Sermon for 5th Sunday in Lent – 3.26.23

+ 5th Sunday in Lent – March 26th, 2023 +

Series A: Ezekiel 37:1-14; Romans 8:1-11; John 11:1-45

Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church

Milton, WA

 

“Two Grieving Sisters”

 

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. It’s a familiar story. A true story. A beautiful story. Full of memorable words. Full of palpable emotions. Full of people like us – Mary, Martha, Lazarus, crowds of friends and family – in need of comfort in the face of grief and death. Most of all, it is a story full, and brimming over with Jesus’ word of promise that even in the midst of grief, in the midst of death itself, Jesus gives life to the dead.

 

Knowing who Jesus is and what he’s done, his words and actions seem strange at first. His good friends Mary and Martha send word, “Lord, he whom you love…Lazarus is ill.” And you’d expect Jesus to hop on a donkey or start walking to Bethany as fast as his legs could carry him. Rush to his friend’s bedside. And do something. After all, he changed water into wine. Fed thousands. Healed the blind man. The lame. The sick. But no. Jesus didn’t do that. He didn’t do anything. For two more days. Jesus waited. And he waited because he loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. And his disciples. And you.

 

“This illness does not lead to death.” Again, seems strange. We know what happens next. Lazarus dies. But Jesus is talking about two deaths. There’s bodily death and eternal death. Forever death. Lazarus’ death, Jesus says, does not lead to eternal, forever death. Like the blind beggar, Lazarus becomes Jesus’ object lesson in preaching his promise: Jesus gives life to the dead.

 

When Jesus is ready, and only then, he says to his disciples…“Let us go to Judea.” “Wait, what? Go to the Judea; where they want to stone and kill you, Jesus?” “Yes. That place. It’s time. My hour is at hand.” “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.”

 

For us, as it was for Martha and Mary, death is overwhelming. Fearful. But not for Jesus. Death is the last enemy, yes, but to Jesus, death is nothing more than a nap, sleep. “Let him sleep. I’ll wake him up.” That’s how Jesus treats humanity’s greatest enemy, Death. It’s a sleep from which He will wake us up as surely as He is risen from the dead. It’s also why we call a cemetery a cemetery. A sleeping place. When you walk among the headstones and grave markers you are treading on resurrection soil. You walk where those who have died in the faith will walk again out of their graves. Remember that next time you’re at a cemetery. Remember Jesus came and died and rose…Jesus gives life to the dead.

 

When Jesus finally arrives in Bethany, Lazarus has been dead four days. It’s now the third day since Jesus found out he was sick. Remember that for later. Martha went out to meet Jesus. Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 

 

We’ve all prayed that prayer, out loud or in quiet. Lord if you had only been here…my friend would’ve been healed. My relationship would’ve been reconciled. My doubt and despair and grief would’ve been gone. Like Martha and Mary, we all grieve…for someone, something. We grieve because everything in this world dies. Relationships. Communities. Dreams. These are all little deaths. Broken pieces of the bigger brokenness of Death itself. The death of loved ones. Of family. Of close friends. Our own death. The finality and fear of death appears set in stone. The wages of sin is death. Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. Will the circle be unbroken?

 

“Your brother will rise again,” Jesus said to Martha. Jesus meant today. Martha thought ahead to the Last Day, which is true – the resurrection of the body is coming. But it’s not the whole truth. There’s more. Jesus speaks to Martha in her grief. He speaks to you. Jesus promises. I give life to the dead. Right here. Right now. Not only in the future. Today. Present tense.

 

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 forever.

 

To us death appears to be the one thing certain in life. Not so says Jesus. There’s something more certain. The promise and reality of his own resurrection from the dead. Jesus’ words aren’t abstract. Wishy washy. No. Jesus is going to Jerusalem where he will die. Where he will rise from the dead. Jesus goes to give life to the dead. Jesus’ death is your death. Jesus’ life is your life. Jesus’ resurrection is your resurrection.

 

I AM the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, lives even though he dies. (He lives in spite of his death.) And whoever lives and believes in me never dies forever (He may die for a while but not forever.)” Do you believe this, Jesus asks.

