Summary: Lemons peeked through the snow outside the tomb of Lazarus. Just so, on Good Friday, there remains the promise of a better tomorrow.
Lemon Trees in a Snowstorm
April 6, 2007
Let me begin this evening by reading to you from the prophecy of Isaiah. In the 43rd chapter, we read these words.
This is what the Lord says – he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick; Forget the former things, do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a new way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.
This would not be on the list of too many people if they were recording their favorite Bible passages because this is a fairly obscure and difficult passage. This was written to a people in exile. The children of Israel had been taken in chains to Babylon, there to wonder how they would ever be restored to God; there to wonder if God had forgot about them; there to wonder if God cared about them anymore. Their story is pretty much summed up in the 137th Psalm. The psalmist wrote these words.
By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the willows, we hung up our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.” How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?
These are people who are in agony. They have been cut off from their homeland, from their traditions, from the God of their ancestors, from hope itself. But the prophet comes on the scene to remind them that God had heard their groaning. God was aware of their pain. More importantly, God was about to bring them home. God was on the verge of doing something new in their midst.
This was to be expected, really, because God has a history of saving his people. Generations before this time, God has acted among the people as well. Remember how God drew the Egyptians into the Red Sea, to destroy them there and allow the Children of Israel to escape slavery. In the passage from Isaiah, God is telling the people that the Babylonians are about to join the ranks of the defeated, just like Egypt. God is encouraging them to hear, believe, trust, and have hope for the future.
God is telling them that the future is in his hands. So, that being the case, he says that they should trust in God and fill their hearts with hope. God is doing a new thing once again.
What I would like for you to do now is to skip ahead in history about five hundred years or so. Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem in order to meet the fate that awaits him there. He knows that he will never leave that city alive, but presses on because that is what he has been sent to do.
On the way, he found himself in the city of Bethany, not too far from Jerusalem. Bethany, if you remember, is the home of his good friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. At this point, Lazarus has died and has been in the grave for four days. Jesus wept when he remembered his friend, but called to him, and he walked out of the tomb, a further testament to Christ’s power over even the grave.
Not too many days later, Jesus was again at Bethany; again at the home of Mary and Martha. They served him dinner and it must have been have been a glorious occasion because Lazarus was back among them. During dinner, Mary took some very expensive perfume, anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair.
The Scriptures say that Judas was appalled at the waste of money, but I have a real feeling that he wasn’t the only one. His reaction is probably just the only one recorded. Why did she waste such an expensive product on his feet? Couldn’t it have been put to better use – to feed the poor perhaps?
Jesus cuts through all of this feigned concern for the poor and gets right to the heart of the matter. He tells the assembled folks around that dinner table that she is anointing him for his burial. The cross, after all, lies just a few days in the distance and Mary is preparing him for that trial to come.
Pay attention to Mary for a moment, won’t you. Don’t you see that there is profound hope in her actions? She is beginning to see that his death is a necessity. She is just beginning to understand that he is going to die so that the rest of humanity might live. I am sure that, at this point in the dinner, she was remembering what Jesus told her just a few days before when he raised Lazarus.