June 15, 2003
“The Resurrection and the Life”
Our text for the morning is John 11; we have a lengthy section of text, and so I’ve asked the Praise Team to help me with the reading of the Scripture this morning. If you’d like to turn in your Bibles and follow along, that’d be good! We are continuing in our study this morning on the theme, “Who does Jesus say He is?” Again, in our contemporary world, there is no lack of interpretations and ideas about just who Jesus is. Some find in Jesus merely a great moral example, or a great teacher, or a person with deep ethical insight. Others find in Him the ultimate expression of compassion, or a great miracle-worker. But while we would agree with all of these suggestions and more, are they sufficient? Jesus makes, in the book of John, seven statements which reveal His person and His mission; this morning, we focus on the fifth of those statements. Listen and follow along as we read together!
One of the weaknesses of contemporary Christianity, I believe, is an inability to acknowledge that there are some things about God and His workings and His dealings which we simply do not understand. I’m not sure if that predilection is something which we derive from a culture that is bent on always figuring things out, or if it stems from an insecurity on our parts. Perhaps it comes from a fear that, if we cannot explain and defend God’s actions on every point, then either He or we or both come off as looking badly. We are often afraid to say, “I just don’t know!” And then we come to this passage, which in my judgment contains several questions which for us are difficult to answer with certainty. Note with me
4 Things I Do Not Know:
1. Why do bad things happen to good people?
Now, I speak in the contemporary, generic sense of the term “good people” this morning, not in the Biblical sense as relates to sin. We all know that this happens every day: innocent people who suffer in ways which seem random, for lack of a better term. Just this week, we hear of a bus bombing in Jerusalem which results in the deaths of 16 people. Sitting on a bus, minding their own business one minute, and then, in a split second, their lives end. This week, I heard of a 16-year-old young lady charged with manslaughter. She had been driving her car and lost control of it, crashing into a car driven by a young mother. The young mother perished in the accident. Here one moment, gone the next! I heard another story of a stolen car taken on a high speed chase by a young hoodlum, who crashed the car broadside into another. The young punk survived the accident, but the man driving the other car did not. And for each of these, there are hundreds more examples of people who, seemingly randomly, find themselves the recipients of some form of what we would call “bad luck”. Why?
Lazarus was sick, contracting a disease of some type which eventually proved fatal. Likely, Lazarus hadn’t lived what we would call a “full life”; he was about to die “before his time”. He, along with his sisters Mary and Martha, had been supporters of Jesus, believers in Him. In common parlance, Lazarus was a “good guy”. Why did this bad thing happen to him? We learn from the fact of it that Christians are certainly not immune to suffering and pain. This popular pseudo-theology that is making the rounds today that would suggest otherwise fails to square either with the witness of the Bible or the witness of contemporary observation. Bad things happen to good people, and I don’t know why!
Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote a book on the topic, and his conclusion was something like this: God can’t do anything to stop those bad things happening! I reject that notion; the God of the Bible is anything but a 98-pound weakling! And yet, I cannot explain in concrete terms why some people go through life and are practically untouched by tragedy and difficulty, while others encounter much more than their fair share.
2. Why does God often seem to do nothing?
Jesus got the word that Lazarus was sick…and did nothing about it, at least initially. He allowed Lazarus to die. Without question, Mary and Martha believed in Jesus’ ability to stop that illness in its tracks; it is evident in their words, “Lord, if you’d been here, Lazarus wouldn’t have died!” These were people of deep faith, and yet, despite their deep faith, which we’ll talk about again in a few moments, God did not answer. Nothing, initially. They were left to wait and wonder, as their brother got progressively worse and died. Still, nothing from God. He allowed it to happen. Now, we know the end of the story, of course…but we also know that this is a miracle, because it usually doesn’t turn out this way! We don’t see it a matter of common practice for people to be raised from the dead by Jesus, do we? People who die physically stay dead, physically. And often, they die in the first place despite the fervent prayers of people of faith who cry out to God—and God does, seemingly, nothing. Sometimes, to be sure, God seems to answer in ways that border on the miraculous, but other times, it is as though the heavens are made of brass. Why?
