Summary: Second in a series about finding significant answers through intimate encounters with Jesus.
How Can I Face Death Confidently?
DRAMA: “Mr. Peepers Goes to Sleep.”
It can be hard to talk about death, even if it is “just a bird.” In talking to my father, who is 78, about this message, he told me that when he was growing up death was not mentioned in polite circles, it was a taboo subject. Maybe that’s why William Randolf Hearst, the late, famous newspaper editor in California, never allowed the words "death" or "dying" to be mentioned in his presence. But now we have almost gone to the opposite extreme. Books about life after life & out of the body experiences are best sellers. Films like “Ghost,” “Meet Joe Black” and “Six Sense” try to explain what happens after we die and the “Weekend at Bernies”satires just flat out make fun of death. Some are obsessed with dying and look to such things as cloning, cryonics (body freezing) or genetic engineering to defeat death.
But both extremes: nervous silence and constant obsession, are indications of the uncomfortableness that death holds for us. No matter how strong your faith, death is still "the great unknown" and facing it is one of the few human dilemma’s that cannot be solved through technology. Well, here in John 11 is the story of one of Jesus’ closest friends who dies. The passing and raising of Lazarus as well as the questions of Martha may not explain death but it does gives us some lessons on how we can face it with confidence. Let’s look at 3 principles from this text that will help us do that.
I. BE REALISTIC: Admit our own mortality
First, we need to be realistic about our present existence. Our present existence is not meant to last. The Bible says in Heb. 9:27 that death is an appointment for every person. It says: “Everyone has to die once...”(MSG) It makes no difference who you are, how much status you have or even how close you are to the Lord. In fact, this passage teaches us very clearly that death is inevitable for even those who are the Son of God’s closest friends.
Jesus loved the family of Lazarus and his two sisters, Martha and Mary. And in vs:3 we see that the two girls send a message to Jesus saying, "Lord, the one you love is very sick." This family was so close to Jesus that when Lazarus grew gravely ill the sisters wanted Jesus to know because they knew He would respond to the news. Kind of like when someone tells you that a close friend is sick and they say, "I knew you would want to know." The relationship between this family and Jesus apparently was that close.
Now, knowing that makes Jn. 11:6 very interesting. 11:4 says about Lazarus being sick, "...when Jesus heard about it..." and you expect to read, "He went immediately." But that’s not what it says. Even though Jesus loved this family, even though he knew a member of the family was seriously ill, vs:6 says, “..he stayed where he was for the next two days and did not go to them.” Did He stay away on purpose? He certainly didn’t hurry! Why did Jesus do that? I think there are 3 reasons why He may have delayed.
(1) We learn later that Lazarus was probably already dead by the time Jesus got the message of his illness. When Jesus arrives, notice that vs:17 says that Jesus was told that, “Lazarus had already been in his grave for four days.” When you do the math you that the messenger 1 day to find Jesus, Jesus stayed 2 days and then traveled another day to Bethany. That’s four days. The only explanation is that Lazarus died right after the messenger left to get Jesus and so he was already in the grave when Jesus got the message. I believe our Lord, with His divine knowledge, knew that Lazarus was already dead and there was nothing He could do to prevent the death or to prevent Mary and Martha from grieving, so He did not hurry.
(2) Jesus’ timing of His own last days on this earth was important. Had Jesus gone to Bethany, which vs:18 tells us is just outside Jerusalem, immediately, He may have been arrested before the Passover which was God’s timing for His Son’s sacrifice. By waiting for two days Jesus came to Jerusalem under the protection of the large crowd of tourists that had come for the feast days.
(3) But most significantly, by waiting for 2 days Jesus demonstrated His absolute power over death. By allowing the body of Lazarus to decompose there would be no doubt as to His domination over death. The Jews had a theory that when a person died their spirit hovered over the body for 3 days but on the fourth day because of decay the spirit departed. And so when Jesus raises this man who had been dead 4 days it was undeniable proof that a miracle of astonishing degree had happened. That’s why in vs:4 Jesus says, “Lazarus’ sickness will not end in death. No, it is for the glory of God. I, the Son of God, will receive glory from this.” It’s going to include death but it won’t end there. You see, Jesus by delaying, was not showing unconcern but was demonstrating that He was the Son of God.