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Summary: Hope is the basis of spiritual formation. It transforms us, drawing us closer to Christ so that others may be drawn to him.

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They still tell the story at William and Mary College of daffy, magnificent President Ewell. For a century and a half, this prestigious Virginia school had been a leader among American universities. Then came the Civil War. In the hard days of reconstruction that followed, William and Mary went bankrupt. Soon it had a deserted campus, decaying buildings, and no students. As with so many Southern schools after that tragic war, everyone wrote it off as dead.

Everyone, except its president; he had given his best years to advancing the liberal arts through that school. He refused to give up now. So, every morning, President Ewell went to the deserted campus, climbed the tower of its main building, and rang the bells, calling the school to class. He behaved as though the school was still there.

People thought he was crazy. Nevertheless, every day for seven years, President Ewell rang the bells at William and Mary, in defiance of the despair and hopelessness that would destroy everything he held valuable. Eventually and miraculously, it worked. Others caught his vision. Students, teachers, and money returned. Today, America's second oldest university thrives again, because of the hope of a single man.

[Hope is the basis of spiritual formation. It transforms us, drawing us closer to Christ so that others may be drawn to him.]

I. INTRODUCTION

1. The readings for the fifth Sunday of Lent weave a tapestry of significance as well as any in the lectionary. The central theme is the message of hope.

A. Ezekiel’s vision promises hope for Israel in a time of despair;

B. The psalmist declares the solace he finds in the Lord of Hope,

C. Paul reminds his friends in Rome of the glory that awaits them at the resurrection, and

D. John the evangelist tells the story of Lazarus, among the most powerful stories of hope in NT.

2. The story is one of despair, depression and sadness—abruptly altered by Jesus. Today we consider the new life given to Lazarus, and see the hope given to family and friends by Jesus’ act of grace. OYBT John 11.

II. SETTING AND OCCASION

1. A man named Lazarus, a friend of Jesus, is gravely ill. Word of his imminent demise reaches Jesus, and, after a two-day wait (6), he departs for Bethany to see his friend. Don’t get ahead of me.

2. His disciples remind him (8) that he narrowly escaped being stoned the last time he was in that region, but he leaves anyway, and they follow.

3. When they arrive, Jesus learns Lazarus is already dead, and in the tomb for four days (17).

A. His sisters Martha and Mary, also friends of Jesus, mourn with friends—suggesting that if Jesus had been there, Lazarus would still be alive.

B. Amid their mourning, Jesus tells the sisters “Your brother will rise again” (23). Thinking he refers to the final resurrection of the dead, they take little comfort until he asks, “Where have you laid him?” (34)

4. They arrive at the tomb. Jesus asks them to roll the stone away. In her hopelessness Martha argues, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.

A. Jesus insists that if they believe, they will see the glory of God revealed. He then thanks God for hearing him, and calls out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!”

B. Lazarus comes forth. Jesus tells them to “take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

III. THE PURPOSE OF THIS STORY (not found in the synoptic gospels)

1. John has much to say about new life in his gospel. One might say it is a central theme, which makes the account of Lazarus a powerful and logical entry in the gospel.

A. It is the climax of Jesus’ public ministry as far as John is concerned. From this point, he enters the account of the passion (suffering) of Christ.

B. John wants us to understand that Jesus gives new life, and the hope of those who follow him is life both abundant and everlasting.

[Hope is the basis of spiritual formation. It transforms us, drawing us closer to Christ so that others may be drawn to him.]

IV. HOW JESUS’ BEHAVIOR REVEALS OUR HOPE

1. Jesus’ timing incites our hope

A. Why does Jesus wait two days before leaving for Bethany? John wants us to see Jesus motivated not by external pressure (obligation), but rather a desire to do God’s will.

B. Leon Morris suggests a Jewish belief that the soul stays near the grave for three days, hoping to return to the body. On the fourth day, it sees decomposition setting in and leaves it. Morris says that by waiting, all would know that the only hope for Lazarus was divine power.

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