Hope Beyond The Grave
“Author Edgar Jackson poignantly describes grief:
Grief is a young widow trying to raise her three children, alone. Grief is the man so filled with shocked uncertainty and confusion that he strikes out at the nearest person. Grief is a mother walking daily to a nearby cemetery to stand quietly and alone a few minutes before going about the tasks of the day. She knows that a part of her is in the cemetery, just as part of her is in her daily work. Grief is silent, knife-like terror and sadness that comes a hundred times a day, when you start to speak to someone who is no longer there. Grief is the emptiness that comes when you eat alone after eating with another for many years. Grief is teaching yourself to go to bed without saying good night to the one who has died. Grief is the helpless wishing that things were different when you know they are not and never will be again. Grief is a whole cluster of adjustments, apprehensions, and uncertainties that strike life in its forward progress and make it difficult to redirect the energies of life.”
Robert Slater, Moscow, Idaho. Leadership, Vol. 5, no. 1.
I’ve lost three of my four grandparents
I’ve lost acquaintances that I knew through work, our neighborhood, and church
I’ve lost pets
But, I’d have to say that Edgar Jackson’s description of grief is something I’ve not really experienced
His description seems to be for those who have lost a parent, spouse, child, or a very close friend – someone who is with us on a daily basis
How many of us can connect with this description of grief?
Pastor Marc spoke last week about hope, hope beyond hope, and hopelessness as Martha and Mary were wrestling with Lazarus’s sickness. We already know from Jesus that Lazarus is dead. As the story continues we’ll see that Jesus arrives in Bethany and He comforts Martha and Mary in their grief. He speaks to them of hope beyond the grave. They understood His words from an eschatological (future) perspective. Little did they know that He was not only speaking from a future perspective, but also a present perspective. But, we’ll have to wait until next week for that present perspective. Jesus is able to bring hope beyond the grave, because He is divine – from God. He is able to comfort Martha and Mary, perfectly, because He is fully God and fully man. That is our big idea for today . . .
BIG IDEA – Jesus is fully God and fully man.
GOD (John 11:17-37)
Introduction (vv. 17-20)
The reference to Lazarus’s body being in the grave for four days is significant
There was a Jewish tradition, that is mentioned much later, that many commentators refer to as the reason why John mentions four days (here and in verse 39)
“Until three days [after death] the soul keeps on returning to the grave, thinking that it will go back [into the body]; but when it sees that the facial features have become disfigured, it departs and abandons it [the body].” [Michaels, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, The Gospel of John, 628, footnote 5]
It was certainly evidence that Lazarus was dead
Martha makes mention in verse 39 that after four days, Lazarus’s body would be stinking – decomposition would have started
No one would mistake Jesus’ miracle as Lazarus simply being resuscitated – he was dead
Distance from Jerusalem
John tells us that Bethany was about 1.72 miles from Jerusalem
John’s note about the distance is to help us understand that perhaps many of the Jews who were there, to mourn with and comfort the sisters, lived in Jerusalem
Most scholars agree that the reference to “many” Jews coming to comfort the sisters was an indication that this “family enjoyed considerable social standing” [Köstenberger, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, John, 333] – they were a prominent family in Bethany and were well known in Jerusalem
The reference to “many” Jews being in attendance at Lazarus’s funeral may also be setting the stage for Jesus’ miracle – He didn’t do this miracle in a void or out of sight of the religious leaders
Jesus was near
We’re not told how Martha found out that Jesus was near, but we can probably assume that people were coming and going and at least one person recognized Jesus and told Martha
Customs of the day
The custom was for the bereaved to remain seated in the house and for the guests to come and sit in silence and periodically support the grieving parties with sympathetic tears and moans.” [Borchert, The New American Commentary, John 1-11, 355]
We have to be careful that we don’t read into this text something that isn’t there, concerning the actions of the two sisters
Both, here and in Luke 10, we see Martha up and moving around and Mary sitting
Some people praise Mary and perhaps elevate her spirituality beyond what it actually was, while marginalizing Martha’s spirituality and commitment to the Messiah (Martha has incredible faith, as we’ll see in verse 27)
“In both narratives the key is that Martha is the oldest and so has the responsibility of hospitality and food preparation (cf. Luke 10) as well as overseeing the activities of this day and greeting Jesus (John 11).” [Burge, The NIV Application Commentary, John, 316]
Martha getting up and going out to greet Jesus is simply her fulfilling her role as the oldest – nothing more and nothing less
We see that Mary remains in the house
Neither are wrong
Both are needed
It takes discernment to know when to act/serve and when to quietly sit at Jesus feet and listen and learn
This sets the stage for Jesus’ comfort of the two sisters
Comfort of Martha (vv. 21-27)
Martha expresses her belief in Jesus’ power
PRINCIPLE #1 – Jesus is all-powerful (omnipotent).
