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John 11:17-44 Trusting Christ on a Whole New Level - Part 2

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Sunday, April 6, 2008 – Communion Sunday

Trusting Christ on a whole new level - Part 2

John 11:17-44

37 But some of them said, “Could not He who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”             John 11:37 NIV

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Have you noticed in our study of the Gospel of John how John seems to highlight a character who is representative of many others? In chapter 18, John portrayed Judas Iscariot as an evil man plotting the demise of the most righteous person to ever live, showing us how evil can take hold of a person and wreak havoc all around him.

Also in chapter 18, we see outspoken Peter who can’t live up to his own promises and is heart broken to discover how weak he really was.

In chapter 20, we are introduced to Mary Magdalene as a thoughtful and meditative woman who is overcome with sorrow at the death of Jesus, but is driven by her love for Him to do Him right by a proper burial. Somehow God chose to honor this woman as being the first person to see the resurrected Jesus. It’s like she was representing all persons, lowly of heart, who seek to be near our Lord, and how He rewards those who diligently seek Him by coming to them, meeting them in their humble state.

So, it shouldn’t surprise us when we study the Lazarus story and meet the primary characters in John 11 that we find ourselves relating to one or the other, identifying with them in their circumstances and feelings. John does a good job of giving us character sketches of people involved in Christ’s life. We see ourselves in them and recognize that “it could have been us” if we had lived there back then.

For many of us our first introduction to the sisters Martha and Mary came when we read Luke’s account of them hosting Jesus for a visit. A quick reading of the story could lead one to suppose that if you’re an energetic servant, worker-bee, like Martha, then you are a second class Christian -- that the real Christian is to be like Mary who did nothing but sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to Him. But I suggest we miss the point of the story in Luke if we downplay the Martha types in the body of Christ.

Here’s the slice of the Mary/Martha story that is recorded in Luke: Luke 10:38-42 (NIV)

38 As Jesus and His disciples were on their way, He came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to Him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what He said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to Him and asked, “Lord, don’t You care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

The point of the Luke 10 story of Martha and Mary is to recognize our priorities and how easily we can be distracted from what is most important. Do you really think Martha wasn’t just as eager to sit at Jesus’ feet as Mary was? Certainly. But she was tied up in knots over making up the guest room for Jesus and probably fixing Him a nice dinner. If Mary had helped her, maybe she wouldn’t have been in the predicament she made for herself.

But, to dismiss hospitality and service as unimportant just because they are not our first priority, is to do injury to the very example of our Lord Himself who showed His love often in very humble, servant ways.

To misconstrue this story would be to imply that since it is more important that we worship the Lord than that we have chairs to sit on, that no one should make it their business to put the chairs out each Sunday.

We must always be in the business of waging war against those things that supplant what’s most important. That’s why we have been issued a call to come early to our worship services and pray. By it we are saying by our actions that our relationship with Jesus Christ is our most important relationship. . . . that we are willing to bypass a conversation with a brother or sister in Christ so we can first have a conversation with our Lord.

That doesn’t mean we won’t have a conversation with our brother or sister in Christ. It just means it won’t be the first order of business. The purpose for setting an agenda for ourselves is that gives the most important item the best place in our schedule.

Martha had her priorities mixed up here even though she was doing a very good thing in showing hospitality to her Lord. But, she needed to take a step back and see what was happening. Dinner could wait. Clean sheets could wait. Some special touches could be done without. She needed to get some face to face time with the One she was trying to serve.

The most important thing that we want to see happen in this place each Sunday is that we all get face to face time with Jesus. That we sit at His feet and hear from Him. That we bow at His feet and worship Him and delight in His awesome glory. May it be that we take our worship to a new level by making certain that we do what we have come to do each Sunday.

Now, the question I start with as we return to chapter 11 of the Gospel of John is, did Martha learn anything from this correction she received from Jesus in Luke 10?

