A Matter of Life and Death (John 11:1-45)

By | March 27, 2011

The Event 34
3rd Sunday of Lent


     According to Rev. Wayne Brouwer, years ago the Canadian Medical Association reported the strange case of Jack Traynor. Jack was an Englishman who fought in the trenches of World War I. He was shot twice: one bullet severed the nerves and tendons in his right arm; the other put a hole in his skull. Jack was alive, but his arm was useless and his brain was damaged. He couldn’t walk, and he had constant epileptic seizures. His right arm hung paralyzed and useless. The Doctors stopped treating him and predicted he would die in a very short time.The Ministry of Pensions gave him a total disability.

     All of that was in 1920. One morning in 1923, Jack suddenly jumped up out of bed. He washed and shaved, he dressed himself, and he walked out the door on his own!

     It isn’t possible! the doctors said. But even though it was impossible, Jack carried right on. He set up a business for himself, he got married, he fathered two children, and he lived a normal life for another 20 years! The Ministry of Pensions kept sending him disability checks, though, because they still believed that nobody in Jack’s condition could ever recover! But Jack didn’t complain! It was like he was reborn.  Just when everybody had given up on him, Jack Traynor got another chance at life! (1)

     That’s the kind of story we read about in chapter 11 of John’s Gospel and the story of Lazarus. Let’s look at John 11:3-7, 17, 20-27, 33-45 (NRSV)

[3] So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”  

[4] But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”  

[5] Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus,  

[6] after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.  

[7] Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.”  

[17] When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.  

[20] When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home.  

[21] Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  

[22] But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”  

[23] Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”  

[24] Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”  

[25] Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live,  

[26] and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”  

[27] She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”  

[33] When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.   

[34] He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”  

[35] Jesus began to weep.  

[36] So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”  

[37] But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”  

[38] Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.  

[39] Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.”  

[40] Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”  

[41] So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me.  

[42] I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.”  

[43] When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”  

[44] The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”  

[45] Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

     Everybody had given up hope on Lazarus. Nobody in his condition could ever recover. He was gone for good. Dead and buried. He’d already begun the transformation to dust and worm dirt. Jesus had waited too long to come and now it was too late. The mourners had gathered, the funeral was over and all that was left to do was grieve. He was dead, as Jerry Clower used to say, he was graveyard, cold in the ground dead.


     Lazarus was dead. Everybody knew it. His sisters knew it. They’d visited the tomb to pay their proper respects and to mourn. And they knew what we all know, they discovered what we all discover: Death Stinks. They even told that to Jesus when he told them to roll the stone aside. “Lord, do you know what kind of smell there’s gonna be? He’s been dead four days. Are you sure you want to do that?”

     But Jesus had a surprise in store for them. Rather than signing Lazarus’ death certificate, Jesus told them to roll the stone away. A then with a shout loud enough to wake the dead, Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb and into new life. The mourning was over. Instead of burial clothes and a wake there was a new suit for Lazarus a “Got Well” party. And that shout, that shout that woke the dead and called Lazarus forth into life, echos down through history to call us to new life today.


     Everybody held or covered their noses. And that must have been a sight. Four or five husky men all trying to hold their nose while pushing the heavy stone sealing the tomb out of the way. And I bet they ran stumbling over each other to get away first with eyes water and the gag reflex taking over. But not Jesus. Not the Son of God. With a shout loud enough to wake the dead Jesus called Lazarus back to life.

     The underlying message, the in your face message, the slap which the Sadduccees and Pharisees felt and all of Israel heard was that God is in charge. No matter what happens, even death, God can reverse it if God chooses to do so.

     In the stark reality of the stench of death, life looked defeated. But through Christ, for whom and through whom everything that was and is and ever will be was created, death was defeated. Life was affirmed and the author of life, God, proved that God is ALWAYS and EVERYWHERE victorious and in charge.

     Jesus was telling everyone who was listening, especially those who were plotting against him, that no matter what happened that week, no matter what kind of atrocity he would face, no matter what plot they cooked up or what they would do to him, God was in charge. And God let it be known with a loud shout, loud enough to wake the dead, that God IS in Charge even over sin and death. Nothing and no one will stop God’s Will and God’s Redemption.

     The only thing more powerful and provocative that could have happened would have been Jesus’ own death and Resurrection. And of course, they didn’t know it yet, but that was just around the corner. You can almost hear Jesus thinking, “You think that was something, wait ‘til you see what God’s really got in store for you.”