What incredible faith Martha has!
There is no doubt in her mind who Jesus is and what power God has given Him
She knows that if Jesus had been there, when Lazarus got sick, that He had the power to heal him
Martha also expresses her belief concerning where Jesus’ power comes from
It comes from God
She confirms her trust in God’s power through Jesus
She recognizes that Jesus’ power comes from communicating with God, through prayer
Some people look at Martha’s words here and say that she is rebuking Jesus for not coming when they first summoned Him
That’s not the case here
She probably wasn’t aware that Jesus waited a couple of days before leaving for Bethany
We’re aware of that because of John’s record, so we have to be careful that we don’t read our feelings and emotions into the story, because of knowing this bit of information
“Those words were hardly a condemnation of Jesus for not being present when Lazarus was ill . . . Instead, her statement should be understood as indicating a strong confidence in Jesus’ relationship with the Father and that in spite of her resignation to Lazarus’s death, somehow Jesus would understand the plight of the mourning sisters as well as the general nature of Lazarus’s future hope.” [Borchert, 355]
Martha’s not angry or upset
Her faith has not wavered in the death of her brother
Her faith remains strong through hardship, through grief
How is your faith in Jesus today?
Everyone one of us is either going into a trial, in the middle of a trial, or just coming out of a trial
Is your faith in Jesus and His ability to do anything, wavering?
Do you really believe, like Martha, that Jesus is all-powerful?
Do you believe that God will give Jesus anything that He asks for?
My Next Step Today Is To: Confess that my faith is wavering, right now, as I’m going through a difficult time.
My Next Step Today Is To: Proclaim and truly believe, like Martha, that Jesus is all-powerful!
In response to Martha’s expression of faith, Jesus tells her that her brother will rise again
The word “again” is not in the original Greek – “Your brother will rise.”
This is a veiled reference to the miracle He is about to do, but Martha isn’t aware of it
Jesus had used the metaphor of sleep with His disciples in verses 11-13, as Pastor Marc shared last week
They took His metaphor literally and said that if Lazarus was sleeping, he would get better
How many of us have experienced this truth recently?
I’ve heard about several of you who spent last weekend in bed with the flu
We all know how important rest is for our bodies when we’re sick
Jesus then told them plainly that Lazarus was dead
Hopefully, His disciples then transferred the rest of the metaphor, in their head, to understand that waking Lazarus up, meant that Jesus would raise him from the dead
Martha was not privy to this conversation, so she immediately shares her theological beliefs about rising again
She understood Jesus’ teaching on resurrection at the last day (cf. 5:21, 25-29; 6:39-44, 54), which the Pharisees also believed
She believed that Lazarus would rise again in the resurrection at the last day
Her belief was eschatological (future/end times)
Not all the Jews believed that way, because the Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection of the body on the last day, that’s why they were sad you see – there was no resurrection in their theological beliefs at all
Jesus moves the conversation from the physical to the spiritual
“Jesus seeks to shift Martha’s focus from an abstract belief in resurrection on the last day to personal trust in the one who provides it in the here and now.” [Köstenberger, 335]
Jesus is the resurrection and the life
Jesus’ reference here is certainly about the resurrection on the last day
He fleshes this out in the first part of His next statement, when He says, He who believes in me will live, even though he dies
We know that many people from the Old Testament days believed in God, prior to Jesus’ arrival on earth
Genesis 15:6, Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness
Hebrews 11:1-40 highlights many who trusted God by faith
That’s our future hope for those who have passed on and for us if we pass on before Jesus returns again
There is also a present hope
Jesus wants Martha and us to understand that we can experience eternal life now
That’s the second part of His statement, which fleshes out what He meant by being the life
Whoever lives and believes in me will never die
This is for us right now
It’s also for those who will be alive when Jesus returns again
Most likely, we will all experience physical death, but none of us have to experience spiritual death
PRINCIPLE #2 – God promises resurrection life and eternal life to His people.
