Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

Text: John 11:1-6
A man named Lazarus, who lived in Bethany, became sick. Bethany was the town where Mary and her sister Martha lived.  (This Mary was the one who poured the perfume on the Lord's feet and wiped them with her hair; it was her brother Lazarus who was sick.)  The sisters sent Jesus a message: "Lord, your dear friend is sick." When Jesus heard it, he said, "The final result of this sickness will not be the death of Lazarus; this has happened in order to bring glory to God, and it will be the means by which the Son of God will receive glory." Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he received the news that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was for two more days.

In order to bring glory to God

Ten year old Tim and a group of his friends were constantly harassed by other kids at their school. They were bullied, stood over for money, and because they were the smallest boys in the class they were powerless to do anything about it. One day after another incident, they talked about how they could put a stop to all this. Some of the boys were all for ganging up on the bullies, ambushing them, even getting some of the bigger kids to join them. Tim wasnít convinced that an all out war on the bullies was the best way to go. Someone was going to get hurt Ė most likely they would come off second best. They sat in silence for awhile. Tim quietly said, "Instead of using the same tactics as the bullies, why donít we do just the opposite. Letís get everyone to be kind to one another Ė not just us but everyone in the whole school". His friends thought he was crazy.

To cut a long story short the group decided to give it a go. The idea caught on and soon the whole school was making an extra special effort to show kindness and do good things for one another. Teachers were impressed at how well every one was getting on. Those who had been harassing the younger kids didnít know how to handle all this kindness and gave up. Tim was hailed a hero by parents, staff and students. As he was riding home alone one afternoon, a kid from another school jumped out in front of him brandishing a metal bar. He wanted Timís bike. Tim died on the footpath from a fatal blow to his head.

That is a sad story. The change that happened at Timís school was amazing. This only made the event that ended Timís life even more heart wrenching. A young person who had his life in front of him, someone whose plan changed a community and yet his life was tragically cut short. That just doesnít seem fair. In fact, itís not fair at all.

Where was God when this happened?
Why did he let this to happen?
Who knows what great things Tim might have accomplished in the future with his innovative way of tackling hostile situations? He might have become a world leader and used his ideas to stop conflict between warring nations. But now we will never know. We want to understand but we canít help but ask "Why?"

Today in John chapter 11 we hear that Jesusí good friend Lazarus is on his death bed. Mary and Martha sent a message to Jesus about their brotherís critical condition. We are even told how much Jesus loved these sisters and their brother like they were his own family. And yet he gives a very strange reply, "(The death of Lazarus) has happened in order to bring glory to God, and it will be the means by which the Son of God will receive glory". In fact, Jesus deliberately delays going to see this family.

Thatís so strange. When we hear the news of a close friendís condition itís normal to rush and be with the family. But not Jesus. Jesus knew that Lazarus had already died but still friends need friends at a time like this. We might even want to ask the question why Jesus didnít rush to the side of those whom he loved Ė that is so out of character for the one who was always ready to help and comfort even when it wasnít convenient. As we know by the time Jesus got there Lazarus has already been dead for 4 days. Jews believed that the spirit only left the body after 3 days. That meant that Lazarus was as dead as dead can be. Jesus had even missed the funeral. Lazarus was already in a tomb.

All of this must have seemed so unfair.  Jesus healed many other people.  Why couldn't he come to see Lazarus?  Restore him to health?  Where is Jesus?  Why is he taking so long to get here?

Jesus explains, "This has happened in order to bring glory to God". This is a troubling saying from the mouth of Jesus. It might easily be interpreted as meaning that God has deliberately made life hard for Mary & Martha & Lazarus so that he can get all the glory. But that would make God a monster - deliberately hurting someone so that he can get everyoneís attention.

This is not the first time Jesus says something like this. Last week we heard the story about the man born blind. His disciples want to know whose fault it was that this man should be born blind. Jesus says that itís no-oneís fault. "He is blind so that Godís power might be seen at work in him".

Letís clarify what Jesus means. The key to understanding what Jesus is saying here is in the words Ďso thatí and Ďin order thatí. Jesus is saying this happened and this will be the outcome.
The man is born blind, itís no oneís fault, God certainly hasnít caused this blindness but the outcome will be that Godís glory will be shown.
Lazarus dies Ė God doesnít take his life, but the outcome will be that Godís glory will be shown. And thatís precisely what happens when Jesus heals the blind man and when he raises dead Lazarus.

