Sunday, June 22nd, 2008 | Author:

[Note: This is a message I shared at my church on June 22, 2008.]

Let us pray: Father, in the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, we ask You to open our eyes and our ears, that we may know You better, that Your Word may penetrate our hearts, and transform us from glory to glory. Amen.

Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. And it was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. The sisters therefore sent to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” But when Jesus heard it, He said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. When therefore He heard that he was sick, He stayed then two days longer in the place where He was. Then after this He said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to Him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone You, and are You going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” This He said, and after that He said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, that I may awaken him out of sleep.” The disciples therefore said to Him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep. Then Jesus therefore said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him.” Thomas therefore, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.” So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off; and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother. Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him; but Mary still sat in the house. Martha therefore said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. “Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother shall rise again.” Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.” And when she had said this, she went away, and called Mary her sister, saying secretly, “The Teacher is here, and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she arose quickly, and was coming to Him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha met Him. The Jews then who were with her in the house, and consoling her, when they saw that Mary rose up quickly and went out, followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her, also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit, and was troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. And so the Jews were saying, “Behold how He loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of him who was blind, have kept this man also from dying?” Jesus therefore again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you, if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” And so they removed the stone. And Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank Thee that Thou heardest Me. And I knew that Thou hearest Me always; but because of the people standing around I said it, that they may believe that Thou didst send Me.” And when He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” He who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings; and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” Many therefore of the Jews, who had come to Mary and beheld what He had done, believed in Him.[1]

This is one of my favorite stories in the Bible, and I think we can learn a lot from it about God and how he deals with people. So this morning I’m going to share just a few things that jump out at me.

The first is when they told Jesus that Lazarus was sick. He said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified by it.”

When we’re sick, sometimes we feel like God is punishing us, or He’s forgotten us, or we’re just suffering the consequences of bad decisions we’ve made. If we keep in mind, though, that God has allowed our sickness for a purpose, perhaps even to bring glory to Jesus, it makes it a little easier to take. I’ve been praying this verse for Judy, that Jesus will say about her, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified by it.”

Next the story tells us that when Jesus heard the news about Lazarus, he didn’t do anything about it for two days. Two days! He just hung out! Now, you might have figured out that I tend to be impatient. If you haven’t figured this out, just ask my husband. So when I read that Jesus didn’t do anything at all for two whole days, it makes me want to pull my hair out.

But a little farther along in the story, we find out why Jesus waited. He tells His disciples, “Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe.”

Aah. Jesus knew that when he raised Lazarus from the dead, many people would be convinced that Jesus was the Son of God. Many people would believe. Okay, now I won’t be so impatient. Hopefully.

Now Jesus is asking his disciples to go with him to Lazarus — back to Judea, where the Jews want to stone him. First, just in case Jesus forgot, the disciples pointed out that Judea was not a very safe place. When that didn’t change His mind, Thomas, you’ve gotta love Thomas, says, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.”

Are any of you familiar with the Winnie-the-Pooh characters? Eeyore, the donkey, is known to be a very gloomy fellow. In one story, Pooh and all his friends go to great lengths to try to cheer him up. When they’re all done, Eeyore turns to walk away, and says, “Thanks for trying.” Talk about gloomy! That’s who Thomas reminds me of: Let’s go die with Jesus.

So off they go. When Martha hears that they’ve gotten close, she goes to meet Jesus. Her first words to him are, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” Ooh, the reproach. Maybe she really means, “It’s your fault. Why weren’t you here to heal him?” Well, we already know why — so that many people will believe in the Son of God. Jesus talks to Martha, and tells her that Lazarus will rise again, so Martha goes to get Mary.

When Mary goes to meet Jesus, followed by a bunch of fellow mourners, her first words are strikingly familiar: “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” The only difference between her and Martha, is that Mary fell at His feet, and wept. And Jesus was deeply moved in spirit, and was troubled. And Jesus wept.

When we question Jesus like Martha did, when we rebuke Him for not doing things the way we think He should, He answers us and explains to us and loves us. But when we lower our defenses, like Mary did, and fall at His feet with our hearts exposed — He weeps with us.

