April 10, 2011 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“Jesus said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?’”
The narrative of the Raising of Lazarus has many twists and turns. There is so much that John records of the dialogue and actions that accompany the great sign that Jesus performs in Bethany. But the heart of the matter is resurrection: Jesus shows Himself to be the Lord of Life, the One whose words invigorate and animate. That is what this sign shows for the people in Bethany and for all who hear of it centuries later.
Lazarus’ death happens for a purpose: “Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. . . . So the sisters sent to Him, saying, ‘Lord, he whom You love is ill.’ But when Jesus heard it He said, ‘This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’” Lazarus’ condition will kill him, but he will not remain dead. Jesus is going to do something about it. That action will bring glory to Himself, as the people learn of His identity and authority through the sign He performs.
So Jesus delays in going to Bethany. But the delay was not caused by hatred or lack of concern: “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when He 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.’” Why the delay? Why stay an extra two days while Lazarus lay dying? Because of the sign that Jesus would give. He will show the divine love for Martha, Mary, Lazarus, His disciples, and all who would be witness of the sign He performs. For in receiving the sign, believing what it indicates about Jesus, these people receive the greatest gift that He has to give: everlasting life. They are healed from the illness that does lead to death. So Jesus says: “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
When Jesus appears at Bethany, Lazarus’ sister confronts Him: “So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met Him, but Mary remained in the house. Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give You.’” Martha’s statement reveals her belief in Jesus. But what is that belief? That Jesus can heal the sick. Yes. That Jesus has God’s favor upon Him and receives what He asks from heaven. Yes. That Jesus is the Lord of Life and brings resurrection? Well, that is not yet clear.
Martha believes in the resurrection: “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.’” She knows that an afterlife exists, that the Lord has promised life for those who die believing in Him and trusting in His Covenant promises. But there is a great truth that Jesus reveals about Himself, that causes the Son of God to be glorified. That truth is what Jesus first shows in the word of promise He speaks: “Jesus said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.’”
Jesus asks Martha: “Do you believe this?” Her answer confesses her faith: “Yes, Lord; I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” But the great truth of Jesus’ identity will be shown in the sign that He performs. He is the Promised Christ, the One who would bring to fulfillment what the Lord had promised in the Old Testament—the promises that Martha, Mary, and Lazarus trusted in. Now the Son of God will be glorified, as He shows His power over death by raising Lazarus from the grave.
Note what Martha said when Jesus approached Lazarus’ tomb: “Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to Him, ‘Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Her focus is still on the fact of Lazarus’ death. Jesus must still perform the sign that will show Martha who He really is. This is what Jesus sets up with His question: “Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?’” He is taking Martha back to what He had just said: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live. . . .” That is the heart of this event and all of Jesus’ actions. Martha and all others need to believe this, otherwise they will not benefit from Jesus’ work.
So Jesus performs the sign that confirms His words: “So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that You sent Me.’ When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out.’ The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’” Now the truth is seen; the glorifying of the Son of God takes place. Jesus’ description of Himself is fulfilled: Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. That is what the sign shows. The act accomplishes Jesus’ purpose: “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe.” Belief is given in Jesus’ words, what He has said about Himself, His relation to His Father in heaven, and His mission: “Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what He did, believed in Him.”
The sign in Bethany has been given for your benefit. That is why John records it for you, as he says in his gospel account: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His Name.” The sign is given, so that you may believe in Jesus and be healed of your illness that does lead to death: the illness of sin that brings the curse of damnation upon you. Life is available. But it is only for those who trust in Jesus’ identity: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.”
Life in Jesus’ Name has been bestowed upon you. You have received it through hearing the witness of the signs that Jesus performed and hearing the testimony of His identity. You believe what Jesus has done. You believe that He is the Son of God who removes the condemnation that your sin brings: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the Law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
These words of eternal life have come to your ears. But they are more than syllables of vocal sound; they are the vehicle that carries the Holy Spirit who invigorates and animates you. Before that, you were like Lazarus, dead as a doornail in spirit. You were like the bones in Ezekiel’s vision: dry, with no life in them. But the command that summoned Lazarus from the tomb has been spoken to you. He who died and has risen to life again gives the order for you to be brought to life. He has appointed spokesmen who command the breath of life be given to you: “Come from the four winds, O Spirit, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” That is what Jesus’ words cause to happen. He speaks to you: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” His Spirit leads you to give the affirmative answer that brings you life.
Since that has happened, you can pray the words of the psalm this morning: “Out of the depths I cry to You, O Lord! O Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy.” Why would you cry out to Him? Because you believe that He can help, that He is the Lord of Life, the Lord who delivers you. You know your faults: “If You, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” But you also know the truth of what the Son of God has accomplished for you in His dying and rising again and what He promises for those who believe it: “But with You there is forgiveness, that You may be feared. . . . For with the Lord there is plenteous redemption. And He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.”
That is what you rely on, believing that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” It is what you are given to know from the word and signs that He has performed. It is what you look forward to receiving, trusting the promises that He has made to you: “Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” Through Jesus’ words of eternal life, the Holy Spirit has brought you faith in Him.
So as you hear of this great sign performed at Bethany, you believe Jesus. His question is posed to you: “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” That glory is what you will see: “If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” His pledge has been given to you in Holy Baptism, the act that sealed you with His Spirit. You have life in the Triune Name placed on your foreheads that marks you as His people. His words have invigorated and animated you to spiritual life. They will also bring you to true life of the body, fulfilling the promise spoken to you: “You shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O My people. And I will put My Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.” On the Last Day when He summons you—“Come out!”—it shall be so, for He is the Resurrection and the Life for Martha, Mary, Lazarus, His disciples, and for you.
T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.