BETHESDA AM John xii MARTHA 15 MAY 2005 AM
TAKE AWAY THE STONE
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
27 “Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” …….
40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 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.”
43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
This Pentecost Sunday I want to take a backward look to an earlier Gospel narrative in John XI. The resurrection of Jesus was the heart of the apostolic message that Pentecost Day – and it will serve us well today to look back at Martha – who met the resurrection and the life.
For all that Mary learnt so much sitting at the feet of Jesus – it was the practical, down to earth Martha who received from Jesus in this wonderful chapter the greatest promise that the Lord ever gave regarding resurrection life.
Mary came to him on this occasion too – but she had no conversation with him about the real resurrection – she had her sister’s complaint, and who can blame her – but no discovering as Martha did of the wonderful Person He is.
Mary (verse 32) fell at His feet – she was used to that position – and she is full of tears – so much so that when Jesus saw her weeping … He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.
MARTHA’S CONVERSATION which starts in verse 21 and finishes in verse 40 has so much to teach us about the LIFE that IS CHRIST and the LIFE that is IN CHRIST.
There is so much here that is profound – and nothing more so than the pivotal promise/statement of verses 25 and 26:
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.
No one ever heard such words so full of eternal hope as these – and I am glad that Martha came to Jesus full of complaint, disappointment and faith – and stayed to receive such a promise!
One of the great marvels of this narrative is the way that FAITH in JESUS as the LIFE is brought out of her.
Look at her words:
V 22 BUT I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask…
V 24 I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day!
V 27 Yes Lord, I believe that you are the Christ the Son of God who has come into the world.
V 39 “But Lord, by this time there is a bad odour, for he has been there four days!”
It is a progress – a pilgrimage from darkness into incredible light, and it goes right up to the mouth of the tomb – and witnesses the true LIFE.
How does it become a pilgrimage into LIFE?
Interleaved with her words are HIS WORDS:
23 Your brother will rise again.
24 I am the resurrection and the life!
40 Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?
43 Lazarus come out!
It is a wonderful thing to come to the feet of Jesus as Mary did that day – but I want you to know – and it is a message full of significance for:
À all of you who are of a practical frame of mind –
À all of you who mix with your understanding of God a good measure of common sense;
À all of you who not only listen to Jesus but engage Him in conversation
– MARTHA HAS THIS MOMENT TO HERSELF IT IS HER FINEST HOUR!
I want to have that moment.
I want you to have that moment.
I invite you this morning to step right up to the seat of our deepest fears – to approach the tomb where Lazarus lies – and see the PROOF OF JESUS THE LIFE.
Our other steps were crucial too : This is a story of LOVE
This is a story of DEATH
But this morning This is a story of LIFE
This is the resurrection up close – talked about, hoped for, seen at close quarters!
So let’s see how Martha and Jesus get down to the business of death and LIFE!
And it all turns about one central pivotal question v 23 DO YOU BELIEVE THIS?
And you can trace the whole wonder of this LIFE CONVERSATION in terms of how Martha’s faith is developed by the Living Christ.
Look again at what is said about faith here:
- 22 I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask…
- 24 I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day
- 27 I believe that you are the Christ the Son of God
- 40 Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?
These then are the four PHASES of FAITH in Martha’s graveside experience
Four steps to the tomb
Four steps to resurrection life
HOPE even now v 21
The pilgrimage of faith for Martha begins with the rehearsed complaint: “Lord, if you had been here…” and it continues with something that Mary did not say;
“But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
The ever practical Martha is trying very hard to give Jesus the benefit of (her) doubt.
She wants to move from the desolate experience of the last four days when Jesus did not turn up – to a HOPE that He whom both sisters, and Lazarus, loved and trusted – would be able to DO SOMETHING…
She faces up to the tragedy that is human suffering and human life with a HOPE that Jesus can command an unknown but PRESENT CHANGE in the face of PRESENT DEATH.
It is a slim thing – this beginning of a greater faith.
She does not articulate what her hope is – perhaps she doesn’t know – just a general feeling that JESUS CAN COMMAND AND THE FATHER WILL GIVE
She knows her LORD.
But it is not full faith yet – it is more a HOPE
Practical Martha – I can stand beside you in this. I can identify with that yearning that reaches out even in the presence of tragedy for a solution in the divine.
I’m not sure exactly what – but EVEN NOW …. Even now….
Are you with her in this?
