Bible Passage: John 11:17-27, 38-45
Pastor: Pastor Berg
Sermon Date: April 2, 2017
“Do you believe this?” How many Badger fans do you think uttered those words last Friday as the buzzer beater went in? “Do you believe this?” How many people disgustingly said those words when they heard about the terror attacks in London or the shooting spree in Wausau? “Do you believe this?” It’s really more of a rhetorical question or a statement, isn’t it? It often expresses anger or bewilderment or disappointment, even all three at the same time. I’m sure we can all go back to a few days or a few weeks ago where we’ve thought or uttered the same kind of phrase. That’s a product of the sinful world we live in.
Now put yourselves in the place of Mary and Martha. Mary, Martha, and their brother Lazarus were good friends of Jesus. He would stay at their home on his many travels to and from Jerusalem. We have the anecdotal stories of Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet, hanging on his every word while Martha was busy trying to serve lunch; of Mary, who poured perfume on Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair. Lazarus, their brother, is described in the same way the apostle John was described, “The one you love.” Certainly, such close friends of Jesus knew of his compassion and power and his willingness to heal. Certainly, they were counting on Jesus to rust to the scene like a superhero and save the day like he had so many times before. But Jesus didn’t make it in time. And when he finally arrived four days after Lazarus has already been dead, you can just hear Mary and Martha, expressing their bewilderment, their grief, perhaps even their anger by saying, “Do you believe this? All these other people he was able to help, but not our brother, not his close friend. Do you believe this?” And yet again, we marvel at what we see and hear. Jesus turns that rhetorical question around and asks Martha, “Do you believe this?” And what he shows her allows us to see his power over death and life.
How do we come upon such a scene? Lazarus was gravely ill. Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus, who at this time was on the East side of the Jordan River. When he heart that Lazarus was sick he 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.” You can imagine Mary and Martha’s excitement when the messenger returned with Jesus’ words! They expected to see him any moment, right behind the messenger. But, he never came. And Lazarus dies. And he’s been in the tomb four days already when Jesus finally arrives. And Martha’s first words are the ones all of us have felt like uttering, “Lord, if…” Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” What do we hear in Martha’s words? Confidence, certainly. Martha knew that Jesus had the power to heal and help. Martha had seen this script before. This was Jesus’ ministry. Jesus healed people. He gave sight to the blind; he made the lame walk; those with leprosy were cured; the deaf could hear; the demon possessed were made whole. Martha knew this and her words expressed great confidence in the Lord. And yet, her words also let out a small dose of disappointment. “Lord, if you had been here…” Lord, if you had been here…but you weren’t. And maybe in her disappointment Martha feels some guilt. She shouldn’t have felt guilty. She wasn’t guilty of any wrong here, but when bad things happen, especially when a death occurs, people often feel guilty. Isn’t that right? What if Martha would have sent for Jesus sooner? Had she done that, she might have reasoned, Jesus could have made it in time and her brother would not have died. It wasn’t her fault, but perhaps she felt that way. And if she did, we would understand, wouldn’t we, because at times we’ve felt that way too, haven’t we?
And yet, Martha’s feeling of disappointment that possibly included some feeling of guilt might have very well changed into some feelings of anger. It seems the messenger made it to Jesus and back to Mary and Martha in a reasonable time. It’s even understandable how a trained messenger might make it back to them before Jesus. But we would certainly expect Jesus to be hot on the messenger’s heels. We would certainly expect Jesus to arrive the same day or even the next. But John tells us, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet, when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more day.” Can you sense how Martha might feel some anger in her disappointment? You would certainly understand that if, in her grief, she had made her own little additions to David’s Psalm. If she would have said, “(Yes), Call upon me in the day of trouble (and I’ll wait two days and if it’s not too late) I will deliver you and you will honor me?
Now, to be fair, John’s Gospel doesn’t say Martha had guilt or anger, but in her words, don’t those thoughts come to mind? We’ve been there. We’ve had loved ones die young. We’ve experienced disappointment. And part of us thinks, even if only in a small sense, “ If only we would have done this or if only we would have done that.” “If only…?” And there is another part of us that feels anger when hardship comes. “God, why this? Why now? God, don’t you love me? God, don’t you care? God, I know you could have done something about this. Why didn’t you?” We understand Martha’s thoughts because we’ve been there, haven’t we? Jesus’ response gives Martha the big picture. He says, “Your brother will rise again.” And Martha knows this. Martha knows that God will give Jesus whatever he asks. She knows her brother will rise again in the resurrection at the Last Day. And she knows that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world. She knows all that stuff. She believes it. She confesses it. And we know it too. But so often, we still don’t get it and neither did Martha here. When Jesus came to the tomb and said, “Take away the stone.” Martha proved she still didn’t get it. She protested, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor.”
