Sermon from 7th Nov 2021 (All Saints)

John 11:32-44 (EHV)

32 When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and troubled.

34 He asked, “Where have you laid him?”

They told him, “Lord, come and see.”

35 Jesus wept.

36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

38 Jesus was deeply moved again as he came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.

Martha, the dead man’s sister, told him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, because it has been four days.”

40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone.

Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 After he said this, he shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

44 The man who had died came out with his feet and his hands bound with strips of linen and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus told them, “Loose him and let him go.”

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may believe Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has defeated death and gives us life eternal through faith. Amen.

Can you say two, three, four, and five,

as Lazarus walks out alive?

From out the grave his body came

when Jesus shouted forth his name!

You wonder why we start with two,

but here I give to you a clue:

you might think this to be absurd,

but count the letters of each word.

When faced with trouble, pain and grief

we often ask the question ‘if’?

‘If only this…’, ‘If only that…’

Here Mary with this question sat!

‘If’ only has two letters, true!

You wonder what this means for you,

but let me ask if you have cried

the word of ‘if’ when someone died?

For example, have you ever asked such questions, or said some comments such as:

“If only I had said this or done that! If only I had spent more time with them. If only I had listened to them. If only they had listened to me! If only I didn’t do or say those hurtful things. If only God had reached down and healed them, saved them, or at least been there for us all.”

The word ‘if’ has only two letters and is a very natural question to ask, but there’s rarely a happy answer to it; that’s if there’s an answer at all!

Our questions based on the word ‘if’ often leave us hanging and only adds to the emptiness we feel inside. The unanswered question only serves to drive us deeper into despair or grief.

If we’re waiting for an answer to this question before we’re able to get on with our lives, most likely we’ll never move on, because all we’re left with is speculation and uncertainty, which never deals with our guilt, our shame, our grief, and our anger.

Like Martha had already asked earlier, Mary also asked Jesus this most basic and heartfelt question to Jesus – the only one who should have known the answer, or at least the one who could have done something about her brother’s sickness and death.

But like our own cries of ‘if only…’, Jesus never answered her question. Jesus never answers with uncertainty, doubt, or speculation. Instead, he asked her a different question: ‘Where did you put him?’, which brings us to the next word in our series based on the numbers 2, 3, 4, and 5:

A word with three; what can it be?

The word of ‘see’, has letters: three!

And even when we see he saw,

the word of saw – it has no more.

They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see!’

Yet when he did, he had no glee.

This Jesus, he was deeply moved;

his anger showed he disapproved!

He didn’t like their lack of trust;

when faced with death – we turn to dust.

His anger also raged at death

which takes away our final breath.

He saw. He sees.

Jesus doesn’t turn his eyes away from you or your loved ones, not even in times of death. You’re not left alone to wallow in misery. In answer to all your speculations and doubt based on the questions of ‘If’, he gives you something certain and assuring. He tells you he’s there with you – seeing you, watching you, and knowing you intimately.

He not only sees your tears on the outside, but he sees the turmoil, grief, anger and emptiness inside. He truly sees you, which means there’s nothing and nowhere you can hide from him – either in guilt or shame, emptiness or anger, fear or grief. He comes to see you as you are.

There’s some comfort in the fact Jesus doesn’t run away from death or even attempt to avoid it. He walks right up to death, stares death in the eyes, and there’s a hint of anger in the word which is often translated as ‘deeply moved’.

But what could Jesus possibly be angry with? Is he angry with death and the grief it causes us? Is he angry when he sees our faith faltering in the face of death?

Along with any anger, Jesus was also deeply moved by the experience of death, but not in such a way it defeats him. Which brings us to the next word…

Four letters do we now accept,

and see them here when Jesus ‘wept’.

Another word we count to four;

the word of ‘dead’ we won’t ignore.

It moves us now to hear he cried.

He stood at tomb with friend inside.

That Jesus shed his tears of grief

might comfort us, and grant relief.

The God who came to earth for us,

has feelings too, which we’ll discuss.

He’s moved by love yet feels no shame

when tears upon his face they came.

Have you ever stopped and considered this shortest text of the Bible and what it means for us?

Here is our God in human flesh…crying!

This is such a startling picture, because many people consider God to be somewhat removed from us as if he’s impassive and devoid of emotion. Yet here we have an insight into how God feels. Firstly, Jesus may have been deeply moved with a hint of anger, and now he’s so deeply moved he weeps!

In our western world which wants to hide from suffering, pain, and death, and often wants to keep a stiff upper lip in times of trouble and grief, this is shocking!

Our God cries!

When we’ve been told big girls and boys don’t cry, it seems God is giving us permission to cry. If tears are good enough for our God in human flesh, then why would we want to limit our own tears? Do we think we’re better than our own God who is bold enough to cry in the face of grief? Do we think we have to show more control of our own emotions than our God who sees and suffers and cries and dies?

Here our God in human flesh cries outside the tomb of a friend. He’s touched by the tragedy of death, yet this doesn’t deter him in his own journey toward death for our forgiveness and salvation. The tears aren’t a sign of defeat or despair. They’re a sign he loves.

He loves you too, and he loves those who have gone before you.

Death doesn’t stop his love. He’s not a God of the dead, but a God of the living. Even though Lazarus has been dead for four days, his love and his word is more powerful than death.

It would be a nice picture to imagine him standing outside your loved one’s graves (and one day beside your own grave too), waiting to call the names of those he loves; to call the ones who died trusting him, which brings us to the final word…

A final word we’d like to hear;

five letters in this word we’ll cheer.

One word which helps us when we grieve:

so Jesus prays that we ‘believe’.

This must be wrong, for if you count,

this word has just the wrong amount!

This word it numbers five plus two!

You might protest: ‘This will not do!’

But other words for this ‘believe’

give us the strength when we do grieve:

for ‘faith’ and ‘trust’ they number five;

we trust in one who makes alive!

He prays for us to trust in him

who cares for us – our soul and limb.

When we believe, we say we trust

in him who loves – for love he must.

Since the fall, death haunts us all;

God climbed the cross and drank the gall.

Our Saviour died to set us free

so sin and death and snake may flee.

This God we trust when we believe

that death has lost its power to thieve.

Can you say two, three, four, and five,

believing God will make alive?

Jesus said to Mary, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 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.” (John 11:40-44 ESV)

The point of this account is so that you may believe, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Through faith, through trust, through believing in the words and work of Jesus, death isn’t the end, which is why Jesus and the early Christians often talk about the dead as those who have ‘fallen asleep’.

By faith we believe Jesus will one day call our names and we’ll wake up from the sleep of death to find ourselves in his holy presence. Through faith we believe that the voice of our risen Lord Jesus will awaken us to live forever in his holy presence. That will be a great and glorious day for all those who believe in Jesus!

But for now, like Jesus, you’re allowed to grieve and mourn in the face of death, but this doesn’t mean death has won, because we believe Jesus has defeated death and gives us the gift of eternal life through faith.

Through trusting Jesus’ death and resurrection, our own death is like going through a doorway. Jesus Christ is the doorway through whom we receive the gift of eternal life that’s already ours. There we’ll meet all those kept safe by their faith in Jesus; all those who have already passed through the sleep of death to life eternal.

Jesus says, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The person who believes in me, even though he dies, will live. Indeed, everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe that?’ Jn 11:25-26

Which means…

The peace of God he gives to you,

which you don’t fathom through and through.

This peace, it guards you: mind and heart,

so you and Christ will never part.