Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent 2020

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Sermon text: John 11:1-44

11 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when he 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 seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11 After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

17 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20 So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 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. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

28 When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 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 also have kept this man from dying?”

38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for 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 lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”  (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, ESV Text Edition: 2016.  Copyright 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.)


Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Intro: We are living through unprecedented times: a state of emergency in Waterloo Region, the ordering closed of just about everything you can think of even churches, people returning from March break and others self-isolating.  Time it seems has slowed down almost to a halt, and because all our normal rhythms and daily patterns have been broken at the same time it seems like we are living in some kind of dream.  But the dream is real.  

In today’s Gospel reading from John chapter 11, Mary and Martha’s reaction to Jesus’ delay in coming to the aid of their dying brother Lazarus may be something like our wondering why God is allowing us to suffer in this way.  They wonder why and must have thought, how long, Lord?  In Jesus’ interaction with Martha and in his raising of Lazarus from the dead Jesus speaks about why He delayed and how God was working through Lazarus’ death.  But most importantly, Jesus shows us where to place our hope in these uncertain times.

1) Like Mary and Martha, we don’t understand why God is waiting

When Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus that their brother Lazarus was sick Jesus stayed where he was for two more days…“But when Jesus heard it he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death.  It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.'” (John 11:4, ESV)

Jesus explains why He waited and did not go to help Lazarus in his illness: because Lazarus’ illness will work out for the glory of God

God has all glory in and of Himself, nothing He does makes Himself more glorious intrinsically, but Jesus is speaking that God’s future miracle involving Lazarus will give Him more glory in the eyes of people, that is more of the Jews will see and believe that He is the Christ, the Saviour of Israel.  That is the glory Jesus is speaking about.

It’s hard to wait for the pandemic to progress and pass

You might have even prayed, why Lord are we suffering and having to wait through this long emergency?

The Lord Jesus hasn’t spoken to this pandemic, like he spoke about the tragedy of Lazarus’ death, to say this pandemic will work out for his glory.  God has not created this pandemic, it is a symptom of the fall of creation after sin that viruses now can make people sick and even kill, yet God will work to give glory to Himself through this pandemic in ways we may never understand…

St. John gives us the timing that Jesus waited two days after hearing word from Mary and Martha that Lazarus was sick and eventually arrived in Bethany four days after Lazarus had died.  That means it took Jesus two days to get there.  So even if Jesus had left right away Lazarus would have died the day before Jesus reached him.

2) Martha’s confession is not wrong, it’s right but she’s not right enough!

When Martha goes out to meet Jesus she makes a good confession:

  1. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:21, ESV)…Martha’s hope was that if Jesus had been there He could have saved her brother
  2. “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” (John 11:22, ESV)…Martha has wonderful faith in Jesus’ constant ability to ask the Father and be provided for by God the Father.

Martha’s confession is right, Jesus could have saved her brother if He had been there and she was right that the Father would listen to Jesus even now.  

But her confession was not right enough and in His answer to Martha Jesus shows Martha that she should put her hope in more than her brother’s returning to life and in more than anything she might hope for in this life…

3) Our only hope is in Jesus and in the bodily resurrection from the dead

  1. These pandemic days are testing times for peoples’ hopes:

About your health, about your family’s health and your parents’ health, about finding a job, or keeping your business afloat, and about your financial situation.

Even our Christian hope to worship together as a church and receive the sacrament of the altar is being tested

All our hopes and desires are being tested in these days.

There are so many other things that we put our hope in: a quiet family life, a good job, a nice place to live, good neighbours, a pleasant retirement,  the welfare of family members, the welfare of the economy, the welfare of the Christian church…these are good things but they are not the hope to which Jesus Christ directs Martha or us to set our hearts upon.

B) Jesus’ resurrection of Lazarus from the dead is an object lesson from God: our only hope is in Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour and in the bodily resurrection from the dead He will give us on the Last Day

Jesus’ reply to Martha teaches us the one and only thing upon which to fix our hope…”Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.  Do you believe this?'”(John 11:25-26, ESV)…our only hope is in Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour and in the bodily resurrection from the dead He will give us on the Last Day.  Every other earthly hope and promise God gives us is in the end a penultimate hope-a before the last one kind of hope-but our great hope and the end goal and fruit of our Christian faith is in Jesus and the bodily resurrection from the dead He will give us on the Last Day.

“Do you believe this?” Jesus asks.

With Martha we answer, “Yes Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God,” (John 11:27, ESV) and we can add, “who has come into the world and who will come again to give Yourself great glory by raising your faithful sons and daughters from the dead.”  This is our one and true hope now and always.

Jesus directs us to put our hope in the glory that will come from His resurrection from the dead after He suffers and dies on the cross for our sins.  Lazarus’ resurrection is a kind of downpayment on that, a proof of  concept, an illustration of God’s almighty power to deliver life and salvation to you in Christ.

Our great hope is not to be placed merely on our dying and “going to be in heaven” with our disembodied souls resting peacefully before Christ for the day of the resurrection.  That’s not our great hope.  Christ directs us today to look forward to our bodily resurrection from the dead.

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.  Do you believe this?'” (John 11:25-26, ESV)

Faith in Christ changes us and empowers us.  Faith in Christ moves our hearts away from our hopes in this world-any good but penultimate hope God may give us in this life.  Faith in Christ’s resurrection from the dead takes the fear out of death, though we may still be apprehensive of the process of dying because it’s unknown.

But after Jesus’ bodily resurrection, death for the Christian is now but the gateway to eternal life.  That doesn’t mean death is good or to be welcomed, but death cannot stop the connection of faith and love you have with Christ or your worship of Him.  All death can now do is be the intermission between your life of faith in Christ in your mortal body and the day God raises you from the dead to continually live before Christ, resurrected, in a new and incorruptible body.

And so we wait.  We live in love toward God and our neighbour, fruitfully serving others each day, waiting ultimately for the resurrection and our new and perfect life to begin with each other and with God.  It’s going to be a long wait, but it will be worth it.

Conc:  Martha knew the goal of God’s work and plan in history is the renovation of the whole creation and of the bodies of his faithful on the last day as well as their souls.  Martha was waiting for the resurrection and God’s saving power.  And though her brother’s death and Jesus’ waiting to help her stretched her faith, she still believed all was possible in Christ.  

In Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead and especially in His own resurrection Jesus shows us that though we must wait through these strange days and through all the other trials to come in life, our great hope is ultimately in Him alone and in His promise of the day when He raises us from our tombs and gives us a new body and life with Him in His undying new creation.  That is our one hope, our true hope, and when that day comes, God’s glory will be magnified as we His people praise and glorify Him forever.  When that day comes it will seem like we are living in a dream, but the dream will be real.  Amen.

And now may the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in faith in Christ Jesus, in life everlasting.  Amen.