5th Sunday in Lent
John 11:17-27, 38-44
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins. To him be glory forever and ever. Amen. In the name of Jesus, dear friends,
Only answers quiet the questions. We don’t like questions that don’t have answers. For almost a month now there has been a multi-national search for the Malaysian airplane that disappeared. There has been constant searching, radar screening, satellite viewing and yet there seems to be simply more questions than answers. Right now there is a desperate search for the airplane’s black box that might offer some answers to the many unanswered questions that abound. What happened? Why did this happen? How could this happen? We humans do not like questions without answers. We crave answers and especially when it comes to things like loss and death.
Finally, at some point every person has to come to grips with the reality of human death in this world. People die. And death and funerals so often make people’s hearts cry out for answers. Why did this happen? Why does death make me feel so uncomfortable? Is there any real hope in death? There’s got to be more, right? Is there a real answer to this “death problem”? Is there a real answer for this death thing that every human being faces? We crave answers to those questions.
And perhaps questions were going through the minds of Mary and Martha in our text. You see, their brother Lazarus had been sick, seriously sick. And so they sent for Jesus. Jesus had done so many miracles, perhaps He could and would heal their brother. They sent the message…but where was He? Jesus hadn’t come! At least, he hadn’t come yet. Jesus stayed away for several days. And Lazarus died. Then Jesus, the all-knowing Lord, told his disciples that Lazarus had died and NOW it was time to go to Bethany. Really? That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, after all Lazarus had died! What’s the point of going now? Besides that the last time Jesus was in Jerusalem the Jews had tried to stone him, and now He’s going back there?? More questions searching for answers, but off they went.
When they get there Martha meets Jesus and says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” Can we sense some questions in her heart? Can we hear her crying out for answers in the face of death? Jesus, you’re too late, he’s gone. Why did he have to die? Why didn’t you do anything for him? Is there any real hope in death? And yet at the same time she knows, she believes in Jesus and knows that He can do whatever, she knows Jesus has no limits.
And can we relate with Martha? Do we experience times where we know Jesus is our Lord, we trust in Him as our Savior, but our hearts and our minds are still full of questions begging for answers. Have you ever questioned God? Questioned God’s ways? Have you ever longed for answers maybe in the face of death or in the face of some other loss or difficulty? If only we had done this, if only we had done that, if only God had changed this or that circumstance, but He didn’t, why not? Not all questions are sinful. However, when our questions lead us to have an imperfect trust in God- that’s sinful. When we allow questions to lead us to doubt God’s control or to doubt God’s grace and love for us or to doubt God’s power and ability to do anything, then that’s sinful. And who of us here could claim that there hasn’t been times when we’ve allowed questions to lead us away from God and away from trust in Him? We all have at times.
But then Jesus said to Martha, “Your brother will rise again.” “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day,” Martha replied. She knew that on the Last Day there would be a resurrection from the dead, that the bodies of all those who have died would be raised to life. But wasn’t the author of life itself standing in front of her?
But then Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”
Do you know what Jesus was doing here? Jesus directed Martha’s attention to Himself. “I am” He’s emphasizing himself. I am –it’s a present tense – I am now and I am forever the only resurrection and the only real life. And why did Jesus direct Martha to himself? Why does He direct our attention to Himself? Because Jesus is the final answer to every question in life that really matters. When it boils down to it, the most important question for every living human being is: What about death? What about the death of my loved one? What about my death? Is there any real hope?
That answer is what our Lenten season has been progressing towards and that is what the account of Jesus’ life progressed towards. Jesus is days away from Holy Week. Shortly after this Jesus will be betrayed, condemned, and die. Why? Because as the sinless Son of God, as the Christ, He came to take our sins and willingly go to the cross and suffer and die for every one of them, the wages of our sin is death. But that’s not all Jesus did. Jesus also rose from the dead showing that death has no power over him, rather He, as the essence of Life itself, has defeated death.
And so, to pay an advance on what he was about to do Himself on the cross and in the empty tomb just days later, Jesus went to the tomb, being moved with compassion Jesus went into battle, the strong versus the infinitely stronger in order to silence our questions. He ordered the stone rolled away. Martha resisted but Jesus assured her that she would see the glory of God. Then he prayed and then with a loud voice said, “Lazarus, come out.” And when Jesus spoke death HAD to obey, death HAD to give up its customer, its prey, and Lazarus came out…alive!
We live in a world full of questions, in a world starving for answers, in a world searching for something – especially in the face of this ugly thing called death, but finally Jesus gives the only answer that can quiet the questions. We might think, sure that was easy for Mary and Martha to get their loved one back or we might wonder what it might be like to have our loved one back (dad, mom, Grandpa, a son or daughter), why wouldn’t God do that for me? Perhaps our thoughts at times are rather earthly focused and we wish our believing loved one was back with us for a time. But really that wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying an answer to death as the answer Jesus gives here. How many of you have met Lazarus? That’s what I thought. Why? Because Lazarus died again.
Jesus didn’t so much do this miracle so that Mary and Martha could have their brother back, far greater than that, Jesus proved in this miracle that He alone has the power over our final enemy: death. Death is like one of those baseball pitching machines that hurls question after question at us: Is there any real hope? Is there more than this? How will I make it through? Is there an answer to death?
There is only one place of comfort, one place of peace, only one answer to death: Jesus. Jesus is Life, Jesus is Resurrection, He is the essence of Life, and as such death can have no power over him. And He gives life. Whoever believes in Jesus never really dies. Through faith you and all who believe in Jesus live with Jesus now and will continue to live with Him forever. Yes, unless Jesus returns before we die, we will all undergo physical death, but for us, it’s just a passing through, we pass through death unhurt, unharmed, unaffected and will live eternally with our Savior. And we know because Jesus’ death and resurrection one day when he returns he will use the very same power that he used to raise Lazarus to raise our bodies so that we will live forever in heaven with Jesus with a glorious body and soul!
So what questions do you have about death, a loved one’s death, your own death? Here is the answer that quiets all those questions: Your Savior Jesus who tells you, “By my power, by my death, by my resurrection, I have annulled death, put it out of commission, canceled the wages of your sin, for you, and I have given you life, the true life, the real life, the blessed life, the eternal life and because of that you will pass through physical death untouched and go on living in endless glory and joy forever.” Enjoy that answer. Amen.