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Read John 11:1-33, 34-44, 45.

The Message from Bethany:
Lazarus, brother of Mary and Martha, is sick. The sisters send for Jesus. They know he has the power to heal. They know about the crippled man and the blind man. If Jesus will come there, then he can heal Lazarus. They believe it.

Jesus has escaped Jerusalem where a mob attempted to stone him for blasphemy. Now he is working on the other side of the Jordan where the climate is less heated. Jesus receives the message about Lazarus. He says: “This will not end in death. This is happening for the glory of God.” There is no rush to action. Jesus waits for two days.
His disciples probably assume that this is caution and discretion. Jesus is a marked man in Judea, so it is best that he stay away. After all, Bethany is only a few miles from Jerusalem. Jesus is playing it safe, they think.

That changes when Jesus says, “Let’s go to Judea.” Jesus explains that there’s daylight and that’s when it’s safe. [v. 14-15] - Lazarus is dead. And for your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there, for now you will really believe.
Do they really believe? Thomas seems to think they are marching off to their deaths.

The Return to Bethany:
Martha hears that Jesus is coming and she meets him outside the village. “If you had been here my brother would not have died!”
Jesus says, “Your brother will rise again! I am the resurrection! He who believes in me will live even though he dies, and whoever believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Martha knows this and affirms her belief in the resurrection at the last day. Martha believes that Jesus is the Christ. Does she believe the connection between the Christ and the Resurrection?
Mary tells Jesus the same thing ““If you had been here my brother would not have died!” She believes it. Doesn’t she?

They believe that Jesus could have saved Lazarus from death. “Could Have.”

They say they believe Jesus is the Christ. They say they believe in the resurrection. Yet, they are clothed in black and have gathered everyone to mourn and wail. They are still weeping. Do they really believe?

Jesus is “deeply moved in the spirit and troubled.” [What does this mean?] It seems like he is angry and upset. Why would he be angry?

  1. He is irritated with those who say they believe, but their belief hasn’t made any difference.
  2. Jesus sees a people more consumed with being safe and being on time. “Should we really go back there? They want to kill us?” So ask the disciples. “If you had been here ...,” say Mary and Martha.
  3. He hears the “comforters” talking: “Oh see how he loved him.” “Oh, he opened the eyes of the blind man, surely he could have kept this man from dying.” They are consumed with sentimentality and doubt – but not true belief.

When Jesus instructs them to move the stone, Martha interrupts -- she is so concerned about details and decorum, “Lord he’s been in there four days and the stench ...”

Martha and Mary delivered their “if” statement to Jesus. Now he delivers his: “Didn’t I tell you that you would see the glory of God, if you believed

Jesus said this wouldn’t end in death, so Lazarus’ death is not the end of the story. What happens next is the part where God is glorified. On one level the challenge is between life and death. On another level it is between “If only you had” and “If you believe.”

It begins with Jesus praying. I always heard that we should pray to God and not make commentary to each other when we pray. Jesus must have missed that lesson. He preaches it plain in his prayer and he intends everyone to eavesdrop [v. 41-42] ... “Father, thank you for hearing me. You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.”

There it is – that they will believe. Do they believe? If they did, then why the could have’s, the funeral clothes, and the mourners?

Jesus shouts, “Lazarus, come out here!” And Lazarus is revived. He isn’t carried out and given CPR. He walks out on his own wrapped up in his funeral clothes. Jesus has one more command, “Unwrap him and let him go!” You can imagine that Jesus said this in such a way that Lazarus wasn’t the only one set free from the trappings of death.

Some of those who saw this believed. They really believed. But some didn’t. They couldn’t deny what they saw, but belief didn’t change anything. They reported it to the Pharisees and they discussed it. Rather than believe in life, they plotted and planned death. Now who’s wrapped up in death?

Do We Believe? Do We Really Believe?

Do we believe? Do we believe in life? Do we believe that Jesus gives us life – even now? Do we believe he is the Christ? Do we believe in the resurrection? Do we believe in the connection between the Christ and the resurrection?

If we say we do, then why do we get caught up in the trappings of death? Why do we wrap ourselves and our church up in the colors of death and mourning?

The spiritual garb of death comes in colors such as grief, guilt, regret, disbelief. When we wear this garb we fail to see that the daylight of God shines even in the dark evening of death. He is not limited; there is no place beyond his authority – not even the finality of death.

When we come together and worship do we really believe that Jesus can revive us? Do we really believe that he can order us to be unwrapped and let go. I think some people were invested in Lazarus’ funeral that day. They had planned a funeral and Jesus ruined it.

Sometimes we are invested in ways of death and decline. Church literature and church talk right now weeps and wails over the loss of the church in the society. We wonder if Jesus will get here in time to save the church as we know it. We are not like we used to be. We lament and wail and weep.

We get anxious and start worrying. Like Mary and Martha we are concerned about the stench of death and the concerns of the neighbors. Like the disciples, we work hard to protect and preserve our own expectations.

What would Jesus do? What would Jesus do if we walked into our midst and found us worrying and wailing because our expectation and dreams have died? What would Jesus do is he found us nervously worrying because the church seems to be bringing in people who don’t look like us and live like us? What would Jesus do if he found us wailing on each other because we are worried that our congregation is going to die and the great ones of the past have died? What would Jesus do if he found us wailing and lamenting because we are wasting away and we don’t feel like we are as great as we were back in the day?

What would Jesus do? I think he would be “deeply moved in the spirit and troubled.” He would draw us up straight and ask us “Do you believe?” Or do we believe it is too late to matter.

I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives. Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity.

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 22 March 2009

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