About the Author: Sunday Sermons from Sell Chapel are written by Rev. Preston Van Deursen, Director of Pastoral Care at the Masonic Village at Elizabethtown.
In 1927, an S-4 Navy submarine was accidentally rammed by a Coast Guard Cutter, sending it immediately to the bottom of the bay. The entire crew was trapped. Every effort was made to rescue them, but every effort failed. Near the end of the four day attempt, to bring these men to the surface, a diver placed his helmeted ear to the side of the vessel and heard a man tapping Morse Code from inside. This was the last question that he heard. “Is…there…any…hope
If there is any day of the year and any person in history that positively and definitively answers that question, that day is Easter and that person is Christ.
Today’s gospel is a great event also in the history of the human race – Because of the story of Lazarus we are reminded that Jesus Christ has overcome death, He gives hope to all of us and not just the hope that there is life after death, but also a hope that there is life after life.
What do I mean by that? Everyone needs hope. We need hope that our life matters but we also need hope that there is more to life than this life tomorrow. To put it simply, everybody wants to know that they matter. We want to know that our life makes a difference here on earth and hopefully that somehow life continues after our journey on earth is over.
In other words, every human being on this planet longs for significance and security. Nobody knows that better than the God who made us and that is exactly why He sent His son, Jesus Christ.
Today, we want to look at one of the most famous funeral in history. It took place in a little village that I was able to visit on my trip to the Holy Land called Bethany. It was a funeral for a man named Lazarus. What Jesus said and what he did should forever drain death of its dread and should forever empty the future of our fear.
I didn’t put all 45 verses down for Pastor Creitz to read but I want to focus on three statements that are made by Jesus Christ in verses 11, 25 and 43. The first statement tells us this…
We Must Expect The Fact Of Death
Let me just summarize the setting and the background. Jesus, in effect, had adopted the family of Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha, as His own family. This is where He would always stay whenever He would come to Jerusalem. They were the best of friends. Lazarus, became extremely ill and the sisters sent word to Jesus that he was sick, thinking He would come immediately and rectify the situation, but instead, Jesus deliberately delayed going, and makes sure that Lazarus did indeed die.
Lazarus does die and Jesus knew that he had died, because He gives us the first of the three foundational statements in this story. “Lazarus is dead.”
That, quite frankly, is one of the most devastating statements you and I will ever hear in our life about someone that matters anything to us at all. I will never forget as long as I live, the words I heard for the first time when I was 6 years old the voice of my mother and her words were, “Chucky is dead.” My four year old brother
Even that very phrase sounds cold. We try to use other terminology such as “passed away” or “expired” or “gone on”, but it all means the same thing. I guess for the first time in my life, the sheer fact of death hit me squarely between the eyes.
One of the these days, that very phrase is going to be said about you and about me, “Pastor is dead”, “Jennifer is dead”, “Pam is dead.” It sounds morbid, because it is morbid. It sounds depressing, because it is depressing-at least if death is indeed the final end of life.
Death is inevitable. The fact of death is certain. The date of death is uncertain. Do you realize that human beings are the only creatures who know they are going to die and therefore they are the only creatures who are desperately trying to forget it? If you don’t believe that, just start talking about dying and watch people hit the conversational remote button and change the channel.
We try so many ways to put death out of our minds. For example, has it ever occurred to you that we buy life insurance instead of death insurance? The beneficiary can’t collect it while you are living; they can only collect it when you are dead, so why do we call it life insurance?
Death is public enemy number one. We do everything we can to avoid it – buckle up, use air bags, sleep more, run, eat less fat, more protein, less caffeine, more vegetables, more fruits, take our vitamins, hit the gym, etc.
Yet, we all know that not only is death inevitable it is inescapable. Euripides, the Greek poet said, “Death is the debt we all must pay.” There are people today who specialize in death. They are called “Thanatologists” from the Greek word for death, “thanatos.” Amazingly, every college and university across the country offers a course or seminar on death, dying and immortality. We know it is coming.
Ecclesiastes 8:8 says, “None of us can hold back our spirit from departing. None of us has the power to prevent the day of our death. There is no escaping that obligation, that dark battle.”
Psalm 89:48 says, No one can live forever; all will die. No one can escape the power of the grave.”
I love the story of the wife, who went with her husband to the doctor’s office for his checkup. Afterwards, the doctor took his wife and said, “Your husband is deathly ill and unless you do the following things, he is going to die.” She said, “What must I do?” He said, “Every morning, make sure he gets a good, healthy, hot breakfast served in bed. Have him come home for lunch each day. Give him a well balanced meal and a full body massage. Then, make sure you feed him a good, hot dinner every night. Don’t ask him to go any household chores at all. Keep the house perfectly spotless and clean, so he doesn’t get exposed to any unnecessary germs and give him romance whenever he desires it.” She wrote all these things down.
