Today is a celebration. Today, we gather in homes all around the world to celebrate one simple truth. It was one thing that changed everything. We celebrate this morning, along with hundreds of thousands other people across our wide world. We celebrate this one idea that the tomb is empty, that Jesus Christ is alive…. See more
Today is a celebration. Today, we gather in homes all around the world to celebrate one simple truth. It was one thing that changed everything. We celebrate this morning, along with hundreds of thousands other people across our wide world. We celebrate this one idea that the tomb is empty, that Jesus Christ is alive.
Today is a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection is the crowning event in God’s redemptive history. It is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. It is the foundation of the gospel. It is the guarantee of heaven. It is the idea that gives us provision for God’s justification. The resurrection is the divine vindication of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. And I love that the resurrection is not an epilogue. It’s not the postscript at the end of Jesus’s life. It is the goal of his life. It’s not a feature of our faith. It’s the essential truth.
The message of the Bible is that death does not have to be the end of anyone. That death does not have to be the end of anyone.
And as we will see today, this idea that death is not the end, that death is the interpreter, rather, that the resurrection is the interpreter of the scriptures. We learn that Easter actually interprets Good Friday. What happens on Friday is not really clear until what happens on Sunday. Easter interprets our suffering. Easter interprets our weeping. Easter interprets the sorrow we face. In the course of our life, the resurrection gives us a view of the future.
Death is not the end. It happens to everyone. But, it is not the end. Scripture says death has been swallowed up in victory.
We learn during Easter that death has been swallowed up in victory. Even though the resurrection happened more than 2,000 years ago in a country and a culture not our own, this truth, the historical fact that Jesus rose from the dead, is able to interpret the very essence of our lives even today as we are invited into the resurrection story. I hope and pray that today you understand how it relates to your life directly.
Today, I want to look at John chapter 11. It’s an account of Jesus allowing the resurrection power to reach into a mourning family. And what we are taught during this time is essentially true,rather what we’re told during this versus essentially true. And honestly, it’s so vital for what we’re going on right now in human history. This is one of the strangest times that we’ve ever lived in. Where fear, specifically the fear of death and disease has caused us maybe even to struggle a little bit with faithfulness. It seems to be kind of the new interpretation of life. To interpret life through the lens of fear and through the lens of death. But what I love in this passage that we’re gonna look at is that God is able to show us how to interpret our life through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And what we’re going to learn today, if we hold tightly to it, I believe has the potential to pull us into his story, to capture our hope, to maintain our future and to be an anchor in the time of our distress. And what we’re going to learn is this idea that death and despair cannot undo the faithfulness of Christ.
John Chapter 11, starting in verse 1:
“Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her tears. So the sisters sent word to Jesus. Lord, the one you love is sick.”
The message sent by the sisters is quick. The one you love is sick. That’s the whole message. A few weeks before this, Jesus had been in Bethany with Mary and Martha. You can find that story in John Chapter 10, verse 40. But since that time, things have radically changed. Lazarus has become sick. So sick, in fact, that they have to send a messenger to Jesus, basically saying, “hey, your friend, he’s dying.”
This is intense. But honestly, it’s reality. We all feel this specially during this time. Isn’t it true that in a matter of weeks, a good life can go bad?
That in a matter of weeks, a normal life can get very strange. And unfortunately, this one thought could explain a lot of what we’re going through right now. It’s only been a few weeks. And in a hurry, the normalness of life has been really hard to grasp. Bad news has been way too common. Thousands of people have died. We mourn for those families. Thousands more are sick. And we continue to pray for those families. Thousands of people, even within our community, have lost their jobs.
And so, like this family, like Mary and Martha, our faithfulness is being tested because that’s just what happens when the good goes bad. That’s just what happens in a matter of weeks, in a matter of moments when a life that seems great goes terribly wrong.
So, just as we are trying to grasp for hope during this time, this is where Mary and Martha are. They send word to Jesus, “hey, the one you love is sick.” And here’s Christ’s response:
“When he heard this, Jesus said ‘this sickness will not end in death.’”
This sickness will not end in death. This is kind of a strange response in retrospect because we know the story. If you ever read the story of John 11, you know the story, you know that Lazarus does die. So, what’s happening here? If we’re really struggling, we might wonder, is Jesus lying? Does Jesus not know? Is he unaware of the fact that this sickness will lead to death? It almost seems unconscionable that he would decide to send the messenger away with a message of hope while he understands that death is on Lazarus’s doorstep.
Death is on its way. What if they brought this message to their brother? “Hey, Jesus is saying everything’s gonna be OK.” And later, the illness continues to get worse and worse and worse.
