Temptation to Triumph #4 in the Series
There was a guy riding in a cab one day. He was new to the city and was looking for a good place to eat, so he leaned forward, tapped the cabby on the shoulder and said, “Hey, Buddy.” The driver let out a blood curdling scream and lost control of the cab. He nearly hit a bus, jumped the curb and stopped just inches from going through a huge plate-glass window and into a crowded restaurant.
For a few minutes, there was dead silence in the cab. All you could hear was two hearts beating like bass drums pounding out a quick march. The driver finally turned around and said, “Man, you scared the living daylights out of me.”
The passenger, who was white as a sheet and whose eyes were as big as dinner plates, said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize tapping you on the shoulder would scare you so badly.”
The cabby said, “Well, it’s not your fault. This is my first day driving a cab. But for the last 25 years, I drove a hearse.” (1)
If I’d driven a hearse for 25 years and somebody tapped me on the shoulder, you can bet I’d have screamed like a little girl. I’m kind of goosey anyway. Just ask Mary or the staff. If I’m concentrating on something it’s not hard to startle me.
To say that Mary, Martha, the Disciples and all the mourners gathered at the grave of Lazarus were startled, would be putting it mildly.
Let’s look at the passage. John 11:1-7, 17-44 (NRSV)
 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.
 Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill.
 So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”
 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.”
 Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus,
 after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.”
 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.
 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away,
 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother.
 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him.
 The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there.
 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.
 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”
 Jesus began to weep.
 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.
 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.”
 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me.
 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.”
 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”
 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.”
 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.
I. FOR THEM:
A. Jesus couldn’t have done anything more provocative at this point in his ministry. The news of this sign spread like wildfire. Why?
Because Lazarus was not only dead, but as Jerry Clower used to say, “he was graveyard, cold in the ground dead.” In the words of the Munchkins from the Wizard of Oz, Lazarus, “was morally, ethically, spiritually, physically, positively, absolutely, undeniably and reliably dead! He was not only merely dead, He was really most sincerely dead.”
Everybody knew Lazarus was dead. The sisters and mourners had 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. “Good, 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?”
Everybody held or covered their noses. They pushed the heavy stone sealing the tomb out of the way. Some ran stumbling away with eyes watering and the gag reflex taking over. But not Jesus. Not the Son of God. Instead Jesus’ prays. Jesus looked up and prayed: “Father, I know you always hear my prayers. But I want THEM to know You hear me.” And then Jesus proceeded to raise Lazarus with a shout loud enough to wake the dead. And that shocked everyone. You can almost hear Jesus thinking, “You think that was something, wait ‘til you see what God’s really got in store for you.”
B. The underlying message which all of Israel heard that day simple was: God is in charge. No matter what happens, even death. In the stark reality of death, it looked like life was defeated. But through Christ, for whom and through whom everything that was and is and ever will be was created, death didn’t have the last word. The Author of life proved God is ALWAYS and EVERYWHERE victorious and in charge. Nothing and no one can stop God’s Will and God’s Redemption.
II. FOR US:
A. So what’s the implication for us? I think there are about a billion things this passage teaches us but I want to lift two today. I think this is hard for us to hear. First, just because you’re a believer, just because you’re a friend of Jesus doesn’t mean you won’t have trials and tribulations or get your heart broken from time to time.
I think it’s important that we hear that because so much of pop culture Christianity leaves us with the notion that if you believe, I mean really, really believe, then nothing bad or horrible will ever happen to you. Which means that if something bad does happen, it’s your fault, you just didn’t have enough faith. Well that’s a crock. I don’t know how they came up with that idea because Jesus very clearly states in John 16:33: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” NIV.
I think Jesus is pretty clear. We don’t get a by, we don’t get a pass, we don’t get an exemption simply because we have faith and believe in Christ. Life is hard. We tend to forget that because we have so many conveniences.
We tend to forget just how hard life really is until we face hard times. Until illness or loss of a job or loss of friends or family members suddenly invades our lives. When that happens, and they will, remember our faith doesn’t exempt us from pain and sorrow. Our faith is what gets us through those hard times. Our faith is what heals our broken hearts and spirits.
B. It’s then, in the midst of the heartache of the broken heart that we have to remember the Second point for us. Christ’s message is still the same today as it was when He raised Lazarus from the dead. God is ALWAYS and EVERYWHERE victorious and in charge.
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 to new life. It may not be what we expect or sometimes even want, but God is with us and God is in charge.
Often times God doesn’t change our circumstances instead God changes our perspective.
How many of you have heard of Elgin Park? It a gorgeous small town in which scenes from the past; scenes from seemingly simpler times have been displayed.
As you’ve figured out by now, Elgin Park only exists in the mind and photos of its creator, Michael Paul Smith. More pictures of Smith’s Elgin Park can be viewed online, just look up Elgin Park. His eye for detail, light and perspective is something else. But then so is God’s.
God knows that sometimes the problems in our lives actually appear bigger than they are. They block our view of God. They get in the way because of our perspective. But if we believe God is ALWAYS and EVERYWHERE victorious and in charge, God might not change the circumstance but God will change our Perspective.
Jesus treasured his friendship with Mary, Martha and Lazarus. That’s why he wept when he stood at the tomb. Jesus treasures the relationship we have with him just as much, maybe more. Jesus can raise US to new awareness or a new perspective or even a new life.
God loves us so much that God sent His only Son to give His life for us on the cross. God offers us New Life and Eternal life. And that promise is wrapped up in the table before us.
So this morning I invite you to come to the Table. I invite you to drink from the Cup of Redemption. Share in the Loaf of the Bread of life. Remember what Christ has done for you. But before you come ask yourself:
What is it that has died in you? Where is it that you need Jesus to say “Come Out” What is it that still has you entombed? What stinks in your life and needs to be healed and raised? What burial cloths are you wrapped in that are making you stumble through life; hindered, hampered, tied up in knots?
Maybe it’s more like the sisters, Mary and Martha. What is it that needs to be reconciled with our Savior? Where are you mad at God in your life? What is it that has disappointed you about God not answering a certain prayer? Or that God delayed in answering that prayer until it seemed like it was too late? Think on these things. Lay them all before God.
Feast at this all you can eat buffet of God’s grace. Let Jesus weep with you. But then let Him lead you to new life, for he Treasures you. You are a treasured friend. Come to the place prepared just for you.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.