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Archive for the 'Sermons – John 11' Category

Lazarus – The “Afters”

John 11e 280811

Roll away the stone

John 11d 240711

Lessons from Martha and Mary

27 March 2011 : John 11: 17-37 [p. 1078]

Once again we pick up the story of Lazarus, and we find Jesus arriving at Bethany, too late to save his friend – or so it appeared. Lazarus had been in the tomb, in those days a cave sealed with a rock, for four days now. The two sisters of the dead man, Martha and Mary, were understandably distraught. Interesting to note the reaction of each of the women. True to form, Martha, had to be doing something. It was Martha who came out to meet Jesus and the disciples, whilst Mary stayed at home with her thoughts.

Yet if you’d wanted to invest £5 of your hard-earned cash on one of the sisters having faith for the miracle that was about to unfold, I think most of us would have plumped for Mary being the woman of “power for the hour”. But no. It was Martha, See how she speaks to Jesus : v.22 : Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask. Compare that statement with what Mary said : Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. Full stop.

Do you see the massive difference between those two declarations? Mary had faith for a past that, sadly, hadn’t happened. Martha had faith for a miracle. The first sentence to fall from each sister’s lips was identical, word for word. Martha, however, added a vital confession : no matter how grim the situation is, no matter the fact that my brother died and was buried four days ago, I still believe, Jesus, that you can turn this around.

Now, the whole idea of God intervening miraculously in the affairs of this world may be way, way out there as far as we are concerned. It’s not something we’ve experienced and, if we were honest, it’s not something we’ve expected either. That sort of thing was only in and for Biblical times, or at least that’s what we have been taught. And we may be thinking to ourselves that it was all very well for Martha, who saw Jesus healing the sick, giving the blind their sight, and making the lame to walk, to believe – but not us.

In the same way, I suppose, as we see the Easter story unfolding, and people who had once followed Jesus and sung Hosanna now deserting Jesus in droves, we might think – well, if I had seen with my own eyes and heard with my own ears all that Jesus said or did, I would never have deserted him. And although, yes, I’ve had similar thoughts myself, I have to say they are mistaken thoughts, and I’m going to try to explain why.

The only evidence available to the people who walked with Jesus, and fellowshipped with Jesus, and witnessed Jesus at work, was what they saw and heard of his life as a human being. The Jesus they knew was someone who ate and drank and laughed and cried and slept and sweated – a remarkable and wonderful man, but, as far as they were aware whilst Jesus still lived and breathed among them, only a man.

They did not, and could not, fully comprehend what we are privileged to know now, that Jesus was so much more than just a good man. Why Because they did not have in their possession the one crucial piece that made the jigsaw complete – that He would die on the cross in our place and on the third day be raised to life again.
The crowds that went around with Jesus did not have a New Testament, a documented account of Jesus’ ministry including the astonishing climax to it, where He laid down His perfect life to give new life to those of us who, under our own steam, were far from perfect. They did not have the testimony of Paul, the one-time dragon-breathed bigot who went to extreme lengths to exterminate the Jesus movement, only for Jesus himself to meet him on the road and turn his life round 180 degrees.

This may sound strange at first, but if you think about it, it’s entirely logical – what we have in our possession about Jesus, the scriptures that relate how He ministered to the people in His life, in His death, in His resurrection, in the 40 days before He returned to the Father, and through the ongoing presence and power of His Holy Spirit, outweighs by far the partial understanding that Mary and Martha, and even the 12, had in the days before Easter. Going back to the two sisters, based on the evidence available to them at that time, Mary said absolutely nothing wrong, whilst Martha had faith in the fast lane!

Martha was able to believe FOR Lazarus to be raised from the dead, whereas Mary was able to believe only after she had seen this miracle. As I’ve said, that’s not meant as a criticism of Mary, but as a compliment to Martha. Because she has acknowledged, in an act of tremendous faith under horrendous circumstances, the supernatural ability of Jesus to do what past experience and plain commonsense would consider impossible, Jesus is able to make her the promise in v.23 : Your brother will rise again.