But what did Jesus say? He says this sickness will not end in death. And what stands out to me? What stands out to me in this interaction? What stands out to me is this idea that God’s faithfulness isn’t based on my timeline.
Look, the idea that this will not end in death feels like it has an ending, right? Hey, at the end of this sickness. There will not be death at the end of this particular moment. There will not be suffering at the end of particular trials. There will not be something that continues to happen. But what I have to begin to understand and what all of us have to understand is that God’s faithfulness isn’t based on our timeline. Whether or not God is faithful or not doesn’t depend on how quickly it happens. We live in a kind of moment-by-moment lifestyle. And we really don’t even have the whole picture. Even if we got the whole picture, we wouldn’t even know how to put it all together. But this is often the way we interpret God’s faithfulness, reinterpret his faithfulness through the thumbnail. We interpret his faithfulness through the snapshot. We interpret it through the Polaroid picture, depending on what generation you’re from. In a moment when things are good, God is faithful. In a moment when things are bad, God is bad.
This is the tyranny that happens in our life if we built our faith based upon what’s happening in each and every single moment. Even without thinking about it, I’ve been watching the stock market a lot this season, like way too much. I don’t even have a lot of money in the stock market. I have a 401K and some other investment account. I’m not trying to retire, you know, but I find myself looking at the market a lot. And it’s been just absolutely the worst. This has been just the worst season because I’ll get notifications. They’ll say, “hey, this particular stock that you’re looking at or you invested in is up 5%.”
I think “Amen! God is so good. Wow. This is so wonderful. God is amazing. He’s been so faithful to me.” And then like literally an hour later, I’ll get a message that says the market drops the same stock, 5% down. I lost X amount of money and I’ll think, “how could you God?”
And this is kind of what’s happening to all of us, you know, “Now I need to pawn my computer.” That’s the feeling you get. Every bit of news decides whether or not God is faithful. If you have been on that John Hopkins website tracking the Coronavirus, number one, I encourage you just get off of it. It’s terrible. You don’t know how to interpret it. You know, you’re no statistician. You know, we don’t know what we’re doing. But the fact is, we feel like God’s faithfulness is moment by moment being tested.
Is he faithful now? Is he not faithful now? Is he faithful now? Is he not faithful now? We don’t get the whole picture, but we begin to make recommendations on the entirety of the picture, though we do not have all the information. It’s just a strange thing we do. We judge whether or not God is faithful by the Instagram post, by the headline, by the thumb now. And when we live that way, you will begin to feel like faith is fraudulent.
Like it’s phony. Because God’s faithfulness depends on every single one of our moments. Then how is it possible that he is ultimately faithful? Well, here’s a principle, then I’ll move on to the rest of this chapter, but I think this is important for us to park on for just a moment here. If our faith is no good during trials, then our faith is no good.
And really, what good is faith? Our faith is there to sustain us when everything goes wrong. Our faith is there supposed to be there to support us when our family passes away. Or we can’t pay our bills, or when the doctors say we’ll never have children, or when the death toll rises.
Our faith is a tool for the times when you feel like all hope is lost and we’ll have that above. We’ll ultimately hope to be satisfied and we’ll never have joy that we want to have joy.
When we feel we will never get our job back. That this is never going to end. We’re never going to reconcile with our family. That is when faith does its best work. So, what good is a faith that just dies when things are bad? What good is it if our faith doesn’t work when it’s needed?
The ground must be disturbed. Comfort’s adjusted in order for us to cultivate and grow. The miracle of God appears to us when the ground we think is solid, is shaken up and exposed by the plow of God. See, it’s during trials. It’s when we hear the news that sickness and death is all around us that God can begin to cultivate something beautiful in our hearts. We can learn to become more mature. The miracle of God is that God’s mercy can be found in our pain. It’s just amazing that he can take what was intended to harm us and find glory for himself through it. And Jesus says that as much in this sentence, he goes, “this sickness will not end in death.”
The very thing you don’t want, the worst news you could ever possibly imagine, the pain of losing something, the pain of sickness and death is going to be the pain that brings God the most glory. So, if we continue to interpret our lives from moment-to-moment, we will ultimately miss the opportunity to bring God’s glory in the life in which we live.
John 11, verse 11 says:
Our friend Lazarus, he’s speaking to the disciples, has fallen asleep. But I’m going there to wake him up. His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.”
I love this. His disciples are giving Jesus medical advice. Have you ever done this? Things are going to get better. They realize or Jesus realizes that they’ve not understood. And honestly, we wouldn’t have understood it either. Verse 13, Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.