Oh I do hope so. I want you to know that JESUS when He enters the scene – even though so seeming late and so much after the disaster of Lazarus’ death MIGHT YET TRANSFORM IT…
I hold on to that as Martha does – but her Lord wants more for her than that, and He wants more for me, and more for you than that!
“Your brother will rise again!”
That’s actually exactly what will happen – but her faith doesn’t go that far just yet. It moves on though to – the second step:
GENERAL BELIEF at the last day v 24
“Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
Martha has been listening to Jesus – even though Mary more naturally sits at His feet. Martha knows that there is a FINAL HOPE
AT THE LAST DAY
Oh My! That’s a wonderful thought – but it is so distant – so intangible – so far in the future as to be almost beyond reach!
Some folk get there. Some move on from a hope to a belief that ONE DAY EVERYTHING WILL BE ALL RIGHT….
Is that enough?
I ask you – is that enough?
Is this where your faith operates – at the very limits of time and possibility?
Surely that is a wonderful thing to have a teleological hope – a dream that one day everything will be ok – BUT IT ISN’T ENOUGH
And, my friends I want to challenge you this morning – for I am convinced that for some of you that is as far as you have got in the matter of trusting Jesus.
A vague distant sort of dream….
And all of this Martha says when she stands right next to Jesus!
It is because that isn’t enough that Jesus gives her at that very moment the supreme challenge to her faith:
“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?”
Martha! It’s ME! I AM THE ANSWER to faint hope … to general belief .. to a distant dream
It’s ME – Jesus – who I am that is enough!
Not a resurrection at the last day – but Jesus THE resurrection and THE LIFE
It’s for NOW, Martha
Now when the grave is filled with a beloved brother
And the evidence of grief is all around you
And it seems that I have let you down by not coming sooner
It’s me, Martha ME!
Oh have you realised that?
Or are you still clinging to a vague hope and a general belief.
LIFE is Jesus in the here and now.
And for ever too.
So Martha moves on to step three:
PERSONAL FAITH you are the Christ v27
27 “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ the Son of God who was to come into the world.”
So does Martha stand with Simon Peter as one who BELIEVES IN JESUS WHO HE IS.
And personal faith is first and foremost FAITH IN A PERSONAL JESUS
Then it is secondly MY PERSONAL FAITH “I believe….”
At that point the conversation stops – and Martha returns to the house to call Mary.
And I believe she really does TRUST HIM who He is … but as we shall see, she can’t quite put that faith into the frame of real life experience.
When they come – as come they must – to the tomb itself – and there is universal weeping. When Jesus challenges her PRACTICAL EVER PRACTICAL FAITH in the moving of the stone
She reacts as Marthas always react;
“Take away the stone”
“Lord..by this time there is a bad odour…”
Ah! I know what you mean Martha. As we stand beside you and the evidence of death and decay is there just a short distance away – it is surely TOO LATE?
It may be true – Jesus is the Messiah – He is, as He says the resurrection and the life – but my life is like the tomb of Lazarus – it has all the potential for a stench! Surely, Lord you cannot really mean us to remove the stone?
Yes – the stone has to be rolled back – there is a further step for the BELIEVER to take – and I realise that Jesus could have commanded the stone – but He doesn’t he commands the people – and Martha too.
DO IT! Open the tomb.
We don’t want to do that – there is too much at stake. What if … what if , O heaven forbid the decay is revealed – it will be an awful embarrassment of disappointment.
You see – that’s it – real faith moves the stone.
PRACTICAL FAITH if you believed v 40
“Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God.?”
Ah what a CHALLENGE TO OUR FAITH
And this is what my LORD DOES – He transforms the awfulness and the awkwardness and the social embarrassment of the possible failure into a GLORY OF GOD.
So they took away the stone – and Jesus prays – so that they can hear Him – so that they can see that God sent Him – that He is indeed the RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE.
LAZARUS COME OUT!
The dead man came out…
My friends I don’t know at what stage in the process you are this morning – but I do know that Jesus wants you to turn the HOPE into FAITH, general faith – the general faith into a PERSONAL FAITH and the PERSONAL FAITH into an applied practical faith that is willing to risk the stench and push back the stone
Come closer to Jesus – step up with Martha through those stages of faith to the point where you can willingly OBEY HIM when He asks you to hazard the opening of the tomb, the exposure of the worst of fears and see LIFE in Jesus Christ
A life that does not wait for the last day – or a remote far off resurrection – but opens the life REAL LIFE, LIFE IN THE RAW to the power of Him who is the resurrection and the life.
IF YOU BELIEVE YOU WILL SEE THE GLORY OF GOD!