With Jesus at the Grave

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Sermon # in the series: Encountering Jesus
Scripture: John 11
Speaker: Pastor Fred Provencher

Introduction: what does Jesus tells us about life and death?
Facing death causes everyone to ask questions. The finality and inevitability along with the shock of it force us to face things we would rather leave unexamined. This is happening to people in our area as they face the growing heroin problem. People are addicted to opiate drugs, both prescription and illegal, and they are dying as a result. A recent gathering of law enforcement, political and social leaders revealed that not only do we not know how to keep people from dying, we do no know how to show them how to live.
This Lenten season we have been walking with Jesus through the pages of the Gospel of John. This morning we look at John 11 where Jesus walks to a grave and in this scene of sorrow he teaches us about death and what makes life worth living.

First, let’s look at the events of the narrative.

Jesus hears about Lazarus but does not go right away – God wants to use this situation.

11 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.”
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.” (cf John 13:30 – “It was night.”)
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.”

Martha, Mary and their brother Lazarus were friends of Jesus. He loved them all. Yet when he hears of Lazarus’ sickness Jesus does not leave right away and this seems deliberate. When he does decide to go, it is as if he has been given permission from God. Still his disciples are nervous. The last time they were near Jerusalem the religious leaders tried to stone Jesus. Returning does not seem like a good idea, especially if Lazarus has fallen asleep and seems to be recovering. But Jesus knows that Lazarus is dead. He indicates for the second time (“this will not end in death”) that he is going to wake him up. The disciples, especially Thomas, are pessimistic but they go with him anyway.

Jesus arrives, tells Martha he is the resurrection and the life and comforts Mary.

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. 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 (eternal); 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die (living). 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.”
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 (outraged in spirit and troubled). 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
35 Jesus wept.
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?”

There are a lot of emotions happening in this scene. First it is hard to miss the slight rebuke in the sisters’ comments when they remind Jesus that if he had arrived sooner their brother would not have died. This is consistent with a truth found throughout scripture: the more mature you are spiritually the more willing you are to address God with your doubts and questions. On top of this we see the grief. When Mary arrives she is weeping and there is a crowd of people mourning and wailing with her. When Jesus sees them he is deeply troubled, but the emotion is akin to anger. Later when he goes to the grave himself he weep. All this happens though we know that he plans to do something miraculous. He had said “This will not end in death.” He was going to “wake” Lazarus up. How do we make sense of all these emotions?
When Jesus gets to the grave he does something extraordinary: he raises Lazarus from the dead despite the fact that he had been in the grave for four days – an insurmountable amount of time in everyone’s mind. The response is immediate: some believe in Jesus, which makes sense. And some tell the religious leaders who then plan to kill Jesus which also makes sense given all that they had to lose if Jesus really is the Messiah.

Jesus Raises Lazarus From the Dead
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.”
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.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

The Plot to Kill Jesus
45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. 46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.
“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”

49 Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”
51 He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, 52 and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. 53 So from that day on they plotted to take his life.
54 Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the people of Judea.
Why did Jesus raise Lazarus, certainly not to be safe

From the beginning Thomas said this trip would lead to Jesus’ death and it did. Obviously then, Jesus did not do this miracle to somehow “further his ministry” or “build influence.” This very public act would be the first step toward the cross. So why did Jesus raise Lazarus from the grave.
First, Jesus healed Lazarus because he loved Mary, Martha and Lazarus and hated death. This is one way to make sense of Jesus’ emotions.

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.”
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 (outraged in spirit and troubled). 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
35 Jesus wept.
36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

When he see Mary weeping and all the people around her also weeping he is angry. He is not angry at them but at death itself. Jesus knows, in a way much deeper than any of us can imagine, that we are not meant to die. We were created to live with God forever. But because of sin, in the world and in us, acted out in the world and acted out in our lives, we die. Our bodies give out . Death causes separation and separation causes pain. Jesus is angry at the way sin and death has brought pain into the world. He is moved to tears at their sorrow, but also angry.
This is what the people in town feel when they see young people dying from heroin overdose. The EMTs, the Police, the Mayor, they are angry

But there must be more because we know that Jesus purposely delayed his trip to Bethany. If he really hated death he could have left sooner and saved Lazarus before it was all over. Even then Jesus knew that this resuscitation would be temporary, and he knew his own life would be in jeopardy.

Second, Jesus healed to show us that he is the resurrection.

He would conquer death once and for all with his own death. That’s why he was unafraid to go into danger. He knew he was in the Father’s will and that he would give his life.

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die (eternal); 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die (living). Do you believe this?”

Jesus wanted us to remember this statement when we saw him go to the cross and then heard of his resurrection. It would make sense that he had risen because he is the resurrection. Jesus has conquered death and that we do not need to fear it as we did before. Those who believe in him will live even if they die.
But think of Lazarus; he died believing, now he lives believing. What did he experience? What happened to him? We do no know, but he would live his life as a testimony of Jesus’ mercy and power. Instead of being one who died believing Lazarus is one who lives believing, knowing that he will never die.

“living and believing in me …”
Jesus gives us life because he is “the life.” If we look to something else to give us life we will inevitably be disappointed, or worse. The excesses of addiction — drugs, partying, gambling — they suck life from us. They cannot give life. The good things in life food, sex, friendship, work, relationships, are meant to be part of life. They cannot give life. When we look to them to give us life they become addictions.
In this way Jesus has told us something about both life and death. He has come to give us life and come to save us from death. He is the resurrection AND the life. Maybe you need to turn your LIFE as well as your DEATH over to Jesus.

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