Then he told them plainly, Lazarus is dead. “But you just told us two days ago that his sickness was not going to end in death. I thought that’s what you said, Lord. And now you’re telling us that he’s dead.” But here’s where the beauty of the resurrection is our interpreter. The beauty of Easter being our interpreter really begins to come into play.
“Yes. You didn’t really understand what I was saying before. You didn’t have all the pieces. You didn’t know what I was saying because you couldn’t put it all together. But let me just explain it to you, for your sake.” I’m glad I was not there. Jesus saying these sentences seems really harsh. “For your sake,” he’s talking to the disciples. But it’s also talking to you and talking to me.
I’m glad I didn’t go rescue my good friend and–or death’s doorstep because this is for the sake of every person who’s ever had to bury a child, or for any husband that has had to bury his wife, or any child to bury a parent way too early. For every friend having to bury another friend.
And for all of us on the other side of this. This is for our benefit that we could understand it. You understand something that you couldn’t understand unless you go through it. This is what he’s saying.
I’m going to explain it to you. See, this is really important for us to hold on to, Jesus looks at death the way that you and I look at sleep. We see death as final. Sleep is not final, sleep is just a moment in time.
This is the way Jesus looks at it. This is the way Jesus interprets our life. Death. Sickness is not final. It’s just a doorway.
The same thing can be said about disease and despair, job loss and fertility, doubt, disappointment. All of these things feel like an end. They feel like the end of our faith. I feel like the end of our hope. But Jesus is about to prove that death has never been the end of anything.
So Jesus goes back to Mary and Martha’s town.
John 11, verse 17:
“On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now, Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him. But Mary stayed at home. Jesus arrived.”
Jesus arrives. And people are coming to mourn with Mary and Martha. When Martha hears the news that Jesus is there, she runs to him. But Mary doesn’t go. Why doesn’t Mary go? Because her brother is dead.
She called Jesus days ago to come, but he didn’t show up. She’s discouraged. And I’d maybe say she’s a different type of dead. She’s dead and discouraged. “Honestly, why are you even coming now? Christ, I called you. I prayed. I asked.”
And you aren’t coming through. It’s been a long time. Verse 17 says it’s been four days since he’s been dead.
And what does that even matter? Well, in Mary and Martha’s time, there was a commonly held idea that the spirit would hover around the dead body for three days. It was just like a folklore idea. So there was dead, and then there was like, dead.
Lazarus is dead, dead.
But now, Martha, Lazarus’ sister, comes up to Jesus and she’s so, so, so honest about her pain.
“Lord,” Martha said, “Jesus, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. Lord, this is kind of your fault. God, you could have done something. You could have made something different.”
And I know I know there are people who are watching this right now who feel this. Why didn’t you come through, God?
But like us, she is trying to figure out how to muster as much faith as she has, and so she says this line of verse 22:
“But I know that even now, God will give you whatever you ask.”
She looks at Jesus and she says, “I know my brother is dead. And I’m angry. And there’s doubt and there’s fears and there’s frustration and there’s sadness. And things are strange. And I’m even a little bit mad at you.
But I know that even now, God will give you whatever you ask.”
God’s faithfulness is hard to see. Before we get past all of this stuff, like it’s hard to see how amazing God has been to us until we’re past all the negativity and all the destruction. It’s hard to see it until we have some perspective.
You know, everything is terribly short. Everything is horrible. It’s not what I hoped it would be.
But even now, I still believe you can make something beautiful.
This week, I got some bad news about a family member of mine, and I was kind of rattled by it. Two different family members called me and told me about the same bad news. I was frustrated. I got a little bit mad at God about the whole situation. I become kind of accustomed to bad news in this particular situation. But what I had hoped, just like Mary and Martha, it would be different. Everything felt like it was gonna be better, everything felt like it was going in the right direction and I felt like God didn’t do what I know that he could have done. And so in preparation for this sermon, I realized that I needed to say to my soul:
“Yeah, sure, everything is terrible in this particular situation. Sure. In our world at large. Sure, everything is horrible. But even now, with the perspective on the resurrection. God, you can make something beautiful. I believe that even now, God can make something glorious.”
Brothers and sisters, there are some of you right now who need to muster up enough faith to believe that even now, God can do something. Some of you need to have an even now moment in your heart right now, a moment where you start believing again and trusting again that God can do something great with our world, even when our world is in the dilapidated state, that he could do something great with our country and with our homes and with our churches and our community.
Even now, God can do something. She looks at Jesus and all she has is death around her. All she has is mourning around her and weeping around her. And sure, he could have healed her brother, and sure, he could have stopped the sickness. But she looks at him and goes, even now.
Some of us are stuck. You’re stuck. You’re dead in discouragement.
