April 2, 2017 – 5th Sunday in Lent
by Pastor Pete Scheele
Read John 11:1 – 45
Grace and peace to you as you stand at the Cross of Christ to see your resurrection, from God, our Father, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Have you ever noticed that in most Lutheran churches the cross is empty? Now we have a crucifix on the altar to remind us that Jesus was crucified for us, so that He could give us His body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our faith, which we receive each time that we receive Holy Communion. But why are all the rest of the crosses empty? Well that’s what our scripture reading for today is talking to us about. The empty cross is a reminder of our resurrection and all that Jesus has done for us, which the world and yes sometimes each of us get a little confused about because as Christians our focus is not what we have to do but what God has accomplished for us. So, let’s go to the account of Lazarus’ death and resurrection found in the 11th chapter of the Gospel of John to help us with some of the possible confusion we might have about the resurrection.
Now Lazarus was the bother of Mary and Martha who were good friends of Jesus and they lived in Bethany, which wasn’t too far from Jerusalem. Jesus had been in Jerusalem during the feast of the dedication of the temple and during that feast Jesus was in the temple teaching and a group of Jews gathered around Him and asked Him to tell them plainly if He was the Christ. In Jesus’ discussion with them they got very angry with Him and wanted to stone Him because He claimed to be God. As they tried to seize Jesus and stone Him He escaped from them and when back down along the Jordan River. While Jesus was down along the Jordan River teaching His disciples, Lazarus became ill and we are told this, “So the sisters sent to Jesus, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 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.” (Jn.11:3-4)
Here is the first confusing point that this account of Lazarus’ death and resurrection brings up. Why do bad things happen in our life? Some people would say that bad things happen in our lives because of sin and they are partly right. Sin is the cause of all the bad that is going on in this world but there are times in our life when God uses the bad things that happen in our lives so that we and other people involved in our life can grow in their faith and understanding of God’s love for us. That’s why Jesus allowed Lazarus to go through this horrible illness in his life. So that each of us and many other people of Jesus’ time could grow in their faith and understanding of God’s great love for us. So, what are you learning from all the trials and problems that you are having in your life? Do you dwell on the blessings or the sins that are in your life?
Now after two more day of wondering around along the Jordan river Jesus tells the disciple that it is time to go and see His beloved friend Lazarus and the Disciples remind Him that Bethany is not very far from Jerusalem and the Jews in Jerusalem wanted to stone Him when he left not too long ago. Jesus says to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to Him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He meant taking rest in sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.” (Jn. 11:11-16)
Can the death of someone be a benefit to your faith? It can if you believe in the empty cross of Christ, the resurrection cross. But that’s what the disciples of Jesus were having problems with and that’s the same problems that many people have today. Oh, they believe in Jesus Christ and they know about His suffering and death for all our sins. Why some of the disciples may have even believed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ but they were having a hard time believing in their resurrection even though Jesus had spent time talking to them about His death and resurrection that was going to give them their own resurrection, if they only believed in Him. You see they were more focused on what they were going to do instead of what God was going to give to them.
How I have to ask you, “How many of you are absolutely sure that after you die in this world you will be resurrected to a new life with God for all eternity?” Let me see a show of hands. Now that good that so many of you are so certain, but if Jesus would have asked that question of his disciples at this time there was a good chance that none of them would have held their hands up very quickly. But then we have the advantage of knowing that Jesus did rise from the dead in the first resurrection. Well at least the disciples of Jesus had the good old Doubting Thomas to encourage them to face the dangers of going back towards Jerusalem even though that’s not Jesus’ focus.
When Jesus was just outside the city of Bethany, Martha came out to meet Him and we hear this conversation; Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” (Jn. 11:21-27)
Martha has an incredible faith doesn’t she? She has all the right answers to all of Jesus’ questions it seems, but there is still some confusion. Is this world the focus of our life or is there more to life than this world? Was Jesus’ absence the reason for Lazarus’ death? That’s what Martha believed. So, let me ask you a simple question. If Jesus was here physically right now would all your problems go away? For all of us who would say yes or maybe, well we might have great faith like Martha but we are have a little confusion about this life and your resurrection. Martha’s confusion comes with Jesus’ statement, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Martha believed that Jesus was the Christ and the Son of God whom God sent to redeem the Israel nation but her focus is on this world and not her eternal relationship with God. You see we were dead in our sins, but Jesus came to resurrect the life that was given to us at the beginning of time and that is the perfect life of God’s love, grace and mercy for all eternity. We have that resurrection now as we let the Holy Spirit give us a faith, greater than Martha’s, that trusts in God for the true life now and for all eternity. Our resurrected life is not the life that we live by our own wits here on earth, but the life given to us by the Holy Spirit works in our life through God’s Word and Sacraments now and for all eternity.
Well Martha goes and gets Mary and Mary comes to meet Jesus and we hear this conversation. Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw Him, she fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in His spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. (Jn. 11:32-35)
Well at least Mary and Martha have the same confusion about the resurrection and why Jesus had come into their world, but then that is a confusion that all of us fall into from time to time. If only Jesus was physically here with us, then life would be so much better or would it?
This conversation also brings up another confusion about Jesus, He’s not just god walking around in a human body. No, Jesus is fully human just like you and me with all the emotions that each of us deal with every day, from sadness and crying to joy and happiness. When we reject Jesus, He feels the pain of your rejection just like a parent does when their children reject their advice and help. When someone dies in this world that doesn’t believe in Jesus for their resurrection, He feels the loss of a loved one just as much as Mary and Martha felt the loss of Lazarus from their lives at that time.
Which brings up the next conversation. “Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 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.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 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.” 43 When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44 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.” (Jn. 11:38 – 44)
What an incredible prayer that Jesus is praying for each of us. That’s right, as Jesus sits at the right hand of God, He is praying these words, “I said this that they may believe that You sent Me.” As God works in our lives we come to see the glory of God in the empty cross, the resurrection cross. This cross is empty because God has fulfilled all that He said that He would do for us. The cross is empty because we are reminded to put our faith not in the things that we are doing but in what God, through Jesus Christ, has done for us. This is the assurance of our resurrection for all eternity and the knowledge that God is working in our lives now so that we can live in the resurrection now and for all eternity. This is what we need to share with others. Share your knowledge of the empty cross, the Resurrection Cross with others so that they too may have the hope and joy of the resurrection without confusion. Amen.