Life To The Dead Omen
by Pastor Mike Fortune
June 21, 2008
Introduction: BlueFish Video: Amena Brown "Resurrection"
Life Comes From...
- Getting angry at evil [John 11:38; Matthew 13:24-28]
- Helping God end it [John 11:39-40; John 5:28; Revelation 21:1-4]
- Loving people to faith and repentance [John 11:42-45; Romans 2:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:9-11]
“38Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance. 39“Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them. But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.” 40Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” 41So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. 42You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” 43Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” 44And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!” 45 Many of the people who were with Mary believed in Jesus when they saw this happen.”
The King James says in verse 38, “Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it.” But to be honest, I never really understood what He had to groan about. He wasn’t the one doubting whether Lazarus would live like Mary was. She was so upset that according to verse 20, she didn’t even go out to meet Jesus when He did show up in Bethany. It wasn’t until He asked for her by name in verse 28 that she actually goes out to greet Him.
Martha also had stuff to groan about. She loved Lazarus too. And though she believed in the 2 nd coming and resurrection, she was still very disappointed that Lazarus had died. But after a gentle expression of disappointment, she immediately expresses her continuing faith and trust in Jesus [vss.21,22,24] drawing from Him one of the most stirring self-affirmations that He is the resurrection and the life [vss.25-26]. Which was the very conclusion John wanted all the readers of His Gospel to reach in John 20:30. That’s why Martha stands out in this Gospel as one of the brightest examples of mature faith and discipleship. She knew life comes from getting disappointed and angry at evil, not God, because God is not the author of evil. And this is point number one this week. Life comes from being angry at evil. Or maybe we should say it this way: It’s okay to get angry at evil. When Jesus sees how the death of Lazarus is effecting his friends, whom He agape loves, He gets mad. Not at them. Even though both sisters doubted. But at the fact that death exists at all. Because death is not His will!
That’s what I think that word for groaned in verse 38 really means. It’s why modern translations straight out say that Jesus was angry when He arrived at the tomb. Yes, Jesus got mad at stuff. But His anger was a righteous indignation. Directed at evil. Not at the people He loved. And if as Christians we don’t have a similar response to evil, I think there may be something wrong with us!
We were never supposed to sit around and watch the innocent suffer. We were never supposed to sit around and do nothing while children die from lack of clean water. While entire countries are killed in genocide. We were never supposed to do nothing while people can’t afford to buy bread much less gasoline. That’s why I was so proud of the folks who spent the entire night in prayer last night with me.
It’s okay to get angry at evil. It’s okay to ask questions and wonder and doubt. God would rather you do that than do nothing at all. Because at least this way, you’re still in communication and relationship with Him! If you don’t believe me, read the book of Job some time. The whole book is nothing but people yelling at God! The book of Lamentations the same thing! Jesus in Matthew 13:24-28 told a story about it. He said, “24The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. 25 But that night as the workers slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat, then slipped away. 26When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew. 27 “The farmer’s workers went to him and said, ‘Sir, the field where you planted that good seed is full of weeds! Where did they come from?’ 28 “‘An enemy has done this!’ the farmer exclaimed.”
Point number one: Life comes from getting angry at evil. Not the God who is going to end it. Moving on the Bible says in John 11:39-41 “39“Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them. But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.” 40Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” 41So they rolled the stone aside.”
In popular Jewish belief at the time, the soul of an individual hovered over the for three days, hoping for resuscitation to take place. This explains in part Mary’s devastation that Jesus doesn’t return to Bethany immediately. Or at least before the third day expires. She was hoping that Jesus would resuscitate Lazarus. That he would wake him up from a coma. However, the result of Jesus’ two day delay according to verse 6 is that Lazarus had been dead a full four days when Jesus raises him according to verses 17 and 39. In other words, at least in the mind of Mary, there was no hope. All possibilities of life had been extinguished. There is no way in their mind that Lazarus could be resuscitated now. He was deader than dead.
