Believe

April 2, 2017

 

In the Apostles Creed, which we will pray a bit later today, we say   these words: 

“I believe in the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”

What does that mean to you?

I bet that if I asked five different people, I would get five different answers. 

So think about it for a minute — what does it mean that you are believing into the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting?

It’s what Jesus asks in the reading , John 11.1-45.  

We might answer this way: 

* I believe Jesus raised Lazarus, who had been dead in a tomb for four days, back to life.

* I believe Jesus was physically raised from the dead.

* I believe I will be raised from the dead too, somehow. 

* I believe I’m going to be raised with Jesus and reunited with my family members in heaven one day.

Am I in the ball park? 

Well, good. All of those things, take comfort in them, because they are true. 

You can believe in them. This is the Good News. 

But does that mean we walk around in a state of bliss and ceaseless happiness even while those whom we love are hurting?

Does it mean that we can look at the suffering and persecution around the word and not be affected by it?

Does that mean we don’t ever hurt either? 

I wish… I wish… 

 

Jesus wept

This isn’t what Jesus shows us in our reading about his close friend Lazarus’s death, is it?

No, it isn’t. Instead we see Jesus “greatly disturbed” in verses 33 and 38, and we see the words “Jesus began to weep” in Verse 35.

Well, let’s unpack this reading a little to figure out what is troubling Jesus.

First, Bethany — where Lazarus lives — is only about two miles from Jerusalem to the east. 

We are six days before the Passover, in which all faithful Jews will make a pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem for the week. 

The Passover is also when Jesus will be killed. So we’re very close to Jesus’s crucifixion, which will happen in Jerusalem. 

Jesus knows what’s coming, and recently he’s been going back and forth to Bethany — where the Mount of Olives is, and where Lazarus, Mary (the one who will anoint Jesus with oil and her hair) and Martha live. 

But he’s in Jerusalem on this day, and we could imagine that the city is beginning to swell with people. 

Passover is THE big event for the Jews, and people travel days, even weeks, to come to Jerusalem. 

The Pharisees and others have Jesus as a marked man, though. And so it seems that Jesus is laying low, waiting. 

And with this Holy Week coming, there’s probably a whole lot of distractions now. 

But then Jesus gets word that his dear friend Lazarus is ill, and he discusses it with his disciples. 

He tells them that this illness will not lead to death, but that it is “for God’s glory, so that the son of man will be glorified through it” Verse 5.

I want to stop right there for a second. 

Sometimes, we read this passage and get hung up on it. 

When Jesus says that Lazarus’s condition is for God’s glory, does that mean God caused Lazarus’s illness and subsequent death so it would glorify him after Jesus raises his friend?

No. God doesn’t hurt God’s children; God heals them. 

What it means is that, like I said above, we will suffer. We will be sick. We will be persecuted. And sometimes, we will even die because of it. 

But God doesn’t cause it. 

What Jesus is saying that God will use this instance to bring glory. 

Just like the man who was born blind. God didn’t make him blind; but God will use the man’s condition to bring Glory. 

See, God makes beautiful things out of dust (Isaiah 61.3).

He will use our pain and suffering to bring goodness.

That’s God’s promise to us. 

Again, bad things happen. God doesn't cause them. But if we have faith, we will see how God brings good.  

And when we see the good, we can look back and see the promise. 

We WILL experience the promise. And we will testify to it. We will grow in strength. This is how we glorify God. 

Jesus even tells the disciples in Verse 13 — after the all the  metaphors about sleep and awake and light and dark — that Lazarus is dead, but that “For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.”

If Jesus had been there, he would have healed Lazarus, but the fact that he wasn’t means something greater will happen. 

“So that you may believe,” he tells the disciples. 

It’s less than a week before Jesus’s own death, and the disciples still aren’t getting it — not what it means to be the Son of Man, not what it means that Jesus will be resurrected, not really what it even means that Jesus is eternal life. 

But again, is this why Jesus waits? To make a point? 

No. 

Jesus waits because he’s obedient. 

Jesus is obedient to God, and he waits for God’s go-ahead before heading back to Bethany. 

This is so important! 

What it means, and what Jesus has been showing the disciples each and every day and what he’s showing us here today is that we need two things:

Faith AND obedience. 

It takes two days before Jesus is able to go to Bethany. 

He knows exactly what will happen if he remains in Jerusalem, yet he waits on God.

 How many times have we acted the exact opposite? Oh, I do it every day… “God,” we pray, “give me the answer, show me the way.”

But we don’t hear anything, our faith wanes, and we start reaching for what’s not there. We make up our own minds.

What if Jesus did that?

Outside of not being obedient, he might have gone, healed Lazarus while he was still alive, and the faith needle in the disciples and Mary and Martha wouldn’t have moved but a tick. 

Jesus is so close to his own death and resurrection, and he needs his followers to clearly understand — and be prepared for — what is about to happen, for who Jesus is.

We’ll get to the rest of that story in the coming two weeks, but for now, know the disciples still don’t fully get it. 

And Jesus needs them to. 

 

Flesh and Blood

So Jesus knows the danger he faces traveling again to Bethany. 

He knows what is coming for him — his death upon the cross.

And he knows of the pain and persecution that not only he will suffer, but his friends will suffer as well. 

