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First Lesson: Genesis 18:1-14 (NIV)
Gospel: John 11:21-27,38-45 (NIV)
- CW 518 Christ Be My Leader
- CW 834 Still, My Soul, Be Still
- CW 721 What a Friend We Have in Jesus
- CW 797 I Know My Faith Is Founded
Message: Focused Faith Trusts God’s Timing
Pastor Jon Enter
On August 15, 1973, Universal Studios released the motion picture, Jesus Christ Superstar. This movie is a rock opera arranged by Andrew Lloyd Webber (other works: Phantom of the Opera; Cats). The film centers on the conflict between Judas and Jesus in the week before Christ’s crucifixion. The two men who played Judas and Jesus were both nominated for Golden Globe Awards. Jesus Christ Superstar still is a popular movie.
I’m not bring up this movie because I’m endorsing it nor do I agree with all of the depictions of Christ shown in the movie because a large amount of the content isn’t recorded in scripture. I bring up the movie because of its ending. Many people find Jesus Christ Superstar to be powerful, moving, and inspiring. The crucifixion scene at the end of the movie is quite stirring. But that’s the end of the movie! Crucifixion. Boom. Done. Roll credits. “Grab the popcorn; let’s beat the crowd outta here.” As Christians, we are left waiting for the resurrection. But it’s not there. Sad. Truly sad.
Jesus with no Easter? Christ’s life with no resurrection? I’m sorry, Mr. Andrew Lloyd Webber, but that’s not the end of the story. There’s more. So much more! Jesus Christ destroyed death by His resurrection. Jesus is The Resurrection and the Life! Mary and Martha learned this lesson in a very vivid way as Jesus mocked death by bringing their dead brother, Lazarus, back to life.
One day, Lazarus became ill. So ill, so sick that his sisters, Mary and Martha, sent an urgent request to Jesus to come and heal him. They were convinced he was soon to die. And why wouldn’t Jesus come? They were friends. Mary and Martha had just hosted Jesus and His disciples after they came back from their missionary journey when Jesus sent them out two-by-two. Jesus had just been in their home. Surely, He would come. Surely, He would help. Surely, Jesus would heal Lazarus and make him better. Because it didn’t look good.
Oh, Jesus got the message. He heard it loud and clear. The hurried messengers gave the urgent news, “Lord, the one You love is sick.” What was Jesus’ response? He sprung to action. He tucked His cloak in His belt. He strapped tightly His sandals to His feet. And He took off running to save Lazarus. Actually, the opposite. Jesus heard the heartfelt, heart-hurting news of Lazarus’ pending death and did…nothing. Or at least that’s what it looks like and sounds like. “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.’” Jesus did nothing. Lazarus died.
But don’t worry. Andrew Lloyd Webber isn’t in charge of this account. The story doesn’t end here!
But to Mary and Martha, it did. Their brother was dead! Story over. His life…over. Can you imagine their disappointment? They had sent for Jesus several days earlier. Jesus did not show up. I imagine they waited for Jesus as they prepared the body for burial. One eye on their work; one eye on the road. After all, they knew Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter shortly after she died (Mark 5). So there was still some hope. But Jesus did not show up immediately after Lazarus died. That hope died too. They may even have been waiting for Jesus to come as they took the body to the cemetery. After all, they knew Jesus interrupted a funeral procession once before. He looked right at the widow whose only son was dead in a box on the way to the ground. And Jesus said to her, “Don’t cry.” For Jesus knew what He was about to do. Jesus, The Resurrection and the Life, touch the coffin and cried out in a loud voice, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” And the dead man sat up! (Luke 7) So there was still some hope. But Jesus did not interrupt the funeral either. That hope died too.
So where was He? What was He doing? What was soooo important that Jesus bailed on them, left them to wallow in their sorrow? Hold on. You’ll see! Again, the story doesn’t end here!
Jesus didn’t arrive until Lazarus had been dead and buried for four days! When Jesus finally showed up Mary could not gather the strength nor the will to greet Jesus. Was she too exhausted from her tears? Too upset with Jesus that He had not yet arrived? Martha went. “Martha said, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.’”
It was over for Martha. It was over for Mary. Hope was lost. Hope was dead. Four days. Dead for four days. It was just too long a time. Not even Jesus’ powers could overcome its grip. But then Jesus said something. Jesus’ words broke the awkward silence and thundered through the weeping tears. “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 believe this?” “Yes, Lord,” she told Him, “I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”
She had faith that Jesus was God’s Son, her Savior. She believed Jesus would raise her brother, Lazarus, back to life at the End of Time. But she was certain that Lazarus was dead and would stay dead.