Perhaps you don’t see the importance of resurrection life and eternal life
You may be thinking; “My life is just fine – I’m living my best life now.”
But Jesus tells us here that we can only have resurrection life and eternal life through Him
This is the result because, Jesus is fully God and fully man.
We can only live our life to the fullest when we’re in a relationship with Jesus
As human beings, we’re all born in sin
Paul says that with sin in our lives we’re not actually living at all
Ephesians 2:1-2, As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.
Paul tells us that we’re all sinners (Rom. 3:23) and that the punishment for sin is spiritual death, separation from God forever (Rom. 6:23)
Perhaps you don’t think you’re dead in your transgressions and sins, but there is a simple test
Good person test (have you ever lied, stolen, used God’s name as a curse word, lusted, hated)
We’re all dead in our transgressions and sins
The good news is that we don’t have to remain dead in our transgressions and sins
We can be made alive
Colossians 2:13, When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive in Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.
We can move from death to life
John 5:24, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”
Jesus Christ made this possible through His death, burial, and resurrection – He took our punishment on the cross
Jesus is asking you the same question that He asked Martha, “Do you believe this?”
Do you believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life?
Do you believe in Jesus as your Savior?
If you’ve never done that I encourage you to take that step today – cross over from death to life
My Next Step Today Is To: Believe in Jesus as my Savior and cross over from death to life.
Martha answers Jesus’ question definitively, without hesitation
Martha’s statement of faith
Martha expresses her belief in Jesus in two ways
She believes that Jesus is the Christ
She is saying that she believes that Jesus is the long awaited Messiah, foretold in their Scriptures
Most of the religious leaders in Jerusalem did not believe this about Jesus
That’s why they were watching for Him at the various feasts and festivals
They were trying to trip Him up and find reasons to have Him arrested and killed
They called Him a blasphemer for claiming to be God or equal with God
Yet, that is Martha’s next statement of belief about Jesus
She believes that Jesus is the Son of God
She doesn’t question His divinity
She isn’t put off by His claims to be equal with God
She recognizes that He is God
She also expresses her understanding of His purpose – as the Messiah, He had to come into the world to take our punishment for sin (He was the perfect sacrifice)
Jesus is fully God and fully man.
John gives us some storyline to help us transition between Martha and Mary’s encounter with Jesus
Transition (vv. 28-31)
Martha shares her statement of belief in Jesus and then goes back to the house to find Mary
They have a private conversation about Jesus arriving and that He is asking to see Mary
Mary’s response is immediate and abrupt, which draws the attention of the other mourners
In an emotionally charged state, most people may act quickly
The mourners just think that Mary is going to the tomb to mourn there
Perhaps they thought that she had memory of Lazarus and just wanted to be close to him
So, the mourners follow her
Mary isn’t going to the tomb, but rather she is hurrying to be with Jesus
John tells us that Jesus hasn’t moved from the spot where He and Martha had met
He was still outside the village at this point
Perhaps meeting outside the village allowed Jesus to speak with, and comfort, the sisters privately
We know Martha was able to experience that, but Mary didn’t, which is perhaps why Mary’s conversation is shorter with Jesus
While Martha’s worship of Jesus was verbal, we’ll see that Mary’s worship of Jesus was physical
Comfort of Mary (vv. 32-37)
When Mary reaches the place where Jesus is, she falls at His feet and says the same thing that Martha had said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Just as Martha’s words showed her faith in Jesus’ omnipotence, so Mary’s words express the same faith
Her faith wasn’t wavering in the death of Lazarus
Rather, she is confident, that, had Jesus been there during Lazarus’s illness, He had the power to heal him
Lazarus would not have died
PRINCIPLE #1 – Jesus is all-powerful (omnipotent).
Jesus’ anger (vv. 33-34)
Jesus sees the weeping of Mary and the Jews that are with her
Most modern translations soften Jesus’ reaction here
He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled
When we read those words we think of Jesus empathizing with Mary and the other mourners, but that’s not the case
The original Greek is much stronger than simple empathy
The NLT does a good job of capturing the intent of the original Greek, When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled.
The idea here is that Jesus is angry and is physically shaking
Why is Jesus angry?
Some believe that He is angry at the lack of faith and unbelief that Mary and the mourners have
Others believe He’s angry at the “professional mourners” who are wailing at the top of their lungs, perhaps ruining His private time with Mary
Most likely, Jesus is probably angry at the effects of sin and death on those He loves
“Rather, he is overcome by the futility of this sorrowful scene in light of the reality of the resurrection. God’s people possess knowledge of life; they should possess faith that claims victory at the grave.” [Burge, 318]
There is hope beyond the grave!