So now we go to the tomb, and Jesus tells them to remove the stone from in front of it. Martha, ever the pragmatist, says it’s gonna stink really bad, because Lazarus has been dead for four days. Jesus says to Martha, “Did I not say to you, if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” And so they removed the stone.

The story doesn’t tell us who removed the stone, so I don’t think it’s important. But that someone other than Jesus removed the stone I think is very important. Did Jesus really need them to move it? If He’d wanted, I’m sure He could have zapped it into a million pieces just by speaking the words. But He didn’t. He asked the people to remove the stone.

Isaiah 62 is a chapter that talks about intercession. Listen to verses 6-10:

On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have appointed watchmen; All day and all night they will never keep silent. You who remind the LORD, take no rest for yourselves; And give Him no rest until He establishes and makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth. The LORD has sworn by His right hand and by His strong arm, “I will never again give your grain as food for your enemies; Nor will foreigners drink your new wine, for which you have labored. But those who garner it will eat it, and praise the LORD; And those who gather it will drink it in the courts of My sanctuary. Go through, go through the gates; Clear the way for the people; Build up, build up the highway; Remove the stones, lift up a standard over the peoples.”[2]

Did you catch that? Remove the stones, it says. Clear the way for the people. And because Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, I think He often asks us to remove the stones that get in people’s way, the things that keep them from being born again into God’s kingdom. God calls us, Jesus saves us – but we’re supposed to remove the stones.

In my case, I spent many years believing that I was beyond God’s forgiveness. A Christian man in Florida spent 5 hours on the computer with me, explaining that God’s grace was greater than my sin. He removed the stone that was preventing me from entering God’s kingdom. When he finally broke through, with the help of the Holy Spirit, I was born again. So this “remove the stone” idea is not just theory to me. I’m a beneficiary of it, and I hope to remove the stones for many others, as the Lord leads.

And that brings us to the climax of the story.

And Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank Thee that Thou heardest Me. And I knew that Thou hearest Me always; but because of the people standing around I said it, that they may believe that Thou didst send Me.” And when He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.”

And Lazarus came forth. Jesus brought life out of death, the same way He did when I was born again. Ephesians 2:1-7:

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus, in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.[3]

Thank you, Lord.

Okay, back to the story. Jesus has just called out to Lazarus.

He who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings; and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

This is another task that Jesus left to the people, even though it’s something He could easily have done by Himself. Again, I think there’s a parallel to today. When someone is born again into God’s kingdom, we are to help them shed their grave clothes, help them to learn God’s truth, that they may stand firm in the freedom of Christ.

Therefore encourage one another, and build up one another.[4]

Take care, brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.[5]

I recently read an article by a pastor named Anton Bosch, whom I respect a great deal. Here is a small part of it:

“The reason why you are where you are and why the church is still on the earth is not so we can have a bless-me club, or even to worship God. The church is still in the world for only one reason and that is to preach the gospel and to win the lost to Christ. Worship, fellowship, prayer, Bible study and any other aspect of the life of the church can be done better in heaven than here on earth. If church life was only about fellowship with each other and with God, then surely God would just rapture us all. But there is one thing that cannot be done in heaven and that is to reach the lost (because there are none there). Thus the only reason the church has not been raptured is because there are still souls out there that need to be saved.”[6]

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Benediction: Lord, I pray that we learn to remove the stones that prevent the lost from believing in You. I pray that we find ways to help others shed their grave clothes. I pray that we may be worthy to fulfill the last words you spoke to us before ascending into heaven:

Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it shall not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”[7]

In Jesus’ name,
Amen

[1] John 11:1-45
[2] Isaiah 62:6-10
[3] Ephesians 2:1-7
[4] 1 Thessalonians 5:11
[5] Hebrews 3:12-13
[6] Anton Bosch, “How Big is Your World?” http://www.antonbosch.com/Articles/English%202008/How%20big%20is%20your%20world.html
[7] Mark 16:15-18

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