Title: “A new lease on life – or eternal life.”
Subject: How can we handle grief in a healthy/gospel-centric way?
Complement: By allowing Christ’s resurrection to speak hope into our grief.
Preaching idea: “a new lease on life – or a new life!"
Purpose: to offer a gospel perspective on death/dying/loss in the face of the global pandemic.
The pandemic has created so much death and imposed so many changes on society.
We have lost so much... being with those we love...
celebrations... birthdays, weddings and
siting with the sick and dying... even funerals have been radically affected.
In our vocabulary the word that describes all of this is “grief” - the experience of loss.
The greater the loss ...the deeper the grief.
Grief can briefly be described by it's 3 stages:
1. Crisis – the news and the shock... and often too denial
2. Crucible – wrestling/bargaining/ slowly accepting the reality
3. Construction – figuring out the future in this new circumstance of loss and aloneness and the empty seat at the table. Finding hope.
While grief is typically associated with death – it can also result from a divorce... a job lay-off... or even bankruptcy.
So today, we turn to a story of grief...
John 11: 11 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is (very) sick.” 4 When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, (!) he stayed where he was two more days, 7 and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
8 “But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. 10 It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” (!) 12 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead,15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
This thought is repeated in v. 15 - “for now you will really believe”!!! (v. 15)
*** the story is about 2 things : (1) God’s glory (2) the disciples faith
In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine Johnny Depp said:
... I don’t have a real handle on what life is supposed to mean or be or anything like that. And I'm not sure life is supposed to mean anything at all. ... As long as you have the opportunity to make your kid smile and laugh do it … . I think we're here and that's kind of it. Then it's dirt and worms.
Larry King- Died Jan 23, 2021
television commentator Larry King "is obsessed with death." His day begins with reading obituaries, and he ponders "who will give the eulogy at his funeral." He smiles as he thinks it might be someone powerful - like a former president... and then his face becomes blank. "But I won't be there to see it."
Larry has had "a heart attack, quintuple bypass, prostate cancer, diabetes, and seven divorces."
At age 77 CNN dropped him, and he really became aware that there will come a day when he dies.
To move against aging and death, he takes hormone pills for human growth, four / day. He plans to have his body frozen so that someday he will live again. Larry: "It's nuts—but at least it gives me a shred of hope." ... "Other people have no hope."
Elon Musk ...
The New York Times has called Elon Musk "arguably the most successful and important entrepreneur in the world." ... he has started four billion-dollar companies: PayPal, Tesla, SpaceX, and Solar City.
Elon Musk was asked ... Do you believe in God?
Not really. I believe in science.
What do you think happens when you die?
“I think you cease to exist. I hope I'm wrong... But most likely, you're just gone.”
• Koebe Bryant... basketball star (41); And His 14 Year Old Daughter.
• Chadwick Boseman (43) (actor)
• Alex Trabek (80) (Jeopardy)
• Tom Seaver (Baseball pitcher)
• This week - Chris Shultz (61)- football star – 6 foot 7 inches
• This week - Walter Gretzky (82)
In 1994, CBC Radio host Peter Gzowski, at the conclusion of his lament on the untimely death of colleague and journalist Barbara Frum said, "and so we return now to a real but diminished world.”
Death creates a diminished world.
...The death of Princess Diana (1997) led to mass, even worldwide mourning.
We were all amazed at the outpouring of grief for Princess Diana---but I think that’s what we would all like when our loved one’s die - we want the world to notice- we want the traffic to stop: "Stop a good man has died--don’t you care?"
Grief is painful and many of us know that all too well.
But there are other forms of grief too... because grief is about loss.
• A broken marriage can cause deep felt grief.
• Being fired from your work is a grief experience. "You’re through," clean out your desk . . . life is turned upside down.
Grief will come in many forms but the most difficult is the sudden, unexpected loss of a loved one.
Author Alice Matthews defines grief as "the price we pay for loving someone."
Let’s read from John 11...(selected verses concluding with verse 35)
I. Situation: Lazarus becomes sick – word is sent to Jesus – but Lazarus dies before Jesus arrives.
Jesus is a close personal friend of Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha.
They have a home in Bethany, just outside Jerusalem.
Jesus has a fondness for their company, and they developed a friendship; he was often found in their home sharing a meal and talking about life and no doubt having a few laughs.
Jesus is in another town when word of Lazarus’ sickness comes to him.
Like anyone who receives this kind of news Jesus is concerned. Yet not concerned enough to go to him. In fact Jesus takes opportunity to make a prophetic statement; "This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God." (John 11:4) ... Jesus has another larger plan in mind, beyond the boundaries of one man ( being Lazarus is a friend makes it even more pointed) dying.
Jesus actually delays his arrival in Bethany.
Because we are told Jesus is very close to Lazarus and his two sisters this delay cannot be seen as indifference... rather, it's intentional.
When Jesus understands that Lazarus has died, he travels to Bethany (v. 11)
• Sisters send word to Jesus ...The one you love is sick
• “It's for the glory of God.” Says Jesus.
