Proclaiming the Good News of Ephesians 2:8–9
Fifth Sunday in Lent - March 29, 2020
John 11: 1-45
Hymns: 486, (tune 846) 752, 548
Conflicting messages – do we ever get that in our world today with the corona virus spreading like wildfire. The internet is filled with bogus sites that claim to have the right information. And how is one to know what the truth is for sure? I suppose you find someone whom you can trust and has the skill set to know the truth from falsehood. This chimes right in with the Gospel reading this morning. It is at the same time most comforting and confusing. There is so much confusion with Jesus’ disciples and the two sisters of Lazarus. The only two that were not confused were Jesus and Lazarus. Jesus was not confused because He knew all things and Lazarus was not confused because he died.
It all begins with the news of Lazarus’ sickness. Jesus is asked to come quickly; Lazarus is about to expire, he is near death. Jesus’ response is, “This sickness is not meant to cause death.” The disciples were really relieved with this good news, that Lazarus will not die. So Jesus hangs out in Galilee for a few more days. Then He announces that He is heading back to Judea. Ah, but there is a small problem here. Jesus is a wanted man in Judea; the religious leaders have a price on His head. But Jesus needs to go back and wake up Lazarus for he has fallen asleep. The disciples, still convinced that Jesus does not need to go back into Judea, try to convince Jesus that Lazarus will be fine; his sleeping is a sure sign of recovery. Jesus makes it plain and clear, “Lazarus has died.” But wait a minute, didn’t Jesus say that this sickness is not meant to cause death and now He tells His disciples that Lazarus has died? The disciples are so confused. They inform Jesus that they will return with Him to die also. Wow, talk about confusing. Everyone was on a different wave length.
And then the plot thickens. Jesus arrives and is met by Martha. She almost, sort-of, scolds Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But now I know God will give You anything You ask Him.” Does she not understand that Jesus is God? We know she later confesses very clearly, “I believe You are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” That is about the first clear, non-confusing statement in this whole chapter. Jesus’ words to Martha can be confusing also, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. The person who believes in Me will live even if he dies. Yes, everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” Explain that one to me! If you believe in Jesus you will live even if you die. Was there a question that some of us will not die? If you live and believe in Jesus, you will never die. How can this be? We will all someday die but if we live and believe in Jesus, we will never die. Is this saying that if you die, it means you did not live and believe in Jesus? Is anyone confused? Have you ever wondered how these words of Jesus recorded here in John are understood by unbelievers who are in attendance at a funeral? Perhaps we should be wondering how these verses are understood by believers.
So how does one sort this all out? First of all, one has to realize that Jesus was always moving from the physical world into the spiritual realm. He was always teaching about eternal matters, things beyond the here and now. We saw this in His conversation with Nicodemus and with the Samaritan woman at the well, just to mention two of many. Now with Martha and Mary, two devoted followers of Jesus, believers, He uses the opportunity of Lazarus’ death to teach them, His disciples, and you and me about death. We need to remember that there are three kinds of death: spiritual death, temporal death and eternal death. We are born spiritually dead; we do not know God nor do we want to know Him. This is the plight of every human being at conception. Temporal death is when the body and soul separate for a time. The body returns to the dust from which it was made; the soul goes to heaven or hell to wait for the final day of glory. Eternal death is the result of unbelief. Those who do not believe in Jesus will experience eternal death in hell.
As we read in Scripture, the wages of sin is death. Because our first parents disobeyed God and ate the forbidden fruit, death entered into the world. Temporal and spiritual death was passed down from them to their children all the way to you and me. On the day that has been appointed for us, all of us will temporally, physically die. The only exception is if the Final Day of glory comes before we die. Jesus announces, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” He is not “a resurrection of a life” but He is THE Resurrection and THE Life. Jesus then moves in His conversation with Martha from the physical, temporal death to spiritual, eternal life. If you believe in Jesus, you will spiritually live even if you temporarily, physically die. In fact, Jesus continues, if you physically live and believe in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you will never spiritually die. Your spiritual life will continue even in temporal death. Are you confused yet?
