you notice here about their communication?
John 11: 17f Jesus arrives outside Bethany and Martha comes to meet him first. Notice their conversation. How does Martha respond to Jesus words that Lazarus will rise?
How would you describe Martha’s faith? On a one to ten scale what number would you give her? How about your faith? Where do you see your level of faith on a one to ten scale?
When Mary comes, what does she say? Why does she not say more?
How does Jesus respond to their grief? What does this tell you about Jesus?
Picture the scene at the tomb of Lazarus. What does Jesus tell them to do? How does Martha respond? Why?
When is it too late?
If Jesus were to come again right now, where would you spend eternity?