1 – Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.
2 – This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped His feet with her hair.
3 – So the sisters sent word to Jesus, Lord, the one you love is sick.
4 – When He heard this, Jesus said, This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.
5 – Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.
6 – Yet, when He heard that Lazarus was sick, He stayed where He was two more days.
7 – Then He said to His disciples, Let us go back to Judea.
8 – But Rabbi, they said, a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?
9 – Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours of daylight? A man who walks by day will not stumble, for he sees by this world’s light.
10 – It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light.
11 – After He had said this, He went on to tell them, Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.
12 – His disciples replied, Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.
13 – Jesus had been speaking of his death, but His disciples thought He meant natural sleep.
14 – So then He told them plainly, Lazarus is dead,
15 – and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.
16 – Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, Let us also go, that we may die with Him.
17 – On His arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.
18 – Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem,
19 – and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother.
20 – When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet Him, but Mary stayed at home.
21 – Lord, Martha said to Jesus, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.
22 – But I know that even now God will give You whatever You ask.
23 – Jesus said to her, Your brother will rise again.
24 – Martha answered, I know He will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.
25 – Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies;
26 – and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?
27 – Yes Lord, she told Him, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, Who was to come into the world.
28 – And after she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. The Teacher is here, she said, and is asking for you.
29 – When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to Him.
30 – Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met Him.
31 – When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
32 – When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw Him, she fell at His feet and said, Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.
33 – When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.
34 – Where have you laid him? He asked. Come and see, Lord, they replied.
35 – Jesus wept.
36 – Then the Jews said, See how He loved him!
37 – But some of them said, Could not He Who opened the eyes of the blind have kept this man from dying?
38 – Jesus, once more deeply moved came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance.
39 – Take away the stone, He said. But, Lord, said Martha, the sister of the dead man, by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.
40 – Then Jesus said, Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?
41 – So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, Father, I thank You that You have heard Me.
42 – I knew that You always hear Me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that You sent Me.
43 – When He had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, Lazarus, come out!
44 – The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, Take off the grave clothes and let him go.
In his new book, The Darkness and the Dawn Charles Swindoll reminds us that in the 17th century London was stricken with a plague that was referred to by the people of that time as The Black Death. In May of 1664 it claimed its first few victims and by May of the next year 600 had died. By June of 1665 the number had risen to 6,000…one month later it was 17,000. Then, in the month of August alone, 31,000 died. People responded by fleeing the city like rats from a sinking ship….and in this way the disease spread all across Europe. By the time it was over about 70,000 people had died.
Now, this great plague was called the Black Death for two reasons: The first was that the victims were marked with large black splotches across their body. The second was because of the darkness of ignorance surrounded the cause of the disease. You see, many people of that day thought the plague was caused by the sooty polluted air that smothered the city of London. Today we of course know that it was carried not by the air…but by fleas carried on the backs of rats. But in those days people believed it was caused by polluted air, and so the physicians of the day devised a strange ritual to bring about a cure. They would take the people stricken with this disease outside to a rose garden. There, the patients would form a circle around the roses, holding hands. Then they would all walk around the circle breathing in the fragrance of the blossoms, in the belief that this would flush the disease from their lungs. Doctors thought that the fragrant air of the flowers would replace the diseased air.
The physicians would also stuff rose petals in their pockets and as they made house calls visiting patients who were too ill to go outside, they would sprinkle those rose petals around the sick as they lay in bed. For those who were near death, the doctors would burn the petals and bring the ashes up near the noses so the victims could breathe the ashes, hoping this would make them sneeze and in this way flush out the old diseased air.
Of course, none of these superstitious rituals worked. People with the plague still died…tens of thousands of them. But this ritual gave birth to a rhyme that was first sung by the man who pushed the death cart. As he loaded the bodies of plague victims high on his cart and made his way to the cemetery, he could be heard chanting:
Ring around the roses, a pocket full of posies,
Ashes, ashes, we all fall down!
Now, isn’t it strange that what we know today as an innocent little nursery rhyme would begin in such a way? And yet the truth in that one line is as real for us in the 21st century as it was in the 17th…for we still …all fall down. Each of us eventually succumbs to the inescapable plague known as death.
There is an old axiom that says that there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes. But when you think about it…this familiar cliche’ is not totally accurate. As you should know….especially at this time every year…with the right deductions and a good accountant, many people have managed to avoid paying any taxes at all. But EVERYONE will face death.
