Resurrection Faith

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
April 6, 2014, Lent V

Ezekiel 37:1-14, Psalm 130, Romans 8:6-11, John 11:1-45

From the Prophet Ezekiel:
“And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land, then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken, and I have done it, says the Lord.”

From the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans:
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you.

And from the Gospel of St. John:
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.”

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.

The raising of Lazarus from the dead was not our Lord’s last miracle before the Cross, but it was certainly His greatest and the one that aroused the most response both from His friends and His enemies. The Apostle John selected this miracle as the seventh in the series recorded in his book because it was really the climatic miracle of our Lord’s earthly ministry. He had raised others from the dead, but Lazarus had been in the grave four days. It was a miracle that could not be denied or avoided by the Jewish leaders.

The emphasis in the 11th Chapter of John is on faith; you find some form of the word believe at least eight times in this chapter. Another theme is “the glory of God” (John 11:4, 40). Jesus sought to strengthen the faith of three groups of people: The disciples, the Sisters (Mary and Martha), and the Jews or spectators.

We sometimes think of the disciples as “super saints,” but such was not the case. They often failed their Lord, and He was constantly seeking to increase their faith. After all, one day He would leave them and they would have the responsibility of carrying on the ministry. If their faith was weak, their work could never be strong.

Jesus was at Bethabara, about twenty miles from Bethany (John 1:28; 10:40). One day, a messenger arrived with the sad news that our Lord’s dear friend Lazarus was sick. If the man had traveled quickly, without delay, he could have made the trip in one day. Jesus sent him back the next day with the encouraging message: “This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it.” (John 11:4) Then Jesus waited two more days before He left for Bethany; and by the time He and His disciples arrived, Lazarus had been dead for four days. This means that Lazarus had died the very day the messenger left to contact Jesus!

When the messenger arrived back home, he would find Lazarus already dead. What would his message convey to the grieving sisters now that their brother was already dead and buried? Jesus was urging them to believe His word no matter how discouraging the circumstances might appear.

No doubt the disciples were perplexed about several matters. First of all, if Jesus loved Lazarus so much, why did He permit him to get sick? Even more, why did He delay to go to the sisters? For that matter, could He not have healed Lazarus at a distance, as He did the nobleman’s son? (John 4:43-54). The scriptures make it clear that there was a strong love relationship between Jesus and this family (John 11:3, 5, 36); yet our Lord’s behavior seems to contradict this love.

God’s love for His own, is not a pampering love; it is a perfecting love. The fact that He loves us, and we love Him is no guarantee that we will be sheltered from the problems and pain of life. After all, the Father loves His Son; and yet the Father permitted His beloved Son to drink the cup of sorrow and experience the shame and pain of the Cross. We must never think that love and suffering are incompatible. Certainly they unite in Jesus Christ.

Jesus could have prevented Lazarus’ sickness or even healed it from where He was; but He chose not to. He saw in this sickness an opportunity to glorify the Father. It is not important that we Christians are comfortable, but it is important that we glorify God in all that we do.

Our Lord’s message to the sisters did not say their brother would not die. It promised only that death would not be the ultimate result, for the ultimate result would be the glory of God. He wanted them to lay hold of this message when she balked at having the tomb opened (John 11:40).

When we find ourselves confronted by disease, disappointment, delay, and even death, our only encouragement is the Word of God. We must live by faith and not by sight. Their situation seemed hopeless, yet the sisters knew that Jesus was the Master of every situation.

When our Lord announced that He was returning to Judea, His disciples were alarmed, because they knew how dangerous it would be. Bethany was only two miles from Jerusalem. But Jesus was willing to lay down His life for His friends (John 15:13). He knew that His return to Judea and the miracle of raising Lazarus would precipitate His own arrest and death.

The Lord calmed their fears by reminding them that He was on the Father’s schedule, and that nothing could harm them. But the disciples not only misunderstood the schedule, they also misunderstood the reason for the visit. They thought that, if Lazarus was sleeping, he was getting better! It was another example of their inability to grasp spiritual truth.

