A sermon based on John 11:1-45

“Lord Jesus Christ, I pray that you open our minds to your powerful Word. May I be a voice to your people, to share your teaching to this community. In your Holy name I pray. AMEN”

I have to admit that I have been distracted in my preparation for this morning’s message. I found out early in the week that my aunt’s husband, was rushed to the hospital Monday night. As he entered the final days of his battle with cancer, he was not expected to make the weekend. I found out on Thursday night, that in fact he did not. Therefore, death has been on my mind all week as I reflected on the passages from John and Ezekiel, combined with the death of my uncle. In fact, while I have not changed my approach to these texts, my method in revealing the approach has changed drastically to what I had in mind the week before.

The raising of Lazarus has major implications on the life of Jesus. It is just after he raises Lazarus that the Pharisees decide that they have seen enough of this man from Galilee, and now commit to finding a way to get rid of him, through death. Next week we will celebrate as Jesus triumphantly returns to Jerusalem for the final time, and then somberly begin Holy Week leading to his death on the cross. As we proceed through Lent, and move closer and closer to Good Friday, we reflect more and more on death, and what Jesus’ death means for us.

But! The raising of Lazarus is not a story of death! This is a story of life! This is a story signifying the glorification of God through Jesus the Christ! There is a valuable teaching in this passage from John about the life giving power of Jesus.

As we heard the reading of the beautiful story of Jesus talking with Mary and Martha, how his emotions broke forth in tears and how he brought Lazarus back to life, we learn much about what it means for us to live with Jesus in eternity, and we can see how that unfolds as Jesus talks with Martha.

As Jesus approached Bethany to see Mary and Martha, Martha met him outside the city, and right away shows that she knows something about his connection with God. She says to Jesus “had you been here, Lazarus would not have died, but God will give you what you ask of Him.” She knows the healing power of Jesus, that Jesus is more than a prophet, and that God has gifted him. When Jesus tells Martha that her brother will rise again, she acknowledges him as many Jews would, that Lazarus would be raised on the final day, when God calls his chosen people home. Jesus then explains further. “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” And he asks her “Do you believe this?” Martha’s reply is one of acceptance. “Yes Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah (or Christ), the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” She has been transformed by her belief in Jesus. She has become something that will be named years later as a Christian. Interestingly enough, she is now the second woman in John’s Gospel to make such proclamation, to move beyond simply what they see Jesus do, to believing that he is the Son of God, the Messiah, the Christ, without first needing to see a miracle performed. The first was the Samaritan woman at the well, but that is a topic for another day.

Some people dispute whether Martha really did believe. Later on in the passage, she warns Jesus when he asks that the stone be removed from the entrance to the tomb. She warns that since he’s been dead four days, the would be an unbearable stench. Does this indicate that she really did not understand what she has said? Or is there another reason for her apparent change of heart? What if she never expected Jesus to raise her brother from the dead? If she believes that Jesus is the Christ, and if she knows where Lazarus has placed his heart, then why should she expect Jesus to resurrect him? She knows where Lazarus is, that he has eternal life through his belief in Jesus as the Son of God.

So then why did Jesus go through with this miracle? Why bring someone back from eternal life? Jesus explains this as he prays to God, that he does this for those around him. But not only those around him, but also those that would hear the story around the countryside, and also for us. Jesus raised Lazarus to show us that we can have eternal life, but also that when he believe that he is the Messiah, he also gives us new life on earth. That when we believe in Jesus, we are given the opportunity to start anew. When Lazarus hops out of the tomb, his hands and feet bound, his head covered, Jesus says “unbind him and let him go!” When we come to Jesus, that which holds us back is untied, that which keeps us from seeing, is removed from our vision, we are set free by Jesus. Set free to live a new life as a disciple of Jesus. What if we heard from Lazarus in this story, what would he have to tell us about this new life he has been given?

A few months ago I was watching 100 Huntley Street one morning, and I saw this story, and thankfully that they have extensive archives on their website so I could go back and watch the episode again. They interviewed a man by the name of Don Piper. Don Piper is a Baptist minister in the United States. One cold, rainy afternoon, Don was driving home to Houston from a denominational meeting, similar to a conference meeting in the United Church. When he left the meeting, he decided to take a new road home, for a change of scenery. As he crossed a bridge, an on-coming transport truck lost control and crossed the centre line and collided head on into his small Ford Escort. The combined speed of the impact was 110mph. Paramedics on the scene declared him dead immediately. As they waited for an official pronouncement of death, they covered the severely mangled car with a tarp. A fellow delegate at the meeting was driving across this same bridge shortly after, and stopped to see if he could be of help. An audible voice told him to pray for the man in the car. So he crawled under the tarp into the wreckage of the Escort and prayed over the corpse. He began to sing as he prayed. “What a friend we have in Jesus…” and the corpse began to sing with him! Shocked, this man ran to the paramedics and exclaimed that they had to get the body out of the car, he was alive! The paramedics did not believe him, and continued to prepare to leave. The man refused to give up, he told them that if they wanted to leave, they were going to have to drive over him. So they decided to entertain this crazy man and checked the condition of Don’s once lifeless body, and found him ALIVE! They quickly extricated Don’s mangled body from the mangled wreckage of the car and rushed him to the hospital.

As this was playing out, Don tells this story. He was in line outside the pearly gates, he was surrounded by a welcoming committee of the people who had influenced him as a Christian. His grandmother, teachers, friends who had all passed on before him. There were angels flying above him, their wings fluttering much like when you walk into the woods and hear the birds take off in the trees above you. There were thousands of praise choirs, each one singing praises to God, but it was not chaotic as you might expect. He said even though there were so many choirs, singing so many songs, it was more beautiful than words could describe. As he came to the gates, he was sent back to his earthly body. He did not want to leave, but he had returned to the car and his mangled body.

Don spent 105 days in the hospital, battling serious infections, torturous procedures to stretch his bones to make up for the crushed bones lost in the accident and over 30 operations. He lives with the pain every day, a reminder of the accident that took his life, and the life God that gave back to him.

What has he done since then? He has turned this mess into a message. He has taken it upon himself to spend the rest of his days on this world bringing people to Jesus, to get as many people into heaven as he can. He tells his story whenever he can, he has a book called 90 minutes in Heaven, detailing his experiences.

We don’t know what happened to Lazarus, but Don Piper has taken advantage of his new life. Don didn’t want to come back to this world, heaven was too beautiful for words. He has seen the mansion with many rooms that Jesus has gone on to prepare for us, and he can’t wait to go home.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we have been given a new life here on earth. Take advantage of it each day, live each day with the love of Jesus Christ in your heart, and someday you will spend eternity with him. Remember how God used Ezekiel to blow breath into the dry bones of the valley. How can he use you to blow breath into the world around you.