First Sunday of Lent – February 18, 2018
John 11:1-44 and Psalm 104:27-30
Wow what a story that was! Jesus was able to bring back Lazarus after he was dead for four days? Lazarus must after all have really mattered or why this special treatment? How many others were brought back to life in all the stories we have read from the Bible?
So what is the story behind this event and it’s significance? It’s not just a resuscitation but a full-blown resurrection! You see, the Pharisees and Sadducees had been watching Jesus closely and for a great deal of time. Was He really the Messiah, the “promised and anointed one”? And if so, He was definitely a threat to the Roman authorities and to the religious leadership. It is the seventh and final sign in the gospel according to John and one of the greatest miracles in this gospel. When news travelled about Jesus raising Lazarus, it was the final straw that actually led us right to Jesus’ crucifixion. It is this miracle which enrages the Pharisees and Sadducees and sets them in motion on their way to destroy Jesus.
So we know there is still one more miracle to come. Another stone is going to be removed. There will be another empty grave. And we all know the rest of this story. The many people who were there when Lazarus was raised would also be there to witness the Risen Christ and to see Jesus conquering death.
But the raising of Lazarus is something special not just because it is miraculous but also because there are many layers to the story. It has a message for us about resurrection living. This passage teaches us about living a life of resurrection now and not waiting for our own resurrection after this life on earth. Yes, we know and believe the most important assurances of life after death but we shouldn’t be waiting for that life. We need to be living fully and experience life in the present time.
Living the resurrection replaces fear with faith
What is living the resurrection and acting with faith all about? Removing perceived obstacles. You see, sometimes we allow the fears of life to wall us in, to surround us and entomb us. We allow ourselves to be sealed off from others. We entomb ourselves in our fear and prejudice. We close ourselves off against anything new or different or challenging. We protect ourselves from being vulnerable but in doing so, something dies in us. We never grow in faith or trust.
Jesus calls us to live by faith and to trust Him. He calls us to “Remove the stones” that separate us from real living. Jesus calls us to replace our fear with faith.
It becomes clear that through trials and all kinds of adversities the Lord shapes our faith. John’s gospel is written in such a way that the conversation between Martha and Jesus lies at the heart of the story and the raising of Lazarus isn’t the main focus.
When Jesus says to Martha, “The one who believes in Me, even though he or she dies, will live. And everyone who lives believing in Me does not ultimately die at all. Do you believe this?”, Martha answers, “Yes, Master. All along I have believed that you are the Messiah.” She is thinking of some new life beyond this existence, but Jesus is talking about now as we live in our current circumstances. It is in this conversation that Jesus is shaping Martha.
Our faith gets shaped in our relationship with Jesus in our daily experiences. Through his Spirit we get new insights, just as Martha gets new insights.
Living the resurrection obeys Christ
Obedience is what sets the faithful apart from people who merely say they are believers. It’s easy to believe in Christ. It’s easy to believe and accept all that Christ teaches and proclaims. It’s easy to accept the message of love and forgiveness; the message of resurrection, hope and new life. But it’s hard to go and do as Jesus teaches us.
It’s hard to love your enemy. It’s hard to pray for those who make life miserable for you. It’s hard to do good to those who hate you. It’s hard not to judge. It’s hard to give without thought of reward or wondering “What do I get out of it?” It’s hard to love God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength; there are so many things to distract us.
Living the resurrection replaces self with service
There’s also one more message to note from this scripture reading. From adversity many good things often stem. There can be a silver lining. How many new possibilities stem from tough times? Let’s think about the Fort McMurray fires of May 2016. Indeed, they were terrible, but they brought Albertans together in incredible ways as never seen before. People were mobilised, sprang into action and there are now better supports in place as a result. There are connections that weren’t there before. The Food Banks still support a lot of them.
The Fort McMurray fires are a very specific example but let’s look at adversity that is much more general and much more common. Think of those you know who have been diagnosed with a serious illness. Time after time, you hear people say “That diagnosis helped me get my priorities straight. It’s pretty easy to figure out what is most important in your life when you are faced with the real possibility of dying.” Adversity can often lead to clarity.
This is similar to what we hear in the story of Lazarus. It eventually led to a sliver lining. Martha learns slowly but surely about what this new dimension to life looks like. All was indeed not just gloomy. Jesus calls us out of the tomb, sets us free and calls us to move beyond ourselves into a life of faith, commitment, obedience and service. When we just come to church and sometimes read our Bibles and just enjoy the fellowship but don’t challenge ourselves, what is our real purpose? Jesus calls us to move beyond who we are to a life of faith and committed service. Amen
Copyright 2018 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church
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