Let’s think through this a little bit. Martha knew that God could give Jesus whatever he asked. She knew that her brother would rise again on the last day and she knew that Jesus was the Christ, the one to come into the world, but she didn’t think Jesus knew about the odor of a dead body let alone that Jesus had the ability to raise Lazarus from the dead right there. And yet, aren’t we the same way? Don’t we think similar thoughts? We believe God can create a universe out of nothing. We believe he can take away the sin of the world. We believe that he can raise all people from the dead on the last day, but when there’s an obstacle staring us right in the face, like Martha, so often we think Jesus can’t do anything about it or that he doesn’t even know. We’re so foolish, aren’t we? At least I am. When my family is facing problems or when there is conflict with other people or when there are feelings of inadequacy in who I am and what I do, at these times I have the tendency to feel as if Jesus doesn’t know about it or feel Jesus isn’t able to do anything about it. Do you feel that way sometimes? But Jesus does know, and he doesn’t even call us foolish. Jesus has power over death and life. Jesus knew about Lazarus. Jesus knew that he was sick. He knew that he had died. He didn’t even need a messenger. Jesus was able to reassure Martha and us all because he became death for us all. Georg Vetter put it so well in his masterpiece Easter hymn, “His death has been death’s undoing.” Jesus’ death destroyed the power of death over us. Death can no longer hold us eternally. And to prove that, to prove that Jesus was indeed both our death and our life, Jesus tells Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even if he dies. And whoever lives and believes in me will never perish. Do you believe this?” Jesus didn’t need to wait for the Last Day to play his part in the resurrection and bring life. He is the resurrection. He is life. Any day will work. Circumstances don’t matter. Jesus can do what he wants, where he wants, how he wants.
Can you see the big picture that Jesus was talking about? Can you see how God would be given glory in this event? It isn’t simply that Jesus has power over death, but it’s the realization that since Jesus has power over death, he has power over everything. Yes, Jesus has power over your sin. Yes, he has defeated death and the devil, and it’s because of all this that Jesus has power over your Monday mornings, your lonely nights, your depressing thoughts, your low self-image, your interpersonal conflicts, yes even the ones with mom, yes even the ones that were your fault. He has control over the rain and sun, he has control over your economy, even politics.
Now, knowing that Jesus is in control doesn’t mean you stop seeing the doctor or eating your vegetables. It doesn’t mean don’t work on the relationships in your life, don’t get a job and don’t keep up with what’s going on in government. And it certainly doesn’t mean stop reading your Bibles and praying. What it does mean is that knowing Jesus is in control means we don’t have to be scared of death and it means much more than that. It means you don’t need to feel guilty or angry about what is going on in your life even if what’s going on in life is your fault. Don’t feel that way because you don’t need to. Jesus, who is both death and life, died for all your sins and your faults, and then rose to show that his death was acceptable to God. Jesus knows, and when it pleases him, and when it benefits you the most, he will do something about it. He will fix the problem or he will point you to himself for strength so you can endure it. After all, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and not only that he also made sure that Lazarus didn’t even stink.
My friends, do you believe this? Do you? Do you believe this? This is the question that Jesus asked Martha. It is the question that he asks each of you today and every day. Do you believe this? When you face ridicule for your faith, Jesus asks you, “Do you believe this?” When you face hardship and sorrow in life, Jesus comes to you and asks, “Do you believe this? When your sinful nature, Satan, and the sinful society in which you find yourself tempts you with doubts, fears, and anger, Jesus comes and asks you, “Do you believe this? Do you believe that I am the Resurrection and the Life?”
Thankfully, God has worked in you the same faith he worked in Martha and you can say, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world! Praise God! He enables you to see in Jesus both your death and life. At your baptism, he joined you to himself. As Paul said to the Romans, “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. AMEN