I’m finding as I talk with my atheist friends that, at least in some cases, their atheism stems not so much from a rational investigation of evidence, but from disappointment with God. One particular young man spent several paragraphs detailing his pain and agony, how as a teenager he prayed for his mother to be healed, believing that God could/would heal her, and yet she died on the operating table. It was this disappointment with God which began his slide toward atheism. Why did God allow her to die? I do not know!
3. Why did Jesus cry?
We find the shortest verse in the Bible in John 11:35, which simply says, “Jesus wept”. The pertinent question is, “why?” Truth is that I don’t know for sure! Certainly, this illustrates that Jesus was a man unafraid to show emotion—and there is something we can learn from this as to the true nature of manhood. But what prompted him to cry? The Bible says that He cried when he saw others crying. Was He moved by their pain? It is difficult to imagine that the mere death of Lazarus caused Him to cry; He was just about to remedy that! Was He moved to tears by realizing firsthand the harmful effects of sin, by considering how sin always leads to death, and mourning that effect? Was He crying out of sincere love for Lazarus, and mourning the pain that he’d gone through? I don’t know…but I do know that Jesus was a man with deep feeling for others!
4. Why is it often true that two different people can see the same thing but have completely different reactions?
We see this happening at least twice in John 11; first, in verses 36 and 37, where some are moved by Jesus’ compassion, while others, scoffing, say instead, effectively, “if Jesus really opened the eyes of a blind man, why couldn’t He do something here?” Skip over to the reaction of the Jews that is recorded in verses 45 and 46. Many of the Jews saw Lazarus walk free from the tomb, and their response to this undeniable miracle was to believe in Jesus. Others, though, had an opposite response: they went as quickly as possible to tattle to the Pharisees about Jesus, seeking to use even an event such as this miracle as a pretext to build a case against Jesus.
My atheist friend whose mother died quoted in his writing the words of some rock group who wrote a song about Job, lamenting Job’s terrible fate before God. My friend had claimed that song as something of his anthem, his complaint against the unfairness of God. But he missed a key point: Job, while he didn’t understand what God was doing, and while he had questions for God, nonetheless held onto his faith in God. His response, despite unexplainable and incredible hardship, was to continue to trust God. Interesting: the same sun that melts wax, hardens clay. The difference is in the nature of the substance in question. Or, as a favorite poem puts it,
One ship sails east, and one sails west,
Though the selfsame breezes blow.
It’s the set of the sail, and not the gale,
That determines which way they go.
Hardship leads some to God, and others away. Circumstances cause some to cry out to God, and others to shake their fists at Him or even to deny His existence. Why is this the case? Beats me! There are a lot of things which I don’t know. But in this passage, there are at least
3 Things I Do:
The raising of Lazarus from the grave was the high-water mark of Jesus’ ministry; it was the last miracle recorded in John, and set off a chain of events that led directly to His crucifixion. Spinoza, an atheist, said that if he could accept this miracle as authentic, he would “humbly become a Christian.” Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life”—and then proceeded to prove it!
Lazarus’ sisters sent word to Jesus; there was no hesitancy on their part. Their first impulse was to call on Jesus—is ours? They sent word to Jesus—and He left them hanging. His response was to do nothing! He left them hanging…waiting…wondering. Minutes turned into hours which turned into days, and still, no Jesus, and no improvement in the situation. Finally, Lazarus died. And the silence of Jesus was deafening! Now…since we know the end of the story, and since we have God’s Word, we know why—Jesus had a plan to stretch their faith! And we can be certain of this: even when God seems to turn a deaf ear toward our request, and even when the heavens seem as brass, and even when Jesus doesn’t respond as we think He ought, God is still at work.
I, along with several others in this church who will remain nameless to protect the guilty, labor under the delusion that we’ve still got it…athletically, I mean. So we play softball. In my mind, I can still turn that double play as well as I did when I was 17—maybe better! Reality tells me otherwise, and I find that my body fails to cooperate with what my mind tells it to do! But I remember once upon a time when my body was in far better shape than it is today, when I would spend time in conditioning to get ready for the athletic challenge at hand. Some of the greatest times of pain in my life were times of conditioning—times of necessary preparation for what was to come. Jesus knew that His followers would need steel in their souls, steel forged on the anvil of testing. Would his followers be stronger in their faith through this experience?