The story of Jesus visiting Bethany begins with a message being sent from Mary and Martha to Jesus while He is on the east side of the Jordan engaged in evangelistic meetings. The message was that their brother Lazarus is sick. Implied is that He is sufficiently sick to warrant an emergency plea for Jesus to come to Bethany. But, surprising to His disciples and probably the messenger, Jesus deliberately delays two days in going to Bethany.

Then, after those two days, He tells His disciples that He is going to Judea, which would mean Bethany since it was on the road to Jerusalem.

John 11:17-44 (NIV)

17 On His arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet Him, but Mary stayed at home.

In the interest of increasing our knowledge of these two sisters, notice the initiative of Martha to go meet Jesus. It’s strikingly similar to the previous time Jesus came into Bethany and Martha took the initiative to invite Jesus into her home.

Luke 10:38  38 As Jesus and His disciples were on their way, He came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to Him.

Now, it’s hard not to want to know why Mary didn’t join Martha in going out to meet Jesus. Maybe Mary was accustomed to Martha making all the arrangements for social gatherings and then Mary simply focused on enjoying the people who came.

And, if we apply the same scrutiny of Mary that we saw applied to Martha in the Luke text, could we not say that this time Mary had her priorities mixed up when she chose not to go be with Jesus after she had jointly sent for Him? Alright, maybe I’m getting a bit protective of Martha – since I see a lot of Martha in me.

There’s probably a good explanation why Mary stayed at home and we can just leave it there.

But, if you ever thought of Martha as shallow in her faith, take particular note of her conversation with Jesus.

21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give You whatever You ask.”

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.”

There are some realities that when stated will be received as a criticism no matter what tone of voice you use. How can we not say that Martha was disappointed that Jesus wasn’t in Bethany when her brother was still alive? Maybe she had no intention of rebuking Jesus or complaining, but clearly, the absence of Jesus during a huge crises was a big letdown for both Martha and Mary.

But, we must see in this statement, “if You had been here,” (Martha) a high level of faith in Jesus. Who else is there in all the world to whom she could say the same thing? Could she say it to you? “Craig, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” The statement just doesn’t work for anyone else. Even if we conclude it is laded with disappointment, we must also agree it is grounded in strong faith. Martha believed Jesus was capable of keeping her brother from dying.

And now we know even more. Martha believed that her brother would rise again from the dead in the resurrection at the last day.

Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t try to get her to go beyond that belief at this time. Rather, he focuses her attention on the most important thing for all of us in facing any circumstance. Our eyes need to be fixed at all times on Jesus. In matters of life and death, Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Jesus didn’t press Martha to expand her faith to include bringing back to life bodies that are four days dead. Rather, He draws her to focus on Him. And she reaffirms her faith in Him.

There is no further complaint about Jesus having come too late. Rather, she went as a messenger to her sister to tell her that Jesus was asking for her.

Again, consider the contrast and what a contrast it is. Martha initiates contact with Jesus. Mary waits for an invitation from Jesus before going to Him.

But also, keep these things in mind about Martha’s conversation with Jesus. There was no evidence of tears. No indication of bending her knees. Yet, there was a strong indication of faith. We are left with no doubt that Martha believes in Jesus for who He is and what He can do.

Now, how does Mary approach Jesus? We’ve seen Martha’s approach.

28 And after she (Martha) had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to Him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met Him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.

So, Mary does not go alone to see Jesus. Her many Jewish friends, who had come to grieve with her, followed. And, it is my educated guess that Martha came along, as well. So, . . .

32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw Him, she fell at His feet and said, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” He asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

35 Jesus wept.

36 Then the Jews said, “See how He loved him!”

37 But some of them said, “Could not He who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

The question was raised in our discussion of this text last Wednesday night if Martha was imagining Jesus raising her brother after he had been dead for four days. I suggested then and continue to believe that such a thought was simply beyond her imagination at this time. And I believe John is saying that not only Martha has reached the ceiling of what she could imagine, but also Mary and the mourners. That’s why, I suggest, John includes three statements by three different people that were only expressing disappointment in Jesus for not having kept Lazarus from dying, never suggesting He raise Lazarus from the dead.