At first, Martha doesn’t fully appreciate what an awesome statement Jesus has made. She is already aware that life is a precious gift of God that nothing as banal as illness or ill-fortune can snuff it out, and initially she assumes that Jesus is merely reassuring her that, one day, she will see Lazarus, not on earth but in heaven. So Jesus goes back and expands on the theme, and in so doing leaves us with the best-known and best-loved of all His I AM sayings, The Message translation of which I use at services of committal.

“I am, right now, Resurrection and Life. The one who believes in me, even though he or she dies, will live. And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at all. Do you believe this?” By now, Martha has twigged that Jesus is about to do something way beyond the frontiers of her understanding. She acknowledges Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, goes to fetch her sister Mary. Martha is now expecting the unexpected.

You know, Jesus still looks to break miraculously into the affairs of this world, Jesus still longs to touch people broken by disease, despair, disappointment and poverty of every imaginable kind and restore them to the fullness of life that has always been His perfect purpose for each and every one of us. Galatians 3.13f teaches that, in sheer love and grace, Jesus has redeemed us from the curse attached to human disobedience.

He did this by becoming a curse for us – as the Bible says, everyone who is hanged on a tree is cursed, and what is the cross but a chunk of a tree? – to break forever the power of that curse over believers and release to us the fullness of God’s blessing first promised to Abraham, our forefather in the faith.
Illness, hunger, loneliness, depression and so on are manifestations of the curse. Health, prosperity, strong families, peace, joy, fulfilment, are all manifestations of the blessing. Jesus suffered and died to destroy the curse over believers and release the blessing. So why are so many members of the church still sick, broke, busted and disgusted? That doesn’t make any sense. It’s absurd, if not downright insulting to the passion of the Christ, for us still to be suffering when Jesus has suffered in our place.

But the reason why that happens is that, until very recently, church people, especially Scottish Presbyterian church people, have never been given the least encouragement to believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ offers anything in this life beyond a stiff upper lip and courage to endure stoically to the end. Hate to tell you, but that kind of belief is a gross misrepresentation of what the Bible teaches. Jesus never put a sell-by date on His promises. He is the same yesterday, today, forever – but now He is in Heaven.

Now, Jesus needs people willing to let Him work through them by the power of His Holy Spirit to keep up the good work. In a few months we’ll get to John 14.12 where Jesus says that, when He’s gone back to Heaven and the Holy Spirit has come, anyone who has faith in Him will do the same things as He has been doing, indeed even greater things. Paul writes in Ephesians 3.20 of the Holy Spirit being able to immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine … according to His power that is at work within us.

Jesus still wants to intervene miraculously in the hurting places of the world He loves and died to save, but He’s not stretched out on a settee in heaven with a cup of coffee, pressing a remote control. Just as Jesus needed a body when he was here on earth to do his stuff, so He needs a body now. And as we see in 1 Corinthians 12, the church is meant to be the body of Christ and the dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit.

To ensure that the fullness of His saving, redeeming grace reaches the people of this nation at this moment in history, Jesus needs people ready to expect the unexpected and go for it. In our story, Martha was … but Mary wasn’t, and the black depth of her grief touches right to the heart of Jesus, We see in v.35 : Jesus wept. Why? Not for Himself. Jesus wasn’t mourning for a dead friend, because that friend was about to be more truly alive than ever. Not for Lazarus either. Jesus knew Lazarus was coming back into this life in a matter of minutes, and would live forever spiritually.

So why the tears? There is another place we find Jesus weeping, in Luke 19 where He weeps over the city of Jerusalem as He contemplates the fate awaiting that city for their rejection of Him. By AD70, less than 40 years after Easter, Jerusalem was in ruins. Jesus foretells in Luke 19.46 that this disaster would be a direct consequence of the people of Jerusalem refusing to recognise Him when He came to them. Jesus wept for the unbelief of the people, and I suspect it was the same in our passage today.

