Sermon on John 11:32-44 for All Saints, November 1 & 4, 2018
- There is a word that has one meaning, the way we commonly use it, and another meaning when it is used in the Bible. That word is hope. A couple weeks ago, I could have asked, “Do you think the Brewers will make it to the world series?” and most of you would have answered, “I hope so.” What does hope mean there? A nice wish, something you’d like to see, but still uncertain. Biblically, hope means something different. It means that you expect good things because God has promised. In the Bible, especially in the New Testament, you see words connected to hope like firm hope (2 Corinthians 1:7, Hebrews 3:6, 6:19), good hope (2 Thessalonians 2:16), unswerving hope (Hebrews 10:23). There is nothing uncertain about biblical hope because it is connected to the gospel.
- Now think of today’s gospel. Lazarus had died—he was dead and in the tomb four days. What hope was there for Mary and Martha? There was some Right before our selection from John 11, Martha said, “I know [Lazarus] will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (11:24). That fits our definition of biblical hope. She expects good things because God has promised. But we don’t see hope for the situation there and then. Both Mary and Martha say something strange about their situation there and then. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” We see some faith in Jesus in those words. “If you had been here, my brother would not have died,” means “I know you have the power to heal.” The sisters don’t say it, but you can gather it from what they do say… “Where were you? Why did you take so long to get here? You could have helped us!” They have confidence in Jesus, but it’s mixed with disappointment. They have hope, but it’s deferred hope—not immediate hope.
I. With His Word of Promise,
- This was not the first time Jesus was in Bethany. He had been there about three months earlier. You might remember when Jesus and his disciples dropped in on Mary and Martha and Martha was scrambling to get a meal together for thirteen unexpected guests. Mary sat at Jesus’ feet listening to him teach. Martha came in and said, “Look at Mary. She has left me to do the work all by myself.” And Jesus said, “Mary has chosen what is better, the one thing that is needed, and it will not be taken from her.” It’s a good guess that Martha sat down and listened to Jesus, too, because of what she says here, two or three months later, near her brother’s tomb. “I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you” (11:22). “I know that [Lazarus] will rise in the resurrection on the Last Day” (11:24). “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world” (11:27). Those are all words of hope, words and promises of hope that Martha had heard from Jesus before.
- And what does Jesus tell her now? “Your brother will rise again.” “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even if he dies. And whoever lives and believes in me will never perish.” Jesus is holding out words of hope (expectation of good things because God has promised) by telling her who he is. This is the gospel.
- This is the basis for the hope we have. It is our long-term hope, just as it was at first for Martha. “I know that [Lazarus] will rise again at the last day.” We say that in our creeds all the time. “I believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” This future hope is the basis also for our present hope. If Jesus promises you heaven, will he forget you now? Absolutely not. St. Paul once had the boldness to tell people “I conclude that our sufferings at the present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). “Our momentary, light trouble produces for us an eternal weight of glory that is far beyond any comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Future hope is the basis for present hope. If God has these things in store for us, he won’t forget us now. Because we are connected to Christ, we have the status of children of God—even of saints. We already have the “first resurrection,” the resurrection of being dead in sin, and coming to life and faith in Christ. We live and reign with Christ, even now (Compare Revelation 20:4-6 with John 5:25-29). A second resurrection, the resurrection of the body is coming. Whatever you have to suffer—whatever hardship you go through, you have the present hope that God knows and remembers you, and the future hope that God has something better waiting. How our lives in this troubled world unfold is a mystery to us, but not to him. And the end-goal he has already revealed to us. We say it in our funeral services, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” This is the hope we saints have from Jesus because of his word of promise.
II. With His Acts of Power.
- We have more than words of promise from Jesus. Mary and Martha would have more than words of promise from Jesus. They would see acts of power. Jesus went up to Lazarus’ tomb. When he says “Take away the stone,” Martha panics because that hope is only partly formed in her heart and all she can say is “Lord, don’t do that. He’s been in the tomb four days and is starting to decay and smell, and you don’t want to smell that, and you certainly don’t want to see that.” And Jesus gives her another word of hope, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” and then he prayed about the miracle he was about to do. Jesus’ miracles always had a double purpose: first, to help people in their needs. Mary and Martha certainly would have needs. From what we gather, they were unmarried, and it was hard for unmarried women in first century Judea to get jobs or run businesses. That was the culture of the time. By giving their brother back to them, Jesus was providing for Mary and Martha’s basic needs, their daily bread. The second purpose of the miracles was to show people who he was. Jesus says it here, “…so that they may believe that you sent me.” After Jesus changed water to wine at the wedding of Cana, John says, “[Jesus] revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him” (John 2:11). Jesus is about to do this again.
- He shouts, “Lazarus, come out!” and Lazarus comes out, alive, still wrapped in the grave clothes. There is something else happening besides Jesus giving life to the body of Lazarus, four days dead. He is also giving hope. He is showing that he is who he says he is. First, he said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Now he shows it. He had already raised the daughter of Jairus and the young man of Nain, and now he does it again with someone four days dead. He gives hope with his acts of power because that also gives us expectation. In John 6, four times in a row, Jesus says, “Those who believe in me, I will raise them up on the Last Day.” By raising Lazarus, the daughter of Jairus, the young man of Nain—and by raising himself—we know he can do what he says. He has done it before.
- When we stand at the grave of a loved one, these are the words we hear: “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Because of the resurrection of Jesus. Because of his acts of power, raising the dead, because of his own rising, and because of his word of promise we have hope. All Saints Day is the day after Halloween, and I’ve come to see it as really the opposite of Halloween. On Halloween the world sets images in front of us of dead people, zombies, vampires and all kinds of dismal and horrid things. What is the message of all saints day? Dead people, yes. But people who have died in Christ—who really aren’t dead, but are alive in the presence of our God and Savior Jesus. They are people we still have hope for, because we have the promise of the Lord of life. A multitude clothed in white robes that no one can count—that includes our loved ones who have died in the faith. A multitude we have hope that we will also join.
Gospel (Sermon) John 11:32-44 (EHV)
When Mary came to 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.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and troubled. 34 He asked, “Where have you laid him?” They told him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” 38 Jesus was deeply moved again as he came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said. Martha, the dead man’s sister, told him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, because it has been four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 After he said this, he shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The man who had died came out with his feet and his hands bound with strips of linen and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus told them, “Loose him and let him go.”