• And, it's intended to buttress/strengthen the disciples faith – v. 15
And thirdly... it's intended to teach us about death and life and faith – in the face of grief.
...but from the perspective of Mary and Martha, Jesus is late and possibly even negligent in their eyes. It's not unlike you and I having a sick or dying family member... we want Jesus to show up – and perform a miracle.
Picture the scene....Mary and Martha, sitting at the bedside of their sick brother, getting weaker with every hour. “Where is Jesus? He should be here by now.” “Where is Jesus? Lazarus isn’t going to make it... he’s slipping away.”
“Where is Jesus?
17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem,19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
Mary and Martha are in the “crisis stage” of grief...
21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” (Martha seems to have more faith than the disciples)
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (Martha - a woman - confesses faith beautifully – while the 12 are still figuring things out...
*** Do you see the two perspectives here?
(1) Martha’s – is more focussed on physical life/healing
(2) Jesus – is more focussed on eternal life/healing. – and more Gospel oriented.
We too find ourselves wrestling with the physical and the spiritual realms...
Martha calls Mary...28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” ...
.32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
...Mary & Martha make the exact same statement. . . verse 21 and v. 32
They are processing their grief...
In what tone of voice were these words spoken?
A polite lament ?
I have a little trouble with that calm, placid tone of voice. I think Martha, who seems a little more aggressive, was running toward Jesus and pounding on his chest...
"Why weren’t you here?"...
You could have saved his life – now he’s gone!
Martha is expressing her grief to Jesus, as it were, holding him responsible for this tragedy that has shaken her so deeply.
Martha’s words are really our words too; She what many of us only think when tragedy strikes...
Have you ever felt like Martha... Have you ever said, "Lord if you had been here my brother would not have died?"
Have you ever complained to God in the valley of the shadow of death,
...Lord if you had been here my son would not have died" . . .
"Lord if you had been here my wife would not have died."
Where were you... I needed you and you weren’t around!!!"
We find ourselves in a hospital room, holding the hand of a loved one, life is slipping away and we offer a prayer, O Lord, come through for me now!
Do a miracle, just like I read about in the Bible!
And nothing happens, the person dies. And you are left with that nagging question in your heart, why wasn’t the Lord here?
Why didn’t he heal my loved one?
As pastors we have the privilege and the burden of walking into the valley of the shadow of death with many people...and to be honest there are times when I lament the absence of the miracle... honestly, a resurrection or two would be nice!
Grief can drive a wedge between us and God. We think he doesn’t care and doesn’t understand. After all, he has the power to heal; he’s done it before. Why not for me?
It’s better to be honest with God and with ourselves than to deny the disappointment and not deal with it.
The buried grief can lead to anger and anger left unchecked will show itself in our attitudes and our words, and in our relationship with the Lord.
That’s a recipe for a stagnant and unfulfilled Christian life.
II. Complication: why is Jesus Weeping before He’s About To Call Out Lazarus?
Verse 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved (angry) in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
35 Jesus wept. (!)
36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”37 ** But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Did you notice this comment? ... could he have done something?... he’s healed other people – blind people for example!
... many friends have gathered around Martha and Mary to comfort them.
We have weeping, and we have Jesus himself groaning in his spirit and then weeping, with his grief so obvious it brings a response from the mourners . . . "see how he loved him."
What is going on here?
Jesus is mourning yes, but he intentionally delayed his coming to Bethany by two days.
Why did he do that??? ... and now as he is about to raise Lazarus – he’s weeping?
Remember verse 4; "this sickness is not unto death, but that the son of God may be glorified through it."
And also in v. 15 – (to his disciples) ... “now you will believe.”
There is a purpose in this death.
God has a plan at work here.
Many times when a loved one dies, we have a big problem figuring out how to make sense of the tragedy.
How can that serve the purposes and eternal plan of God?
**I would say to you that there’s a very good chance it doesn’t serve the purposes and plan of God at all.
We have to face the reality of this fallen world...
• negligence happens (human error);
• accidents happen;
• beyond that evil shows itself in many forms – including terrorism... planting bombs at the Boston Marathon a few years ago.
Indeed, death is our enemy – and it is not yet destroyed. Defeated yes – destroyed – not yet.
... Jesus says God will be glorified through this death, but there is a price to be paid for this glory. The price is grief.
Let’s see what happens here...
Iii. Resolution: Now We Come To The Dramatic Miracle...
38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” 40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
Verse 33: “where is he?”
v. 35 – Jesus weeps...
v. 38 – Jesus was still angry (NLT) (“Deeply moved”; NIV)
v. 39 – roll away the stone... “open the casket”
v. 41 – Father... (that they may believe...)
v. 43 – loud voice – “Lazarus, come out!”
...I would love to speak those words at a funeral - even once... to see someone push open the casket... and sit up and wave to us all!
...and you know...turn the funeral into a party!
And suddenly ... there he is... dead man walking... Lazarus has a new lease on life!
• He comes out... he goes home... it must have been quite a meal around that table there in Bethany that night...
