Raised to New Life

March 29th, 2020

Gospel Reading:

John 11:14-45

So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

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; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” 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.” When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 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. 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.”

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied. Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “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.”

Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 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.” When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 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.” Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

Sermon: Raised to new life

For countless people, the mystery of death brings a variety of emotions. I burst into tears upon learning of my father’s death at Baptist Hospital in Little Rock. Francy experienced anger that she lost her father when she was only twenty five. Our former son-in-law experienced prolonged grief for nearly a full year following the loss of his newborn son, who died at the age of eight months in a neonatal ICU. How have you dealt with the loss of your loved ones? Consider what the experts say as we all shrink beneath the mystery of death.

Experts define five unique stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. When you first learn that someone you love has died, you may simply reject that notion: “This can’t be happening! There must be some mistake. He was fine yesterday when we last spoke.” In the days that follow, deep-seeded hurt will develop into anger: “This can’t be real. It could have been somebody else. The police must have misidentified the body. I don’t believe it!” Then we quickly transition to the negotiation stage when we begin bargaining with God. “God, if you will restore her life, I will always be thankful. You can find me in church every Sunday morning. Please, God, bring her back to me!”

The fourth stage of grief takes much longer to develop. Long after the funeral has ended and family members have returned home, you find yourself all alone. There is no one to talk to, no one to share a meal, no one to kiss goodnight, and no one to laugh with. In the absence of contact with family and close friends, many people will spiral down into a deep and dark depression. They suddenly stop communicating and interacting with their family, coworkers, neighbors, and friends. The tell-tale sign of this depression is total isolation from the outside world. Weight loss is common and alcohol or substance abuse frequently provide an escape from reality.

The final stage of grief is the most important. It is called acceptance. My dad is no longer hospitalized with severe pneumonia, frightened by his surroundings in ICU, and longing for a home cooked meal instead of a feeding tube. Francy’s daddy is no longer in pain from a massive brain tumor, forcing doctors to ease his pain with morphine. Our grandson, John Douglas, is no longer confined in the NICU with tubes, IV’s, a noisy respirator, and threatened by the next emergency surgery. Each one is safely in the arms of Jesus and will never again face sickness, pain, tears, hospitalization, or death. Each one has been raised to new life in Christ Jesus. They are dancing in the streets of heaven and singing with angels in God’s heavenly choir.

Let me try to put the death of Lazarus in the context of these five stages of grief. Days before his death, Mary and Martha, Lazarus’ sisters, sent word to Jesus that their brother was very sick and close to dying. Long before receiving this news, Jesus was completely familiar with Lazarus’ health. His immediate response was most unusual in John 11:4, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” In fact, Jesus stayed where he was for several more days, rather than responding immediately. When Jesus decided to go to Bethany, he knew that Lazarus had died, while his disciples imagined that Lazarus was only sleeping. In John 11:14-15, Jesus made himself totally clear, “Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him.”

By the time Jesus arrived in Bethany, Lazarus had been dead and buried in his grave for four days. So it comes as no surprise when Martha scolded Jesus in John 11:21-22, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you." Martha had already experienced denial and anger. Now she began the negotiation stage, where would bargain with Jesus, sure that Jesus could restore her brother back to life. Was she prepared for what Jesus had to say next?

This is a test for every Christian. What do you believe? That Jesus is the Son of God? That he is our Righteous Savior? That Jesus is the Promised Messiah? Those are important, but very vague statements. Consider Jesus’ confession in John 11:25-26, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” This is the heart of the Gospel message. Jesus is the source of both life on earth as well as eternal life in heaven. He is the Resurrection and the Life! If you believe this, it will make a world of difference.

Just like Lazarus, we will all die--- some as tiny babies, others as innocent children, a few by teen suicide, far too many by drug overdose, and rest as a result of accidents, sickness, cancers, and heart disease. Regardless of the cause of death, if you believe that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life, you may die, but you will also be raised to new life. Doctors, research scientists, pastors, and politicians can promise the world, but none can offer what Jesus has promised. If you believe in Christ Jesus as Lord, you will never die. You will receive eternal life. Do you believe what I am saying? Congratulations, He is your Savior!

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