Then He told them openly that Lazarus was dead. He did not say He was glad that His friend died, but that He could reveal to His disciples His mighty power. The result would be glory to God and the strengthening of their faith.

Jesus was concerned not only about the faith of His own disciples, but also about the faith of His dear friends Mary and Martha. Each experience of suffering and trial ought to increase our faith, but this kind of spiritual growth is not automatic. We must respond positively to the ministry of the Word and the Spirit of God. Jesus had sent a promise to the two sisters, and now He would discover how they had received it.

The scriptures make it clear that Mary and Martha were quite different in their personalities. Martha was the worker, the active one, while Mary was the contemplative one who sat at the feet of Jesus and listened to His Word.

We would expect Martha to rush out to meet Jesus while Mary sat in the house, weeping with her friends. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. And even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” While there was a tinge of disappointment in her statement, there was also evidence of faith.

Martha was quick to affirm her faith in Jesus Christ, and Jesus responded to that faith by promising her that her brother would rise again. He was talking of the immediate raising of Lazarus, but she interpreted His words to mean the future resurrection in the last day (Dan. 12:2-3; John 5:28-29).

By His teaching, His miracles, and His own resurrection, Jesus clearly taught the resurrection of the human body. He has declared once for all that death is real, that there is life after death, and that the body will one day be raised by the power of God.

Perhaps the greatest transformation Jesus performed was to move the doctrine of the resurrection out of the future and into the present. Martha was looking to the future, knowing that Lazarus would rise again and she would see him. But Jesus tried to center her attention on the present: whenever He is, God’s resurrection power is available now.

Martha did not hesitate to affirm her faith. She used three different titles for Jesus: Lord, Christ (Messiah), and Son of God. She spoke the words, “I believe,” which are in the perfect tense, indicating a fixed and settled faith.

Our Lord dealt with Martha’s faith, now He had to help Mary. Mary went out to Jesus. She did not say much because she was overcome with sorrow and was weeping. Jesus also was overcome with sorrow, because the scriptures say: “Jesus wept.” Our Lord’s weeping reveals the humanity of the Saviour. His tears also assure us of His sympathy; He is indeed “a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3).

The third group that needed their faith strengthened was the Jews or spectators: the people who had come to comfort Mary and Martha. The time had come for the sake of the unbelieving spectators that they might know that God had sent Him. Jesus called Lazarus and raised him from the dead. It was an unquestioned miracle that even the most hostile spectator could not deny.

The experience of Lazarus is a good illustration of what happens to a sinner when he trusts the Saviour (Eph. 2:1-10). Lazarus was dead, and all sinners are dead. He was decayed, because death and decay go together. All lost people are spiritually dead, but some are more “decayed” than others.

We read in Romans: “But if Christ is in you, although your bodies are dead because of sin, your spirits are alive because of righteousness.” The unsaved person is alive physically, but dead spiritually. The inner man is dead toward God and does not respond to the things of the Spirit. He may be moral, and even religious; but he lacks spiritual life.

Even though the body is destined to die because of sin, the Spirit gives life to that body today so that we may serve God. If we should die, the body will one day be raised from the dead, because the Holy Spirit has sealed each believer (Eph. 1:13-14). When the Holy Spirit lives within, you experience new life, and even your physical faculties take on a new dimension of experience.

Lazarus was raised from the dead by the power of God, and all who trust Christ have been given new life and lifted out of the graveyard of sin. Lazarus was set free from the grave clothes and given new liberty. You find him seated with Christ at the table, and all believers are “seated with Christ” in heavenly places, enjoying spiritual food and fellowship.

Just as we, believers in Christ, come to this most Sacred Table of our Lord Jesus Christ. A Table spread before you, in remembrance of His death and passion; that we may be partakers of His most blessed body and blood; willingly sacrificed for us; that we may obtain a resurrection faith, that gives witness to the love and grace of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Let us pray:

Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Amen. †

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