Both of these events cause a ripple effect amongst the people who witnessed these miracles, either, on the one hand, faith in Jesus as their saviour or, on the other hand, a stronger determination to get rid of Jesus. We are told immediately following the raising of Lazarus that "many people believed in him", and then a few verses later it is reported that "from that day on the Jewish authorities made plans to kill Jesus". This miracle at the grave of Lazarus brought the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday even closer.

When Jesus spoke of his own suffering and death he referred to the horrors of what was about to happen as his time of great glory. Out on Calvaryís Hill there was nothing glorious about the humiliation and suffering involved in a crucifixion. There was nothing glorious about hanging naked from a cross while bystanders jeered as his life slowly drained from the body. He will suffer and die and the outcome will be that God will be glorified. Jesus said as he looked down the road to Jerusalem, "The hour has now come for the Son of Man to receive great glory" (John 12:23). These are shameful events but forever people will give glory to God for all that he suffered.

Have you ever thought of the hard times in your life in this way? They happen so that God may be glorified.
Donít get me wrong Ė itís not that God deliberately chooses you above everyone else to go through a particularly hard time because he wants his glory known. We know that God is loving and compassionate and doesnít send us hardship so that his name will be made great.

Bad things do happen. There maybe reasons why they happen like carelessness or self-centredness but sometimes bad things just seem to happen randomly. Like Tim who had only done good and yet out of the blue something bad caught up with him. That happens to us as well. For some inexplicable reason suddenly we find ourselves facing cancer, the loss of a parent or child, depression, the loss of everything that we had worked for through fire or flood.

Itís not that God doesnít care or isnít concerned about us. In fact, in the story about the raising of Lazarus we see just how much Jesus cares. It is reported that Jesusí wept as he stood at the grave of Lazarus.
He felt the pain of Mary and Martha.
He felt the anguish that death brings.
He felt the pain for those who refused to believe.
Today he weeps for those caught up in war and famine.
He weeps for children lying in hospital with serious medical problems.
He weeps for those who feel unwanted, unloved and useless.
He weeps with each of us and feels the pain and anguish that we feel. But in all of this he also sees these as opportunities to bring about something good. God can use the bad to bring about something good in our lives and in the lives of others.

When trouble comes our way miracles do happen.
What we had thought were irreconcilable differences with another person are suddenly resolved. There is an inexplicable change of heart and there is healing.
There are times when the healing that takes place in our bodies leaves doctors dumbfounded and every time we tell the story we give witness to how rough the treatment was but how God's loving hands carried us through it all to come out the other side with renewed confidence in his love and care.
We like happy endings. The grief that Mary and Martha felt was very real but so was their joy as they saw Lazarus walk out of the tomb.

But every story doesnít end with a miracle. Just because we are God's people doesnít mean that we wonít have tough times that will shock us and wear us down.
You pray, you ask for a miracle, you commit things to God but it seems like heís not listening. And yet, even though things donít turn out the way you would have preferred there can still be a happy ending and God gets the glory.

How does that happen? Itís easy to give God the glory when he heals us in a miraculous way. Itís easier to convince people of God's healing power when your experience is evidence of this.

But itís quite a different matter to state that God is good even though things have turned out all wrong. There are those for whom life is tough, they suffer pain, they feel alone and helpless and yet they still trust God, even when everything that is happening in their life would dictate that God canít be trusted. They believe God is with them even though it sure doesnít look like it.

The fact is that God is good, not because everything in life is smooth sailing. Heís good because he comes with us into the valleys of despair, he climbs the difficult and slippery slopes with us, he feels the highs and lows that we feel, and when we feel as if we canít go any further he carries us. Hurt and pain will always be close by during our life on this earth but we can be certain that he doesnít leave us to endure these alone.

Bad things may be happening in your life right now, but somehow God is in this with you. He promises that you wonít be tested beyond what you can endure and he will bring you through it. Pray that he will help you to be strong and that his glory might be seen in the way that he helps you through the hard time ahead. Look at the cross and see again God's unshakeable love for you. Be assured that when you are the weakest, God's power in your life is the strongest.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
9th March 2008
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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