I started working at my first church when I was a sophomore in college and I was so excited to have an opportunity to hang out with a core group of people who loved Jesus . . . because I loved Jesus and I loved people so this was the perfect match . . . we could sit around and talk about Jesus and worship Jesus and do mission projects for Jesus. This was going to be awesome!
But what I quickly realized is that within the church there are a lot of broken, devastated, struggling, and completely wrecked people and to be completely honest, I was not at all prepared for that.
Just because somebody dresses nice and smiles on Sunday morning, just because worship was amazing, and a lot of people showed up . . . doesn’t mean that people aren’t dealing with a lot of pain and desperately want to connect to a God who has compassion on broken, wrecked, and struggling people.
Because the reality is that your life, at some point, is going to be wrecked. My life is going to be wrecked. We’re all going to struggle through something that is really- difficult. And the more people you love, the more people you are willing to be in authentic community with, the more occasions you will have to be wrecked.
Which is why in today’s social media culture, I get frustrated with churches. It seems to me that every advertisement or post I see from churches is about how amazing everything is and if you would just come to our church, your life could be amazing as ours and I just don’t think that connects with people who are struggling.
But what we learn this morning is that Jesus finds people who are struggling. God comes to earth as the man named Jesus, and he goes looking for absolutely-wrecked people and he has compassion for them, and he offers to them something more than an amazing worship service, mind-blowing church programming, or quotable tweets . . . he offers to them life.
He invades our present reality, untangles our past, and takes the hope you have in your future and pulls it into the present.
Let's listen to our text: John 11:17-44
At this point of Jesus’ ministry, he was becoming controversial . . . He has just wrapped up a preaching tour where large crowds had been following him to see what he’s going to do next.
But Jesus told them that they were getting so caught up in what he was doing that they were missing who he was and so he’s been telling them in very clear terms that he is God and all that he had been doing was designed to help them see that.
As you can imagine, this hasn't set will with the religious leaders, who are now out to get him.
So, as we come to this text, Jesus is hanging out with disciples near the Jordan River because his time had not yet come, and this was a much safer place for him to be. And as he is there, he receives word that one of his closest friends, Lazarus, is dying in the nearby town of Bethany.
Now you would think that Jesus would immediately get up and go be with him. After all, he had met the needs of so many other people . . . but instead, Jesus decides to stay put. You see, what is to follow is a sign and the signs are designed to help people see more clearly who Jesus is. And so, he waits.
And after two days of chilling out with the disciples, he says "Ok, guys let's get going"
Now, Bethany is only 20 miles away so he could have easily made it in a day but he takes his time and when he arrives, Lazarus has been dead for four days.
And as he approaches the city gates, Jesus is met by Lazarus' sister, Martha, and she's very frustrated with him because it's too late. Her brother is dead and now she has most likely lost everything.
You see, in that day, women were particularly vulnerable because this was a man's world and women had to rely on men to provide for them.
Martha has just buried the only man in her life, her brother . . . which means that she is without any means of economic support and relegated to the fringes of community.
So immediately, she brings up the past because she believes the past is going to define her future and now, she’s struggling to reconcile that Jesus, her dear friend, would allow that to happen.
I think we can relate because for many of us, there is this thing behind us that has defined us, and we struggle reconciling a loving God with that thing. We can’t reconcile that he would love because of what we’ve done, and we can’t reconcile him being loving when we consider what has been done to us.
This is the struggle that prompts Martha’s statement, “If you had been here, if you had just shown up when I really needed you to show up, my brother would not have died.”
That may or may not be true, right? But all she can see is that her brother was dying, Jesus could have done something about it, but he was a no show, so he died and now her future doesn’t look so good.
But even as she questions Jesus, she makes a new commitment to him and affirms that she still believes God will give Jesus whatever he asks.
Now, I’m going to suggest that this is just spiritual platitude. In other words, she’s saying what she thinks she supposed to say but deep down she doesn’t really believe it.
This is something we all do. When you’re in a season of life that’s just difficult, you have these sentences that you’ll just say or post online but the depth of those words hasn’t really nestled in your heart.
This is where I believe Martha finds herself. And so, Jesus tells her that her brother will rise again and then he uses another I AM statement . . . He says, "I AM the resurrection and the life and who ever believes in me will have life" and then he asks her, "Do you believe?"