Even Mary, even the 12, didn’t get it. And as for the rest of the people, it was becoming increasingly clear that their minds were unresponsive and their hearts were cold. Thus far would they go in their faith and trust in Him, but no further.
I wonder if Jesus still weeps for His unbelieving people today? I wonder if the Saviour still breaks His heart over our reluctance to receive His grace, to believe His promises, to take Him at his Word, to rest in His provision, to take upon ourselves His light and easy yoke, to obey His teaching, to allow ourselves to be used to do the same things as He has been doing, indeed even greater things ; to let Him do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us?

I wonder if our picture of Jesus is way too small? I wonder if we should agree today to do something really daring, really outrageous, to start living as if what is written in this book, and in particular the New Testament, is actually true? Don’t let our unbelief bring tears to Jesus’ eyes. Let’s be bold to make the same declaration of faith that Martha did, and on far more robust evidence than Martha had.

Let’s have faith to believe in our hearts and speak with our lips – Romans 10.9f – Lord, no matter what a mess my life is in right now, no matter what problems are piling up round about me, no matter how hopeless my situation looks in the natural, I still believe, Jesus, that you can turn this around. I know that even now God will give me whatever I ask in Your Name, trusting in all that You are and all that You have done.

Indeed, let’s go beyond that, because it’s not just about us. No matter what a mess the world is in, no matter how much it seems the lunatics are running the asylum, let’s be bold to say : I still believe, Jesus, that you can turn this around. I know that even now You will use me whenever I make myself available in Your Name, trusting in all that You are and all that You have done, to wipe away the tears of others, to let You work miracles of love and kindness through my willing, humble, and obedient hands.

Walk in the Light

27 February 2011 : John 11: 1-20 [p. 1077]

It’s been four months since we last looked at John’s gospel and at that time we began our study of one of the most remarkable of all the miracles, even by Jesus’ own very high standards. We noted from the opening verses of John 11 that Jesus described what was happening to Lazarus as being for the glory of God – not in the fact that he was seriously ill, as illness is the domain of the devil and God can never be glorified by the devil’s work, but rather in what Jesus was about to do to change that situation.

We noted that disease was part of the curse attached to human disobedience, and that the purpose of Jesus coming into the world in the flesh was to shatter that curse forever and release upon the human race the blessing God had always wanted for His people. We saw that when Adam and Eve blew it in the Garden of Eden, they opened the door for the devil to march into the life of every human being, stick his muddy feet up on our sofa, and unpack his suitcase of horrors, including illness.

In this passage, Lazarus is the latest in a long line of people who has fallen foul of the curse, the unpleasant side-effect of human sin. And how Jesus ministered to Lazarus would be an immensely powerful sign of how His ministry was to affect the entire world. Jesus, as we noted already, takes His time over it. He appears to be in no rush to get back and sort things out for his pal Lazarus, and we might think that was unkind.

But it wasn’t. The clue to his thinking is seen in the snippet of conversation we find in vs.7-8. A couple of days have passed, then Jesus announces they’re going back to Judea where Lazarus was. The disciples instantly panic : Hang on, Jesus, have you forgotten you narrowly escaped being stoned to death back there? [reference John 10.31]. The disciples didn’t want to go anywhere near Jerusalem for a long time. Understandably, they weren’t keen to face the lynch mob the Pharisees had got stirred up against Jesus.

Jesus Himself wasn’t worried about going back. He knew that His Father’s hand was upon Him, that there was still unfinished business, and the Pharisees and their spiritual father the devil could huff and puff, and paw the ground and snort, and throw their toys out of the pram, till the white of their eyes turned green, but not one hair on Jesus’ head would be harmed until He was able to cry out with absolute certainty : it is finished.

It was for the sake of His disciples that Jesus took this time out. It was for their benefit. Jesus was spending this time with them in the country, out of the pressure cooker that was Jerusalem, so they could calm down and not crack up under the strain they would undoubtedly face. These guys still had a lot to learn, and not much time to learn it, and Jesus had to be sensitive to their limited ability to handle the pressure.