     You see, Lazarus was raised from the dead to make a point. It was done, not just because Lazarus was Jesus friend, maybe even a close relative as some have suggested but because God wanted to show the people that nothing could separate them from God’s love, not sin, not even death. God is God. God has power over life and death. God can, will and does call us from the graves that entomb us. Jesus’s message is one of life and death; He calls us out of our Tombs and shouts, “Come Out And Live Again.”


     A. The reason this is so important for us is that there are times when death overtakes our lives. I’m not talking about us physically dying, though that does happen. I’m talking about those times in our life when we have actually died to life itself. Something has happened and out of protection and self-preservation we’ve entombed ourselves so we don’t get hurt any worse than we already are.

     B. Grief: Grief is definitely one of those things that can leave us bound in our burial clothes and entombed. I haven’t lost a child but I’ve lost both parents, a dear aunt, one who was like a second mother to me. And I’ve lost some very close friends. I know what grief is like. I know how it can tear you apart on the inside. I know how it can seal your heart and make you never want to love anyone again.

     In the ministry, I’ve seen how grief can ravage families and individuals. I know one person that the day her husband died she drew the curtains and closed the blinds and stayed in her home, refusing to come out. Eventually, she died in the darkness of her home and in the darkness of her grief. They said she died of pneumonia, but I think it was really grief that took her. It bound her and entombed her.

     Sometimes grief does that to us, it grabs our heart and tries to squeeze the life out of it. It wraps us in its own darkness and threatens to entomb us. But then we hear the Call of Christ, the shout to, “Come Out and Live Again.”

     C. Relationships: Maybe it’s not grief at all. Maybe it’s some relationship we’ve been in which has sucked the life out of us and we’re all dried up. For whatever reason the relationship went south. Our heart’s broken as well as our spirit. We feel like there’s nothing left to live for. And there certainly isn’t anything left to give. We know there’s supposed to hope. But we can’t find it. We know there’s supposed to be joy but our lives have come apart at the seams and we’re scattered like the dry bones in Ezekiel’s vision. We couldn’t get it together if we tried. And we’ve tried. There’s nothing holding us together but the scars. And now those scars have become bars. And we can’t get out. We’re stuck in the pain, stuck in the fear, stuck in the tomb of a former relationship that has a death grip on our future.

     But if you’ll listen you can hear the Call of Christ, the shout to “Come Out and Live Again.”

     D. Disease: Maybe it’s a disease or an illness that has it’s death grip on us. A lot of us are so frightened of Cancer that even the mere mention of it causes our hearts to race nearly out of control. And when we hear that we or one of our family or one of our friends has cancer we become immobilized with fear. That fear sucks the life out of us. Our souls and spirits and lives feel numb. Our thoughts are the same as Martha’s when Jesus told them to move the stone from in front of the tomb. She finally said what she’d been thinking all along about Lazarus’ death. “Lord, it stinks.”

     And that’s exactly how we feel when we get horrible news. Everybody does. The big “C” as I heard one preacher call it, does stink. Terminal diseases are such horrendous demons in our lives and in the life of the world, they fills us we fear. They roar and threaten and rob us of life and the quality of life. They wreak havoc on the individual, their family and their friends. They gets us in such a death grip that our fear entombs us, just like Lazarus. But if you’ll listen you can hear the Call of Christ, the shout to “Come Out and Live Again.”

     E. Children: It can even be our children; children in whom we’re disappointed because of their chosen lifestyle. Or it can be fear FOR our children and the problems they face in society today. How do we protect them. How do we raise them and provide them with the moral compass they need. Both fear and disappointment are powerful tombs that keep us imprisoned, keep us separated from life and from God. Life seems to be a dead end. Whatever the case, we wake up one morning and find ourselves sealed in a lifeless tomb of our own making. But if you’ll listen you can hear the Call of Christ, the shout to “Come Out and Live Again.”

     Death does not have the final say. The Tomb is not your final destination. Listen, hear the Call of Christ, the shout to “Come Out and Live Again.”


     A. When we trust Christ, when we fully put our trust in Him, then no matter what it is that entombs us, no matter what it is that has broken our heart, not matter how much heartache we have experienced, there is new life available for us. Like Lazarus, Jesus calls us out of the tomb and in to new life.