But this is not the reason Jesus delayed His return as I always thought it was before. When I re-read this passage this time, I noticed verse 17. Which says, “17 When Jesus arrived at Bethany, he was told that Lazarus had already been in his grave for four days.” Which suggests to me that Jesus didn’t necessarily know the exact time of Lazarus’ death. All He knew was that Lazarus had died.
So verse 17 demonstrates that Jesus did not deliberately delay His arrival in Bethany so that Lazarus could be dead for four days. That was perhaps in the mind and plans of the Heavenly Father, but it apparently wasn’t in Christ’s. We know this is true because Jesus always followed the timing of His Heavenly Father.
In John 4:34, Jesus said, “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work.” In John 7:1-9, when Jesus’ brothers wanted him to go up to Jerusalem, he initially declines their timing, saying in verse 8 “You go on. I am not yet ready to go to this festival, because my time has not yet come.”
Later in John 12:23, when some Greeks show up to see Jesus, he recognizes in their arrival a timing sign from His Heavenly Father that “The time has come for the Son of Man to enter into His glory.” And what does He mean by glory? It becomes obvious in what He says next. “The truth is, a kernel of wheat must be planted in the soil. Unless it dies it will be alone—a single seed. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives.”
Jesus knew as John 12:32 says, that when He died on the cross, all men, including Greeks, would be drawn to Him. So when they show up in John 12 before Jesus dies on the cross, He sees the timing of His heavenly Father being revealed. That the time to die was nearly there. That’s the way it worked in the life of Jesus. And honestly, that’s the way it works in the life of His followers if we’re listening and looking for His will to be done. We talked about that in when we covered John 10 and the sheep that hear and recognize the voice of their Good Shepherd.
But God created us with the ability to not only get angry at evil. But to do something about ending it! Not just in the sweet by and by with the pie in the sky. But now! There is no better time than the present to end evil. He wants us to help the helpless now! Roll the stone away now!
So Jesus never delays his arrival for selfish reasons. To prove a point. To stand out from the crowd. To draw attention to Himself. And we are not supposed to help end evil now to prove a point. To stand out from the crowd. To draw attention to ourselves. We don’t do ordinary outreach for the publicity. We don’t do all night prayer vigils for the press. We do them because evil makes us angry. Because we have been invited to participate by God Himself. We do so because nobody can stop us! It’s in our DNA. It’s who we are. It’s what we’re all about. It’s something we can’t control. He who bought us with a price has so permanently messed with our heads and our eyes that everywhere we turn, we see Creation groaning. That’s what Romans 8:21 says. “All creation anticipates the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.”
Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the Lord’s and every thing in it. And every one in it.” And while we may not be help everybody in Rwanda, nobody will stop us from helping the kids we can! You guys understand what I’m saying?
I’m hammering on this because I think it’s something we screw up all the time. We play the blame game. Making excuses for Jesus. And His delay. Which bugs me like crazy. Because h ow can you have a delay if you don’t know the time of departure? Think about it! When are we as Christians going to stop saying Jesus is waiting for us to get our act together? When are going to admit we haven’t got a clue to the time of departure? If we don’t know when Jesus is going to return, and if as the Bible says Jesus Himself doesn’t know when He will return, but only the Father in Heaven, why do we keep saying Jesus is delayed?
He is not delayed. He is and will be right on time. Even so, come now Lord Jesus! Maranatha! We can long for the Advent. And join creation in anticipating it. It’s one of the most significant things Seventh-day Adventists can share! But let’s stop making excuses for God. Which allows us to make excuses for ourselves. It’s not the point of this passage.
Jesus was 25 miles northeast of Jerusalem in the wilderness. He didn’t have a scooter getting 90 miles to the gallon! But more importantly, He didn’t have His Father’s approval to leave yet. I guess He could’ve StarTrekked himself there in a second. Like He did after the resurrection when He flew to heaven and back the same day. But He also could’ve rolled away the stone! But He didn’t. And because He didn’t, when He finally did arrive, He crushed the evil omens of that day. Smashing all urban legends and folklore. There is no such thing as deader than dead. Not the resurrection and the life. Not for the Son of God. As His own resurrection would testify shortly.