Listen to what God says in Genesis 3:19 : By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; For you are dust, and to dust you shall return. In Ecclesiastes 7:2 He says, …death is the destiny of every man. In Romans 5:12 God used Paul to tell us, Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and so death….[like an uncontainable plague] spread to all men, because all sinned….
So, we do ALL FALL DOWN. From Genesis to Revelation we are told of the plague of death and the sad fact that all humanity has the disease that causes it. We are all stricken this morning. In a very real sense each of us is terminally ill. Now, that is not a pleasant thought is it? And because it is unpleasant, we do all we can to avoid even thinking about it. Billy Graham once said that we live in a death-denying society. And we do. We spend billions of dollars every year on creams and lotions that promise to slow the aging process. We work out regularly in an effort to keep healthy and prolong life. We even deny our mortality with jokes like Woody Allen who said, It’s not that I’m afraid to die. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.
We also try to anesthetize ourselves against this agonizing awareness by giving death other names. When the life of a loved one ends, we don’t say that they died. Instead we say, they passed away… or that they are no longer with us. Even the writers of classic literature did this. Tennyson referred to death as crossing the bar. Byron dubbed it that dreamless sleep.
Now why do we do this? Why is death something we avoid like the plague? Well, we act this way because we FEAR death…we run from it just like those panicking people ran from London.
And the main reason we fear death is because it is an unknown. We can’t study death or observe it or try it out to see how it feels. No, from our earthly perspective we can’t possibly understand all we want to about death. Well, as the text we read a moment ago states, Jesus had a lot to say about this enemy we all face. In fact, in His response to the death of a friend, our Lord uttered another of His I am… statements…a statement that provides us with the answers to two of the main questions we all have when it comes to facing the inevitable end of our lives.
To help us better understand those answers let us first take a closer look at what happened that day in the graveyard. You know, if Jesus had a home away from home, it was the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. These three siblings became a family to him. They lived in the village of Bethany, which was located just beyond the Mount of Olives. As a bird flies, this little hamlet was little more than a stone’s throw from the temple area in Jerusalem, the center of power for the Jewish religious leaders. Well, Lazarus became very sick and his sisters sent for their friend Jesus….the only One they knew Who had the power to heal the sick. But, when this happened Jesus was in Perea, a two-day journey from Bethany so the sisters sent a messenger to Jesus.
We should note that in their message Mary and Martha didn’t ask Jesus to come to their aid; they just let Him know of Lazarus’ illness and assumed that He would come quickly. But surprisingly Jesus DIDN’T drop everything and hurry to their home. Instead he waited for two more days…saying that this sickness would not END in death…that it would be used to glorify the Son of God and lead His followers into a deeper faith. And, when Jesus finally arrived in Bethany He found that Lazarus had been dead and buried for four days. Now let us do a little arithmetic. It took two days for the messenger to go from Bethany to Perea. Jesus tarried two more days in Perea after hearing of Lazarus’ illness. Two additional days were required for Him to reach Bethany. So the four days following the arrival of the messenger in Perea correspond to the four days Lazarus had lain in his tomb. I believe then that, as omniscient God in the flesh, Jesus knew His friend was already dead when He received the news from Bethany. Jesus wasn’t cruelly waiting in order to allow Lazarus to suffer and die so that He could make a point. No, Jesus never turned down someone who, in faith, asked for His help. But Lazarus was already dead, already in heaven by the time the messenger found our Lord.
Now, let me help you visualize the scene when Jesus arrived. Funerals were a very important part of the culture of this day. I mean, as many people as possible attended these events. And everyone who could was expected to join the funeral procession. There was one curious custom.
The women mourners walked first, for it was held that it was a woman, who by her first sin brought death into the world, and therefore she ought to lead the mourners to the tomb. Deep mourning lasted for seven days, of which the first three were days of continuous weeping. During this week it was forbidden to anoint oneself, to put on shoes, to engage in any kind of study or business and even to wash. These first days of deep mourning were followed by thirty additional days of lighter mourning when some of these restrictions were lifted. So, when Jesus came to Lazarus’ home in Bethany it was during these seven days of deep mourning and when He arrived He found what anyone would expect to find in a Jewish house where someone had died recently…rooms filled and crowded with sympathizers.
Well when Martha and Mary learned of Jesus’ approach they came to Him and asked a similar question. Where were You? And I think that, implied in this question, was their belief that it was Jesus’ fault that Lazarus had died…No doubt these sisters were thinking,
What took You so long? Here we were doing all we could, without the power of God, and You stood away from us, at a distance, and You waited and You delayed. Even though we notified You, You didn’t come to help until now. Where were you when we were hurting?