     I ran across a very moving story. (Watch this) In 1871 a Christian lawyer from Chicago named Horatio Spafford lost his only son. A few months later he lost his entire life’s saving when the Great Chicago Fire destroyed all of his real estate investments.

     In 1873, he and his family decided to take a European vacation. But at the last minute he was delayed by business. He placed his wife and four daughters on the S.S. Ville de Havre sailing from New York to France. He fully expected to leave on another ship to join them in about three or four days.

     On the evening of November 22, 1873, the Ville de Havre was suddenly struck by an iron sailing vessel, the Lochearn, and sank in twelve minutes. 226 people were killed.

     Back in the United States Horatio Spafford was waiting for news of his family. After waiting for ten days, he received a six word telegram which read: “Saved alone. What shall I do?”

     Filled with anguish, Spafford immediately left Chicago to bring his wife home. While sailing near the place where his daughters had died, he wrote the words to the hymn “It Is Well With My Soul.”

     In spite of the tragedy in their lives neither Spafford nor his wife, Anna, lost faith. Instead, it sustained them and it grew stronger. In 1881, they moved to Jerusalem to meet the needs of the people there. And to become missionaries bringing the Good News of Christ’s resurrection to the people in their care. (2)

     Horatio Spafford was able to pen the words to that great hymn, “It Is Well With My Soul” and he and his wife were able to continue their lives of faith and serve in Jerusalem because they knew and believed that God is ALWAYS and EVERYWHERE victorious and in charge. They heard the voice of Christ call them out of the tomb, they heard the shout to “Come Out and Live Again.”

     B. Henry has been diagnosed with a fatal disease and has been given six weeks to live. His life hasn’t been easy nor has he really experienced happiness. Because of his illness, he decides to move back to the one place where he last felt happy, a childhood home. Unfortunately, his home is not for sale, so he buys a house as close to his old home as possible and moves in.

     However, Henry continues to live in this tomb he has created for himself. , He’s given up on life, he’s angry with God and seal himself away in the tomb of his own despair. Esperanza, which means Hope in Spanish, his neighbor on one side tries to bring some of her own sunshine into Henry’s life, but he refuses to let the light in.

     One day Esperanza discovers the face of Jesus in a bad stucco stain on Henry’s house. He refuses to believe it is anything but a stain. Esperanza is convinced it IS the face of Jesus.

     On the other side, a young woman named Dawn and her daughter Millie, which means quiet strength, begin to make a difference and break through the bleak barrier of Henry’s self entombment. One night Millie, the little girl next door who hasn’t spoken for months touches the face of Jesus and begins to speak. Shortly thereafter the grocery store clerk, Patience, who wears Coke Bottle bottom glasses, touches the face and can see.

     When a drop of something which appears to be blood appears, it’s almost too much for Henry, he agrees to let it be tested and later, in a monumental struggle which he loses, Henry almost touches the face. But he’s so trapped in his grief and despair he can’t. The next day, coming back from the store, Esperanza, her priest and a crowd has gathered in his yard. His anger at God, the situation and everything boils over and he destroys the wall only to have his belief system, his grief and his world come tumbling down around him.


     Henry Poole stumbled back into life like Lazarus stumbling out of the tomb. One word, “HAD” gave him that glimmer of hope and he called on God. He had sealed himself in a lifeless tomb of his grief and anger but he finally was able to hear the voice of Jesus calling him out of the tomb, he heard the shout of Christ to “Come Out and Live Again.”


     The Good News for each of us is: Whatever you are going through; whatever troubles seem insurmountable; whatever you have done or whatever has been done to you; Jesus is calling Your name.

     I see you even when you can’t see me. I’m holding you even when you think I’m far away. I’m with you even in the darkness. I’m here when you feel lost, when you feel lonely. I’m aware of your troubles and have already made a way through. I can hear you. I can roll away the stone.

     I can raise that which is dead in your life, faith, hope, love, compassion. I can raise you to new life.

 I AM the Resurrection and the Life. I will resuscitate your soul. I will breathe new life into your spirit

I will revitalize your life. This is a matter of Life and Death.

     “Come Out and Live Again.”

This is the Word of the Lord for this day.



1. From PROMISES KEPT! a sermon by Wayne Brouwer, Dynamic Preaching, January/February/March 93.

Other References Consulted