Jesus had other plans. Jesus, The Resurrection and the Life, knew the story didn’t end here! “Where have you laid him?” Jesus asked. “Come and see, Lord.” They replied. When Jesus, Mary, Martha and a countless sea of mourners arrived at the sealed tomb, Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” “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.” Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
Do you see the problem here? It’s a problem Martha had and we have. Jesus told Martha exactly what needed to be done to heal her pain and she refused. I like how the King James Version translates her response: “Lord, by this time, he stinketh.” Martha didn’t want the tomb opened. It would stinketh to open. In Martha’s mind, the problem of Lazarus’ death was better when it was left alone, sealed up.
But that rarely works. When we have problems in our life, especially spiritual problems, they never get fixed when we leave them alone, seal them up. Sure, it makes the problem less visible. But it’s always there. And it stinketh! When you try to hide sin, when you try to hide your raw emotions, you get hurt.
What is it you’re hiding? What is it you’re avoiding? What is it that you wish would remain sealed up, left alone but it would stinketh to have to dealeth with it?
Maybe for you, your buried problem is that you never truly dealt with emotion over the death of a loved one—just like the sisters, Mary and Martha. When the thought of that loved one comes, you’re done. You’re destroyed. And you cry out “Why?” to God? “Why didn’t you come and heal him? Why didn’t you come to help her?” That sounds just like Mary and Martha. “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Maybe for you, your buried problem is the feud that you never fixed that is raging or smoldering to this day. Some rude, crude or lewd comment was made. You took offense. Words were said. Verbal blows were exchanged. Worse yet, Facebook got involved. (Please don’t use Facebook to settle a score.) A friendship or family relationship is lost. And it hurts. But you don’t want to deal with it because to do so would stinketh! And yet you know what Jesus commands. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” He even commands, “Love your enemy.”
Maybe for you, your buried problem is a sexual indiscretion that no one knows about. But it haunts you every day that someone will find out. Well, if you’ve learned anything from John Edwards, Arnold Schwarzenegger or the Secret Service’s not so secret prostitute scandal in Columbia, the truth often comes out. It’s time to deal with it. Even though it will stinketh, Jesus is urging you to open up the tomb of your hidden sins to Him and to let Jesus do His work!
In order to receive the miracle God had planned for her, Martha had to stop making excuses and risk smelling the stinking, rotting corpse of her dead brother. In order to receive God’s blessings in our lives we have to risk opening up our problems, our sinfulness to Jesus so He can fix us, forgive us and free us.
I asked the question earlier in the sermon. So where was Jesus? What was He doing? What was soooo important that Jesus bailed on them, left them to wallow in their sorrow? Jesus didn’t abandon them. He was waiting for His perfect timing to happen so that He could bless them with something even better, an even great proof of His power!
If you have ever felt like God bailed on you and left you to wallow in your sorrow, you must first look to see if you are standing in God’s presence or if you walked away from Him in your grief. And if you are in God’s goodness, then give your grief and sadness fully over to Him. Give your secret sins over to Jesus to be destroyed by His power! The Bible tells us that “The wages of sin is death.” (Rom. 3:23) But since Jesus is The Resurrection and the Life that means Jesus’ death destroyed the eternal punishment of sin! You are freed! You are forgiven! You are no longer bound by your past sins. There is no need to worry over them, to fret over them to be concerned that they stinketh because Jesus has anointed you with the sweetness of His grace!
Here is the key point for you to remember from this sermon. Here is the key point for you to remember when you are in pain over loss. When God takes something away, He is planning to give something better! And if God takes away a Christian loved one of ours, that’s because God wants to give that person something better! God gives them heaven all because of Jesus who is The Resurrection and the Life.
I read an account about the only survivor of a shipwreck. He washed up on a small, uninhabited island. He prayed for God to rescue him, and every day he scanned the horizon for help, but no one came. He eventually managed to build a little hut out of driftwood to protect him from the elements, and to store his few possessions. But then one day, after searching for food, he arrived home to find his little hut in flames, the smoke rolling up to the sky. The worst happened: everything was lost. He was stung with grief and anger: “God!!! How could You do this to me!” Early the next day he was awakened by the sound of a ship that was approaching the island. It was there to rescue him. “How did you know I was here?” the weary man asked his rescuers. They replied, “We saw your smoke signal.”
Friends, when God takes something away from a Christian it is only done to bless you. That is the promise and that is the assurance from Jesus, The Resurrection and the Life. Amen.