St John, chapter 11
Jesus is ‘across the Jordan.’ He fled there from Jerusalem, escaping stoning. The religious leaders asked him to plainly tell if he was the Messiah.
Jesus responded: (John 10:27-30) My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father's hand. The Father and I are one."
And that angered them - it was blasphemous, deserving of stoning. So Jesus fled Jerusalem, to go the wilderness out where John used to preach. And that’s where today’s gospel reading starts:
John 11:1-16 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, "Lord, he whom you love is ill."
But when Jesus heard it, he said, "This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God's glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it." Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, "Let us go to Judea again."
The disciples said to him, "Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?"
Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them." After saying this, he told them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him."
The disciples said to him, "Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right."
Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him."
Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him."
The family has called their closest friend: “Lazarus is ill. Hurry, Jesus!”
Yet Jesus waits for 2 days before he sets out for Bethany, saying Lazarus is asleep.
The disciples, in no hurry to go anywhere near Jerusalem after nearly getting killed, say, “That’s good, let him rest.”
To which Jesus says he’s dead.
Now the disciples really don’t want to go. There’s no point going into danger and there’s nothing Jesus can do now - Lazarus is dead.
But Jesus insists. And starts walking toward Bethany.
Thomas – “Let’s go, we might as well die with him.”
You hear an echo of Peter’s words when the people were leaving Jesus and he said “Lord to whom shall we go…”
What else can we do? Jesus is going to Bethany. Where else could we go, except to go with him!
It might mean death, but one thing’s for sure, there is no place Thomas would rather be, but by Jesus’ side.
This is Thomas’s profession of faith – “If Jesus dies we die with him, if he lives we live.”
Words that Paul later writes: (Romans 6:8) But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
I am the Resurrection and the Life.
John 11:18-27 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home.
Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him."
Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again."
Martha said to him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day."
Jesus said 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. Do you believe this?"
She said to him, "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world."
Martha - hurries out to meet Jesus in the middle of the road.
“If you had been here…” Those are words of complete faith.
You could have saved him. You just had to ask.
Those are also words with a question
Why didn’t you ask? Why weren’t you here?
Sure, I know Lazarus will live again. I know we’ll be reunited - at the resurrection on the last day.
Jesus gives Martha a promise - I am the resurrection and the life.
Lazarus may not be breathing, heart not pumping. He’s stone cold in the grave - 4 days. The Jewish belief was that the soul hung around the body for 3 days after death, so 4 days’ dead was really dead!
4 days dead and Martha gets a promise of life
4 days dead may be a fact, but death is not final.
Because Jesus is the resurrection -
- death cannot separate you from God (Romans 8) ;
- God who created you and breathed life into you and loves you, remains with you, walks with you through the valley of death and brings you through death to life beyond;
Because Jesus is also the life -
- life-giving relationship with God;
- life in relationship with God, abundant life!
I am the Resurrection and Life.
John 11:28-37 When Martha had said that she believed Jesus was the Messiah, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, "The Teacher is here and is calling for you."
And when Mary heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there.
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."
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.
Jesus said, "Where have you laid him?"
They said to him, "Lord, come and see."
Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!"
But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?"
Mary - stays at home, consumed by grief. With Martha’s encouragement, she goes to meet Jesus in the road.
“If only you had been here…” It’s the same words that Martha used, but this time those words are an outpouring of grief, of the deepest heartfelt pain.
Mary’s profession of faith is to turn to Jesus in the midst of her deepest pain.
Jesus understands. Jesus grieves with her.
There no platitude, no pat answer. Jesus entered into Mary’s grief- cries with her, stands by the grave, experiences death, mourns the loss of one whom he loves.
God weeps when we weep, but weeping lasts only a short time, then comes joy, because…
I am Resurrection and Life.
John 11:38-44 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 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."
Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?"
So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, "Father, I thank you for having heard me. 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."
When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!"
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."
Lazarus - 4 days dead, truly dead, a stinking mess!
They don’t want to roll the stone away - there’s nothing here but death.
Jesus calls Lazarus by name.
Lazarus comes out. And he never looks at life the same way again.
Sure Lazarus dies again. But every day until that day, is a gift. It’s new life given to him by the Lord of Life.
Lazarus stands there with death clinging to him, still wrapped in his shroud, new life struggling to burst out.
Jesus invites the community to unbind him, to welcome him back to life.
And it’s the same for us. We are the ones whom Jesus loves, the ones for whom Jesus weeps. We are the ones for whom Jesus will spare no effort, even in the face of death comes to our rescue.
Jesus calls us by name, calls us out of the death and decay in our lives.
Calls us to community, to care for one another, helping each other unbind one another from the shroud of death surrounding us.
We don’t know what happened to Lazarus. He appears in next week’s lesson - at a dinner at the family home, then he’s not mentioned again. Some people think he was the disciple Jesus loved - that term gets used starting in chapter 13, after Lazarus’ resurrection.
That means he would have been at the Last supper, and at the cross. Jesus entrusted his mother to Lazarus. He raced Peter to the tomb, and looked in and saw Jesus’ grave clothes, empty and folded. Did he at that moment realize that the someone there to call “Jesus, come out was Jesus himself?
The Resurrection and Life
John 11:45-53 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.
But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what he had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, "What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation."
But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, "You know nothing at all! You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed."
He did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God.
So from that day on they planned to put him to death.
We started this reading with the religious leaders seeking Jesus’ death, and end with them even more motivated to kill Jesus, and Lazarus too.
Because someone who can speak life into death is a threat to the status quo, a threat to their power. The people will follow him - and Rome won’t like that!
Caphias - It is better one dies than the whole people die…. He doesn't know he’s being prophetic. That this is exactly what Jesus has come to do.
It’s the beginning of the end - this is the last sign. Jesus goes from Bethany to Jerusalem, one final time. From raising the dead to death to the cross.
From a stone rolled away to laying in his own tomb as the stone rolls shut.
But the one who can call a dead man from the grave cannot be held in the grave.
I am the Resurrection and the Life.