Jesus is flesh and blood, just like you and me. 

He is God incarnate, come to earth to live just like you and me; to  face the temptations we face; and to bleed just like we do. 

So that we can never say “Oh, God doesn’t understand this pain.”

No, God understands this pain, and so much more. 

He experiences what it means for the people he loves to be sick and die. 

He understand what it means for people to be treated like dirt, disregarded. 

He understands the anguish that this world doles out far too frequently. 

And he cries for Lazarus. For Martha and for Mary — even though he is fully aware that he can and will resurrect Lazarus.

You see, this is such a beautiful moment here. 

Jesus could stand completely aloof in the moment. He knows the power that he has. 

He is not disembodied; Jesus is fully human, and he shows us just how human he is. 

Why is his sorrow beautiful? What other faith has a love so deep for God’s children?

That God would come as a human — not above us, but truly beneath us. The least. Poor. Humiliated. Crucified.

If Jesus was to come to us in the same way today, he would come as an immigrant child, born destitute as a nobody. 

What other quote “god” is like this? 

This is the God who loves. 

That’s true love. Sacrifice is true love. No other god, no other royalty steps down from their throne for us. 

Jesus weeps.  

 

Mary & Martha

Imagine what that must look like to Mary and Martha, Lazarus’s sisters, who also are very special to Jesus. 

 They know who Jesus is, they believe in the Messiah, and that’s why they call for him — to come and heal their brother. 

Imagine how angry and confused they must be: “It’s great that you’re going to prove some sort of point, Jesus, but this is real to us. We are in pain here, and you could have spared Lazarus the pain of dying and us the pain of his death!”

Think about that — what if it was your loved one! Wouldn’t you feel this way once Jesus finally shows up on the scene?

It’s only a mile and a half away! Why did it take two extra days?!

Jesus tells them — Martha who resents Jesus’s delay, and Mary, who falls at his feet blaming Jesus — “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.

“Do you believe this?” he asks them. 

Within the sisters, there is complaint and confidence. Even though they are angry, they believe. Isn’t that just like us?

Martha says “I know God will give you whatever you ask of him.” (Verse 21). 

Mary says in Verse 27, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

They are hurting, angry, crying, devastated. 

But they still have faith. 

 

It’s OK to be angry. We need to be sad. Sometimes, we’re even devastated at what life delivers.

And no, we don’t deserve it at all. And no, it’s not fair.

We don’t have to put a smile on our face when inside we’re dying just because we’re Christians.

One third of the Psalms are Laments — cries out to God. Raw, angry, questioning!

We have the book of Lamentations and Ecclesiastes. We have Job, why?

Why are these books still in the Bible when they do nothing but complain and even accuse God?!

How is it that God’s own son pleads “Take this cup from me!” and later on the cross, “Why have you forsaken me!?”

The answer is in Jesus’s very own tears.

We learn through these very wise and holy books that this is how we grieve. 

That it’s OK to mourn. 

That God hears us, and is with us, and because of Jesus, knows exactly what we’re going through. 

But it never negates God’s promise in our life. 

That question I asked at the beginning: what does it mean to you to say “I believe in the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting?”

Faith that God will work through whatever pit we find ourselves mired in. Whatever depression we seem to be trapped in. Whatever grief that covers us like a suffocating blanket. 

Set your mind on God! 

Trust in God! 

Be obedient to God! 

Be faithful to God!

God has delivered on that promise every single time!

And God is unchanging! 

 

Set your mind on God

What does it mean, set your mind on God?

Before Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, what does he do?

He looks upward and says, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.”

See, Jesus prays to God. 

Your will, God; not mine. 

The glory is yours, God; not mine. 

And of course this will glorify God, and it will glorify Jesus as the Son of God.

“Lazarus, come out!”

 

At the end of this reading, we see Lazarus. 

What does he look like?

Verse 44: “The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth.”

Then Jesus said to them “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Lazarus, you see, comes out of the tomb wrapped in burial cloths. 

But when Jesus is resurrected, how does he come out of the tomb?

Without burial cloths. 

Lazarus will die again, and the burial wrappings signify the hold that death has on him and us.

Jesus will never die again, and him emerging with out the burial cloths show that death does not have a hold on him, unbound by the bonds of death.

Lazarus still needs to be unbound — “Unbind him and let him go.”

We need Jesus to unbind us! 

It is through Jesus that we’re unbound, set free from death! 

It’s in this reading that we prepare to enter the story of Jesus’s death and resurrection. 

For now, we end with these words in Verse 45:

“Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. 

 

Believe

It’s those words right there that depict what has happened in the world. 

Many have seen and believe. But we know that’s not everyone. 

We know how this story ends. 

Because if everyone believed, the cross wouldn’t have the meaning it does for us today. 

And today, it remains the same. 

Sure, those who did believe know the story and have experienced God’s love.

That love that defies logic and reason. 

That mystery that confounds us, gives us hope. 

That perfect love that unites us as brothers and sisters in the world. 

That Food that instead of satisfying us, makes us even more hungry for God. 

That’s what faith is. 

Being obedient to that which we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (Hebrews 11.1).

Hold tightly to that promise.

Because that promise is fulfilled in the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

That is what it means to be unbound. 

 

 

 

 

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