Sermon: The Raising of Lazarus

The Raising of Lazarus
John 11:32-44 (All Saints Day)
RUMC 1 November 2015

               The most famous clock in the entire world is London’s Big Ben.  This huge four sided structure stands by the House of Parliament and towers over Westminster Abbey.  The chime inside the clock plays four times an hour.  The music is a simple tune from Handel’s Messiah called “My Redeemer Liveth”.

Let me read to you the words from this concerto:

“I know my redeemer liveth and that he shall stand at the last day upon the earth.  And though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh, shall I see God.” 

Here is a link to hear the chime notes that are heard every hour at London’s Big Ben.

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This morning our church is observing All Saints Day and it is a time of hope, that we will see our loved ones again.  We base this hope on Jesus and our scripture text where our Lord raised Lazarus from the dead.  This story is a bold reminder that someday God will raise us from the dead; this knowledge should impact how we should live.  The scripture also contains a message of how we grieve.  John 11:32-44.

32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
This is the Word of God. 
Thanks be to God.

In today’s gospel, we are reintroduced to Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus.  In John 11:1-16, we are told that while Jesus was away, Lazarus had become ill.  We don’t know exactly what was wrong, but it is believed he had a fever.  In those days, a fever without the aid of any antibiotics was deadly.  It often began with the chills, and then it progressed to profuse sweating, hallucinations then death.  And it was in those final hours that Lazarus really suffered as the two sisters did their best to comfort him.

I can almost hear the conversation of the sisters:

“Yes we sent messengers to Jesus and he should be on his way.”

“Lazarus, don’t worry, just rest.”

“Jesus will be here soon and everything will be okay.”

“There is no doubt that once Jesus comes, you will be healed.”

Lazarus in the midst of his groans and delirium must have asked many times,

“Is he here yet?”

“What is taking him so long?”

“Doesn’t he know that I’m dying?”
And Mary and Martha who saw their brother grow weaker, had become frustrated and angered that Jesus had not come.

When Janet’s grandmother was on her deathbed in 1966 in Quincy, MA, her grandmother had repeatedly asked for her five sons to come and be with her.  Three of the brothers who lived in Pennsylvania got in a car and drove on their way to Connecticut to pick up the other two brothers.  While in Connecticut, they were invited to stay for lunch, unfortunately they took too long and the grandmother died.  I suspect she must have felt like Lazarus and was disappointed.  And likewise the 5 brothers had regrets as well.

When it comes to grief, people react in unpredictable ways.  As we can see from what happened with Lazarus family, there was frustration, anger, and deep emotional feelings as is often the case today.

Incidentally, the shortest verse in the Bible is verse 35.  In the King James Version it says “Jesus wept.”  I have often thought about that.  When my mother was in her final stages, I was holding up pretty good, coherent, strong, rational, etc.–sort of feeling good that I was in control of my emotions.  Then my uncle came in, took a look at my mother, and started to cry.  Well that started a chain reaction and I started to tear up.  I suspect that is what happened with Jesus.

In Biblical times, there was an ancient Jewish superstition that states that when a person dies, their spirit would hover near the body for three days and the deceased who is in the tomb, could actually hear through the walls, the wails and cries of the mourners.  For three days, friends and family would go next to the tomb and cry out “Depart in Peace” in hopes that Lazarus would hear.

It was believed on the 4th day, the dead person’s soul would finally leave the tomb and because of this family members would become more emotional in their grief.

Notice that when Jesus who said “I Am the Resurrection and the Life” arrived on the 4th day, he did that to counteract that Jewish superstition.  And when Lazarus was raised to life, it pointed to our Lord’s resurrection and ours as well.

So when you think about it, the Christian faith is one of hope.  It is a resurrection religion, and if we were to remove that one key component, we would have nothing.

Lavon Brown, the author of the book, “Here comes a Miracle” wrote the following.  “Every year, thousands of people climbed this particular mountain in the Italian alps that passed 13 Roman Catholic Stations of the Cross, until they arrived at the 14th and final one, Jesus on the cross.  But one tourist had noticed a little trail that led beyond the cross.  So he decided to see where it went.  He fought through the rough thicket and to his surprise; he came upon another shrine which contained an image of the empty tomb.  The area around it was neglected.  Almost everyone had gone as far as the cross as part the last station, but didn’t go any farther.”

In the spiritual walk of the faithful, how many have actually moved beyond it to find the message of the empty tomb?

When Jesus said “I Am the Resurrection and the Life” he did that so that we might live in hope.

  • Every person who asks Christ into their hearts-that is an act of faith in the resurrection.
  • When we forgive others that is an act of faith in the resurrection.
  • When we feed the hungry in the name of Christ that is an act of faith in the resurrection.
  • When we baptize, that is an act of faith in the resurrection.
  • When we turn over our problems and difficulties to Jesus, and allow Him to work in our life, that is an act of faith in the resurrection.
  • When we wake up with peace in the morning, that is an act of faith in the resurrection.
  • When we go to work with joy in our hearts, that is an act of faith in the resurrection.

On this all Saints Day, we have remembered Violet Wilson, Katherine Kentfield, Louis Furnas, Kenneth Guillow, Ruth Bell, Margaret Parker, Marilyn Barton and Caroline O’Neil and the others in our lives who have died.  We remember them with the hope that we will see them again.

Every day, the chimes of Big Ben in London proclaim, “I know my redeemer liveth.”  Let me ask.  Do you have that assurance in your heart that Christ lives?  Are you able to commit your cares to Him?  If you do not, invite him into your heart.  Invite him into your heart so you can hear God’s word, and he can illuminate his truths to you.