Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Fifth Sunday in Lent (A)

April 6, 2014
Text: John 11:1-53

            If not even a sparrow falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge (Matt. 10:29), if even the hairs of your head are all numbered (v. 30), then certainly it is true what our Lord proclaims in the Introit from Psalm 116 (v. 15): “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints” (ESV).  That means that you are never alone, not even in death.  That means that your every breath, every beat of your heart, every impulse of every nerve in your body is a gift from the Lord, regulated by Him and intimately known by Him.  He knows every moment of your life, and He knows the moment of your death.  And not only does He know it, He is intimately present in it, directing all things, in spite of all appearances to the contrary, for your good, and ultimately for your salvation.  He does this because you are precious to Him, so precious that He gave the holy, precious blood of the Son of God to purchase you for Himself, to atone for your sin, to conquer death so that whoever believes in Jesus Christ, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Jesus Christ shall never die (John 11:25-26).  That’s what our Lord Himself says.  We know it by faith, not by sight.  We believe it because Jesus proved it beyond the shadow of a doubt.  He died on the cross.  He was buried in a tomb.  And He rose from the dead on the third day, just as He said He would.  And since that is true we can believe what He says about giving us eternal life.  We can believe that He is who He says He is, God in the flesh, who has the authority over life and death, the authority to raise the dead: “I am the resurrection and the life,” says Jesus.  “Whoever believes in me,” that’s you, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me,” again, you, “shall never die” (vv. 25-26).
            “I am the resurrection and the life.”  It’s another one of Jesus’ “I AM” statements in John’s Gospel.  Jesus is stating in no uncertain terms that He is God, YHWH, who alone gives life and who alone can raise the dead.  So He’s the One to trust in the face of death, your own or that of a loved one, because in Him is life, and in Him, though you die, yet you live.  I’ll warn you, though, trusting Him in this is not easy.  Because all the eyes see is death.  All the eyes see is sickness and suffering and pain and finally, the expiration of life.  Martha and Mary had a hard time with this.  Sure, they believed in Jesus.   They believed that if He had just been here their brother, Lazarus, would not have died.  They both say so (vv. 21, 32).  Now it’s too late.  It’s too late for Jesus to do anything, for death has had the final word.  They know, as Martha confesses (v. 24), that their brother will rise again on the Last Day.  But they are frustrated and hurt, because what they really wanted from Jesus when they sent word all those days ago was for Him to come and heal their brother, save him from death altogether.  They could not imagine that this, in any way, could turn out for their good or for the good of Lazarus. 
            And what did Jesus do when He heard Lazarus was ill?  St. John curiously states: “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.  So when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was” (vv. 5-6).  What a strange thing to say.  Since Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters, He purposely delayed His coming long enough for Lazarus to die?  Even we poor sinners, we who do not have the ability to heal the sick, when we hear that someone we love is on their deathbed, we immediately run to that person’s bedside to offer comfort and assistance.  I mean, that’s just what you do when you love someone.  But apparently not Jesus.  He loves, so He stays away.  What in the world is going on here?  The disciples are as puzzled as we are.  “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep,” He tells them, “but I go to awaken him” (v. 11).  The disciples are confused.  Isn’t sleep good for a sick man?  And anyway, Jesus, why would you want to go to Judea where they are seeking to kill you?  “Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe’” (vv. 14-15).  And here Jesus clues us in as to why He delays His coming.  He delays because He knows that He will work Lazarus’ suffering and Lazarus’ death for the good of not only Lazarus, but also for Martha and for Mary and for His disciples and for you.  For in doing what He is about to do, in raising Lazarus from the dead, He will raise many from spiritual death to living faith in Himself.  And He will strengthen and confirm the faith of those who believe in Him, that they, too may pass from death to life (John 5:24).
            You have been there where Martha and Mary and Lazarus are, haven’t you?  Waiting for Jesus, praying for Him to come and relieve and heal and deliver?  And He delays.  He says it is because He loves you, but it seems awful much as though He does not care.  Why does Jesus hide Himself when we need Him most?  He does it so that you may believe.  It is not that He doesn’t care.  He loves you.  Behold how He loves Lazarus.  When He comes to the tomb, He weeps for His friend.  Knowing full well what He is about to do, that He is about to raise Lazarus from the dead, still He weeps.  He weeps because His friend has suffered.  He weeps because death is a tragedy brought into the world by sin.  It breaks asunder what God meant to be joined for all eternity, the body and the soul.  He weeps because death is an enemy, a punishment, a curse.  And He weeps because no one sees that the antidote to death, the undoing of the curse, has come in Jesus.  He weeps over our unbelief.  We weep for the same reasons, by the way.  We weep at funerals, even we Christians who know what Jesus will do for our loved one and for us on the Last Day.  We weep because death is a tragedy, and we miss our loved ones, even though we’ll see them again.  Jesus’ weeping sanctifies our grief. 
            But don’t be fooled.  Jesus is not despairing.  And He hasn’t forsaken you.  He hasn’t arrived too late.  “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints,” and Jesus was right there with Lazarus in his death, and He’s right there with you and your loved ones in yours.  That He is hidden necessarily means He is still present, present right there with you, intimately so, directing all things for your good and ultimately for your salvation.  He’s right there bringing you through death to eternal life.  Now, all of that would be true even if the story had ended there with Jesus weeping at the tomb.  Because Lazarus still would have been in heaven, and Jesus still would have raised him from the dead eternally on the Last Day.  But so that you may know that Jesus has authority to raise the dead and give you life, He commands them to take away the stone in front of the tomb (John 11:39).  And He says to the stinking, rotting corpse there in that tomb, “Lazarus, come out” (v. 43).  And “The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth.  Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go’” (v. 44). 
            And that’s what Jesus will do for you on the Last Day.  He will open up your grave and the graves of all people, and He will say to your stinking, rotting corpse, “Come out!”  And you will.  No longer stinking.  No longer rotting.  No longer dust to dust and ashes to ashes.  You’ll come out good as new, better than new, your very body made like Jesus’ resurrection body.  And unlike Lazarus, who lived for who knows how long and then died again, you’ll never have to die again.  You’ll never have to hurt or suffer or weep again.  For Jesus, who is the resurrection and the life, has given you to live with Him forever. 
            Well, that being the case, you can go to your death as though going to your bed for the night.  After you fall asleep, Jesus will wake you.  He has promised.  He does not lie.  Your death is precious in His sight.  You are precious in His sight.  And He is hidden in your suffering, hidden in your death, working all things for your good and for your salvation (cf. Rom. 8:28).  That you may know this, He has told you ahead of time that He is hidden in another place, where you can always find Him.  He is hidden in His Word, where He speaks the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life into you.  He is hidden in your Baptism, where you already died and have already received eternal life in Christ.  He is hidden in the Supper where the risen and living Lord Jesus gives you His crucified and risen Body and Blood for your forgiveness, life, and salvation.  These precious means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments, are conduits from whence flow our Lord’s gift of life.  They mark you as one who will not die, but live.  For living in these means of grace, you live in Jesus.  And it is true, what He says: “I am the resurrection and the life.”  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.   



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