Sunday, April 6, 2014 – 5th Sunday of Lent
11 1-2 A man by the name of Lazarus was sick in the
. He had two
sisters, Mary and Martha. This was the same Mary who later poured perfume on
the Lord’s head and wiped his feet with her hair. 3 The
sisters sent a message to the Lord and told him that his good friend Lazarus
was sick. village
4 When Jesus heard this, he said, “His sickness won’t end in death. It will bring glory to God and his Son.”
5 Jesus loved Martha and her sister and brother. 6 But he stayed where he was for two more days.7 Then he said to his disciples, “Now we will go back to
8 “Teacher,” they said, “the people there want to stone you to death! Why do you want to go back?”
9 Jesus answered, “Aren’t there twelve hours in each day? If you walk during the day, you will have light from the sun, and you won’t stumble. 10 But if you walk during the night, you will stumble, because you don’t have any light.” 11 Then he told them, “Our friend Lazarus is asleep, and I am going there to wake him up.”
12 They replied, “Lord, if he is asleep, he will get better.” 13 Jesus really meant that Lazarus was dead, but they thought he was talking only about sleep.
14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead! 15 I am glad that I wasn’t there, because now you will have a chance to put your faith in me. Let’s go to him.”
16 Thomas, whose nickname was “Twin,” said to the other disciples, “Come on. Let’s go, so we can die with him.”
17 When Jesus got to
he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.18 Bethany was only about two miles from , 19 and
many people had come from the city to comfort Martha and Mary because their
brother had died. Jerusalem
20 When Martha heard that Jesus had arrived, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 Yet even now I know that God will do anything you ask.”
23 Jesus told her, “Your brother will live again!”
24 Martha answered, “I know that he will be raised to life on the last day,[a] when all the dead are raised.”
25 Jesus then said, “I am the one who raises the dead to life! Everyone who has faith in me will live, even if they die. 26 And everyone who lives because of faith in me will never really die. Do you believe this?”
27 “Yes, Lord!” she replied. “I believe that you are Christ, the Son of God. You are the one we hoped would come into the world.”
28 After Martha said this, she went and privately said to her sister Mary, “The Teacher is here, and he wants to see you.” 29 As soon as Mary heard this, she got up and went out to Jesus. 30 He was still outside the village where Martha had gone to meet him. 31 Many people had come to comfort Mary, and when they saw her quickly leave the house, they thought she was going out to the tomb to cry. So they followed her.
32 Mary went to where Jesus was. Then as soon as she saw him, she knelt at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
33 When Jesus saw that Mary and the people with her were crying, he was terribly upset 34 and asked, “Where have you put his body?”
They replied, “Lord, come and you will see.”
35 Jesus started crying, 36 and the people said, “See how much he loved Lazarus.”
37 Some of them said, “He gives sight to the blind. Why couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”
38 Jesus was still terribly upset. So he went to the tomb, which was a cave with a stone rolled against the entrance. 39 Then he told the people to roll the stone away. But Martha said, “Lord, you know that Lazarus has been dead four days, and there will be a bad smell.”
40 Jesus replied, “Didn’t I tell you that if you had faith, you would see the glory of God?”
41 After the stone had been rolled aside, Jesus looked up toward heaven and prayed, “Father, I thank you for answering my prayer. 42 I know that you always answer my prayers. But I said this, so that the people here would believe that you sent me.”
43 When Jesus had finished praying, he shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The man who had been dead came out. His hands and feet were wrapped with strips of burial cloth, and a cloth covered his face.
Jesus then told the people, “Untie him and let him go.”
How do you die?
Please note, when I say ‘you,’ I am not asking, ‘how does one die?’ This is more pointed. It is not a general sort of pondering question, how does a person die? This is an invasion of your personal space. I have wrestled with it all week because I am not sure how to answer it myself. I am counted when I say ‘you.’ We sit with a story glaring at us, the story of Jesus raising Lazarus. This is more than just an amazing miracle story. The story confronts us and we must answer. How do I die? How do you die?
I grant the absurdity. Living people by definition have not died. So how could we talk about how to die? Every human life comes to an end, but we live like that end is in a far off future, one we’d rather not discuss. We will all die and we all know that; yet none of accepts it and each of us tries to put it off as long as possible. We are not interested, thank you, in the question, how do you die?
If we believe the Bible, we should be. Paul tells us in Romans 6, ‘the wage of sin is death’ (v.23). We sin every day. So we are paid with death every day. But, what does that even mean?
In a blog post, Australian pastor, Andrew Prior writes, “Our things and our doings blind us to new opportunities of being human; indeed, they prevent us from becoming truly human. They prevent us from finding that already present dimension of reality that the Gospel of John calls ‘eternal life.’”[i] I think what he means, and I think what Jesus means when he tells Martha that he is the “Resurrection and the life” (v. 25) is that eternal life begins right now, today for those who are in Christ.
In Christ all sins are forgiven and removed. In Christ, we do not receive sin’s wage, death, because sin is no longer counted against us. Those not in Christ carry the weight of sin every day. In little ways, they die every day. Our things and our doings, the possessions and activities that dominate the life of middle class people, blind us.
We like stuff. We like thrills. We build our lives on possessions we acquire, materials and things of which there is a limited number. Competition is inherent. New cars, expensive TV’s, fancy phones, designer clothes – exploitation is involved in creating these things and only a few people of the billions on earth end up having them. Dating back to the industrial revolution, our society has 100 years creating and striving to own more and better possessions. We have exported our ethos all over the world. Consumerism has become our dominant cultural value. Christianity gets fit in around our consumption. Christianity is defined by middle class Americans rather than middle class American being shaped by Christianity.
