Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent
Text: John 11:1-6
A man named Lazarus, who lived in Bethany, became sick. Bethany was the town where Mary and her sister Martha lived. (This Mary was the one who poured the perfume on the Lord’s feet and wiped them with her hair; it was her brother Lazarus who was sick.) The sisters sent Jesus a message: “Lord, your dear friend is sick.” When Jesus heard it, he said, “The final result of this sickness will not be the death of Lazarus; this has happened in order to bring glory to God, and it will be the means by which the Son of God will receive glory.” Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he received the news that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was for two more days.
Ten year old Tim and a group of his friends were constantly harassed by other kids at their school. They were bullied, stood over for money, and because they were the smallest boys in the class they were powerless to do anything about it. One day after another incident, they talked about how they could put a stop to all this. Some of the boys were all for ganging up on the bullies, ambushing them, even getting some of the bigger kids to join them. Tim wasn’t convinced that an all-out war on the bullies was the best way to go. Someone was going to get hurt – most likely they would come off second best. They sat in silence for a while. Tim quietly said, “Instead of using the same tactics as the bullies, why don’t we do just the opposite. Let’s get everyone to be kind to one another – not just us but everyone in the whole school”. His friends thought he was crazy.
To cut a long story short the group decided to give it a go. The idea caught on and soon the whole school was making an extra special effort to show kindness and do good things for one another. Teachers were impressed at how well everyone was getting on. Those who had been harassing the younger kids didn’t know how to handle all this kindness and gave up. Tim was hailed a hero by parents, staff and students. As he was riding home alone one afternoon, a kid from another school jumped out in front of him brandishing a metal bar. He wanted Tim’s bike. Tim died on the footpath from a fatal blow to his head.
The change that happened at Tim’s school was amazing. This only made the event that ended Tim’s life even more heart wrenching. A young person who had his life in front of him, someone whose plan changed a community and yet his life was tragically cut short. That just doesn’t seem fair. In fact, it’s not fair at all.
Where was God when this happened?
Why did he let this to happen?
Who knows what great things Tim might have accomplished in the future with his innovative way of tackling hostile situations? He might have become a world leader and used his ideas to stop conflict between warring nations. But now we will never know. We want to understand but we can’t help but ask “Why?”
The Gospel today also has this theme. When we hear the news that a close friend is seriously ill it’s normal to rush and be with the family. Not Jesus! Jesus knew that Lazarus had died. As we know by the time Jesus got there Lazarus has already been dead for 4 days. Jews believed that the spirit only left the body after 3 days. That meant that Lazarus was as dead as dead can be. Jesus had even missed the funeral. Lazarus was already in a tomb.
All of this must have seemed so unfair. Jesus healed many other people. Why couldn’t he come to see Lazarus? Restore him to health? Where is Jesus? Why is he taking so long to get here?
Jesus explains, “This has happened in order to bring glory to God”. This is a troubling saying from the mouth of Jesus. It might easily be interpreted as meaning that God has deliberately made life hard for Mary & Martha & Lazarus so that he can get all the glory.
Let’s clarify what Jesus means. The key to understanding what Jesus is saying here is in the words ‘so that’ and ‘in order that’. Jesus is saying this happened and this will be the outcome.
Lazarus dies – God doesn’t take his life, but the outcome will be that God’s glory will be shown. And that’s precisely what happens when Jesus raises dead Lazarus. We are told immediately following the raising of Lazarus that “many people believed in him”, and then a few verses later it is reported that “from that day on the Jewish authorities made plans to kill Jesus”. This miracle at the grave of Lazarus brought the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday even closer.
When Jesus spoke of his own suffering and death he referred to the horrors of what was about to happen as his time of great glory. Out on Calvary’s Hill there was nothing glorious about the humiliation and suffering involved in a crucifixion. There was nothing glorious about hanging naked from a cross while bystanders jeered as his life slowly drained from the body. These are shameful events but forever people will give glory to God for all that he suffered.
Have you ever thought of the hard times in your life in this way? They happen so that God may be glorified.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s not that God deliberately chooses you. Bad things do happen.
It’s not that God doesn’t care or isn’t concerned about us. In fact, in the story about the raising of Lazarus we see just how much Jesus cares. It is reported that Jesus’ wept as he stood at the grave of Lazarus.
He felt the pain of Mary and Martha.
He felt the anguish that death brings.
He felt the pain for those who refused to believe.
Today he weeps for those caught up in war and famine.
He weeps for children lying in hospital with serious medical problems.
He weeps for those who feel unwanted, unloved and useless.
He weeps with each of us and feels the pain and anguish that we feel. But in all of this he also sees these as opportunities to bring about something good. God can use the bad to bring about something good in our lives and in the lives of others.
When trouble comes our way miracles do happen.
What we had thought were irreconcilable differences with another person are suddenly resolved. There are times when the healing that takes place in our bodies leaves doctors dumbfounded . The grief that Mary and Martha felt was very real but so was their joy as they saw Lazarus walk out of the tomb.
It’s easy to give God the glory when he heals us in a miraculous way. It’s easier to convince people of God’s healing power when your experience is evidence of this. We like happy endings.
But every story doesn’t end with a miracle. You pray, you ask for a miracle, you commit things to God but it seems like he’s not listening.
The fact is that God is good, not because everything in life is smooth sailing. He’s good because he comes with us into the valleys of despair, he climbs the difficult and slippery slopes with us, he feels the highs and lows that we feel, and when we feel as if we can’t go any further he carries us. Hurt and pain will always be close by during our life on this earth but we can be certain that he doesn’t leave us to endure these alone. He promises that you won’t be tested beyond what you can endure and he will bring you through it.
We live in a world of sin. Bad things happen. We do not know why. Be assured that God has a plan. Look at the cross and see again God’s unshakeable love for you. Be assured that when you are the weakest, God’s power in your life is the strongest. Amen
Father, we give You thanks for Your goodness and you assurance that you are with us. We praise You for the Scriptures.
We pray that the Spirit will help us be strong and that your glory be seen when the Spirit helps us through the hard times ahead.
O God, open our eyes that we might marvel.
Open our eyes and our hearts that we might fully know what has been done for us.
Open our eyes and our hearts that we might see Your Son…incarnate, crucified, risen.
Father, all this in Christ’s holy name we pray.
Written by Pastor Vince Gerhardy edited for Dubbo Lutheran Church