Monday, April 7, 2014

Lent 5 of Series A (John 11:17-27, 38-53)

I was in Abraham’s bosom, dwelling in eternal bliss. All around me were the patriarchs, the prophets, and countless others who had trusted in the coming One, the One who they had only heard of in prophecy, but I had seen with my own eyes and had touched with my own hands. I even counted Him as a dear friend; when my sisters sent a message to Jesus, they simply said, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” When I became sick, even though it was a violent illness, my sisters and I were confident of healing. We knew Jesus, after all. We had seen him heal others before, we had heard dozens of other stories, and now if his beloved friends were suffering, He would surely come. He had healed strangers; He would certainly heal His friend. As the Jews said, “Could not He who opened the eyes of the blind also have kept this man from dying?” But Jesus didn’t come. He never arrived at my bed, and so I said my goodbyes to Mary and Martha and passed from this world to the company of all the saints. There I found perfect peace, there I found perfect comfort, there I found perfect joy. In Abraham’s bosom, it didn’t really matter anymore that Jesus had failed to come; for the first time, I was perfectly satisfied. I dwelt there, enjoying the Sabbath rest for what seemed like just moments, or maybe a couple lifetimes, when I heard the voice: “Lazarus, come out!”
It didn’t matter whether I wanted to leave or not; I was going back into the world, and in moments I was standing there, outside the tomb, wrapped in grave cloths. Jesus, who had allowed me to die, now yanked me from the peace of Abraham’s bosom and back into a world that I knew very well was filled with pain, suffering, and evil. I had died once; now I knew that I would have to die again. More than that, the religious leaders wanted to make that death happen, and soon. So, not only did I dwell again in a corrupted world, I was going to be persecuted on top of it. Why? What possible reason did Jesus have for letting me die and then pulling me out of heaven?

I was raised so that many would believe. My resurrection was the proof that Jesus was who He said He was. He told my sister, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” I was raised so that Jesus could demonstrate before my sisters, before the Jews who had come to comfort them, before me, and even before you, living two thousand years later, that He was the master over death. He claims to be the resurrection and the life? Well, when I walked out of the tomb that day, He proved it. He says that those who believe in Him will never die? I was pulled out of Abraham’s bosom to declare that He speaks the truth. Isn’t this the most amazing phrase in all of Scripture? “The man who had died came out.” This is paradoxical, it is nonsense, dead men don’t go anywhere on their own. But I did, by the power of Christ’s word. He spoke to me as if I was living, and through the power of His Word, I did live. Jesus commanded the people standing around, “Unbind him, and let him go.” As they pulled the linens off my body, they could touch with their hands the truth of Jesus’ authority over death. I was no ghost, and everyone who saw me knew that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. I was raised as the greatest sign that He would ever do, the culminating sign that capped off His entire ministry. I was raised so that many would believe.

Both of my sisters had the same cry of anguish to our Lord, our friend, when they met Him that day. “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” They asked Him in tears, ‘Why?’ But even before I walked from the grave, Martha gave a bold confession, she showed forth her faith. First she said, “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, He will give you.” Then she declared, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God who is coming into the world.” She still needed to see the miracle to confirm that faith, as Jesus gently chided her when she protested against opening my smelly grave: “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” I was raised so that those dearest to me, my two beloved sisters, would believe that our friend Jesus had come to conquer death, so that they would boldly confess that faith until their dying day. But even more than that, I was raised so that you would believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life.

You see, we all fear death, and rightfully so, for it is our greatest enemy, it is the penalty given in the garden, and it hangs over our head still today. Every person on the face of this planet is going to die. People know this, instinctively, and so they put forth an enormous amount of time, money, and energy trying to stave off death. But that’s all that you can do; even with the best efforts of the medical community, you can only put off death, you cannot conquer it. Only One man has the power to overcome death, and He raised me to prove it. He declared, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” Yes, your body will die, it’s inevitable. But by believing in Christ, you shall still live. How many bend over backwards to keep the body healthy, while neglecting the health of the soul? Saint Augustine wrote, “Every man is afraid of the death of the flesh; few, of the death of the soul.” Just make a simple comparison. Do more people in our world go to worship or visit the doctor? Do more people spend time in prayer or take pills? Do more people see their pastor or have surgeries? Where do your priorities lie? Take it from me, the one who believes will live, even though he dies. The one who doesn’t believe is dead already, and no doctor or hospital can help his soul. No doubt you should take care of your body, and God has given people skills of healing for your good, but so many are focused on trying in vain to avoid the death of the body that they neglect the soul, and when death comes, they will tragically find that they have lost both.

That’s the trap the Pharisees fell into. They were concerned about earthly things: their place and their nation. They thought that by killing Jesus (and me, too, if they could) those things would be safe. But less than forty years after the death of Christ, their place, their temple, was destroyed, and their nation was taken away. They sacrificed their souls for the sake of the things of this world, and they ended up losing both. I was raised so that many would believe; I was also raised so that some would disbelieve, and rage against the One who gives life to the dead. I was raised so that my friend would die, so that the Pharisees and the chief priests would unite together to destroy Him.

They were gathered to determine how to respond to my resurrection. Here’s a hint, guys: believe! Fall down and worship the One who has power over death. But, sadly, they went in another direction. Caiaphas stood up and declared, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” That was their plan; but it was God’s plan, too. He was going to work through Caiaphas and the rest, and Jesus truly would die for the people. Caiaphas never spoke a truer word: Jesus had come to die for the people, He came to die so that you and I would not die eternally. His suffering was for the people, it was for you. His death was for the people, it was for you. I was raised so that Christ would be put to death, and He was put to death so that you will live. Because He died for the people, the nation will not perish. “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”

My resurrection points to another resurrection, two weeks later. Another tomb in a cave, another stone placed across its entrance. This time three days, not four, but the same result: He who was dead is now alive. I was raised to give a preview of Christ’s own resurrection; I was raised to point to Jesus. He demonstrated that He had power over death when I left my tomb behind; when He rises, that victory is complete, He has fulfilled His words: “I am the resurrection and the life.” He is the resurrection because He is the resurrected One. He is the life because He gives life, and He gives life to all. Saint John writes, “[Caiaphas] prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.”

That is what the Last Day is all about; on that Day, Jesus will gather into one the children of God scattered throughout the world, as God promises through Ezekiel: “And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land.” My resurrection points to Jesus’ resurrection only two weeks later; my resurrection points to your resurrection on the day of His return. I was raised to show you your future, and mine. I went through death twice, my body is back in the grave, but it will not stay there. Neither will yours, or the bodies of any who belong to Christ. And the resurrection that is coming is much greater than the one I went through. 

I was stinky; you will be dust, the dry bones that Ezekiel saw in his vision. I was raised to die again, I was raised to be persecuted and suffer in this world of sin; you will be raised to live forever, you will be raised following the pattern of Jesus. My body was still sinful and fallen; yours will be perfect forever. The one who believes will still die, but because they belong to Christ, their soul dwells with Him, and their body will live again. As Saint Paul says, “If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” I’m waiting for that day, here with all the saints in heaven; you are too, as you walk through a world of sin. Christ promises resurrection to you and all who believe; a promise guaranteed by my resurrection a week before Palm Sunday, and Christ’s resurrection a week after. Christ is the resurrection and the life: your resurrection and your life. In His Name, Amen.

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