You’re interpreting God’s faithfulness based on your own fears. You’re interpreting God’s faithfulness based on the thumbnails that you’ve produced. You’re interpreting God’s faithfulness based on your own failures and your own frustration. And I’m just saying, it’s time to muster up enough faith to turn the page and start believing that even now, God can do something even now.
Do you believe this? You can reach your neighbors for the glory of God. Even now. In a quarantine life, you can reach your neighbors for the glory of God. Even now, God can bring revival in the church. Even now, God can provide a way for you to reach your family, that you’ve never reached them before. Even now, God can still open doors you thought were totally closed. Even now, when you feel alone like there is no one who can help you, the presence of God’s spirit can come and give you a peace that surpasses your own understanding. Even now, God can reach up into your messed up family and bring healing, and forgiveness and restoration.
Even now, when it looks like all things are totally impossible, we serve a God who says that all things are possible. Even now, when your heart may be calloused and it may be cold to all the despair around you, God can draw you into his presence.
Even now, people can be baptized even now, with masks on and all. Even now, something that has been dead for a long time, can find resurrection. Resurrection. Power. Even now, God can do something amazing in your life. And then Jesus looks at Martha with compassion and love and says this:
“Your brother will rise again.”
Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
She thinks he’s talking some sort of theological talk. She thinks he’s talking about, you know, one day, one day things will be better.
But then Jesus, I imagine, takes a breath. And when he says next is just absolutely breathtaking.
He looks at her.
With love and with compassion, with power, and he says this line that we should hold on to as believers, said this line that should be the model of our life. Says this line that we should cling to in the times when it looks like everything is dead in our life and we look like all the situations have led to despair. And it looks like all the situations have led us down the road to the grave.
He takes a breath. I think he looks directly into her eyes. And this is what he says.
“I am the resurrection and the life.”
One day it’ll happen. No, no, no, no, no. That’s not the way we’re looking at this. You may look at the resurrection. Rather, you are looking at the resurrection and the life personified.
“I am the living embodiment of all you hoped for. I am what you need. You have been looking at your life and interpreting your life through events. It’s time for you to interpret your life through a person.”
You’ve been looking at your life and looking at the despair and looking at our culture and deciding that, you know, my whole panes on those things. I’m interpreting my life based on everything that has gone on.
And instead of doing that, Jesus looks directly at her and says, “you should be interpreting your life through a person and the resurrection and the life.”
You want something to interpret your future. You have someone to interpret your future.
Then Jesus says this:
“The one who believes in me will live even though they die in our lives by believing in me will never die.”
Do you believe this?
The one in any generation and any time who believes in me, that’s a little Greek phrase right there. It means to trust in him, it means to relinquish your life and give him your life or to put on his life. It means to live for him.
The person who interprets their experience through me and God’s faithfulness through me will live even though they die.
There’s no way she could have understood what this meant. Honestly, there’s no way we can understand when all of this means. But Jesus was just basically trying to make a very clear and important statement that the resurrection is not an event, it’s a person.
It’s not an event. Stop waiting for an event. It’s a person. Start worshipping the person. Stop waiting for everything in life to change and start turning your life towards the one who can make everything change. Don’t interpret your life by everything that’s happening. Interpret your life by the person you’ve decided to worship. Death is not the end of anyone. At least it doesn’t have to be. Death is just a door. Then he asks her this question: do you believe this?
Brothers and sisters, I wonder, do you believe this? I wonder what would change in your life right now if you started believing that Jesus was the only real way to have hope. If you started believing that it was not about what the government organization said, it was not about a vaccine, that it was not about some medicine that’s gonna make things better. That the only hope for our world doesn’t have anything to do with any of those things. Sure, we should look for a cure and sure we should try to get a vaccine. But what if we started believing that the only hope for our world, really our only true hope, is in the person of Jesus Christ? What would change in your life? What change in the things you fear right now? What would change in the pain that you’re feeling right now if you believed that we needed more than anything in the world a King and a Savior?
Then Martha musters up even more faith and this is what she says:
“‘Lord, yes Lord,’ she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the son of God who has come into the world.”
Jesus enters the village and notices that many people are weeping and sorrowful for the death of Lazarus. We’ll skip down to verse 33, it says:
“When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping he was deeply moved in spirit. ‘Where have you laid him?’ he asked. ‘Come and see, Lord,’ they replied.”
And then two words, a two-word verse I appreciate so much. The way that the people who organized the Bible were able to split up the verses so that verse 35 in John 11 is just these two words, ‘Jesus wept.’
