Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on September 4, 2016
Open your Bibles to John 11:1-16. As all of you can tell, I am not Adam Mostert. Adam was to be filling in for me this morning, but God had other plans. Adam and his wife Abi welcomed into the world a new baby boy yesterday morning. His name is Josiah Harold Mostert and he weighed 7lbs 8 oz and was 20.5 inches long. And as far as I know mom and baby are doing well, but obviously we should keep them in our prayers.
Last night as I was putting together the sermon for this morning, I as on Adam's facebook page and Adam wrote these words, “we are so amazed how God has providentially orchestrated everything.” I also believe this, and this includes me cutting my vacation short so that I could preach today's message. I do not believe in chance or chaos, I believe in providence, and for some reason God desired us to be here today, despite our greatest efforts, and for that I find comfort and peace. Interestingly enough, my wife predicted it a week ago.
Having said that, I may never know why, there may be thousands of reasons, but that is not important. What is important is to trust God and allow him to work according to his will, not mine. I do have to admit, however, that I was a little disappointed that I was not going to be able to preach on John 11:1-16, it is a great text. I wish I would have had more time to put it together, but God willing He will use the ashes of my sermon and make something beautiful with them.
John 11:1-16 - “Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4But 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.” 5Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 12The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Sovereign Over Death
To begin, let us get our bearings by setting the stage, for it will help illumine some of the dialogue that we just read. If you recall, at the end of John 10 Jesus was in a significant confrontation with the Jews in Jerusalem during the Feast of the Dedication. The Jews had surrounded him outside the Temple in a place named the colonnade of Solomon and they posed a question hoping to trap him so that they could stone him. Jesus, in true form, did not hesitate to engage with them and proclaimed once again his divinity and equality with God. This of course was the trap the Jews hoped he would step into and the picked up stones to kill him in the midst of the crowd. Jesus, however, made quick work of them by quoting an obscure passage from Psalm 82:6 about being god's which tripped them up enough that the justification that they thought they had quickly slipped through their fingers. So they best they thought they could do was to now arrest him. But we read in John 10:39, “but he escaped from their hands.”
After this escape, Jesus left Jerusalem and went to a place across the Jordan. This was a place that John the Baptist had spent a lot of time preparing people for the coming of the Messiah, and the result of Jesus' presence was not stoning, but believing. Jesus and his disciples were having success in their ministry away from Jerusalem.
In the midst of this success, a messenger from a Mary and a Martha arrived with some troubling news. The message was simply, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” This person we are told in verse 1 is Lazarus. Not much is known about him except that he is brother of Mary and Martha and that he lives in a town named Bethany.
Bethany's location was a problem of sorts. Why? Because it was located near to Jerusalem. We see this in verse 18, “Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Marcy to console them concerning their brother.” This was the place that Jesus and his disciples just escaped from, and they were now being asked to return.
When Jesus first heard this message, he did not react to it. He states, “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.” This message was not news to Jesus, he knew exactly what was going on. God was not an accident. It did not catch God off guard. This event in the life of Lazarus was ordained. He did not get sick by chance, he was sick for a reason. And the reason was for “the Glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
Does this sound familiar? It sounds a lot like what we read about in John 9 with the blind beggar. If you recall, the disciples asked Jesus why the beggar was blind, was it because of sin? Jesus answered them in John 9:3, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” The blindness of the beggar had a purpose, to manifest the glory of God and Lazarus's sickness and death had a purpose, to manifest the glory of God. I can't tell you how important this truth is for your life. The world wants to tell you that everything is random. The truth is that nothing is random. God is all knowing, all powerful, all present. In whatever situation you find yourself in, not matter how dire it may seem, God is in the midst of it doing something, and that something is for His glory. He is sovereign over all moments, not just some.
