The Fifth Sunday in Lent March 25-26, 2023
“I Am…” John 11:1-45
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
That was quite a lengthy reading. 45 verses. Did you catch the wonderful drama in all of it? Deep and real problems, grief, death, tears and then a great solution. That is the story of life.
This is how it begins, “Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. So the sisters sent word to Jesus, ‘Lord, the one you love is sick.’” (John 11:1-3)
The problem wasn’t just his sickness. The problem grew because Jesus didn’t react quickly. He stayed put for two more days. In fact, by the time that Jesus got to Bethany, where Mary and Martha and Lazarus lived, Lazarus had been dead for four days. Lazarus must have died shortly after the person bringing the news left Bethany. One day trip to reach Jesus. Jesus stays there for two more days. Then a day to travel to their home. Four days. The man who was sick was now dead.
The two sisters must have been talking about the slow reaction of Jesus to their request. I think they were disappointed in Jesus. Jesus let them down. Martha was the first to go to Jesus, before He even got into town. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” (John 11:21-22) Her sister, Mary, had stayed at home, initially, but then went to meet Jesus, as well. “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.’” (John 11:32)
The illness of their brother, then his death, and the disappointment that Jesus hadn’t come earlier, was more than they could bear.
But this account of Jesus coming is filled with a solution. Jesus knew what He was doing when he stayed away from Bethany, where they all lived, for those days. When the news of this illness came to Him, Jesus responded, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” (John 11:4) Last week we ran into the problem of the man who was born blind. The disciples of Jesus had asked about the malady of this man, “Who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” Do you remember what Jesus said? “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” (See John 9:2-3) Jesus had a solution in mind. He was working out His purpose. He worked on blindness earlier and now He worked on death. And all of them would be done in His timing.
Jesus was not indifferent to the pain of this situation. Part of the solution that Jesus offered to this loss wasn’t just that He brought Lazarus back from death. In this account we witness the tender heart of Jesus. On His way to bring Lazarus back to life we read, “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” (John 11:33). The shortest verse in the entire Bible then follows that – “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35) And then when Jesus is almost at the place where Lazarus was laid it says, “Jesus, once more deeply moved came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance.” (John 11:38)
The “deeply moved” empathy of Jesus, according to a number of commentaries, is a wailing, a snorting sound, and His body physically shakes. Was His sympathy for Mary and Martha? Was His grief for the many people sharing the sorrow of their friends? Was it because Jesus knew the hard hearts of hatred and the unbelief of some of those in the crowd? Why would their hearts turn so hard to the life-changing love that He wanted to give them?
What you see in this story is real life loss, disappointment, grief. It is just like my life. It is just like your life. And then in this wonderful account you see the work of God. Jesus told the folks to take away the stone from the cave where Lazarus was buried and then Jesus gave the command, “Lazarus, come out!” (John 11:43) And he did!! A man who was dead is made alive.
You would think that such an action seen by a whole community would bring joy and amazement to them all and that the whole community would turn in faith to Jesus. But that is not how the story goes. That is not how life goes, then and now. The great hand of compassion and that miracle created problems for Lazarus and Jesus.
Lazarus, the once dead-now alive man, found that a number of people wanted to put him back in the grave. In the next chapter we read, “Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him.” (John 12:9-11)
And, of course, this miracle done a week before Palm Sunday, was more than the opponents of Jesus could take. Caiaphas, a high priest of great distinction gave his solution to the Jesus-Lazarus problem, “You know nothing at all! Do you not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish?” (John 11:49-50)
What do you see in all of this? Real human problems. Real anxiety, grief, loss. Hands raised up in the air wondering how this will all come out.
And I see our God, our Lord Jesus Christ, stepping right into this mess and doing a great work. Trust His timing. I know that both Mary and Martha thought He had terrible timing – but He didn’t. He knew what He needed to do and when He needed to do it. Realize His compassion for you. Whether His compassion for you exists because you just won’t let Him in to do His work in your life, or His compassion is because He knows how much you are struggling and suffering, know that He truly knows you and has a burden for your life.
But most importantly we need to be confident that Jesus can take care of what we can’t take care of ourselves. Jesus addressed the reality of the death of Lazarus like this, “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.” (John 11:25-26)
Isn’t that something? Jesus has words about who He is and what He can do. Everyone of us has lost some of our most precious people – a husband or a wife, a mom or a dad, brother or sister, a child or a grandchild and what we have is the Lord over life and death who assures us, “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.” Psalm 116 says, “Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you. For you, O Lord, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.” (Verses 7-8)
The person who Jesus is and what He has done changes who we are and how we now live with a vibrant faith. Do you know some of the other “I Am” words from Jesus? “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35) “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12) “I am the gate [for the sheep]; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture.” (John 10:9) “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10:14) “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
Our account starts so quietly – Mary and Martha had a brother whom they loved but he was sick – and they wanted Jesus to help him. And the problem grew, and many other people got involved, and it became bigger than what they could handle.
But it wasn’t bigger than what Jesus could handle. It was true for Mary and Martha and Lazarus. That is also true for me and you. It was true then. It is true now. It is true because of who Jesus is and what Jesus does. Life has problems and life has solutions. Our solution is Jesus – crucified and risen. Amen!!