Fifth Sunday in Lent
March 29, 2020 - John 11:1-45
Why does God allow these things to happen? Tragedy, disease, death. Mary and Martha send word to Jesus that their brother is sick. It’s not hard to imagine there’s an expectation in their minds that He should come and heal Lazarus as He healed so many all throughout His ministry. But Jesus doesn’t do that. He waits one day. He waits another day. Then He goes.
Meanwhile, the sisters have been left all alone to care for Lazarus as he eventually dies of severe illness, and Jesus wasn’t even there for them. They sent word – they made their prayers. Right? But Jesus didn’t answer. He didn’t come. So now they mourn for their brother all alone with the empty feeling that comes when a loved one dies. Death is terrible. It’s the end of days.
Death is incredibly hard to imagine and yet it’s all too real. People die every day from many causes. Parents experience fear when their little one develops an illness, and they become anxious when their adult children travel. People are nervous about health conditions. Many fear a cancer diagnosis one day. We experience the uncertainty that a simple errand may end in a deadly accident. Some fear global destruction – perhaps even right now. Many are afraid to go out in public, while loved ones going out in public scare others. The way humans interact with each other has changed drastically – because death terrorizes, bringing agony and the pain of grief.
Fear of death grips the disciples. “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going back there again?” Death has enslaved the way they live!
We see and experience this also. We say things like, “stay safe,” “be safe,” “take care of yourself.” Death has enslaved our society into making safety the top priority. From sports (particularly football and auto racing) to daily living – safety has become the emphasis. We want to be safe because we know that if should something go wrong – death might be right there to snatch us away. That only breeds living in fear, which isn’t really living. There’s no way to ever make every day of our lives safe in every way, but because of fear of death we’re still going to try, even if it’s irrational.
We don’t want to be reckless. We don’t want to be foolish. We want to be wise – especially with the current situation of corona virus. But life in this fallen world is risky and always has been. If everything were about being safe, we very likely wouldn’t be here today. Think of all the great discoveries, endeavors, and inventions that have arisen because people did not live with a “safety always” motto. Think of how many brave, noble, and faithful Christians risked everything, even life itself, to bring the Good News of salvation to the world. Our modern-day obsession with safety, seems to me, to flow from a paralyzing fear of death that strikes sinners. This last enemy to be defeated has such an effect on us that it can enslave us. Death is a very scary thing for lost and condemned sinners. The world is scared and rightfully so. We can delay death, but WE can’t stop it. We can’t defeat it. It’s a curse that chases after sinners.
Jesus delays in going to visit Lazarus, Martha, and Mary during a critical time, and He even expresses gladness that He wasn’t there when Lazarus died. Jesus sometimes acts in ways that surprise us, even seeming cold-hearted. In the face of death and the fear it strikes, God may appear unconcerned, uncaring, or indifferent. Jesus is leading people into a deeper understanding of who He is. Sometimes things in this world may make us feel as though God couldn’t care less. Yet, the Lord may allow things to happen to us for the strengthening of faith in Him for salvation. After all, Jesus declares that what happened to Lazarus was for the glory of God, that the Son may be glorified.
Death is terrible. Paul calls it the last enemy to be defeated. You can’t stop it. I can’t stop it. It’s our cruel taskmaster. It’s one thing to heal someone’s illness. It’s another thing to give sight to a man born blind. But Jesus does something that proves He is the taskmaster of death. “Lazarus, come out.” And the man dead for four days walks out of the tomb. It’s just as Jesus said to Martha. “I am the resurrection and the life.” He has mastery over death itself.
DEATH ITSELF IS NO MATCH FOR JESUS – WHAT COULD ANYTHING ELSE POSSIBLY DO TO YOU?
Jesus – the Lord of life – has mastery over death. He says, “I lay down my life, that I may take it up again.” Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, knowing that He would take Lazarus’ place in death. No one took His life from Him. He laid down His life for the sins of the world – our sins. He entered into death, an act which freed us from death through the forgiveness of our sins. You see, every time you hear those words of comfort – that your sins are forgiven – you are being promised and given life, you are being promised that death is temporary, you are being promised that Jesus will raise you from the dead, you are being promised that He will bring you to Himself.
Jesus took your place in death, knowing that in Him you would have life forevermore, that He will raise you from the dead. Jesus’ death is the death that defeats death forever. One day, He will come again. He will call forth from the grave all who have died. And all the dead shall be raised, because Christ is death’s conqueror.
Christ is the Resurrection and the Life. In Him is life. Your life is in Him. In Him “you live and move and have your being.” No one can die without His allowing it. That’s a scary thought when thinking of Him as our Judge. But when thinking about Him as our Savior, that’s awesome news! The greatest news in the world! The Gospel itself. Christ frees from death’s curse. You can I can’t stop it or triumph over it, but Jesus did!
He promises resurrection unto eternal life in His kingdom to all who believe. The last enemy to be defeated has claimed so many people and strikes fear into the world at the moment. But Christ is resurrection and life. He is the answer to death. He provides the escape from death. He alleviates the fear of death.
So why should we fear anything? Car accident, heart attack, cancer, corona virus… these all can mean death… but Jesus is resurrection and life. In Him you will not cease to exist. You will live eternally. When you draw your last breath, you will enter heavenly rest and bliss. On the last day, Christ will come again calling you to come forth from the grave and He will lead you into the joys of His eternal kingdom with a glorified body, a human being fully restored in the image and likeness of God, just as Adam and Eve were created in the beginning, and you and I will dwell in the paradise forever. That’s what Jesus promises.
Death doesn’t have to be feared. We don’t have to live in a cocoon carefully making sure our next step isn’t our last step. Instead, we can live boldly knowing that “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” because of the forgiveness, life, and salvation Jesus freely gives.
One hymn-writer challenges death saying, “Death, you cannot end my gladness: I am baptized into Christ! When I die I leave all sadness To inherit paradise!” Amen.