Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | April 10, 2011

Sermon on John 11:17-27, 38-45

True Man…and yet True God!

Lessons:  Ezekiel 37:1-14, Romans 8:11-19, John 11:17-27 and 38-45

Hymns (from Christian Worship): 398, 120, 434, 99, 158

In the Name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.

On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 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. “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”…

Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew 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.” When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.  Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

It seemed natural to the disciples that Jesus remained on the other side of the Jordan.  First, and most obviously, He, and by extension, they, were not welcome in Judea, and especially Jerusalem.  His last visit, recorded in John 10, during one of the religious festivals, ended with the Jews holding stones in their hands meant for Jesus.  John writes, They tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp.  Then Jesus went back across the Jordan….  Here he stayed… (10:39-41a). Secondly, when there was a call to return to the Jerusalem side of things, to the village of Bethany to see his sick friend Lazarus, Jesus had said, This sickness will not end in death (John 11:4a). So, when Jesus says, Let us go back to Judea (11:7), the disciples say, But Rabbi, a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you’re going back there (11:8)? In other words, “If Lazarus is going to be okay anyways, why would we go back into the lion’s den?”  But, in the end, Thomas spoke for them all, Let us also go, that we may die with him (11:16).

When Jesus arrived, four days after the death of Lazarus, Martha couldn’t wait.  She met Jesus outside the village, to confront Him. Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died (John 11:21). It seemed like such a natural thing to say.  If you had been here. Martha probes the ways and means of God.  She says, “Jesus, if you had physically been here five days ago, there’d be no funeral.  You’d have healed him.  Why weren’t you here?  Why did you let him die?”  Yet, at the same time she says, I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask (11:22).  I know he will rise again the resurrection at the last day (11:24).   I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world (11:27). So too spoke the disciples:  Truly you are the Son of God (Matthew 14:33).

If the disciples and Martha knew these things about Jesus, why did they respond the way they did?  Why were the disciples leery to return to Judea?  Why did Martha, and her sister Mary, and the whole crowd mourning Lazarus’ death say, Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind have kept this man from dying (John 11:37)? The answer may be as simple as the incarnation. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, John writes (1:14).  Or, as you learned from Luther, I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from all eternity, and also true Man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord (Small Catechism, 2nd Article). It’s confusing to look at Jesus and say, “This man is God.”  It’s easy to forget that the man who will be crucified on Good Friday is also God, who brought life to the entire universe.  It’s easy to forget that Jesus isn’t just a really gifted guy.  He’s not just a miracle-worker along the lines of a Moses, Elijah, or Elisha.

It’s easy to forget, because Jesus almost allows you to forget.  He flees from Jewish enemies.  When He returns to Judea, He walks.  It takes him a day to get to the home of Lazarus.  When He got there and saw the tears of His friends, He cried.  He asked where Lazarus had been buried.  He asked people to move the stone away from the tomb.  Such behavior even confused John the Baptist once.  Recall how Matthew reports that the Baptist once sent some disciples to ask Jesus, Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else (Matthew 11:3)? You understand John’s confusion.  He preached: After me will come one more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry….  His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire (Matthew 3:11-12). From his prison cell, John didn’t see these things.  He probed the ways and means of God.  Yet this is the same John who pointed to Jesus and said, Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29).

Yes, it is so easy to forget that this man is God.  See Him walk and talk and sleep.  See Him weep and mourn for lost friends.  See Him debate and end up nearly friendless.  See Him stripped of the only earthly possession that was His – His clothes.  See Him bleed and die.  See Him buried.  About Him you say, “You are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world!”?  About Him you say, “As much as you ask, God will give you!”?  Yes, it’s easy to forget.  It’s easy to doubt.  It’s easy to wonder.   It’s easy to forget who you’re dealing with when you’re dealing with Jesus.  But the consequences of that are devastating, and eternal.  Because God makes it clear that apart from Christ there is no hope.  Apart from Christ there is only hell.  Apart from faith in Christ, true God and at the same time true man, there is no life.  You have no God.  Because, as the Baptist testified, The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in His hands (John 3:35). As Jesus says, Whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life (John 5:24).

Jesus is not just speaking about God and about salvation.  He speaks salvation itself.  He says, The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life (John 6:63). And then hear the words He speaks in John 11, hear this as you make your way to Jerusalem with Jesus, to the triumphant entry that ends in the catastrophic death on Calvary.  He says, Your brother will rise again (11:23). “I know,” Martha says, “On Judgment Day.”  “No, no, I don’t think you completely understand me yet, Martha. I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die (11:25-26).”  I AM, He says.  I AM resurrection.  I AM life.  This is His nature.  He is the Holy One who will not be abandoned to the grave.  He will not see decay.  And He says, “Believe in me, and you’re already alive.  You have crossed over from death to life.”  “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, Jesus, I know.”  “No, you don’t.”

And so He says, Lazarus, come out (John 11:43)! Let there be…and there was.  And there was Lazarus, still shrouded, but alive, well.  Resurrected.  Remember what Jesus said in response to those disciples from John?  Go back and report to John what you hear and see:… the dead are raised… (Matthew 11:4-5). No man does this.  No man’s word has the power to summon someone forth from the grave.  Only God can do this.  And if you argue, “Well, Elijah, Elisha, and Paul all brought someone back from the dead,” than I say, look in the tomb where the angels sat.  Look where the empty grave clothes lay.  Look at the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus head folded up by itself.  Christ reversed the curse of death.  He called forth Lazarus in preparation for calling Himself forth from His own tomb.

You have seen the glory of God here.  What led the Jews to finally determine upon killing Him, also led many to put their faith in Him (John 11:45). John says that’s why He wrote it down, These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and by believing have life in His name (John 20:31). The resurrection.  The life.  The Word made flesh.  He was then and is now powerful to conquer death.  This is the promise of faith in Him.  Again, it’s the Baptist’s words, Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on Him (John 3:36). Confident of this, you need not say, “If only you had been here…” as if He wasn’t, as if He abandoned you in need.  You can say, “God, what greater thing will you do now?”  You can say, “Jesus is here!” and run to Him, like Martha did.  You can take to Him anything and everything, knowing that whatever He asks God His Father, God will give.  This is the powerful Word of God, used on your behalf.  And it is gloriously indefinite – whatever you ask! Because this man is God.  Your God.  The only God.  The man who died as the atoning sacrifice, the forgiver, the Resurrection and the Life, guarantees and promises:  whoever lives and believes in me will never die (John 11:26). Never.  Because He gave Himself over to death, but now He lives.  He rules.  He reigns.  Do you believe this (John 11:26)? Because it is most certainly true.  He is your Lord.  He redeemed [you], a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won you from all sin, from death and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.  All this He did that [you] should be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness, just as He has risen from death and lives and rules eternally (Small Catechism, 2nd Article). Amen.

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