Summary: Jesus showed up 4 days late for Lazarus' funeral. Why? And what can that mean to us as Christians?
Social Media (texting/twitter/etc.) has created a whole new set of terms. These terms are called “acronyms”, and they’re basically abbreviations of common phrases. For example “LOL” means (wait for the audience to respond) – that’s right “Laugh Out Loud.” LOL is simply shorthand for a term that takes longer to type than most folks seem to have patience with. As I searched the internet, I found one website said there are over 1500 of these abbreviations out there. So what I’m going to do this morning is put a few of these abbreviations on the overhead and see if you can recognize them:
ROFL (Rolling On Floor Laughing); LMK (Let Me Know); OMW ( On My Way); YOLO (You Only Live Once); SMH (Shaking My Head… I can’t believe you said that); NVM (Never Mind); and one of my favorites:
PBPGINFWMY (Please Be Patient. God Is Not Finished With Me Yet). Ok, so no one really ever uses that one on Social Media, but I like it.
And, of course, there’s the acronym of our sermon title today: BFF. What does it mean? That’s right: “Best Friend Forever.” And that brings us to our sermon today. In John 11:3 we’re told that when Lazarus got sick, his sisters sent Jesus a message: “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” Lazarus was Jesus’ BFF. Lazarus was Jesus’ best friend.
Now, if I have a best friend, wouldn’t you think that I’d tend to treat them just a little bit better than just an ordinary friend? Of course, I would.
ILLUS: In the last church I served, one of the Elders there was named Cy. He was a good man, a good Elder, and I regarded him as a good friend. One time he traveled over to Chicago one weekend and ended up in the hospital with a heart problem. Now, being a preacher, I MIGHT have traveled the nearly 300 miles (one way) to see him in the hospital. But since I regarded him a “best friend,” there was no “MAYBE” about my going. He was a good friend, and that’s what you do for good friends.
Here in the Gospel of John, we’re told that Lazarus was the one Jesus loved. Lazarus was Jesus’ BFF. And Jesus hears that Lazarus is sick. In fact Jesus knew Lazarus was going to die. But Jesus DELIBERATELY waited 2 days after hearing of his illness before going to the family. And before He left, Jesus said: “’Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.’ Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep.” (John 11:11-13)
Wait a minute. Jesus WAITED 2 days, knowing Lazarus was going to die? That hardly seems like the way to treat your best friend. And because Jesus waited those 2 days He ended up arriving 4 days late for the funeral. And apparently, He did it on purpose!
ILLUS: Now I once showed up ½ hour late for a funeral one time. That wouldn’t have been such a big deal, except I was supposed to be the one preaching the eulogy. To be fair, I at least had an excuse for that one: I lived across the state line in a different time zone. The funeral home didn’t think to remind me of the time difference… and it never crossed my mind. I was on my way when I got a call on my cell phone asking where I was.
So I showed up late for that funeral. But I have never DELIBERATELY showed up late for a funeral. And I will guarantee you I’ve never shown up 4 days late anything! But Jesus did… and He did it on purpose!
Now you know whenever Jesus shows up late for anything – especially for the funeral of a close friend - there’s got to be a reason. But what possible reason could he have??? The most obvious answer is that Jesus wanted Lazarus to be dead by the time He got there. But why would He want that?
Well, you see, the Jews had a tradition about death that said (remember, this isn’t Scripture - it’s Rabbinic tradition) "Until three days [after death] the soul keeps on returning to the grave, thinking that it will go back [into the body]; but when it sees that the facial features have become disfigured, it departs and abandons [the body]" (Bar Kappara, Genesis Rabbah 100:7; cf. Leviticus Rabbah 18:1; Ecclesiastes Rabbah 12:6).
So, in other words, there was a Jewish superstition that people weren’t REALLY dead until after being in the grave 3 days. And so, to avoid any question about the miracle, Jesus waited until the 4th day. That way, when Lazarus rose from the dead, everybody knew this was a miracle.