Jesus wanted to give an example of what He was talking about in order that those around Him would believe that the Father had sent the Son. Jesus was led to the tomb of Lazarus and then He gave us a peek, a sneak preview, into the glory of the final day when He returns to raise up all the dead. “He cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’” The dead man came out, his feet and hands wrapped in burial clothes. So it will be when the Lord of Lords returns on that final day of glory. All the graves will be opened and the temporarily dead will live again. Those who never spiritually died, that is those who believed in Jesus as their Lord and Savior will be reunited with their bodies and together, body and soul will enter into eternity where any kind of death will be no more. Amen!
Fourth Sunday in Lent - March 22, 2020
Hymns: 545, 849, 841
Who is at fault? This question is paramount when you and someone else have an automobile accident. There is such a thing as a “no fault” accident, a “no fault” divorce and the list goes on and on. Hardly anyone wants to step up and take the blame; it is always the other guy’s fault. In our long gospel reading this morning, we find the disciples looking at a man born blind and asking the question, “Rabbi, why was he born blind? Did he sin or his parents?” They assumed that someone had sinned for the man was blind. Even today this question can easily occupy our thoughts. The corona virus started in China. It is obvious that they must be a more sinful nation than the United States, right? And then there is Washington state, they must be the most sinful state in the union, I mean, after all, they were the first to have a death due to the virus. Of course one would expect California to fall victim to the disease, I mean, look at all the radical folks who live there.
Is there a time when it is good for us to take a look at what is happening in our life and do a serious evaluation? Of course, sometimes even on a daily basis, but one must be very careful here. If one looks at his or her life and finds that things are going pretty well, it may be tempting to see this as a sign from God that they are pretty good Christians. It may be tempting to think, “My career is blossoming, I have plenty of money and my health is great. I must be doing something right.”
On the other end of the spectrum is that person who looks at their life of frustration, loneliness, a string of broken relationships and that person comes to the conclusion that God must be punishing him, that he is not a good Christian. Perhaps it is even true that God doesn’t love him anymore. To muddy the water even more, it may be true that God is disciplining you and discipline at the time, is always painful. But God is always working to turn your eyes away from yourself that you might see Him.
This is why it is of great interest to read the answer Jesus gives His disciples, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned. Rather, he is blind so that God can show what He can do in this man’s case.” God works through what mankind regards as defects, weaknesses, and failures. Man looks for beauty, riches, power and what one can see on the outside. The man’s blindness was there so that the works of God would be revealed and God would be glorified. Jesus could have just spoken the word and the man would have received his sight. He did that on other occasions. He could have laid His hands on the man’s eyes, looked up to heaven and they would have been opened. He had done that before. But for whatever reason, the Son of Man chose to spit on the ground, mix up a bit of dirt, making it into a mud-like paste which was applied to the man’s eyes. Then Jesus gave the command to go and wash it all off in a particular pool of water. And the man born blind could see for the very first time in his life. It was as if Jesus completed some unfinished business of creation.
Can you imagine what that must have been like for the blind man who could now see? The blue sky, the sun, the faces of those he knew but had never seen, how exciting it must have been for him to now see! Then someone brought the man to the Pharisees. Jesus had made one very critical mistake when He healed the blind man. He forgot to check the calendar; it was the holy day, the day when a pious Jew would not work. As you have just heard in the Gospel reading, the man and Pharisees went round and round until they finally kicked the man out of the church. He was ousted from the church because he had received his sight on the Sabbath day.
Jesus heard about it and then went and found the man who had been given his sight, there was still some unfinished business to take care of. The man had received his physical sight and now his faith was going to be strengthened. Jesus asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The man born blind responded, “And who is He, sir that I may believe in Him?” Remember the last time the man was with Jesus he had mud plastered on his eyes and was told to go and wash, but he never saw Jesus, he had no idea what Jesus looked like. Jesus responded, “You have seen him, and it is He who is speaking to you.” The man’s immediate response reveals his faith. He first confesses, “I believe.” And then he worships Him.
There will be a day when you stand face to face with Jesus. It will be on the Final Day of glory, when our Lord returns and with a shout, raises all the dead. Until that day it is as Peter writes in his first epistle, “You never saw Him, but you love Him. You do not see Him now, but you believe in Him. And a joy, unspeakable and wonderful, fills you with delight because you receive by faith what you are looking for, namely, the salvation of your souls!” Amen!