Message based on John 11:1-44 by Nico Bougas
On the 29th of September, 1969 South Africa experienced its worst ever earthquake centered on a little town near Cape Town. At that time I was working for Youth for Christ and we were holding a coffee bar outreach in a local church. On the wall there was a wooden plaque with the words from Hosea 10.12 in the Bible, “It is time to seek the Lord.”
The earthquake occurred whilst we were in the middle of our programme. Suddenly the building shook, the music and laughter came to an abrupt halt and the plaque started banging on the wall as though to emphasize its message, “It is time to seek the Lord! It is time to seek the Lord! It is time to seek the Lord!
A few months ago our eldest son was suddenly taken away from us. He was a well -known singer in South Africa and had a big following. His death came like an earthquake shock to us as well as to his many friends and followers as they gathered for his memorial service. I shared with them that in times like these we realize that it is time to seek the Lord.
For us as believers we do have this wonderful assurance that death is not the end. But as Christians we do not sorrow as those that have no hope. There was an article about our son’s death in the local newspaper. The article stated that, “his parents were too traumatised to comment.” The truth is we were never asked to comment. So I got back to them and said, “if death were the end we would indeed be traumatised. We were shocked and saddened by his death but we have this wonderful confidence and assurance that death is not the end. He has simply been ushered into eternal life. He has moved from the land of the dying to the land of the living.
DESTINATION OF THE DECEASED
In the gospel of John we read that death came suddenly and probably unexpectedly to this little family in Bethany. Lazarus was sick. But this was no ordinary illness it was serious and he was dying. So his sisters, Mary and Martha sent an urgent message to Jesus knowing that He loved Lazarus and if He knew he was sick he would certainly do something about it.
Death comes like an uninvited guest into our homes and lives. It comes and brings pain and heartache and sorrow. Yet we cannot avoid it. We often hear people speaking of life here on earth as the “Land of the Living”. But really we are not in the land of the living we are in the land of the dying. From the moment we are born we begin to die. We are given a certain span of life that begins shortening as soon as we take our first breath. Our bodies age, and wither. We may linger on for 70, 80 or 90 years but sooner of later we must go. We may exercise regularly, follow a strict diet, take vitamin tablets and do all we can to follow a healthy lifestyle but inevitably we will all die. This is not the land of the living; it is the land of the dying.
There is indeed a land of the living where there is no more death, no more sorrow, no more tears and no more suffering. Jesus promised it – John 14.1-3.
“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home.[a] If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?[b] When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.
Realizing that he would soon be gone from this world one day, the evangelist, D. L Moody said to a friend. “Someday you will read in the papers that D.L.Moody is dead! Don’t believe a word of it. At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now...”
In his final hours before passing to his reward he awakened from a sleep and said, “Earth recedes. Heaven opens before me. It this is death. It is sweet! There is no valley here. God is calling me, and I must go…” And his final words were, “This is my triumph this is my coronation day! It is glorious.”
DESPAIR OF THE DOUBTERS
But as the people gathered around Lazarus’ tomb there was not that same assurance and hope. There was despair and anguish. There was no hope, no optimism, no sense of triumph as the Apostle Paul had when he said, “henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord the righteous judge shall give to me at that day.” 2 Tim 4.7,8.
The doubters were quick to ask the question: “And some of them said, could not this man which opened the eyes of the blind have caused that even this man should not have died?
There it is out in the open again the question the atheist, the agnostic and the unbeliever always asks in the end. “Why does an omnipotent God, if he is a good God, allow suffering, sorrow, injustice, pain and death? If He is all-powerful then He is not good; if he is good, then he is not all-powerful. Otherwise he would intervene.” That is more or less the attitude adopted by these Jews. They had hurried to the dead man’s tomb and their question was, “Surely he could have prevented this death, so why didn’t he?
DISILLUSIONED BY THE DELAY:
Even his sisters were heartbroken and confused. They had sent an urgent message to Jesus and instead of hurrying back he continued where He was for another 2 days. They could not understand it. They knew He loved Lazarus. They knew He had to power to heal Him and yet He did nothing. There was just a message sent back to them that seemed completely wrong and misguided. He had said:
“Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.”
But this was against all the evidence before their eyes. Lazarus was dead. He was already rotting in the grave. How could the Son of God receive glory in this?
We read this story as we read the story of Job, with the knowledge of why the tragedy was allowed to happen and the happy knowledge of how it ended. But, like Job, Mary and Martha did not have this knowledge. It seemed as though Jesus had been silent when He should have spoken. It seemed He had let them down – just as it seems like that to us when we pray desperately and get no answer, or when it seems to be that the wrong answer comes.