How many of us have that hope for a loved one who has passed away?
We have victory over the grave, because Jesus is the resurrection and the life!
We know that someday we will see our grandparents, parents, siblings, spouse, child, other relatives, and friends, again, if they have believed in Jesus and crossed over from death to life
Jesus asks to see where Lazarus is buried
Their response is, “follow us to the tomb, we’ll show you.”
It’s believed that Martha probably came with Mary to see Jesus, and it’s the two sisters who are responding to His request to see the tomb
It’s probably after Jesus arrives at the tomb that we see the shortest verse in the Bible
Jesus’ compassion (v. 35)
While it’s the shortest verse in the Bible, it’s filled with deep meaning
John uses a different Greek word for wept than the one he used for the weeping and wailing that Mary and the mourners were expressing
This is the only place in the New Testament where this Greek word is used [Borchert, 360]
It’s not the loud wailing of the mourners, but rather a quiet shedding of tears
John probably used a different Greek word to differentiate between the reason for Jesus’ tears and the tears of Mary and the mourners
He already knew what He was going to do about Lazarus, so He wouldn’t be grieving his death
Rather, His tears should probably be connected to His anger over the effects of sin and death on His loved ones
This is not to say that Jesus isn’t empathetic or compassionate
Jesus’ tears reveal His humanity
Jesus is fully God and fully man.
Isaiah 53:3, He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering (grief).
Jesus’ humanity helps us to know that He can and does sympathize and empathize with us
Paul encourages us to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn (Rom. 12:15)
Paul would have received this nugget of truth and wisdom from God
Jesus was doing that with Mary and Martha and does that with us also
You can trust and find comfort in the fact that Jesus knows the pain and grief you are experiencing
He can and does sympathize with you
You can turn to Him for comfort and strength as you go through the stages of grief
He is weeping with you right now
My Next Step Today Is To: Trust that Jesus is with me and will comfort me through my grief.
The Jews response (vv. 36-37)
The Jews recognized Jesus’ humanity
They knew that Jesus loved Lazarus, Martha, and Mary
It was evident through His quiet tears
They missed His omnipotence
It seems like they believed His power was limited to healing the sick
Once someone died, Jesus’ power stopped
PRINCIPLE #1 – Jesus is all-powerful (omnipotent)
They were in for a big surprise!
That part of the story is for next week
Is your faith wavering in the middle of grief and difficulty? (Claim the promise and truly believe that Jesus is all-powerful)
Trust that Jesus is with you and will comfort you through your grief
God uses us, as His followers, to help others through their difficulties and grief
Read 2 Corinthians 1:3-5
“In his book Unspeakable, Os Guinness tells the story about a well-known Christian leader whose son had been killed in a cycling accident. Although the leader was devastated, somehow he managed to suppress his grief, even preaching eloquently at his son's funeral. His display of hope in the midst of tragedy earned him the admiration of many.
But a few weeks after the funeral, the man invited Guinness and a few friends to his home. According to Guinness, this man spoke and even screamed ‘not with the hope of a preacher but with the hurt of the father—pained and furious at God, dark and bilious in his blasphemy.’ In his agony, he blamed God for his son's death.
Rather than rebuke him, one of Guinness's friends gently reminded the enraged father of the story of Jesus at Lazarus' tomb. On three occasions in that story, Jesus expressed anger, and even furious indignation, in the presence of death. When Jesus came to earth, he became a human being just like us, feeling the abnormality of our suffering. In Jesus' humanity we see God's perspective of our pain: the beautiful world God created is now broken and in ruins. Jesus will heal this broken world and our broken lives, but first, he came to earth in order to identify with our anguish.
Guinness concludes that when we understand Jesus' humanity, it frees us to face the world's brokenness just as Jesus did. Like Jesus, we must never accuse God of wrongdoing or blaspheme God, but like Jesus, we are ‘free to feel what it is human to feel: sorrow at what is heartbreaking, shock at what is shattering, and outrage at what is flagrantly out of joint …. To pretend otherwise is to be too pious by half, and harder on ourselves than Jesus himself was.’”
Os Guinness, Unspeakable (HarperSanFrancisco, 2005), pp. 144-145.