The Fifth Sunday in Lent (3/9/08)

A Foretaste of the Feast to Come

Lessons:      Ezekiel 37:1-14      Psalm 130      Romans 8:6-11      St. John 11:1-45

Prayer of the Day:      Almighty God, your Son came into the world to free us all from sin and death. Breathe upon us the power of your Spirit, that we may be raised to new life in Christ and serve you in righteousness all our days, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

11.1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, "Lord, he whom you love is ill." 4 But when Jesus heard it, he said, "This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God's glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it." 5 Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6 after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

7 Then after this he said to the disciples, "Let us go to Judea again." 8 The disciples said to him, "Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?" 9 Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10 But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them." 11 After saying this, he told them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him." 12 The disciples said to him, "Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right." 13 Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead. 15 For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him." 16 Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him."

17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21 Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him." 23 Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." 24 Martha said to him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day." 25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" 27 She said to him, "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world."

28 When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, "The Teacher is here and is calling for you." 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see." 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So 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?"

38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, "Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days." 40 Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, "Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me." 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go."

45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

St. John 11:1-45, New Revised Standard Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

One of my favorite illustrations is a cartoon drawing of Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha. They are standing outside the door to a tomb, and there is a great crowd in the background. Lazarus is wrapped from foot to neck with a long, white burial cloth. With a perplexed look on his face, he says to his sisters: "Four days? Boy, time sure flies when you're dead!"

I doubt that's exactly what went through Lazarus' mind when he stepped out into the light of day. But I do wonder what he was thinking. He perhaps didn't know that he had taken ill, had died, and was in the tomb four days before Jesus' arrival. He perhaps didn't know that his sisters and friends had given up on him. After all, in those days, once a body was dead three days they assumed its spirit had left, and it had no possible chance of being resuscitated. Lazarus had died, had been really dead, and nobody in his home town of Bethany ever expected that he would breathe again.

That is why, when Mary and Martha first met Jesus, it was with great despair. "Master," they each said, "if you had been here, my brother wouldn't have died." Jesus had done some fairly amazing things: turning water into wine, healing people who had been sick for years, giving sight to the blind, helping the lame to walk again. Mary and Martha believed Jesus could have made him well. But nobody - nobody ever brings someone back from four days of death.

Nobody, except Jesus, that is.

He wept, disturbed in spirit. (Because his friend was dead? Or because he knew so many would still not believe in him, despite what he was about to do?) He walked up to the tomb. He barked out three commands: "Take away the stone." "Lazarus, come out!" "Unbind him, and let him go." And with that, the impossible had taken place. A man four days dead was walking among them.

Imagine how the townspeople must have reacted: "If Jesus can do this, then what else can he do? We thought that death had the final word -- what else is not true, that we've come to believe? What is this awesome power of God that moves among us?" The truth is, there is a frightening power of God that is present in our Lord. He can accomplish more than many of us are willing to admit or imagine. Broken relationships. Unhealthy bodies. Languishing spirits. Wounded personalities. Shattered communities. The amount of pain and agony in our world is staggering. But it pales in comparison to the strength and power of our God.

Are we willing to believe that God has power over even these? Are we willing to believe that God is able even to defeat death itself? If so, then what else is God desiring to accomplish among us?

David J. Risendal, Pastor  (March 4, 2008)

Exploring This Week's Text:

  1. What is most amazing about what Jesus did in Bethany that day?
  2. Why were some unnerved by what Jesus did?
  3. How do you suppose Lazarus and Martha and Mary responded to this sign?

Connecting with This Week's Text:

  1. What, in my life, seems beyond repair - even beyond God's ability to repair?
  2. What, in my life, needs to be resuscitated?
  3. What brokenness am I willing to offer up to the Lord today?