But God’s delays are not God’s denials. If our prayers are not answered immediately, perhaps He is teaching us to wait, and if we wait patiently, we will find that He will answer our prayers in a much more wonderful way than we could ever had imagined.
What do we make of unanswered prayers as Christians?
We need to realize that there is no such thing as unanswered prayer. Sometimes the answer is Yes! Sometimes the answer is No! And sometimes the answer is wait.
Just as parents desire to meet the needs of their children and give them what is the very best for them, so our Heavenly Father delights in answering our prayers. Our Lord Jesus said, “ So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.” (Matt 7.11 NLT)
When the answer is, “Yes!” We rejoice that our Heavenly Father is blessing us with good things. As parents we may foolishly indulge our children and give them things that do not really benefit them. But God is the all-wise Father. He will only give us that which is to our advantage. “The Lord will withhold no good thing from those who do what is right.” (Psalm 84.11 NLT)
Sometimes He delays the answer because His timing is different to ours and He delays the answer in order for His purposes to be fulfilled.
And sometimes He delays or denies a request because He has a greater blessing waiting for us. Many times we are like little children wanting to have some cheap toy right now. Like a good parent, our Heavenly Father does not give us what we want at that time because He has something even better planned for us.
THE DOUBTS IT DEVELOPED
When Jesus came to Bethany he found Martha and Mary grief stricken and full of questions. “If only”. You could have saved our brother “if only”. Our lives are filled with “if only”. We wish things had turned out differently. “if only I had done this or that; if only I had more money; if only I had married differently”. I don’t know what your “if only” is. But I do know that God says, “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” Isa 55.8,9 NLT
It may not seem like it now but God has a perfect plan for your life. It may include troubles and problems, trials and temptations. But listen to what Job had to say, “He knows the way that I take, and when he has tried me I shall come forth as gold” Job 23.10
God’s way is perfect and all His promises are true (Ps 18.30) So Jesus gives Martha the assurance. “Your brother will rise again.” That wasn’t much comfort to Martha. “Yes,” Martha said, “he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day.” But she was about to witness a miracle that she could not even have imagined.
THE DIRECTIONS HE DECREED
Then we have the shortest verse in the Bible. Jesus wept. Even though He knew He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead He wept. Because Jesus feels for us in our sorrows. He is a man of sorrows acquainted with grief. When He looked over the city of Jerusalem He was moved with compassion and called out, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…” As He travelled through all the towns and villages “ When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Matt 9.36
Move the stone: Jesus commanded the onlookers to take away the stone from the mouth of the grave. He could have done this Himself by merely speaking the word. Jesus armed with omnipotent power could have blasted that stone into oblivion. He could have commanded that stone to roll away. He did no such thing. He had not come to perform cheap wonders, nor would He do what they could do. However, God does not ordinarily do for men what they can do for themselves.
40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?”
If you will just believe, you will see Me perform a miracle that only God could perform. You will see the glory of God revealed in Me. But first you must believe, and then you will see.
He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with grave clothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go.”
Now that word rang again rang out. Of course Lazarus came forth. What else could he do? At the sound of that voice, corruption put on incorruption. What was sown in weakness was raised in power. Death was swallowed up in victory. Some have suggested that if He did not mentioned Lazarus by name then all the dead in the graves would have come forth.
Loose him and let him go:
Only Christ can raise the dead, but He gives us the task of removing stones of stumbling, and of unwinding the graveclothes of predjudice and superstition.
I wonder if you like Lazarus have been raised from the dead. Not physical death but spiritual death. You have been brought out of darkness into His marvelous light but you are still bound by the old grave clothes. The command of Jesus is, “loose him and let him loose”. It may be old habits, old thought patterns, old attitudes but Jesus wants to set you free. For if the son shall set you free you shall be free indeed. John 8.36. So Christ has truly set us free. So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law. Gal 5.1
The Difference it made
Many of the people with Mary believed in Jesus when they saw this happen. But some went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. John 11.45,46
Finally many people believed when they saw this miracle of Jesus raising a man from death to life. Some, of course, will never believe whatever the evidence. If God has brought new life to you. If He has truly saved you and made you a new creature in Christ Jesus it should be impacting the lives of others.
Are you making a difference to this dark and sinful world. Are people being influenced by your behavior and lifestyle and by your words of testimony? Not all will believe, but many did. Not everybody believed when they saw the miracles of Jesus, but many did. Each of us has been given a task to perform and to make a difference in this world. Jesus did not say sign up with me and you can relax, put your feet up, you are now a registered Christian. No He said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel”. He said you shall be witness for me in Jerusalem, Judae, Samaria and unto the uttermost parts of the earth.
We are all called to be witnesses somewhere. For my wife and I our call is the land of Greece. Where are you called to be a witness?