Let us pray: Dear Savior, on this bright, sunlight day our minds are centered on life, on goodness, on joy, on love. And yet, today You call us toward the cold tomb of death. While most would see that as an oxymoron, as something that makes no sense, by Your grace we know otherwise! For we know that through faith in You death means eternal life and never-ending light and love for us in heaven. So, on this day we thank You for taking away all our fears—including the fear of death, both our own and that of our loved ones. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE LORD OF LIFE, LIGHT, AND LOVE!
TEXT: John 11: 32-44
Fellow Redeemed Sinners Awaiting Sainthood in Heaven:
It is said that when a loved one dies you really find out exactly who your friends are. Humans are emotional. When a beloved spouse, a child, a friend dies those emotions are rubbed raw. So, having friends call, or visit us, or bring food over, or come to the wake, or attend the funeral is a great comfort. Conversely, when we don’t hear from such “friends” at those times, we’re hurt and those friendships are never the same. You might well say that in death the living reveal their true colors.
Well, my friends, Jesus does exactly that in today’s lesson. And since He loved Lazarus, Mary, and Martha just as much as He loves each of us, we can confidently say:
IN DEATH CHRIST REVEALS HIS COMPASSION AND HIS POWER
Today is the first Sunday after All Saint’s Day. For the uninitiated, All Saint’s Day is on November 1st of each year. It is an ancient festival of the church, set aside to remember those loved ones who have died in Christ and gone on to glory. Unfortunately, in our secular culture it has been overshadowed by Halloween which celebrates death and the macabre. In fact, Halloween gets its name from its timing, the night before the hallowed ones are remembered—All hallow’s eve. I know that in New England, Halloween gets the glitz and the glam. But All Saint’s Day is the steak and lobster. It is the festival that really matters. Why? Because it helps take away our sense of loss and fill us with confidence and joy over the future—no matter what that future may bring.
When I go to a wake, or conduct a funeral, I always try to stay out of the way. The mourners need me there to comfort them, yet that time is very personal to them. They need the opportunity to grieve and “let it all out.” I try to give them that time, too. And in doing so, I’m really following Christ’s lead just as we see in today’s lesson.
Mary and Martha were sisters who were faithful Christians. They had embraced their Savior through faith. They had opened up their home to Him on numerous occasions. They had supported Him, fed Him, and provided Him a resting place. And not Him only, but also the whole crew of disciples that followed Him. Apparently Martha was the oldest and Mary the younger sister. Lazarus was apparently their baby brother. Tradition has it that he was about 30 years old when this incident occurred.
After hearing that Lazarus was dying, Jesus went to visit the family. When He arrived at Bethany, He discovers that Lazarus is already dead. As God’s Son, He had foretold this and knew it would occur in advance. He also foreknew the miracle of resurrection that would take place. After all, Christ is the Conqueror of death. Martha, the impetuous one, typical first-born, immediately seeks Him out and talks to Jesus about what has transpired. He announces the glory of the resurrection in and through Him. Martha then confesses that she believes it! Then she goes and calls her sister Mary and Mary also seeks Christ out. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping (literally shaking with grief)…he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled…then Jesus wept, too.”
In my college days I had a professor who once said: “When you find yourself crying with your members at a funeral, it’s time to take a call since you’ve lost your objectivity.” That professor was wrong! Grieving together helps form a bond that is eternal. Grieving together is what makes God’s family close, personal, and it even helps unite us. If weeping is good enough for Christ, it’s good enough for me and for you. Compassion is never and will never be out of style. Indeed, a God Who is willing to shed a tear for me is also a God Who I can get close to because He has gotten close to me! Our Savior had a heart of compassion. Here He proves it.
“But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’” Ah, the mockers are always around, aren’t they? Their question correctly acknowledges Christ’s ability to do miracles such as restoring sight to the blind. But it also calls into question His love and compassion for Lazarus and his family. Well, Jesus is deeply moved by all of this grief. So now Christ reveals His power, as well. He tells them to remove the heavy stone from the entrance to the grave. Impetuous Martha blurts out a seeming truism: “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” But, Christ is not dissuaded. The stone is removed and Jesus offers up a prayer to His heavenly Father “that they may believe that you have sent me.” Then He called out in a loud voice: “Lazarus, come out!” And he does! “The 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.’”
What were the results of this miracle? Lazarus lived! Mary and Martha were overjoyed. The crowd was amazed–some even came to believe. Also, the Jewish ruling council heard of it and decided that Christ was becoming too powerful, so they must kill Him and end His reign of compassion and power. They even decided to kill Lazarus, but apparently let that slide after Christ’s crucifixion about 10 days later. For what it’s worth, one ancient writer tells us that Lazarus lived another 30 years after his resurrection.
The historic church has focused on this lesson for All Saints Day because it is a graphic reminder that for a believer death is but a hairbreath, a word away from life. A very fine, invisible veil separates our loved ones from us when they die in Christ. This past year we lost a saint in our church. Bill Stark got his fondest wish and joined his beloved Ruth in heaven. There they are with Christ, Who loves them beyond measure, Who gave His life for theirs. Who has turned their tears into fountains of joy. We can and should learn from the example of our saints in life, but most importantly we need to embrace the truth which the world scoffs at, namely: “In death Christ reveals His compassion and His power!” And when we do, our tears will be changed, replaced with heart-warming joy over our coming reunion! Amen