Sermon – March 29, 2020 – Lent 5

Printable PDF:  Lent 5 Sermon

The Promised Warrior  ~  Pastor Mark Jacobson  ~  John 11:17-27; 38-45  ~  Lent 5

17On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. 21“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” 23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” 25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” 38Jesus, 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.” 40Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42I 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.” 43When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44The 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.” 45Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.                                            


The mood is somber. Tears are shed. Tissues shared. Over the sniffles a loud voice reads comforting verses from Scripture. At the end of the committal service flowers are handed out, and eventually the mourners leave the graveside with any number of thoughts and emotions. Yes, we’ve all been there, and it doesn’t take many years for children to gain this cemetery experience, too. We know what Martha was thinking and feeling because we have thought and felt that way, too.

In the Gospel of John, Martha puts her thoughts into words, “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” “My brother would not have died.”  Martha’s words express confidence, don’t they?  Martha had seen this script play out before. Jesus healed people.  Healing was a significant part of Jesus’ ministry. He gave sight to the blind. He let the lame walk. The deaf could hear. Those with leprosy were cured. The demon possessed were made whole. Martha knew what the Lord could do to keep people alive and make them well. Her words expressed great confidence and yet at the same time her words allow for at least a small dose of disappointment.

“Lord, if you had been here…but you weren’t here. And in her disappointment maybe Martha feels some guilt about Jesus not being there. In the opening verses of chapter 11 it says, “The sisters sent word to Jesus, ‘Lord, the one you love is sick.’ When he heard this Jesus said, ‘This sickness will not end in death.” but when Jesus arrives Lazarus is already dead. Can you sense how Martha might feel guilty about this death? The message Jesus delivered to Martha was he wanted to heal Lazarus and he could heal Lazarus, but Jesus didn’t get there in time. What if Martha would have sent for Jesus sooner? Had she done that, Martha might have reasoned, Jesus could have made it in time and then her brother Lazarus would not have died. It wasn’t Martha’s fault, but we can understand if she felt that way because we have felt that way, too.   

Think of the loved ones you wish were still here and fill in the blank. “If I would have gotten my husband to the hospital sooner I wouldn’t be a widow right now.” “If I didn’t let my daughter take that trip, she wouldn’t have gotten into that accident.” “If I would have done something different maybe I wouldn’t have miscarried my baby.” It’s not your fault, but no matter how many times someone tells you that, isn’t there a little voice inside you that says I should have done something different? One thought we can have from a cemetery is guilt. Another thought we might have from a cemetery is anger.    

Yes, Martha could have given her Lord a little more lead time, but by the time Jesus arrived in Bethany, Lazarus had been in the tomb four days. What is more, prior to our lesson it says starting in verse 5, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, ‘Let us go back to Judea.’” Are you kidding me! “Stayed where he was two more days!” What was there, a thumb twiddling competition? Martha called for the Lord in her day of trouble, and he stayed where he was two more days and did not deliver for her. He delivered for other people, but he did not deliver for her.  

To her credit, Martha, didn’t get angry in her face-to-face conversation with the Lord, and I don’t anticipate that we would either, but have you ever gotten mouthy with the Lord in your prayers? Have you prayed to the Lord with anger? Haven’t you prayed like this? “Why did this tragedy happen? You could have prevented this from happening, but you didn’t. You have changed the outcome for other people, but you didn’t change the outcome for me.”   

Thoughts from the cemetery (and other places) can be dark, but as Jesus talks with Martha he wants to shed some new light on her faith. Martha has faith, and her faith shines brightly. Listen to some of her comments: I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come in the world.” Martha knows a lot about Jesus. She has heard him preach and teach. Martha believes in Jesus, too. She has seen him in action.

Martha’s words resembles many of our words at a time like this. Don’t you hear comments like, “What would we do without our faith?” “I know my loved one is in heaven.” “I know I will see him again.” “She is not suffering anymore! She’s with Jesus.” Like Martha we believe the most amazing truths as we have been taught in the Bible. We believe God created the world out of nothing in six days. We believe Jesus is God made flesh, 100% true God and 100% true man. We believe Jesus has taken all of our sins away by the holy life he lived and the innocent death he suffered. We believe on the last day Jesus will raise all the dead and will separate the believers from the phonies and grant eternal life to all who believe. Like Martha we know great truths about Jesus, but like Martha we, too, can struggle to believe that Jesus is aware of our current realities.

“‘Take away the stone,’ Jesus said.  ‘But, Lord,’ said Martha, the sister of the dead man, ‘by this time there is a bad odor.’” Let’s think this through a little bit. Martha knew God could give Jesus whatever he asked. Martha knew her brother would rise again on the last day, and Martha knew Jesus was the Christ, the one who was to come into the world, but she didn’t think Jesus knew about the odor of body that had been decaying four days? Looking back, Martha realized Jesus knew about the odor, but looking forward Martha now realized that Jesus knew everything about everything. She also realized Jesus had the power to do whatever he wanted. As true God Jesus knew Lazarus had been sick. Jesus didn’t need a messenger to tell him. Jesus didn’t need Lazarus to be alive in order to do something about his situation. Jesus can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants. When “Jesus called out in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus come out!’ The dead man came out.” And if Jesus hadn’t called Lazarus by name, who knows how many dead people would have walked out with him.    

Are you learning what Martha learned about Jesus? Yes, Jesus has power over death, but Jesus also has power over everything. Don’t underestimate his abilities. Jesus doesn’t need you to do the right thing at the right time to be effective. Jesus doesn’t have to answer your prayer the way you want and when you want to give you what is best for you. That’s what Martha came to believe, and that is what Jesus wants you to believe, too. This teaching frees us from the needless feelings of guilt about what we should have done or could have done. This teaching can also cool our anger when we are tempted to think God isn’t doing what is best for us.

This faith does not excuse you from your Christian responsibilities. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” Faith does not excuse us from common sense and simple tasks. Help people. Love your brothers and sisters like Martha loved her brother. Pray to Jesus for the needs of others like Martha went to Jesus in her time of need. And listen to Jesus even when you are frustrated about life like Martha listened to Jesus even though she was frustrated when her brother died. And in today’s world helping people includes a whole new list of activities we never imagined like: stay home, don’t congregate with more than 10 people, stay six feet away from people, and don’t shake hands. Faith does not excuse us from our responsibilities, but faith does allow us to live our lives with all the peace and all the comfort we receive from God’s Word. God has everything under his control. We don’t have to live with feelings of guilt. We don’t have to carry angry thoughts. Leave those matters for Jesus. Jesus is amazing. He raised Lazarus from the dead, and you know what else he did, he also made sure that Lazarus didn’t stink. Every matter is under his control. Amen.