Have you ever stood at a tomb and asked that question? Have you ever wondered where God was when you were grieving….hurting in the depths of your being? Well, the answer is He was right there at your side…hurting WITH you…grieving for you and the pain you were feeling….pain that comes from living in a fallen world. I like how Dr. Paul Brand answers the question, Where is God when it hurts? He says, God is in you, the one hurting, not in it, the thing that hurts. And we will see this fleshed out in how Jesus responds here to the pain of Mary and Martha, for He was moved by their grief as if it were His own.
Well, our Lord replied to this question by telling them that Lazarus would rise again. And Martha said, Of course he will…everyone will rise on the last day. In essence she was saying,
Don’t give me theological facts, Jesus…I know my brother will rise on the last day…thousands of years from now….but that is not good enough. I want him here now.
And then Jesus said, I…am the resurrection and the life. Don’t miss the pronoun, I here. Jesus doesn’t say to her, Look, you’ve got your theological facts correct. You’re on target. You’re safe, Martha. Instead He says, Martha, look at ME! Martha, look up! Martha I am God. I have the power over death. I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, even though he dies, will live. In other words He was saying, Don’t put your faith in theology…put it in ME! He didn’t pause to teach her a short course in immortality. He didn’t offer an explanation of His claim. He offered Himself…and that was sufficient.
Well, the women were apparently weeping as they talked to Jesus and perhaps at this point they broke down into uncontrollable sobs. For verse 33 says that when Jesus saw this, and the Jews who had come along with her also sincerely weeping for Lazarus, who was no doubt a much loved and admired man in that community. When Jesus saw all these hurting people, He was deeply moved and troubled in spirit. The Greek here actually says that Jesus was very angry….
Now, He wasn’t angry at Mary or Martha or their friends who were grieving with them.
No, I think He was angry at death…this enemy that had caused them so much pain. And like a big brother hearing of a bully who had beat up on His siblings, Jesus responded in anger and said, Where have you laid him? He said this much like you or I would say, Where is this bully known as death? Take Me to him and I will show him Who is boss!
So, they took Jesus to the tomb and when they got there our Lord once again showed His empathy for his friends by weeping. But this time I think He wept for Lazarus. I mean, Jesus knew that in a moment Mary and Martha’s tears would be turned to joy. But Lazarus…Lazarus was about to be called back from the presence of God….back to living once more in a fallen world. Can you imagine what it would be like to be in heaven where there is no sin or sickness or death or sorrow, where we are with God, and then to have to leave? Well, in spite of the sisters’ warnings about the smell that would surely be coming from the corpse four days after his death, Jesus ordered the tomb opened. And then, after a prayer, He shouted, Lazarus, come out! I agree with many commentators here, that if Jesus had not called Lazarus by name, every corpse on Earth would have come back to life!
Well, try to imagine the moments that followed. Swindoll writes,
All eyes in the group surrounding Jesus were fixed on the darkness inside the now-open tomb. An eerie chill ran up their spines as they stood in silence, mouths open. At first, they saw nothing except a black hole where the tight jaws of death gripped its victim. Then someone said, ‘Look! Look there!’ as he pointed toward someone or something moving inside the shallow cave. A grayish awkward figure stirred, then rose slowly off the limestone shelf just inside the entrance. Dragging itself upright, the figure turned and shuffled toward the daylight. Arm in arm, the sisters stared in disbelief. Each could feel the heavy pounding in her chest. They sucked in their breaths, then gasped together….and then at Jesus’ command they sprang to the aid of their brother. One grabbed for the head napkin as the other grasped a loose end of one of the strips of cloth and began to pull it away. Quickly they looked into Lazarus’ eyes, which were bright and flashing with life. His broad smile reassured them, especially when he said to Mary, ‘Hurry up and get me out of this mess!’
Think about it! What an awesome experience!!! Lazarus had died. He was actually, completely, thoroughly dead. This plague victim had been in that grave four days! And then in response to the command of Jesus Christ, he rose. He came back to life!
