Fifth Sunday of Lent - "If You Had Been There"
Today is the Fifth Sunday of the Season of Lent.
Lent is a word that originates in the Latin word for 40. It is connected to a significant "Forty" in the Scriptures, namely, the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness after he was baptized and before he began his ministry.
Throughout the Scriptures, "forty" is a number that signifies preparation, testing, working through challenges, and being made ready.
During this season of Lent, we will focus on what it means to be prepared to follow Jesus wherever Jesus leads. And to be prepared to follow Jesus, we need to learn to Live Differently, which is the title of our Lenten sermon series.
And during this series, we will focus on The Counter-Cultural Calling of Christ—What keeps us from becoming fully alive? What is the actual cost of discipleship in our current culture? How do we live differently so that others might be drawn to Jesus?
Today we will explore how living differently means that because of Jesus, we have hope when everything around us feels hopeless.
I'm going to ask a challenging question.
1. 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 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.”
Does anyone but me find verses 5 & 6 a little odd. "Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus... so when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was..." If this doesn't indicate that something is up, I don't know what will... Jesus is on a different timetable. He chooses the time for his return here, just as he chooses when he goes to Jerusalem, where he is arrested and executed.
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.” 16 Then Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Thomas gives voice to what all of the other disciples are feeling. "This is messed up. The guy is already dead, and we have no idea why we are heading back into the hands of our enemies... but if it means that we go now and start the revolution---or whatever---let's go. The disciples don't really "get" Jesus--they are always a step behind.
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[b] from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother.
The mourning process in ancient Judaism was dramatic and extended. Family, friends, and neighbors would "sit shivah" with the family, a seven-day process that included a small window of hope for the first three days. Ancient Jews believed that the soul of a departed person would remain near the body for three days, but when the spirit could see the color of the face of the body changing on the fourth day--it would depart. Essentially, all hope is lost at this point.
20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. 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.”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.” 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.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there. 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.”
It's hard not to read some accusations and complaints into what Mary and Martha say to Jesus here. What I love about this is that their complaints are hinged on their belief. In fact, it's their belief that fuels their complaint. They know that Jesus could have healed Lazarus if he had been there if he had desired it. It had been what they expected, honestly. They'd seen him heal perfect strangers and fully expected him to come to heal their brother, whom Jesus loved. Martha goes back and forth with Jesus, trying to struggle with this knowledge---and finally just taking whatever faith she had left and put in his hands.
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
And here is one of the most incredible moments in the story--the shortest in the Bible...
35 Jesus wept.
Let that little verse just sit with you for a moment...
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?”
Some people gathered at the funeral exclaim, "See how he loved him!" but do they do it admiringly or accusingly. I think it might be the latter--more than the former.
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.”
I love this... for the first time in the entire Gospel of John Jesus addressed God as "Father."
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.
The words used here for "called out" are the same words that are used to describe the action of the crowds gathered to accuse Jesus later on the Gospel. They call out "Crucify him!" Jesus cries out life, they cry out death.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
This is awesome---Lazarus comes out of the grave still wrapped in his graveclothes, a sign that he will one day have to die again. When Jesus rises from the dead, he leaves those graveclothes behind, baby!
45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.
Let me ask you something... what did Jesus see when he entered that moment at Lazarus' funeral? He saw the effects of loss. The time of hope had passed---the eleventh hour had come and gone. There was only despair at this point. There was desperate faith--the kind of faith that both accused and hoped in the same breath. There was resignation that there was not really going to be any positive resolution, healing, or miracle.
These sisters who mourned their brother--Jesus' friend--had most likely been the ones who wrapped his dead body. As an unmarried woman, he had been their protector, livelihood, and future... As they wrapped his dead body, weeping as they pulled those graveclothes around him---I am sure they wondered what would happen to them when all the mourners had gone.
Jesus saw this---all of it.
And he saw people full of unbelief, anger, and suspicion. He saw them in all of their brokenness and frailty... in their humanity.
And he wept with them.
Jesus knew that Lazarus would be raised from the dead and that this was just a foretaste of the kind of resurrection that would change everything for everyone.
He knew all of this, yet let himself feel... he wept and, in so doing, showed his followers---showed us what God is really like.
Maybe you came here today feeling like the eleventh hour has come and gone. You just finished wrapping the graveclothes around your dreams... You feel as though your life is never going to get any better... You have lost more than you could ever imagine---maybe even someone you love, to death or leaving...
Maybe you came here angry at Jesus for not showing up.
You hear his words, which are so familiar to you, aren't they? "I am the resurrection and the life...." Perhaps your head is telling you that you should believe it. But your heart, your gut---the part of you that is so very, very human isn't sure.
And it's that part of you that Jesus knows better than you can imagine. He weeps with you in the middle of your mourning. He knows what it's like to feel your loss, pain, loneliness, and despair.
And this should give you hope, joy, and peace that can't be described...
Jesus also knows what it's like to overcome all of that.
We all come to this from different places. Just like we have all kinds of reasons for why we have felt or are feeling hopeless.
1. When we have believed, but are wondering why Jesus didn’t show up.
2. When we can’t reconcile why a good God would allow us to suffer.
3. When we no longer believe because the impossible doesn’t seem possible.
The path from hopelessness to hope begins with the realization you are not abandoned, not alone, and not forgotten…