Sermon - 6th April 2014
The raising of Lazarus
Scripture - John 11:1-45
[An audio version of this sermon is available via the link at Spirituality > Audio and Video]
There is just so much to this story, it is though I believe a story that has a personal invitation for us all.
We often associate bravery with outward strength, we think of soldiers who fight for their countries or those people who believe that strength is measured in physical and mental brutality.
I think that Jesus is just as brave in this story as he is in the last few days of his human life.
We start the story with Mary and Martha sending the message to Jesus that Lazarus has fallen ill. They send the message that ‘the one whom you love is sick'.
The use of the word love is interesting because up until this point, Jesus’ ministry is about love and he heals people and tells people to go and love one another; but here we hear about Jesus’ love being directed at just one named person instead of the masses.
I can say quite happily that I love the world and that I act in love, but my actual love for my family is something different: it's personal to me; it sets me apart in that person’s life; it makes me human. By naming Lazarus as the one whom Jesus loves, the story reinforces Jesus’ humanity.
He then tells them that ‘illness does not lead to death; rather is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God maybe glorified through it'.
This must have puzzled Mary and Martha greatly, and if it were me it would frustrate me just me as much, because you know that Jesus is the guy – he is the guy that can heal, so you must feel some sort of surety knowing that, if Jesus loves you, then you will surely be healed immediately, as he had done previously in his ministry
Nope – Jesus stays put for two more days!
Lazarus was in Judea: the Jews were trying to stone Jesus in Judea. This is what Jesus had to face when thinking about going to visit Lazarus - what bravery would it take to go visit someone who is sick when you yourself may get physically stoned in the process? I don’t know if I could.
The disciples tried to not go – ‘If Lazarus has fallen asleep - he will be ok’. Jesus reinforced that Lazarus was actually dead but that now they will make the trip to Judea.
By the time that they got there Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days – news had spread that Lazarus was dead, in fact it says many of the Jews had come to console Mary and Martha.
Remember these Jews were going to stone Jesus.
Martha almost blames Jesus saying he wouldn’t have died if Jesus was there. He responds... ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they will die, will live and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die’.
We know what Jesus means there, we know he is talking about eternal life – but he hasn’t been crucified yet. To the people who are in earshot this must have been incredibly confusing statement – one though that would have affirmed Jesus’ authority as God.
Jesus went to the tomb and wept. In a very short space of time we see Jesus as God and Jesus’ humanity.
The crying puzzles me, he knows that Lazarus is going to be raised from the dead because he is going to do it and yet he still cries. He could be crying because he is human, because he has had to be so brave to go to Judea despite the threats. Could he be crying because he knows his ministry here on earth is ending and he knows the implications of raising Lazarus?
There is only here, at the garden in Gethsemane, and on the cross do we see Jesus humanity – this was the son of God showing us true bravery. He shows us what it is to be human.
The Jews, still goading him, commented on how much Jesus loved him and that again he could have stopped him dying. He responds … ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said for the sake of the crowd standing here that they may believe that you have sent me’
He raised Lazarus which actually led to many of the Jews believing in him.
That all sounds like a lovely story: Jesus came good on his word – he raised Lazarus from the dead in glorious fashion, and converted a few of the Jews present in the process. What he also did though was seal his fate – he knew that the Jews were watching his every move, he shouldn’t have even been in Judea let alone performing miracles. Many Jews believed in him because of it – many though went to the Pharisees after this and they started to plot to kill Jesus. He knew what events would lead on from this and he still went.
On Wednesday night this week I went out with a project here in Chorlton which is called Mad Dogs Street Project – this project is run by random volunteers who come together to feed the homeless 5 or 6 nights a week.
That night we fed about 30 people or so – but what struck me when I met these people was how brave they were. Passers-by were really quite vile to them. They have very few choices yet they chose to be dignified, which was more than I could say for some of the passers-by.
What I see here today is people who have taken enormously brave decisions to be themselves; to come out as gay; to take the often painful journey to becoming their true gender; to leave their countries and families in often very difficult circumstances just to be who they really are. I think you are incredible.
What I see in this text is Jesus – a human Jesus who bravely holds out on raising Lazarus because he knew the bigger picture; who bravely did it in the face of those who he knew would later kill him in the most painful way. I see a Jesus that wept – I see a brave Jesus.
Bravery is sometimes about having Faith – it’s about waiting and trusting – like Mary and Martha did. Bravery is sometimes quiet – it’s in the eyes of people who are fighting for a life where they can be themselves. Bravery is sometimes just putting one foot in front of the other when everything else around is scary. I can only imagine the human Jesus felt that.
The word brave in the dictionary tells us that it is ‘possessing or exhibiting courage or it is courage endurance’. Courage endurance to me is exactly what this text challenges us to have – to have the bravery to put one foot in front of the other and know that Jesus is next to us.