She responds, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
Here we have Martha looking back into her past, “If you would have just been here” followed by an inch deep of spiritual platitudes, “God will do whatever you ask”, on to “I know that years and years from now, he’ll rise” deep into her future. That’s where my hope lies.
So, Jesus steps in and says to her, “No, no, no. I am the resurrection and life. Whoever believes in me, though he dies, yet will they live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”
The resurrection and life isn’t some future event. It’s here now. Jesus is saying, “I am the solution to this problem of broken pasts, shallow religious platitudes, and a future hope that is years away.”
And if you chose to believe, you will have life here and now.
It’s a moment of choice for her; Does she really believe Jesus or is she just saying the words?
And in this moment, she lays down her anger at Jesus, she gives up her need for answers and guarantees, and she simply let’s go – letting herself fall into a faith that offers no certainty and no promise of comfort.
After this, Martha runs into town to let her sister Mary know that Jesus has arrived and immediately she got up and ran to him, and a crowd of people followed her. All of them mourning and grieving. You see, funerals were a community wide event. The village had essentially shut down. Everyone is weeping and bawling with these sisters.
And in the midst of this pain and suffering . . . Jesus just shows up.
But that’s how Jesus works. He seeks and he finds struggling and wrecked people . . . When he enters in the city and collides with her entourage, he was moved with compassion and he wept.
To me, these are the most powerful 2 words in all of scripture. Jesus, the author and creator, steps into his creation and grieves with it.
Now, if the crowd hadn’t hushed when he wept, I’m sure it does when Jesus tells them to open the tomb because you’re not supposed to be exposed to a dead body. It’s ceremonially unclean. And by exposing yourself to it, it will make you unclean.
Not to mention that it's been four days, and everybody know that by now, the guy is not just dead . . . he's really-dead. You see, in that culture, they believed that the Spirit of a person would hover over the body for three days but on the fourth day, when the body began to decompose, it would depart.
Well, it's been four days, so the spirit has left and let's be honest a decomposing body smells. In fact, the King James version says, “he stinketh”.
But Jesus isn't concerned about religious rules, or superstition, or even the stench of death as he prays to the father thanking him for who he is and that through this sign people would believe that He is the resurrection and the life.
And then he gives a command . . . “Lazarus come out”.
The literal translation is this . . . it's this way. Come out of the grave and come to me this way because I am the resurrection and the giver of life.
And with this command Lazarus walks out of the grave.
Can you imagine the emotional transition in that moment? Lazarus gets out of the coffin, comes out and starts’ talking to everybody. He’s alive and well and restored to health.
And that’s what Jesus does. He touches dead people and brings life.
You see, this story is about grace . . . this raising doesn’t happen because of a sister's plea or even their worthiness as friends. It happened because Jesus has compassion for them and in his compassion, he extends his grace . . . period.
But in the midst of all of this, there is something else happening; Jesus is unveiling His kingdom. He’s showing his power over death and revealing a kingdom that has yet to come . . . it’s a kingdom in which there will be no more pain, no more suffering, and no more death.
As we read the story of the resurrected Lazarus, we’re reminded of the death and resurrection of Jesus:
- Jesus comes as the only Son of God who is deeply loved by his father . . . this is the sisters only brother and they deeply love him.
- And just as Lazarus died, Jesus died on our behalf.
- And as Lazarus rose from death, so Jesus rose from death to conquer death for those who believe that he is the resurrection and life.
You see, we don’t worship a God who is immune to suffering. If you’re hurting, he knows exactly what you feel like, because he was present for the death of the Son and he felt it.
But his promise is, “Trust me. Stick with me. We need to get to the other side of resurrection. And I know right now, it is exceedingly painful because I have felt that pain, but we can do this because Jesus is the resurrection and the life!”
So, if you are suffering, lean heavily on Jesus for comfort, love, support, and understanding.
And be in community with his people. What we see is an entire community surrounding themselves around these sisters in the moment of their suffering . . . that’s what God's church is supposed to be about. You need others around you when you’re suffering, and you need to present and available in order to rally around those who are suffering.
And God today would call us to worship him in faith because today may feel like a funeral day, but a resurrection day is coming.
So today, suffer and weep as these women did, mourn and cry as they did, surround and support one another as the town of Bethany did, but by faith, trust that resurrection is coming, and this same Jesus, reaches down into death, and has life for you and for me because He is the resurrection and the life.