Jesus – the Resurrection and the Life: report of Duncan’s sermon this morning

Resurrection2

Today, Duncan was preaching on John 11:1-44, rather than the passage which was announced. John  11 tells the story of Jesus’ restoring to life his friend Lazarus, who had died.

The raising of Lazarus was the last of the seven ‘sign miracles’ recorded in John’s Gospel through which Jesus’ identity was revealed to those with spiritual discernment. In fact, as Duncan pointed out, the actual miracle is described in just a few verses – the rest of the chapters describes Martha and Mary’s reaction to the death of their brother, and Jesus’ response to them.

The central message of John’s Gospel

Interestingly, chapter 11 is the central chapter of John’s Gospel, and the key verse (v25) where Jesus said ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even thought he dies’ is at the centre of the chapter. This means that Jesus’ profound statement lies at the very heart of John’s Gospel. John has structured his book to focus on Jesus as resurrection and life, and everything Jesus says and does points to this.

Jesus – hope for the whole world

Another thing which struck Duncan is the fact that Jesus here, as so often subverts the culture of his day. Women were regarded as having a lower status than men, and legally weren’t permitted to be witnesses. And yet – the woman at the well; the women who came to the tomb and found it empty; and here, Martha and Mary are called to be witnesses.

It’s a reminder that the message of Jesus as the life-giver crosses boundaries. Jesus offers life to all men and women, to all people, from all nations.  The gospel brings a message of hope to the whole world.

Prayer and the absence of God

Martha, Mary and Lazarus who lived in Bethany, close to Jerusalem, were very close friends of Jesus. And then, Lazarus falls seriously ill, and the sisters send a message to Jesus: ‘Lord, the one you love is sick.’

This reminds us of situations when our friends or family members have been ill, or facing hard times, and we have prayed, perhaps sitting beside a hospital bed, ‘Lord, the one you love is sick.’

Yet when Jesus received the message from Bethany ‘he stayed where he was two more days.’ (v6)

This resonates with us, for it reminds us of times we have prayed, longing for some clear indication of God’s activity, and it seems that we are met by the silence, or absence of God. It seems that God is not there for us, for the one we love.

We can understand the sisters’ reaction (vv 21, 32) ‘If you had been here my brother would not have died.’

They reflect the feelings of countless people facing grief and tragedy who cry ‘God, where are you? Couldn’t you have done something to prevent this?’

The tears of heaven

Martha and Mary’s faith was shaken, and faced with this distressing situation ‘Jesus wept.’ (v35) This, said Duncan ‘gives us a powerful insight into the nature of Jesus’ response to the plight of his friends.’

He wept, certainly because he identified with the vortex of pain and sorrow which was drawing them downwards into deep despair.

But Duncan suggested that Jesus might also be weeping because Martha and Mary and those around them had lost their confidence and hope in God in their present situation. ‘If you had been here my brother would not have died.’ (v21) ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’ (v37)

God – active in the present

Duncan pointed out that when Martha spoke with Jesus, she placed her hope and confidence in the distant future. ‘I know Lazarus will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’ (v24) In contrast, Jesus points not to what God will do in the distant future, but to what God can do now.  ‘I am the resurrection…..’ (v25)

Jesus points to a God who is active in the here-and-now. ‘Even in the face of death,’ Duncan said, ‘Jesus speaks about life.’ Jesus does not ignore the harsh realities we find ourselves in – he weeps with us in them. But he still points us towards life, towards a hope in the immediacy of God’s presence and power in out lives. ‘I am the resurrection and the life.’

Lazarus Van GoghJesus is the Life

Like Martha, said Duncan, we too tend to see resurrection as something happening in the far distance.  Jesus wants us, as he wanted Martha and Mary to realise that besides resurrection there is also life.  The risen Lazarus has a new life with Jesus.  After Lazarus is restored to life, the story moves on, and at the beginning of chapter 12 we see him sharing in a meal with Jesus and Martha and Mary.

Death is still part of the picture – Lazarus will still face death as we too face death – but he is called into the new life of sharing with Jesus.

Hearing the shepherd

Duncan invited us to notice how Lazarus was raised.  ‘Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”’ (v43)   In other words, Lazarus was raised through hearing Jesus: it reminds us of John 10 – the sheep follow the shepherd because they know, and recognise his voice. (John 10:4)  Lazarus heard the shepherd – despite having been dead for four days, at a time when it was believed the spirit departed from the body three days after death. Lazarus walked free of death.

Partners of Jesus

And in conclusion, Duncan pointed out the instructions Jesus gave to those who witnessed the resurrection of Jesus. ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go.’ (v44)

Jesus could have done this himself, but he wanted the witnesses to the sign to share in the sign with him. As a church, Duncan said, we are called to share with Jesus in setting people free to truly live.’

Summary

We’ve seen through this story that God can work even through tragedy, though waiting through times of apparent divine absence can be difficult.

We’ve seen that God identifies with us – when we suffer, God suffers.

We’ve seen that God intervenes in mercy and love, transforming situations.

God invites us to partner with Jesus in working in our world in mercy and love. God is still commanding us to unbind, to set free, to release, to renew.

The story of Lazarus teaches us that we are not called to be spectators, but co-workers with Jesus.

(The image is by Vincent Van Gogh)

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