29 Mar It’s Time to Start Believing
March 29, 2020
Sermon: “It’s Time to Start Believing What We Believe”
Scripture: John 11: 1-45
Have you ever had a day when everything started out wrong? And no matter what you did you were unable to restart your day in a positive manner? Well I have compiled a short list of warning signs for you that will tell you that you might have a bad day ahead.
You know it’s going to be a bad day when:
1. You get pulled over by the police and you haven’t even left your own driveway.
2. Or, your birthday cake collapses from the weight of the candles.
4. You know it’s going to be a bad day when, the blind date you had anxiously been awaiting turns out to be your sister.
6. Last but not least, you know it’s going to be a bad day when you wake up to discover that your waterbed broke, and then you remember you own a waterbed.
When Jesus was present on this earth, even He had bad days. And today’s scripture lesson is about one of those bad day’s for Jesus. In our scripture lesson today, a man named Lazarus was sick, and he was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.
Jesus knew this family well. You may recall that Jesus had dinner with them in their home, when Mary had poured perfume on Jesus feet and wiped them dry with her hair. They had a special relationship and had spent time together. I guess you could say they were intimate friends. It is only natural that Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was sick. Now keep in mind that they didn’t explicitly ask Jesus to come and help. Perhaps they thought Jesus would automatically come out of his love for Lazarus and when he heard Lazarus was sick.
In any event, according to day’s scripture it is clear Mary and Martha expected Jesus to come to where they were and heal Lazarus. But for some strange reason, Jesus waits four days and Lazarus dies. So why did Jesus wait four days?
In the Jewish tradition, of that time, people believed that the soul resided in the vicinity of the body of a deceased person for three days. They believed the soul was hoping to rejoin the body. But, after four days, the soul gave up and departed, because there was no more hope for reconnection to the body. The fact that Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days meant that there was no possibility of his soul rejoining his body.
At this stage, Martha has already witnessed her brother’s death, prepared his body for burial, placed him in a tomb and sat with for him for two days. There is no way that Martha’s belief in Jesus’ healing powers, her faith in his restorative capabilities, could not be mixed with a healthy dose of doubt. Martha has stared death right in the face. But when confronted with this crisis, it is Martha’s belief that sends her running to meet Jesus before he could even reach the boundaries of Bethany.
Martha believed Jesus could have saved Lazarus. Her voice trembles with disappointment when she says to Jesus, “why didn’t you come and healed Lazarus? Jesus, we trusted you, we believed in you and now my brother Lazarus, the one you said you loved is dead.”
Martha did not even realize the depth of her convictions. Not until she stands before Jesus and hears his messianic confession – Jesus says to her “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” And now Martha realizes that this is indeed what she believes. When push comes to shove, when it was a matter of life and death, Martha believed.
When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet. She is weeping, not just crying, it is an uncontrolled, unrestrained wailing and shrieking. From the Jewish point of view the more unrestrained the weeping the more honor is paid to the dead. You can still see this in some cultures today. Mary also says to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” And, Jesus wept. Jesus wept because of the death of his friend, but even more so, Jesus wept because he saw the pain that Lazarus’ death causes his sisters.
I believe that in our darkness moments, in the depth of our own personal pain and suffering, Jesus comes to us and shares in that pain and suffering. Our God is not an impersonal God – a God who does not care – who is distant and separate from us.
God is the companion of the broken hearted.
God is the great counselor.
God is the one who brings good from the ruins of life.
And He is the God that even in the midst of our tragedy is in control.
And here is the remarkable thing, Jesus knew what was about to happen. He knew Lazarus was going to die. He knew that there was going to be pain and anguish for Martha and Mary. And He knew that Lazarus illness was for God’s Glory.
So, what does all this mean? It means that Lazarus’ illness, and Lazarus’ death provided an opportunity for people to see the presence of God in their midst. I am not saying that God killed Lazarus or made him ill. But that God allowed it to happen so that this event will be a witness to God’s power, and for us to experience God’s love. It means that even in the tough times of our lives, in the times when we think God has all but deserted us, in the times when it seems as if four days have passed and there is no hope. Don’t ever give up on God.
Do you remember the TV show Get Smart? In the show, secret agent Maxwell Smart would always come up against a bad guy from whom he had to escape. Smart would try to intimidate his foe by scaring him off with some hopelessly transparent exaggeration: Smart would say, “Right now, there are 50 armed police officers surrounding this place.” When the adversary doubted him, Smart would counter with: “Would you believe 20 police officers and an angry dog?” With the crook still not impressed, Smart would finally suggest: “How about a troop of Girl Scouts on a cookie-sale drive?” How many of us are willing to put what we believe on a similar sliding scale like Maxwell Smart?
When we were young, we were able to believe almost anything we were told. Our parents, our teachers were always sources of truth and integrity. If any one of them told us something, it must be true. But when we grew older and more “sophisticated” in our thoughts, we learned to stop believing things simply because an authority figure told us it was true. And that can be good. But, for too many of us, the entire concept of believing in God can eventually erode completely away. If I can’t see it, taste it, touch it, or smell it, then it can’t be real, so we stop believing.
We can stop believing:
About God’s active involvement in the life of Israel,
About God’s new covenant in the person of Jesus Christ.
About the place of Jesus in history.
And, about the relevance, and the authority of the Bible itself in our 21st century world.
Jesus had a difficult time convincing some people that God was alive and well and still at work in the world. The story of Lazarus is another attempt by Jesus to convince the Jews that God is not an absentee God. That God is real and is always active in our lives. Yes, we may go four days without seeing God at work in our lives but that does not mean that God is absent.
What is standing in the way of you saying yes, I believe? Is it your friends, family, or coworkers? Did you read an article that says if God didn’t exist humans would make one up just so we can have someone to blame for all our problems instead of taking responsibility for our own actions? Or, is there something you saw on the internet that is trying to convince you that God is not real, and Jesus is a myth?
Yes, the Bible is full of extravagant promises. The Bible says the same spirit that worked wonders at Pentecost dwells in you today? The Bible says you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you? The Bible says the resurrection power that raised Lazarus from the dead can be at work in you today if you want it to.
Your challenge for this week is simply this; are you ready to open your eyes, are you ready to change your hearts and minds and believe in the God that raised Lazarus form the dead? Amen
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