But still we must address the plight of poor old Lazarus. Was it not a bit harsh on him for Jesus to stay away in his hour of desperate need? Actually no. Consider, first, the timetable of events, and second, the fact that communications then were very different from today. In v.17 we see that when Jesus did turn up, Lazarus had been dead 4 days.
The place where John had baptising was at least a full day’s journey from Jerusalem. That’s how long it would have taken the messengers to bring Jesus the bad news about Lazarus – no phone, no fax, no e-mail – and how long it would have taken Jesus to get back there. In addition to the two days Jesus stayed put, that means, by my calculations, that Lazarus was already dead by the time Jesus was informed of the situation.

This was never going to be just another routine run-of-the-mill healing, if indeed we may describe any such outpouring of God’s love and grace in such understated terms. It was always going to have to be a much more spectacular miracle, even if Jesus had been able to take a Learjet back to Bethany. I don’t know if you’d ever thought of it in such practical terms, but does show that Jesus wasn’t just being mean and callous.

And Jesus makes good use of the journey time to do a bit of teaching. He told them : those who walk in the daylight will not stumble. And I’m sure he watched their eyes cloud over with total incomprehension, yet only a short time ago, at the time in John 9 when Jesus healed the man born blind, Jesus had said : As long as it is day, we must do the work of Him who sent me. Night is coming, when no-one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world. What is Jesus trying to tell them?

Just this. As long as He was around, and they stuck by Him, they were safe. No-one could touch them. The time was coming, faster than they dared imagine, when Jesus would be taken away from them, and they would experience a devastating darkness the likes of which they could not even begin to contemplate. But it would be a very short time of darkness until He would rise again, and even when the time came for Jesus to go back to the Father, He would send His Holy Spirit to encourage and guide them.

And I think we who follow Jesus today need to know that the same promise, and the same power, that was made available to the original disciples is offered in its entirety to the disciples of the third millennium. Jesus is still around, on the presence of His Holy Spirit. We’ll learn in later chapters exactly what that means, but in essence everything that the Father is, came into the world in the person of Jesus, and everything that Jesus is, comes to us through the Holy Spirit. I am with you always, to the very end, He said.

You and I, therefore, if we truly believe that Jesus is who He says He is, have nothing to fear. We are one with Jesus, and as long as we stay bound close to Jesus, sheltered in His strong arms, in the secret place of Most High God, then if the devil and his stinking minions want to have a go at us, they have to tackle Jesus first. And as I said to the folk at Ancrum and Lilliesleaf a couple of weeks ago, the devil’s thick, but not that thick!!

As long as you and I choose to live by the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ ; as long as we decide to put all our faith and trust in His promises and not in our circumstances ; as long as we remain confident in who and what we are in Jesus, and let Him take care of us in His supernatural strength, as He delights to do, rather than try to fight our own battles in our own puny natural weakness, we’re fine, we’re sorted.

As long as we stay in the presence of Jesus, whenever the devil looks in our direction he sees Jesus looking back at him, and so he slinks away to pick on someone else his own size, like a rat or a cockroach or a midge! But if we make the mistake of NOT casting all our cares upon him ; if we insult His grace by indulging in worry and fear and stress ; we’ re effectively driving without insurance. Not a smart move.

What is it about human beings, especially us Scots, that we’ve got this stubborn streak, this thrawn attitude that hates to be dependent on anyone else? But the whole essence of faith is precisely to recognise our total 100% dependence upon what Jesus has done for us, and the 100% irrelevance of what we think we have done to earn his favour? Little wonder Jesus said, probably shaking his head ruefully, that unless we come to Him like little children, we just can’t receive revelation of what His Kingdom is about.

Moving on to vs.11-12, we see another textbook case of Jesus grasping what’s going on, and the 12 not having a clue. Jesus is only too well aware that Lazarus has died, but in giving a wee trailer for what’s about to happen, He does try to act with a bit of tact and diplomacy – Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I’m going to wake him up. His friends pipe up : Don’t do that, Jesus, a good sleep will help him shake that nasty bug off.

The subtlety being wasted on them, Jesus then just lets it go. Read my lips. Lazarus is dead, ok? Sound of 12 jaws hitting the ground in unison. And it’s just as well I wasn’t there, because now I’m going to use this opportunity to build up your faith, so let’s get this show on the road. The ever-tactful giant of the Reformation, John Calvin, observes Christ’s kindness in putting up with such stupidity in the disciples was remarkable.