Jesus arrives outside the tomb already knowing what he’s going to do and he pauses and he enters into this emotional moment. This is divine empathy. This is the proof if you’ve ever wondered. God cares for you. God loves you. Here is God, about to resurrect this brother, before he does it he has a moment where he just feels for the people. Look, I’m talking a lot about faith here. I’m talking a lot about changing your perspective. But that does not mean we don’t feel for you. That does not mean we don’t hurt when you hurt. That does not mean that we’re not sorrowful when you’re sorrowful. When we get news that a family member is sick, it’s not like “well have faith things are gonna be fine.” We mourn and we comfort those who need to be comforted. We feel this just like Jesus.
God cares about us. God is brokenhearted. I believe that all the people who are in body bags, God is brokenhearted. It breaks his heart. I can imagine the tears from heaven about the people on ventilators. Of course this is not just the things that are gonna be a-okay. Sometimes things really are terrible, but the fact is we still believe that God can make something beautiful, even when it’s terrible.
Once more, deeply moved, Jesus came to the tomb. It was a cave with the stone laid across the entrance. “Take the stone away.”
I love this. The crowd must have just been silent waiting. “What is this Messiah? What is this powerful Rabbi gonna do?” So, they took the stone away. Then Jesus looked up and said, “‘Father, I thank you that you heard me. I know that you always hear me but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here that they may believe that you sent me.’ Then Jesus called out in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ and the dead man came out.”
This is the brilliance of Jesus. This is the resurrection power of Christ and it’s also the brilliance in the way in which this wonderful story is constructed. Jesus is able to condense all of our experience in all of our existence into the span of a single afternoon. What happens in the story, pain, discouragement, fear, anger, unanswered prayer, enough faith to say even now, tears from God, and then finally, a resolution that makes it beautiful again. Your entire life experience, all the stuff you wrestle with and all the ways you’re trying to figure out how to interpret life, the pain in the world, all condensed for all mankind into just a single afternoon. Where everything is miserable and then God brings it to fruition and makes something beautiful out of a dead man in a cave.
The resurrection and the life is what’s played out here. We learned that trial is triumph. That pain can be brought to victory. And look, some of you you feel dead on the inside. You’re reading this whole thing and it’s Easter morning and because you don’t even know where your hope is anymore. Maybe in the delay you’re dead and discouraged or you have a bunch of doubts and you feel trapped in the tomb. You feel like the stone has to be rolled away and it’s way too big for you to move. But on Easter, I believe the same voice that cried out to Lazarus shouts out to all of us to come out of the tomb.
Come out of your doubt! Come out of your despair! Come out of your discouragement! Come out! Our sins can be forgiven not because we’re good, but because he’s good. We can be set free not because we’re strong, but because he’s strong. You can feel his presence not because you deserve it, but because he’s kind enough to give it to you.
The resurrection is not what he does, it’s who he is. It interprets everything that we do and everything that we experience in our life. What would happen differently if you believed that death was just sleep? If you believed that death didn’t have to end your life? How would that change the way you live? How would that change the face you have? If you realize you could actually find hope in the broken world? You can actually find joy?
On the cross, when he brutally suffered at the hands of his own creation, Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I did what you sent me to do. It is finished.” And then the world went dark and the earth shook and everyone thought that maybe he was the Messiah. But they all fell into despair because an executed Messiah is a failed Messiah. They didn’t realize that it was Friday, didn’t realize that Sunday was still coming. That they needed to turn the page and when they turned the page God was glorified through the death of his own son as he raised him from the dead.
Death could not keep hold of him because the resurrection is not just something, it’s someone. He woke up three days later, rolled his own stone away, and that same power is available for all of us. Some of you right now, I’m telling you you’re stuck on the wrong page. You need to muster up enough faith to believe that the resurrection can mean something for you, in your life, right now. With some faith you could turn the page in your life and in your future. I’m not telling you everything’s perfect, not everybody’s healed, and life isn’t going on forever. But what I’m telling you is that God is able to be glorified through all the pain and all the despair that happened before, if you’re willing to turn the page.
God can still make you matter on the other side of this. God can give you a mission. He can give you a calling and a reason to live. God is able to take your past and make something beautiful. How it all happens, I don’t know. But I know that if you trust him, if you turn to him, he could speak those life-giving words into your life: “I am the resurrection and life.”
Some of you are dead in your sin. That’s what the Bible says is dead, in your sin because of what you did, because of what you’ve been doing your whole life, you’re dead but God can make you new. It’s called the Gospel. It’s the Good News. God did something that you can never do for yourself. The resurrection changes everything.
God’s faithfulness is not interpreted by what’s going on right now. It’s interpreted by the resurrection and the life. What that means is whatever we are going through right now God is able to make something beautiful through it.