Revd Jane Webb, 16th March 2014
Everyone wants proof, but they don’t always see what is there. Throughout the History of the Jews God had revealed himself to his people in so many ways. In John 14, v8, Philip says to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” And Jesus replied, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” John calls Jesus’ miracles “signs” – signs to lead people to see who God is. The raising of Lazarus is the 7th sign John records, the final one before the resurrection itself. It led many people to faith, but at the same time finally united the various opponents to call together the Sanhedrin, the ruling council, to plot his death. Jesus declared to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life”. Resurrection isn’t a doctrine, it’s a person. Jesus is the life giver, both now and in the future, and his act of giving life to Lazarus provoked the authorities to plan to take His life.
Jesus the Magician?
Did you notice that Martha and Mary both said exactly the same thing? Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died. If only Jesus had got there sooner.. Why did Jesus choose to wait? In v17 we are told that by the time Jesus arrived, Lazarus had already been in the tomb 4 days. Many Jews believed that the soul remained near the body for 3 days, after that it was too late. Jesus didn’t want anyone to think that Lazarus wasn’t really dead, and by the time he arrived, any hope was gone. It’s too late – if only.. Did you watch any of the Back to the Future films? Where Marty goes back to the past to change things, to sort out the future? How many of us would say, if only Jesus had made it different, then bad things wouldn’t happen. If only he would step in and wave his magic wand. His answer is that our belief will come and God will receive the glory as He stands with us though our difficulties and we can see His power at work. Has your faith been strengthened by the easy days, the easy weeks, the year that was smooth, or has it grown as God has stood beside you and gone before you in the dark places and unbearably painful times that are part of life on earth. What does resurrection mean to me? Lord, if only you had stopped Aiden getting in with the wrong friends? But at his baptism Aiden told us how it was that night, in the prison cell, afterbeing accused of the Pingle fire, that he gave his life to Jesus, his life was turned around and he has never looked back.
Jesus the Messiah
Was there another reason that Jesus didn’t go immediately he heard of Lazarus’ illness? Did the human Jesus, who we know agonised in the garden, need time to pray, to understand his role as the Messiah, the anointed one? Father, do you really want me to go back to a place where they tried to stone me? Or..I know you have power to turn water into wine, to still the storm and to give sight to the blind– but are you sure a dead man can be raised? Did Jesus need to be shown the power of the father over death itself, the possibility of life in resurrection? Was this really the path he must tread?
Even as the authorities plot, a few verses on in v 50, Caiaphas the High Priest, says without realising, something so significant, “You do not realise that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” John could hear the irony of that. Jesus would indeed die for us, the Shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep, the Servant by whose wounds we are healed, so that we might have eternal life. What does resurrection mean to me? Lord, if only you had stopped Richard marrying Ruth? I remember how they struggled with their marriage and just recently said to Ruth, “It’s so good to see your family so happy these days. She can’t be here today but asked me to tell you, “Rich and I would not be married now without the Christian help and God’s saving grace, I am sure of it”.
Jesus the Man of Sorrows
Jesus wasn’t a magician, he was the Messiah, but still a man, a man of sorrows. Being with Mary in her grief, mourning his friend, Jesus wept. If our image of God is all powerful, seated in glory, then we need to add to that the reality of God who weeps with mourners at the death of a dear friend. However much Jesus knew and understood the power of the Father and the reality of Resurrection, he enters into our sorrows, enters our world. Mark Stibbe describes Jesus as the “deity who shed tears, who feels anger, and who dares to look through the dark threshold of a place where he himself will have to enter.” Don’t let anyone tell you that Christians shouldn’t grieve. We have hope, but if we love, then loss brings pain, and Jesus wept for his friend.
Jesus – The Miracle of life
When Jesus, deeply moved, came to the tomb and asked them to take the stone away, Martha was worried about the smell from a dead man. But as soon as the stone was taken away, Jesus thanked the father for hearing his prayer. There was no smell. Lazarus was alive. The father had made Jesus truly the one who gave the miracle of Life, He is the Resurrection and the Life. What does Resurrection mean to me? Lord, If only you hadn’t let this church lose its way in the 1990’s! But how much has my faith grown, and yours as we have seen God at work here amongst us over the last 12 years, our God of Resurrection and Life.
However deeply buried you are, however many days, weeks, months or years it is – if you are in debt, depression or deception, in sorrow or sin, Jesus’s gift is the gift of life in all its fullness, in this life and after death. In The Message translation it says: 24-25 Martha replied, “I know that he will be raised up in the resurrection at the end of time. You don’t have to wait for the End. I am, right now, Resurrection and Life.” Amen.
Now may the God who has given us life, forgiven our sins, accepted us at His table and bound us into a community of love go with us as we go out into His world, and the blessing of God almighty, Father Son and Holy Spirit be with you all now and for evermore.