• I have a feeling Jesus was the guest of honor – not Lazarus!
But can I remind you of something... Lazarus later on... sometime down the road ...Lazarus died...
• Because that’s life (!)... we all die.
• We only have a lease on life...
• It is appointed unto all mankind – to die ...and then to face judgement.
• A lease?
• Yes, a lease... and none of us know the years left on our lease.
• None of us get out alive!
So, let’s circle back to verse 35 “Jesus wept” ... Jesus is deeply moved in spirit... Jesus groaning.
But if Jesus is going to raise Lazarus to life... why is he weeping?
I think he should be smiling... or even laughing!
I mean if I had a couple of days to journey to a funeral – and all the while knowing that when I get there – I’m going to turn that funeral into a party... well I would not be able to wipe the smile off my face!
But Jesus is weeping...
In the movie “Selma” ...set in Alabama in the early 1960’s, Martin Luther King Jr. is leading the civil rights movement - especially the enforcement of the right to vote.
Much blood is spilled over something already in the US constitution – but not being fulfilled... all citizens have the right to vote – blacks are being refused voter registration.
In one scene – it's a true story – 4 young school girls died when a bomb explodes - in a church, of all places.
Martin Luther King Jr. – who was a pastor – and civil rights leader says this, “God was the first to cry.”
Quote: BB Warfield; “ … it is death that is the object of Jesus anger and grief... or wrath - and behind death, him who has the power of death and whom he has come into the world to destroy. (Satan)
“Tears of sympathy may fill his eyes but His soul is held by rage… the raising of Lazarus is not an isolated miracle but a decisive statement of Jesus conquest of death and hell. “ (P. 111; Gentle and Lowly.)
...Remember that Isaiah 53 speaks of Christ bearing our griefs and carrying our sorrows. He wasn’t only punished in our place on the cross - he also suffered with us - experiencing what we ourselves experience.
In your grief he has grieved. In your distress, he is distressed.” “ (P. 111; Gentle and Lowly.)
Because death – which causes us so much sorrow... is still our enemy... grief is something we all have to face. Just think of it... since that day, when Jesus stood and called Lazarus from the tomb... there has been so much death... we all die.
And death brings grief...
This is why Jesus is weeping... this is why he is so deeply moved.
And Jesus has a plan to overcome death – one day – death will die.
This Lazarus story foreshadows the resurrection of Jesus(!) ... and it also foreshadows our future resurrection!
We do not grieve without hope and comfort...
• Jesus is resurrection life... his resurrection is the down payment on our resurrection.
Do you believe?
• Secondly, he gives us his Spirit within us – to comfort and strengthen us.
• Thirdly, we have the family of God; we are not alone.
• Fourth, we have his abiding/sustaining grace
• We have a different perspective on life and death...And so we become comforters of others..
• This world is filled with grief... broken hearts are every where.
• And we become motivated to tell others of heaven ... so they can go there too.
Story of my 2005 Honda civic car lease.
• 5 years - $208/month.
• Manual transmission; crank ‘em yourself windows. Basic transportation.
• 125,000 km limit.
• As soon as I leased that vehicle... the clock started ticking on that lease.
Life is something like a car lease...
• You and I have a lease on life...
• But there’s one significant difference!
• We just don’t know how long the life-lease runs!
When my 5 year lease expired... I had an option to buy the vehicle.
... it's kind of like Lazarus... when Lazarus came out of that tomb – after 4 days - he got a new lease of life! But we must realize that some time Lazarus died.
That’s life – none of us get out alive.
...when it comes to life on planet earth... we all have a lease... but I’ve learned how to flip my lease into a “eternal-life”... into something I own... or to say it more biblically... I belong to God...I’ve been bought by Jesus blood and I belong to him... and he has granted me -- not a lease – but eternal life!
Jesus in verse 25 said it – and I believe it... “he is the resurrection; he is life... I believe in him and he promises me eternal life! As Jesus asked Martha ...so I will ask you – “do you believe this?”
This is life’s most important question!
Now, if you’re a believer... you will grieve – but don’t let the grief define you.
Let the gospel define you. ... eternal life can be yours
Stand on his promises... stand on his word!
Big idea: Would you like a “Lazarus lease” - “A new lease on life – or eternal life?”
“I am the resurrection and the life – whoever believes in me will live – even though you die.”
Have you made plans for eternity?
We don’t know when our lease will expire!
Would you like life eternal?
Not just a lease.... not a Lazarus lease... but forever!
Death is our great enemy,.... But death does not have the last word …. Thank God for a Savior who declared, "I am the resurrection and the life."
Grief is painful . . . even for those who know Christ. But let’s remember, Jesus understands, as we weep, Jesus weeps with us and for us.
But we do not grieve as those who have no hope. One day all those tears will be gone and resurrection life will prevail eternally. Jesus is preparing to speak to the dead once again and breathe life into our shadow of death. The trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised – immortal, incorruptible.
Big idea ? A new lease on life – or eternal life!