Now as I said, in this I am… statement and the miracle that followed, Jesus provided us with answers for two of the main questions we have about death, and the first is this…
1. We all wonder….is there life AFTER death?
Mankind has sought the answer to THIS question since the FIRST funeral. In fact the oldest book of the Bible records that Job asked it long ago when he said, If a man dies, will he live again? (Job 14:14 ) Well, since as Jesus both said and proved, since He is the RESURRECTION… then we know that the answer is Yes! It is possible for us to experience life after death. You see, as I said a moment ago we can’t try death out to see what it’s like but Jesus did. On the Friday of this Holy Week we remember that He DIED on the cross for our sins. Jesus EXPERIENCED DEATH…and then came back to life…
Now, some doubt this. They say that Jesus never really died on that first Good Friday. A woman once wrote J. Vernon McGee and said, Our preacher said that on Easter, Jesus just swooned on the cross and that the disciples nursed Him back to health. What do you think? McGee replied, Dear sister, beat your preacher with a leather cat of nine tails with 39 heavy strokes. Nail him to a cross. Hang him in the sun for six hours. Run a spear through his heart. Embalm him. Put him in an airless tomb for three days and see what happens!
This foolish preacher was wrong. Jesus DID actually die and because He did and then rose again conquering death, the Bible teaches that we can as well. In Romans 6 Paul said, For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, He cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over Him. And, as Jesus promised Martha in verse 25, He who believes in Me will live even though he dies. I like the paraphrase of Romans 5 found in The Message. It says:
Here it is in a nutshell: Just as one person did wrong and got us in all this trouble with sin and death, another Person did right and got us out of it. Grace …through the [risen] Messiah, invites us into life-a life that goes on and on and on, world without end.
So, death doesn’t have to be the end for us. If we accept the grace of God, made possible by Jesus’ death and resurrection, we can have eternal life. It’s up to us. This week I read a little story about a famous painting that once hung in an art gallery in Europe. It’s a depiction of Faust playing chess with the devil. And in the painting, the devil has Faust checkmated and is claiming his soul in victory. Over the years people looked at this painting and felt a certain identification with it. Well one day a great chess master came. And he studied the game board in the painting for several hours. Finally he disturbed everyone in the gallery by stepping back and shouting at the top of his voice, It’s a lie! The knight and the king have another move! Now, I’m not much of a chess player, but I understand what being checkmated means. And many of us feel this way about death. We feel that death is the last move and we can’t win. But Easter is when God said to you and me, It’s a lie! You have another move! If we take that move…if we put our faith in Him Who conquered death for us then we can proclaim with the Apostle Paul, Where oh death is your victory?
And, even old Job realized this. In chapter 19 verse 25 he said, As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives and at the last He will take His stand on the earth.In other words Job found the answer to this question. YES…there is life AFTER death. Jesus, the Redeemer, makes that possible. Do you remember the most memorized verse of all time? John 3:16 says, For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish…not die…but….HAVE EVERLASTING LIFE! This body…this earthsuit I have been wearing for 46 years now will cease to function one day…but I will not. Because of my faith in Jesus Christ, Who conquered death, I, Mark Adams, will continue to live. Jesus beat death for me…so to me death is only gain. It’s not the end. In fact it’s really the beginning. An elderly Scottish preacher was approaching death, and those standing by his bedside whispered, He is near the land of the dying. Overhearing them, the preacher replied, Nay! I’m now in the land of the dying, but I’m nearing the land of the living!
Eugene O’Neill once wrote a play entitled LAZARUS LAUGHED. The play deals with the Biblical story of Lazarus but the plot focuses on what happened to him in the years after Jesus called him back to life after four days in the tomb. In the play Lazarus comes out of his grave laughing…not a scornful, bitter kind of laughter, but a soft, tender, all-embracing sort of sound that seems to well up from a joy that is utterly bottomless. There is a radiance emanating from him that makes him look younger than when he died. There is a peace and serenity about his being that is absolutely tangible. As soon as Lazarus gets home and emotions have calmed down a bit, his sisters ask him the inevitable question: What is it like beyond the grave?
Tell us-what sort of existence lies beyond our physical dying? And once again Lazarus begins to laugh-the laughter of pure joy — and then he finally says, There is only life. There is only laughter…the laughter of God soaring into the heights and the depths. There is no death really. Death is not the end, it’s not an abyss or the entrance into nothingness or chaos or punishment. Death is a portal, a passageway into deeper and brighter life. Eternal change, everlasting growth…that is what lies ahead. There is only life sisters, nothing but life. the grave is not what you think it is. It is literally empty…a doorway, not destruction. As the play unfolds Lazarus goes on to live a life in which he is freed from the fear of death. The dreaded horror no longer holds dominion over him.