It is also very encouraging for us, because let’s face it, you and I have missed it time and time again, in so many different ways – some just plain stupid, but some downright malicious – and yet Jesus never ever gives up on us, never stops rebuilding the bridges of grace that our crazy actions, words and thoughts have torn down.

However slow we might think the disciples were at times, the fact remains that Jesus hand-picked these guys, saw the potential in their hearts rather than their qualifications, invested three precious years of His life in them, did the work of His Father in their presence, taught them such marvellous things which such authority that no human ear had ever heard before … and you know what? 11 of the 12 did pretty well in spite of what we – spiritual giants of such high repute as we are, aye right – might think of them

And that gives me hope, I can tell you. When I see Peter bluster under pressure, James and John bicker for attention, Philip pass the buck, and Thomas make an art-form out of negativity – as we see in his almost comically bleak statement in v.16 : oh well, we may as well go back to Jerusalem and get bumped off with Lazarus – whenever I see these guys, and the other great heroes of scripture, in their honest human frailty, I am just so grateful that it is Christ in me that’s the hope of glory, and not my performance. None of us – NONE of us – is too late to receive grace and start again. There is time to walk in the light of Jesus, and live long, and finish strong. Today’s the day to go for it.

Raising Lazarus : part 1

Sunday 24 October 2010 : John 11: 1-6

Today we move into what, even for Jesus, is radical territory. John 11 tells of Lazarus being raised from the dead. That’s not something we see every day of the week. Church notice boards do not proclaim : Service on Sundays at 10.30, raising from the dead on Wednesdays at 7.45. Even Jesus Himself practised this ministry sparingly.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It will take a few bites for us to digest this chapter fully, and I want this morning mainly to set the scene. First, who is Lazarus? He is a personal friend of Jesus and the disciples. When they’re in town, they stay with Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha in the village of Bethany, a suburb of Jerusalem.

There is a strong bond between Jesus and this family. Lazarus and his sisters have seen, first-hand, the life-changing ministry of Jesus. V.5 states plainly : Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. And, if for no other reason than that, you might have imagined that when Jesus heard the news that Lazarus was “gey hard-up”, he would have high-tailed it back to Bethany to lay on healing hands pronto. But v.6 reads : Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.

Very odd. So what’s going on in the mind of Jesus here? The clue lies in v.4 : Jesus said, This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it. Let me first of all tell you what this does NOT mean. It does NOT mean that the illness of Lazarus, in and of itself, was for God’s glory.

Some people, who should know better, have stood in pulpits over the years and stated that God is glorified by human suffering. Rubbish. That is not what the Bible teaches, and those who have talked such tripe should know perfectly well that’s not what the Bible teaches. Do you want to know what the Bible says about illness? If you want me to tell you, you’d better fasten your seat-belt, because this stiff dose of Scripture will blast all sorts of religious demons out of your head once and for all … if you let it!

Right. Here goes. Question – how does the Bible describe disease? Answer – it is a curse, the consequence of human disobedience. In Deuteronomy 28, there is a long and blood-curdling list of curses specifically including : fearful plagues on you and your descendants, harsh and prolonged disasters, and severe and lingering illnesses ; all the diseases of Egypt that you dreaded ; every kind of sickness and disaster not recorded in this Book of the Law, until you are destroyed.

Those curses are said to fall upon those who disobey the Law given to Moses. That’s in the Old Testament. But what does the New Testament say, after Jesus? Galatians 3.13 : Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree. In other words, if you are a born-again follower of Jesus Christ, those curses do not apply to you. How does that work? 1 Peter 2.24 : Christ himself carried our sins in his body to the cross, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness. It is by his wounds that you have been healed.
Let’s just stop right there for a moment, and hammer this point home, because this is very, very important, so listen carefully to your Uncle Frank this morning, OK? If you get your head around what I’m sharing with you from the Word of God, your whole life can change forever. When Adam and Eve blew it in the Garden of Eden, they opened the door for the devil to march into the life of every human being, stick his muddy feet up on our sofa, and unpack his suitcase of horrors, including illness.