In none of the dialog by these key people involved is there a hint that they were envisioning Jesus raising Lazarus. That was simply over the top for these people. That would be stretching their faith beyond their capacity at this time.

But, noticeably the interaction that Mary has with Jesus is very different from the interaction Martha has with Him. Even though they use the same opening statement, Mary’s engagement with Jesus is full of pathos and emotion. Mary didn’t fall at our Lord’s feet because she tripped or staged it for effect. It was her body language of surrender and worship of her Master. This was not premeditated. It was an expression of her love for Jesus and her desperation in grief.

Yet, she was able to verbally express what she, too, believed to be true. Lazarus would still be alive had He been there before he succumbed to his sickness.

Their sorrow and anguish moved Jesus. The fully human Jesus visibly was identifying with human grief to the point where He, too, was grieving. This was a loss for Him, as well. Lazarus was a close friend of His.

For some of the onlookers, they could not imagine that someone who loved Lazarus as much as Jesus did, would have let him die. That’s the third time John lets his readers hear that resurrection was not in the realm of possibility for any of these folks.

38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 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.”

40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

Folks, if Martha was thinking it possible that Jesus would raise Lazarus from the dead, why did she object to Jesus having the stone taken away from the tomb? If there was any anticipation of a resurrection, the moment Jesus commanded to have the stone moved, there would have been a shout from the “Amen” corner.

Even when Jesus reminded her of the reward she would receive for believing that He was the resurrection and the life, I don’t believe she was thinking He was going to raise Lazarus.

That is not to suggest that Martha was not a believer. She simply was not at that level. But the good news is, she would be in a few moments.

Now, did you notice the transition in the dialog? This story all started with Martha talking to Jesus. Then it moved to Mary being with Jesus, using more emotion than words. Now, it’s back to Martha and Jesus in conversation. What do you make of that? Are we watching Jesus take a believer to a new level of belief, a new level of faith?

There, standing near the tomb in which Lazarus had lain for 4 days, were Martha, Mary and the mourners. All of them separately had expressed their disappointment or puzzlement that Jesus had not prevented Lazarus from dying. Though all of them, I’m convinced, believed what Martha had expressed back in verse 22, 22 . . . I know that even now God will give You whatever You ask,” the level of their faith had not reached the point of believing Jesus would raise Lazarus.

What Jesus is doing at this occasion was building faith within the hearts of these people. The writer of Hebrews says that Jesus is the Author and Perfecter of faith. He is now giving faith to those who already believe and to those who want to believe. Friends, it is so important that you really want to believe in order for your faith to grow.

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.”

This is a redundant prayer. Jesus had already prayed it once before. Did you notice the use of the past tense? This time He prays it for the benefit of those who had gathered. He wanted them to hear His prayer so that their faith would grow. Jesus wants to drive home the point with all these people and all of us, as well, that He is the resurrection and the life. And He asks each one of us, “Do you believe this?”

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.

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

Friends, if you just witnessed Lazarus being raised from the dead, having been called back to life by the man Jesus, would that change your relationship with Jesus? Would you deem Him worthy of your highest worship? Would you accord Him the role of Master and Lord of your life, not just so He will welcome you into His heaven, but that you will order your life day by day according to His instruction and wisdom?

Just what does Jesus have to do to convince us that it is for our good, for our benefit, that we keep offering our lives to His transforming power? Will You give Him the opportunity today to raise your faith to a whole new level?

“Father, I want Your Son to set the agenda for my life and the schedule for each of my days. I will submit all my plans to Him and if He says “yes,” I will go for it with everything I have. If He says, “no,” I will listen and let Him reshape my plans. I am Your servant.”

Amen.

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