by Peter Bush
Texts: Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-41
The preacher is faced with an abundance of riches two weeks before Easter. What follows explores the gospel reading which tells a well-known story. With these riches come some challenges:
- It is not Easter – Easter is still two weeks away. Lazaru s was given a new life – but he died again. His resurrection is not the same as Jesus’ resurrection who rose to die no more.
- The John text is compelling but long; it holds together well as a narrative. Worship planners might be wise to have a variety of voices read this passage (for example: Narrator, Jesus, Mary, Martha, other voices) so that the moves can be heard.
- Various commentators debate whether the raising of Lazarus is to be taken as historical. I am not convinced this is a helpful focus for a sermon. This is one of the seven “signs” or miracles in John, hearers could be invited to ask “what does this sign mean?”
Some clues to answering that question can be found in th e text itself.
- In vs. 4 the illness “is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” And in vs. 40 Jesus says, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” God’s glory is what matters – God’s glory is the most important thing for Jesus.
(Without that understanding Jesus’ waiting until Lazarus is beyond hope looks cold. But Jesus cannot act (especially in the gospel of John) without the Father’s approval/agreement (see vs. 41,42). Living for God’s glory means following God’s plan for how that glory is to be revealed.)
If God’s glory is predominant for Jesus, then it should be the same for his followers. The text makes clear God’s glory leads people to see Jesus was sent by the Father. (see vs. 14, 42, 45)
- A question runs here – What does it mean to believe? Or what level of belief is necessary?
Martha struggles with this. She has the right words (vs. 27) but those words have not broken through into her experience. Resurrection – yes, but at some distant future. She has not understood that God has broken into human time and is in the process of changing everything for God’s glory.
Martha’s struggle invites the preacher to explore faith in Jesus not just as intellectual commitment – but as a lived declaration of loyalty to the already but not yet fully revealed glory of God.
“She [Martha] must learn, and Jesus must now show her, that the last day has already dawned. Jesus is himself, in his own person, the eschatos, the end as he was the beginning. Resurrection is no longer a mere doctrine; it has a living face and name.” – Lesslie Newbigin
“Her [Martha’s] objection to Jesus’ command to roll away the stone before the tomb clearly reflects a lack of adequate faith and understanding, and earns something of an exasperated response from Jesus (vv. 39-40). This story, then, once more portrays the progress of a soul toward a more adequate faith in who Jesus is, and as such is a fine tool to be used in missionary work with seekers and those of good will who already accept some truths about Jesus.” – Ben Witherington
“In preaching on John 11-12 one would be well served to avoid denying the ugly reality and power of death, or denying the shadow it cats over our world. The Christian answer to death is not denial, but affirming that there is a yet greater power already extant in the world today. It is only when one stares death in the face and sees it for all it is, that one gains a full grasp and appreciation of life in all its abundance that Jesus has come to offer.” – Ben Witherington
Music: “Trust in His eternal care” http://www.edoxy.com/hymns/Lent5A_Gospel.html
“Roll the stone away” http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/r/o/l/rolstone.htm
“Amazing Love” Graham Kendrick
“You, O Christ, are resurrection” http://www.carolynshymns.com/you_o_christ_are_resurrection.html
(Jesus willed one thing: God’s glory)
Father in Heaven! What are we without You! What is all that we know, vast accumulation though it be, but a chipped fragment if we do not know You! What is all our striving, could it ever encompass a world, but a half-finished work if we do not know You: You the One, who is one thing and who is all!
So may you give to the intellect wisdom to comprehend that one thing;
to the heart, sincerity to receive this understanding;
to the will, purity that wills only one thing.
In prosperity, may you grant perseverance to will one thing;
amid distractions, collectedness to will one thing;
in suffering, patience to will one thing.
You that gives both the beginning and the completion, may You early, at the dawn of day, give to the young the resolution to will one thing. As the day wanes, may You give to the old a renewed remembrance of their first resolution, that the first may be like the last, and the last like the first, in possession of a life that has willed only one thing. – Soren Kierkegaard