Summary: The fifth sermon of a 2006 Lenten Series
Dramatic Introduction: ‘The Bethany Road’ written by Arden and Peter Mead and published by Creative Communications for the Parish, © 2004
(1) Sermon titles are a challenge for a pastor. There is an art to selecting a suitable title but it can be quite difficult to do so. Some pastors have simply done away with sermon titles and in their bulletins they simply say, ‘Sermon.’
Others, like Rick Warren, believe that a good sermon title is very important and necessary to catch the audience’s attention. In some ways, I am glad that this particular sermon already has a title, namely “The Bethany Road.” (Now while I am using the suggested title, what you are about to hear are (hopefully) Holy Spirit-inspired thoughts.)
(2) However, several titles did run through my mind for this particular passage…
(2A) One is ‘A Sweet Sacrifice’ which would have us highlight what our dramatic dialogue and main text has already noted, Mary’s sacrifice of costly perfume used for burial to wash Jesus’ feet. We could compare and contrast Mary’s actions with those of the women who came to the tomb with burial spices to bury Jesus adequately since He had not been due to the pressure to bury Him before sundown at the start of the Sabbath.
(2B) A second title is ‘Back from the Dead.’ Here we would focus on Jesus’ miraculous act of raising Lazarus from the dead that was recorded in chapter 11 plus what happened after as recorded in this chapter.
(2C) A third title is ‘The Agony of Defeat.’ This title would allow us to look at the response of the Pharisees in verse 19 to what had happened after Lazarus’ resurrection as well as their reactions to Lazarus’ experience in chapter 11. We could then look at these passages against the prophetic statements of Isaiah and others in the Old Testament and ponder how jealousy and envy worked in the minds of those who plotted Christ’s death.
(3) Today we walk ‘The Bethany Road.’ Moreover, as we have in the last few weeks, we begin today by asking the question, ‘What kind of a road is this road?’
(4) In the sermon aids for this week I read, “The Bethany Road begins with a trip to the cemetery, and ends with a parade.” Here then are a couple of clues as to the kind of road this road is.
(5) It is a road of mourning. Now the mourning starts in chapter 11 with Lazarus’ death and burial and Jesus is nowhere to be seen. In fact, we read in verses 5 through 7 of chapter 11, “Although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, he stayed where he was for the next two days and did not go to them. Finally, after two days, he said to his disciples, “Let’s go to Judea again.”
The trip to Bethany would be a risk for Jesus because as we read in verse 8 there had already been one attempt on His life and the disciples were concerned that there would be another as evidence by Thomas’ comment, ‘Let’s go too, and die with Jesus.’ (How would you describe Thomas’ tone of voice? When I read it again this week, I thought, “Did he say it sarcastically?” “Was it with a strong hint of resignation in it?” or “Did he say it with resoluteness ready to die with Jesus?”) Therefore, four days pass before Jesus goes to Bethany knowing Lazarus has already died and two grieving sisters ready to confront him.
We are familiar with the grief of funerals. From personal experience, there are moments during funeral preparation and funeral services that I also deal with grief and mourning and that I weep too, often in private.
When one of my uncles died a few years ago, I did pretty well during the service and even during the preparation for it as I talked with my aunt and cousins. But, after I finished my remarks, concluded the service, and walked away from the funeral room before the final respects were paid, I mourned the passing of my uncle as well.
We have walked with one another as a friend or loved one has passed through the valley of death. And we also know that mourning and grief continues after the initial shock has passed. But, as we read so often during the Lenten season, we know that Jesus “was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with bitterest grief.” Jesus had seen death and people near death.
In Matthew 9, we read of the death of a little girl whose hand Jesus takes and, in spite of the mockery He encounters when He says, “ the girl isn’t dead; she’s only asleep” brings her back to life! Then over in Luke 7 we read of the widow’s son who is raised to life again by Jesus’ command to “Get up!”