And each Easter we celebrate the fact that Christ has done this for all believers. He has changed the meaning of death. As Paul said, He has taken the sting out of it. Since Jesus rose victorious on the third day, the bully known as death can never threaten us again. My dad was a pastor for over 40 years and I remember him saying that whenever he finished the grave side service of a Christian and walked away he would pause and make a little silent speech under his breath. He would say, Death, you are NOT the final word! Well, because of the resurrection we celebrate today Dad is right…it is not the final word. There IS life AFTER death. As I Corinthians 15:21-22 says, Since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a Man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.
But you know, there is a second question we all have about death and I think it is this…
2. We all wonder…..is there life BEFORE death?
I mean, think about it….wouldn’t it be a horrible thing to meet on this Easter morning and celebrate life that TRANSCENDS death but to have no hope for the life that PRECEDES death? All of us long for lives that are full and meaningful. We want to enjoy our days on this earth. More than once I have talked with a person who was terminally ill and discovered that the thing that bothered them was not that they were dying…but that they felt they had never really lived. Well, is there life BEFORE death? Is there a way to live a life that is exciting and full? Again the answer is YES! for that day in the graveyard Jesus not only said He was the resurrection. Remember? He also boldly stated that He was the LIFE! In John 10:10 our Lord proclaimed that one of His purposes in coming to our world was to give us LIFE…and life in all it’s fulness. In Romans 6, Paul reminds us that …just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may walk [now….today] in NEWNESS of LIFE!
But you know, tragically there are many people who live lives that are dull and common place… lives that are routine and purposeless. And this kind of life is not really a life. It is more of an existence. A few years ago I came across the following story in Reader’s Digest: A farmer sitting on his porch noticed a highway-department truck pull over on the shoulder of the road. A man got out, dug a sizable hole in the ditch, and then got back in the vehicle. A few minutes later, the other occupant of the truck got out, filled up the hole, tamped the dirt with his foot, and got back in the truck. Then they drove forward on the shoulder about 50 feet and repeated the same process…digging, waiting…refilling….tamping. After a half-dozen repetitions, the farmer sauntered over to them and asked, What are you fellas doin? We’re on a highway beautification project, the driver said, and the guy who plants the trees is home sick today.
Now have you ever felt this way? As if your life had no real meaning…as if you were just digging holes for someone else to fill in? If you have you are not alone. This world is full of people who are asking this question, Is there anyway to find real joy and purpose in life? Is there life BEFORE death? And any Christian who follows Christ as Lord would say, Yes…there is…and it is a life so real that you will refer to the life you lived before you knew this life…as death. Consider the way the risen Christ changed the lives of those early Christians.
He came to people who were so confused that they were going back to former vocations and He called them out with a clear mission and message to which they devoted their lives. He came to people who were frightened, holed up in a room because of their fear, and they became bold witnesses…risk-taking people. He came to people who were self-seeking and vicious and created in them a kind of unselfishness where they sold everything and gave it to the church. He came to a defeated people and changed them into a movement that turned the world upside down. So I believe that if you were to ask those first believers…people like Paul, Peter, John…if you were to ask them to compare their life BEFORE they knew Christ to their lives AFTER they met Him and made Him Lord…I am sure they would say that in comparison, life BEFORE Christ WAS more like DEATH than LIFE.
You see, without Christ, as the Bible says, we are DEAD in our trespasses and sins. In other words we are dead to all the good that God provides us in life. But in relationship with Jesus….Him Who is the resurrection AND THE LIFE…we truly begin to live. That God-shaped hole in our lives is filled with His loving presence…we join Him in His work in this world, completing God-sized tasks. We discover the purpose for which we were created.
So, Is there life AFTER death? Is it possible for us to experience meaningful life BEFORE death? The affirmative answers to both of these questions is found only in the Christ of Easter….He Who is the resurrection and the life. So let me ask you. Do you want to live forever? Do you want to begin really living NOW? You can…in Christ. But it is up to you. When Jesus said, I am…the resurrection and the life… it was more than just an announcement. It was an invitation. Jesus waits your response…your decision to believe in Him and follow Him as Savior and Lord. It’s your move. You’re not checkmated….and if you make that move and embrace the living Christ as your Lord and Master….You will find that you will have life….NOW and FOREVER.
This morning I invite you to make that move. If you are not a Christian bow your head and talk to the Risen Lord. Ask Him to forgive you of your sin and to come into your heart and life. And then if you are a Christian and don’t have a church home, a place where you can work with other believers in meaningful ministry, then I invite you to join us here at Redland. God is at work here and I know I speak for our members when I say that we find immense fulfillment in joining Him in it. Whatever your decision we invite you to make it public by coming forward now as we stand and sing and sharing it with me or Steve.