And so, having waited until the time was right, Jesus led His disciples, some of them skeptical, to Bethany. By this time, Lazarus had been dead and in the tomb for four days; in that day, a body would be prepared for burial and buried on the same day as death. He was dead, but
1. Jesus Christ is the Resurrection and the Life!
A. Christ, the Resurrection, brings life.
When He raised Lazarus, we see pictured two things: first, Jesus was pointing ahead not many days to His own resurrection; undoubtedly, the angels of Heaven rejoiced in glorious anticipation as Jesus called Lazarus forth. Satan in hell shuddered as death was defeated, fearing that his defeat was imminent, that if Jesus could raise an ordinary man from death, He could Himself rise again.
But further, Jesus was pointing forward to our resurrection to eternal life. Lazarus’ death might be seen as a divine object lesson: death is what sin does to sinners, but also, resurrection is what Jesus does for those who put their faith in Him. Christ brings life—life more abundant—to those who turn to Him.
B. Christ, the Resurrection, brings hope.
Yesterday, three different brides walked down this center aisle. On their faces were veils, thin pieces of see-through material. Death is just such a veil, and Lazarus’ resurrection demonstrates this to us. When death comes, we sorrow, but “we sorrow not as those who have no hope”, the Bible says! When death comes, when sorrows and pain increase, when answers that come are not according to our liking nor in our timing, when our world seems to crumble in—we have hope in Jesus!
C. Christ, the Resurrection, brings power.
Life is too tough to go it alone. One of my atheist friends describes God as a “crutch” that some people need to make it in life. Well, no, Jesus isn’t a crutch; He is the foundation stone, and apart from the foundation of Jesus Christ, nothing else makes life make sense, and nothing else gives me the power to face the challenges of life. Jesus’ demonstrated the power of God, the same God Who wants us to experience His power in our daily living. I need the power of God in my life. God’s Holy Spirit indwells those of us who have put our trust in Christ, and we desperately need that indwelling Spirit’s power in order to deal with life. There’s a second thing I know:
2. Faith in Jesus leads to death-defying life.
It is our faith which pleases God, which He rewards. Jesus continually in this passage points to that fact. “He who believes in Me will live even if he dies”, He said to Martha, who was like some of us, at the one moment, displaying great faith (note verse 22) and at another moment, just not so certain—when Jesus said, “roll away the stone”, she protested that the body would certainly be stinking these four days later. But note Jesus’ words to her: “if you believe, you will see the glory of God.” Believing is seeing in the Christian life!
We want to get the cart before the horse, insisting on seeing first that we might believe later. Jesus says, “believe, and you will see!” And then Jesus prays a prayer of faith, calling out to God that He would raise Lazarus from the grave, and thereby strengthen the faith of His followers. There would be no mistaking exactly how and why Lazarus would rise. And then simply, no hocus-pocus, just “Lazarus, come forth!” Augustine remarked that “if he had not called for Lazarus specifically, all might have come out of their graves!” And then immediately, in the twinkling of an eye, color began to return to the pale white face of Lazarus. Blood starting coursing through the veins again. Eyelids began to twitch as nerves reconnected with the brain stem, and like a computer begins the process of booting up, Lazarus began to transform from corpse into living, breathing man. His heart resumed the process of beating again; air rushed into those dead lungs and began the process of breathing once again, carrying oxygen to all the cells of that once-dead body. And Lazarus, came forth; a dead man walking emerged from the grave, or rather shuffling as best he could. Jesus said, “ get those grave clothes off that guy—he’s alive, not dead anymore!” And there were hugs and faith all around, and hopefully, breath mints—can you imagine what “death breath” must have smelled like! Faith in Jesus was rewarded with life, life that defied death—and it still is!
3. Faith in Jesus is the only way to approach the questions/uncertainties/ trouble of this life.
The questions were there for Mary and Martha, and they were numerous. And yet, Jesus said to them—as He says to us—“if you believe, you will see the glory of God.” How do I face life in this world? I can look at the uncertainties and the questions and the tough times and conclude that God either isn’t there or doesn’t care. Or I can face them with faith. As a believer in Jesus, I need the “invisible means of support” that God offers. And confident that He is in sovereign control, and in His care for me, I will choose to trust Him, even when life doesn’t go as I’d like it to, and even when I have no clue what He is up to.
Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” And that is my simple question for you this morning: do you believe this? Do you believe this?