Just to reinforce this more from out text, look at verse 7, Jesus says to his disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” This statement by Jesus was not one that the disciples necessarily loved to hear for the reasons I mentioned earlier. Returning to Jerusalem meant stoning, not just for Jesus, but also for them. Because of this fear of returning to Jerusalem, they try to talk him out of it. Verse 8, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeing to stone you , and are you going there again?”
Think about how sinful that question is. It is full of doubt and pride. The disciples are effectively making themselves lord over Jesus. Questioning his wisdom, doubting his plan, resisting his will. Not to mention, they are putting their comfort before the comfort of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. They do this despite all of the teaching and all of the miracles and all of the escapes by Jesus, their faith is as small as a mustard seed. Meaning that it is extremely small.
Jesus' response to their lack of faith is interesting. Verse 9, “Jesus answered, 'Are there not twelve hours in a day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, be stumbles, because the light is not in him.” What does Jesus mean by this? What he means is simple. Jesus is comparing his work on earth to day time. His death, night, will not come one minute sooner than it is assigned. The day ends when the day ends. It cannot be changed. Likewise the work of Jesus is the work of Jesus. It cannot be changed. As we have stated before, Jesus was working on a providential clock. His death would come at the fullness of time. Jesus was immortal until the fullness of time as come.
This truth is not only true for him, but it is true for everyone. It was true for Lazarus. This illness would kill him for four days, but it would not end in death. Why? It was not when God had ordained he would die. And the disciples must understand this sovereign truth. They are also immortal until all their work is done. Just as Jesus said in Matthew 10:29, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?i And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Jesus loves Lazarus. Jesus loves the disciples. They are valuable to him. They will not fall by chance. They will die when God determines.
We can actually see this at the end of the book of John, chapter 21:18 when Jesus is speaking with Peter. Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19(This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.)” Peter will die when Peter is destined to die, and his death is not without a purpose. It is for the glory of God.
Death is not outside of God's control, praise God. He is in the midst of everyone's death. Psalm 31:14, “But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, “You are my God.” 15My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors! “ Psalm 139:16, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” Job 14:5, “Since his days are determined, and the number of his months is with you, and you have appointed his limits that he cannot pass.” You and I will die when God appointed you to die, not a moment sooner nor a moment later. And if you are in Christ, you should not fear it, for to live is Christ and to die is gain. To die is merely to step into a fullness of joy. And knowing this truth, walking in this light, gives you the ability to serve the Lord without hesitation.
And we see a glimpse of this from an unexpected source, Thomas. Verse 16, “So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” This should be our battle cry. Let us go with Christ, even unto death, for death no longer has a sting, but is merely a gateway to Paradise.
A Strange Love
Now I want to draw your attention to verse 5, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.” What is the key word in those two versus? It is the word “so.” That word should be in all of your Bibles, unless you are using a NLT (New Living Translation) or some other poor translation. If that is you, throw that Bible away and get a Bible with all the words, like the ESV. Because the word so, changes everything.
The reason for this is because the word “so” is the most important word in those two verses, for it connects the actions of Jesus with the reasons of Jesus. It helps us answer the question, why did Jesus delay for two days? It was because he loved Martha and Mary. Verse 5, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, SO (therefore) when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer.” The love of Christ caused him to not go. The love of Christ caused him to let Martha and Mary and others to languish in their sorrow. The love that Christ had for them was why he let Lazarus die.
What a strange kind of love. Jesus, who has the power to heal. He has done it thousands of times before this, but not now. Why? Because he loves them.
Think about this for a second. When Jesus eventually arrives in Bethany, Lazarus has been dead for four days. What do you think those four days were like for Martha and Mary? Happy? Easy? No, they were gut wrenching. Agonizing. Sorrowful. Tear filled. This was their brother, most likely the closest person in their life. Someone that they loved dearly. Now he was dead, probably at the age of 30. These were most likely the four worst days in Mary and Martha's life. Perhaps you have felt such deep pain. The passing of a loved one is a deep, deep pain. Psalm 6:6 says, “I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. 7My eye wastes away because of grief;” My guess is that this would describe the nights of Martha and Mary. And why? Because Jesus loved them.