 

That’s the question. Do you believe this? Do you believe this in the face of your own, inevitable death? Do you believe this when the doctor says you have six months to live, when you see your friends dying all around you, when the world seems to be filled with nothing but death and despair? Do you believe that Jesus is resurrection and Jesus is life and that to live and believe in Him is to have life now and forever? Jesus is the antidote to Death. He is the One who died and rose to conquer death and give life to the dead.

 

“Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” What a beautiful confession of faith.

 

Don’t forget about Mary though. Jesus calls her. She comes to him. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. That’s Mary. The disciple sitting at Jesus’ feet. Hearing. Following. Now weeping at Jesus’ feet. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

 

There’s no conversation with Mary and Jesus, like Martha and Jesus. Yet Jesus is still busy. Jesus saw Mary weeping. Jesus joins her. Jesus weeps. We have a God who weeps with us and for us and knows what it’s like to grieve as one of us, to feel sorrow and anger and the sting of death. And more than that, we have the God who has come to do something about it. Jesus gives life to the dead. Jesus weeps with her, for her, but its more than grief. Jesus is “deeply troubled” most translations say. It’s a word that can also mean a snort, an urgent warning, or to admonish sternly.

 

What is it that has Jesus so upset? Is it his grief? Is it the unbelief of the crowds? Yes, but more than that, Jesus is rip-snorting mad and burning with anger at Death itself. The death of his friend Lazarus. Death in his world made very good. Death that reigns from Adam in all children of Adam, except for our Lord Jesus. Death, his enemy. An enemy Jesus has come to destroy.

 

Jesus walks up to the tomb. A cave. There’s a stone. It’s the third day. Sound familiar? Jesus is pointing us through Lazarus’ tomb all the way to his own empty tomb. A dress rehearsal before the main event on Easter Sunday. Take away the stone.

 

Martha interjects. “Um, Lord…you know, he’s going to smell.” “Lord, he stinketh” (KVJ). No matter and no problem for Jesus. Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” An invitation to believe in him who is the resurrection and the life. You want the glory of God? Here I am Jesus says.  The glory of God is a living man (Irenaeus), a man who is God who came to give life to the dead.

 

Jesus prays to the Father for the sake of those gathered around. For his hearers then. For you now. Jesus does prays the way he does everything else. For your sake.

 

And then, with a loud voice, like the sound of many rushing waters. “Lazarus, come forth.”

 

There’s an old preacher’s joke that the reason Jesus called out Lazarus by name is because if he simply said “come forth” all the dead within earshot would’ve rose from their tombs as well. Because it’s Jesus, the resurrection and the life, who’s speaking. What he says happens.

 

And then, Lazarus, dead as a doornail, four-days-stinking-dead Lazarus came out of his tomb. His hands and feet bound with linen strips, his face wrapped with cloth. Unbind him, and let him go.

 

It’s unclear who Jesus is talking to here, is it the crowds or Death itself. Why not both? When Jesus speaks Death cowers in fear. When Jesus speaks Death is defeated and defenseless. When Jesus speaks Death tucks its tail like a scaredy cat and runs away. When Jesus speaks there’s not a thing Death can do to stop him, because he is the resurrection and the life…for Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, and for you.

 

What Jesus did for Lazarus he has done for you. Present tense. You are raised up in new life already now. And future tense too. I will raise you up on the Last Day.

 

In this world where bad news is always expected, Jesus brings good news that is unexpected…Jesus comes for Mary, Martha, Lazarus, the crowds, and you, to give you life from the dead.

 

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 forever.

 

Believe this.

 

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Beautiful Savior

is a traditional Lutheran Church, faithful to God's Word and His Sacraments. We equip God's people to serve, love, and encourage one another as we grow in our personal relationship with Christ. We reach out to the community as beacons of light, sharing the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Savior.

Church Office Hours

Monday - Thursday 8:30am-3:30pm

Friday 8:30am-11:30am

The office is closed on Fridays during the summer months of June, July, and August.

Preschool Office Hours

August - May
Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday
8:30am-12:30pm

By appointment only June and July

Contact

Address
2306 Milton Way
Milton, WA 98354
Phone
(253) 922-6977
Fax
(253) 922-6977