Life comes from getting angry at evil. Point number one. But life also comes from helping God end evil. Which is point number two. “Roll the stone away” Jesus said to them. “But Lord, he’s been dead for 4 days. He’s gonna smell awful. He’s deader than dead. There’s nothing we can do. We shouldn’t mess with this kind of evil. This one is beyond us. And to all those kind of lame excuses we offer up today, to prevent us from lending a hand, from helping the weak, the Fatherless, the oppressed, the lonely, the isolated, the bereaved—Jesus dismisses with the wave of his hand. “Didn’t I tell you you would see God’s glory if you believe?” In His time!
John 5:28 says it this way, “28 Don’t be so surprised! Indeed, the time is coming when all the dead in their graves will hear the voice of God’s Son.” That time is coming! And if you’re spiritually dead, that day could be today! Revelation 21:1-4 describes the other option. “1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. 4He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”
One day, in His time, evil will end. But we don’t have to wait to help him end it. “Didn’t I tell you you would see God’s glory if you believe?” Let’s close with verses 41-45, “41So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. 42You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” 43Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” 44And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!” 45 Many of the people who were with Mary believed in Jesus when they saw this happen.”
I think it’s pretty cool that Jesus prays with his eyes wide open. Have you ever noticed that before? The Bible says Jesus looked up to heaven. Didn’t kneel down. Didn’t fold his hands. Didn’t close His eyes. Just stood there surrounded by people. Living in the real world. And put the sacred right back into the secular. Taking over the secular. This wasn’t a funeral anymore. This was a homecoming. “Thank you Father for hearing Me!” Jesus said.
You guys, have I told you have I pray differently now? I used to pray with long lists of things and people to pray for. And I still do some of that. But more of then than not, I try to pray for people wherever I am whenever I hear or think about them. Not just in hospitals but in parks and playgrounds and office buildings right out in the open. My prayers are much shorter than they used to be. Not because I’m praying less. But because I’m praying more. The first thing I say in the morning is “Father, thank you for a new day. Every day is a gift from you. Help me to use it wisely. And help me to live it for you.”
Thanking God for a new day and praising Him for Who He is makes so much more sense to me now than coming to Him with a bunch of requests He already knows. Like I’m going to inform the Almighty what needs to be done. Prayer is not about advising the Almighty. Prayer is about thanking and praising and inviting the Almighty to run your life.
Jesus said, “Thank you for hearing me. I know you always hear me.” He started with Thanksgiving and moved on to praise. Thank you for hearing. I praise you for always doing so. But notice, He doesn’t actually ask the Father to wake up Lazarus. Our Heavenly Father knows what is needed. It’s always okay to ask. Elsewhere Jesus says you have not because you ask not. But here in this passage we also learn that prayer isn’t about rituals of reverence or specific words we say. It’s more of an attitude of gratitude and trust in whatever God decides. Based not on some flimsy bumper sticker, but on a unshakeable confidence that God always hears. So whatever He decides, since we know He always hears, is fine with Him.
It’s the same way Jesus would pray in Gethsemane. “Not my will but your will be done.” The Bible says Jesus prayed out loud eyes wide open not for His sake, but for those who were watching. So they might believe. And then Jesus shouts just as He will when He comes back a 2 nd time and 1 Thessalonians 4:16, “Lazarus, come out!” Wake up! “44And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!” 45 Many of the people who were with Mary believed in Jesus when they saw this happen.”
And that’s the normal response to the agape love of God. When people believe God loves them like crazy, the natural normal thing that happens next is they put their faith in Him. And when they put their faith in Him, they confess their need of Him. Which is what repentance is all about. Romans 2:4 says, “4 Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?”
We don’t have to worry that preaching too much about grace and the love of God. Because the natural response to the love of God is not complacency. But action. Toward God in confession and repentance. And toward man in helping end evil. 1 Thessalonians 5:9-11 says it t his way: “9For God chose to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ, not to pour out his anger on us. 10Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever. 11So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.”
Point number one: Life comes from getting angry at evil]. Point number two: Life comes from helping God end evil. And point number three: Life comes from loving people to faith and repentance.