How is the death of Lazarus a vessel in which to love them? First, lets think about love. What does it mean to love someone? To love someone means that you want for them the best of all things. And you want these best things to produce in them happiness, or joy. The act of loving someone is to do something in their life that produces in them happiness.
How is the death of Lazarus going to produce in them the best of all things? How will it produce joy? The answer is found in verse 4, “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.”
The death of Lazarus was an instrument to display the Glory of God in the person of Jesus Christ, and this glory was to be beheld by Martha and Mary. They were to look upon the glory of God in the life of Christ and marvel. They were to stand in awe of Christ and believe in him. They were to bask in his brilliance. To soak in his power over death.
What they needed more than their comfort, what they needed more than their brother, what they needed more than a bed without tears, was to behold Christ as the radiance of God's glory. This is the greatest gift they could ever receive. This would be the source of their joy.
The Greatest Act of Love is to Give the Glory of God
And why is this? Why is beholding the Glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ the best thing for us? Why does it produce in us joy? Because there is nothing in the Universe of greater value then the revelation of God. God in his beauty is the thing that is the most precious in the Universe. There is not a greater gift to be given than the glory of God. The glory of Lazarus is not greater than the Glory of God. The glory of money is not greater than the glory of God. The glory of sex is not greater than the glory of God. The glory of this world is not greater than the glory of God. The highest end is the glory of God. Paul speaks of this in Ephesians 2:7 as the “immeasurable riches of his grace.”
God is infinitely and eternally great, everything pales in comparison to the glory of God. Paul understood this reality well. He says in Philippians 3:8, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” Paul's eyes had been open to the Glory of God, and nothing compared. Everything was garbage compared to the limitless riches of God's glory.
And this is exactly how Jesus explained the Kingdom of Heaven. Matthew 13:44, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” Once you behold the treasure of the Glory of God, it is easy to let go of this world. Why? Because everything else is infinitely less.
And this is what Jesus desired to give to Martha, Mary, Lazarus, and the Disciples. To behold his glory. This is why he stayed for two days. He loved them and wanted to give them something better than life. God was in the midst of this pain. He was using it to reveal to them his power.
And now, we as Christians should think along the same lines. The pain we feel is not without purpose. God is in it. He desires to show us who he is through our weakness. For it is in this weakness that God's strength is perfected, or completely, or revealed.
Likewise, we, like Christ are called to love. In fact, we are told that the world will know we are Christians by our love. The question is, how are we to love our spouse, our children, our neighbors, our co-workers, strangers that we meet? What can we give them that they need more than anything? What can we give them that will produce happiness or joy in their life? The answer is the same as we find in verse 4 the glory of God as displayed through the Son of God.
This is what your spouse needs, to see Jesus as glorious. This is what your children need, to see Jesus as glorious. This is what your co-workers need, to see Jesus as glorious. This is what the world needs, to see Jesus as glorious. If you love your spouse, kids, co-workers, the world give them what they most greatly need, to behold the glory of Christ.
So how are we to do this? Are we to assume that Jesus has to come to our home and raise the dead? No. Do you recall why John wrote the Gospel of John? John 20:31, “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 way that you show the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ is through his Word. It is through this Word that the greatest treasure of God's glory is found.
Starting this Wednesday, we have a great opportunity for this. This is a great opportunity to get plugged into a small group study for your kids and for yourself. It is also a great opportunity to invite people to gaze upon Christ by getting into his word.
I am reminded of the two men who were walking on the road to Emmaus when Jesus appeared to them after his resurrection And “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” Later on that night this is what they said about that experience, Luke 24:32, “They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”
This is what it is like to have the eyes of your hear open to see the glory of God. Our hearts burn within us as we gaze upon the Glory of God shining forth from the Son of God.