That was never God’s best will for His people, but it was part of the sin-package that His people have repeatedly and foolishly chosen ever since. If you haven’t made the conscious decision to put Jesus Christ at the centre of your life, you are giving the devil free rein to trash your life with disease of every sort. But the minute you do make the conscious decision to accept Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, everything changes.

At the cross Jesus paid the price to set you free. He released, historically, 2,000 years ago, forgiveness for all sin for all people for all time, and healing for all disease and all disability, for all people for all time. That is what the Bible teaches. The sacrifice Jesus made on the cross makes freely available to you, by the grace of God, total forgiveness and total healing and a complete new life. How do you appropriate that? By faith.

You make the decision today to give your life 100% to Jesus, what we call being born again, and that glorious new life, in abundance, to the full, till it overflows, for eternity – no longer subject to guilt or condemnation, sickness or disease – is available to you. You will be able to sing, with the Psalmist : Let all that I am praise the Lord. With my whole heart, I will praise his holy name. Let all that I am praise the Lord. May I never forget the good things he does for me. He forgives all my sin and heals all my diseases.

Now that’s a better song to sing than anything Simon Cowell or Cheryl Cole are trying to push on X-Factor. That’s a song that will lift your heart and give you hope even in the most difficult situations. God’s will for your life, according to Isaiah 54.17, is that no weapon forged against you will prevail – anyone agree that disease is a weapon forged against you? If you belong to Christ, it will not prevail.

That verse from Isaiah goes on to say that : you will refute every tongue that accuses you. When people speak their negative, fear-filled, scripturally-illiterate garbage over your life, such as : what’s for you won’t go past you ; if your name’s on it, you’ll get it ; you’ve just got to put up with it ; God must be giving you this illness for a reason ; you need to stand up and speak out boldly and refuse to accept that demon-inspired dross.

You need to declare the promise of Scripture over your life : You’re a liar, devil. Scripture says that the Lord is my healer, and by the wounds of Jesus I have been healed. Disease is a curse for unbelievers, but I belong to Christ and He has cancelled the curse, so I refuse illness and I, as a born-again believer, receive and walk in the promise of 3 John 2 that God’s will is for me to prosper and be in good health, even as my soul prospers. I believe it, I receive it, I live by it. Symptoms GO, in Jesus’ name!

You need to do that. No-one else can make that confession of faith for you. You need to accept your God-given responsibility and declare what Jesus has done for you at the cross as the foundation of all that you are, all that you have, and all that you live by. Furthermore, you don’t need to wait till the first aches, pains and sniffles before you take your stand. You can deliver a pre-emptive strike against illness every single day.

You can declare the promises of Psalm 91 over your life : I live under the protection of God Most High and stay in the shadow of God All-Powerful. Then I will say to the LORD : “You are my fortress, my place of safety ; you are my God, and I trust you.” The Lord will keep me safe from secret traps and deadly diseases. He will spread his wings over me and keep me secure. His faithfulness, the fact that He always keeps His Word, is like a shield or a city wall. I won’t need to worry about dangers at night or arrows during the day. And I won’t fear diseases that strike in the dark or sudden disaster at noon. I will not be harmed, though thousands fall all around me.

So far as the devil and his dirty tricks department is concerned, you get your retaliation in first! If you put your faith and trust in Jesus, the devil is under your feet, as it says in Romans 16.20, so you don’t need to be afraid of him, or let him mess with your head. Just write the message : Get lost, loser : on the sole of your shoe and stand on him.

When Jesus says that what was happening to Lazarus was for God’s glory, He certainly wasn’t referring to the illness itself. He was talking about the awesome miracle that was about to take place – but that’s for next time. Meanwhile, I encourage you – if you have never made a commitment of faith in Jesus – do yourself a favour and make one now. And please do pick up, if you don’t already have it, the wee booklet about the healing ministry of the church – there’s copies on the table at the door, and it’s free!!

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