Consumerism leads to all manners of sin – exploitation, jealousy, envy, greed, theft, hoarding of goods, violence (both to attain goods and to hold on to them and avoid sharing them); these sins kill us every day, even we who are Christians. We would never admit it, but we are the experts who ought to know how to die because we die daily. “You can’t take it with you,” but secretly, we try.
Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died (v.21). Jesus’ response, I am the resurrection, is intended to get her to see everything differently in light of who he is. He wants her to think about life and death in a new way. Because she knows him her understanding of mortality can change. And John wants us to read his gospel and in reading know Jesus and in knowing think about life and death in a whole new way.
Nothing is particularly evil about a phone or a trip to the movies or a new TV. You can serve God through the use of the phone. I can establish a relationship with someone and eventually share Christ with him. Maybe he won’t go to church, but he’ll go to the movies. We can host video parties where we watch the big game on our giant flat screen and in that context form relationships in which we give witness to the gospel. These things can be used to glorify God. But for the last century the culture around us has evolved into a worldview. In this worldview, joy and happiness come with new things and thrilling activities. This worldview is now entrenched. We are part of it.
I see many Christians getting their energy and joy and excitement in purchases, in salary increases, in new gadgets, big or small. They don’t realize how much better Jesus is because they can’t see him. How they live in the now, by the worldview of consuming/owning/hoarding materials (the best of all goods and services), shapes how they think about life, death, and eternity.
It should be the exact opposite. The reality of eternal life with Jesus, as a son or daughter of God, should be what defines how we live now. But we can’t really see that eternal life with God. As Prior says, “Our things and our doings blind us to new opportunities of being human.” The new humanity he refers to is the redeemed humanity, the humanity that has discovered Jesus and been made new. This is the humanity of 1 Corinthians 15, people with bodies that are incorruptible, that cannot become sick or die. This is the humanity of Genesis 1-2 that God created as “very good.” We cannot imagine it.
How did Jesus say it? “I am the one who raises the dead to life! Everyone who has faith in me will live, even if they die. 26 And everyone who lives because of faith in me will never really die” (v.25b-26). One commentator writes that life in Jesus is life of another order, a new order. The great blessing is not that Jesus raised Lazarus. Lazarus would die again. In fact in the very next chapter, the religious leaders plot the death of Lazarus as part of their plan to stop Jesus. He’s just been raised and he’s on an officially sanctioned hit list (12:10).
The great blessing of this story is what Lazarus’ raising means: it is a sign of Jesus as the resurrection and the life. He is the life. Does Martha believe it? Do we? If we say yes, then what does it mean for how we live and how we view death? From the point of view of the Gospel of John, everlasting life in Jesus is the same on both sides of the grave – now and after we are resurrected. When we live in Christ we begin eternity now.[ii]
This all comes down to worldview. Do we see Jesus? Or are we seeing as the world in which we have grown up has conditioned us to see? If we keep the worldview that has been imposed on us, a world view of materialistic consumerism, one in which joy comes from acquisition, then we are driven to buy and own. We have to train ourselves to share and be generous because we’re conditioned to greed, hoarding, envy, coveting, and eventually violence, direct or indirect. These sin-soaked mentalities bring death. That’s one worldview.
Another comes when by God’s grace we are freed from the destructive worldview we’ve always known. By the Holy Spirit we are changed and we take on a resurrection worldview. It comes as we see Jesus, fix our view on Him, and live with the Spirit in us.
Martha lived many centuries before the industrial revolution, so her worldview was different than ours, but for different reasons it was just as stuck in death as ours is. Jesus told her to roll away the stone. “But Lord,” Martha said, “you know that Lazarus has been dead four days, and there will be a bad smell” (v.39). She had a death mentality. She had just professed faith that Jesus is the Messiah to his face. That was not enough to help her think differently. She believed in death and lived toward just as we do. Avoid it while living toward it.
Jesus rejects the smell of death literally and in the sense that death whether it comes from the sins of a materialistic worldview or another sin-filled worldview stinks. The rot of death reeks and Christ won’t have it. Death is the opposite of what God has in store for us. In Jesus, God is with us. He is Immanuel – ‘God with us.’ Thus, when we are seeing Jesus and with Jesus and his Holy Spirit, we get the opposite of death.
The resurrection view is not only for Lazarus that special day in 30AD. He did not get a bonus by being lucky enough to live in the days of Jesus walking the earth in the Incarnation. That miracle of Jesus raising him was a sign of a new way of seeing and living – the way of Jesus. Similarly, today, there are indicators of the resurrection worldview. Think of coming alongside of and helping “the poor, the sick, the lonely, the depressed, the slaves, the refugees, the hungry, the homeless, the abused, … the despairing, [the orphan and widow, and the confused];” working on behalf of the ‘least of these’ … is a sign of the presence of Jesus today. When we bring healing and love, community and family, truth and hope, we are playing a vital part in the mission of Jesus and his church. Jesus brought hope in the first century; he continues in the 21st as he works through the deeds of his church to rescue people from the stink of corruption and death.[iii] Our work of loving anyone and everyone and doing is proactively and sacrificially is a sign that our vision is colored by the Eternal Kingdom. Our now is built by our sense of eternity. When we see Him and see as he sees and work for healing and truth, motivated by Jesus-love, we are living eternity now. It is then that we have the resurrection worldview.
How do you die? The best answer is ‘I don’t know how I die because I am living forever with Jesus. My body will die and then be raised. I am already living eternally. I cannot say how I die because I have a resurrection worldview.’ That’s the best answer. We can give that answer with Jesus’ help. From now until Easter, ask Him to push all distractions to the background and help you see as He sees.