On the way home, the husband said to his wife, “What did the doctor say?” She said, “The doctor said, ‘You are going to die.’
You may be young or old, rich or poor, drive a Mercedes or a Volkswagen but you don’t a need a doctor to tell you that you are going to die. The problem is most of us refuse to think about it until it is too late. That may be why a staggering 60 percent of Americans don’t have a will.
The second thing I want to say is We Will Experience The Force Of Death
Jesus has purposely delayed in coming, because He wants everyone to know that Lazarus is definitely dead. He finally makes His way back into Bethany, He has met with Martha, and she is not real thrilled to see Jesus. In a very curt fashion, she said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Words like that have been echoed a million times down through history, “Lord if you had been here, my son would not have died” or “If you had been here, my baby would have lived” or “If you had been here, my marriage would have made it.”
If you sense a little bit of disappointment even aggravation in Martha’s voice you could probably be right. She was having a hard time understanding why Jesus had not made it priority one to get back in time to heal her brother. She questioned His compassion and she doubted His goodness just like many of us either have done or may do before this life is over.
After hearing Martha out, Jesus makes the second of the three key statements in this chapter. “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?'”
These two statements seem contradictory. Jesus said if you believe in Me, you will live even if you die and then he says if you believe in Me you will never die – now which is it?
If you will keep two types of death in mind, you will understand what Jesus meant. In verse 25 Jesus is taking about physical death which is the separation of the soul from the body and in verse 26 He is talking about spiritual death which is the separation of the soul from God. One of these days, Preston Van Deursen’s body is going to die, but Preston Van Deursen is going to live even if his body dies.
maybe the greatest single miracle that Jesus Christ ever performed is when He raised Lazarus from the dead. Everybody else wanted a healing. Jesus wanted a resurrection. So maybe, God often allows what is bad for us, so He can ultimately give us what is best for us. Which is to me the most important point of all…
We Can Escape The Fear Of Death
After Jesus has had a talk with Martha and then with her sister, Mary, He asks to be taken to the tomb of Lazarus. They assumed He just wanted to go and pay His respects, but when He got there, He makes this amazing statement, “Remove the stone.”
in Israel, gravesites are carved into hillsides. The soft limestone is cut away, dirt and rock is removed, a body is placed in the hollowed out tomb and a large stone is then used to close off the opening to protect the remains from animals and grave robbers. When Jesus uttered those words, you could have heard a pin drop. Everybody was staring in amazement. Why would Jesus want to look into a graveside, simply to see a mummified body?
When a person died, they would wrap the body in spices and then tape him up literally just like a mummy. Lazarus had now been dead four days, so everybody was trying to figure out what in the world was Jesus doing?
After calling on God to answer His prayer, He shouts out three words that sent chill bumps up everyone’s spine standing around that tomb-the third key statement: “Lazarus, come forth.”
Even as those majestic words hung in the air check this out: “The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them ‘Unbind him and let him go.'”
Wouldn’t you give everything you own to have had a front row seat that day! At first, they saw nothing except a black hole and the darkness of death. Then can you imagine someone said, “Look. Look at that!” as they saw something moving toward the opened doorway.
I am reminded of the story of three buddies who were all killed in a car crash and they are immediately in heaven going to orientation. They are all asked the question, “When you are in your casket and friends and family are mourning you, what would you like to hear them say about your funeral?” The first guy said, “I would like to hear them say, ‘He was a great doctor and a great family man.'” The second guy said, “I would love to hear them say, ‘He was a wonderful husband, a great school teacher and made a huge difference in our children of tomorrow.'” The last guy said, “I would like to hear them say, ‘Look, he is moving!'” Lazarus was moving, because Lazarus was once again alive.
Friends, Jesus has a trump card for the grave and it is called eternal life which He bought and paid for with His own death and resurrection. Jesus show us a dress rehearsal of what it is going to be like at the end of our time
what Jesus does is not only liberate Lazarus from the bonds of death; He liberates Lazarus from the fear of death. We read these words in John 12:9-11, “The large crowd of the Jews then learned that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He raised from the dead. But the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death also; because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and were believing in Jesus.”
Isn’t that amazing? Everybody came from miles around to see the man that had been raised from the dead. He is telling everybody what Jesus had done for him and the Pharisees want to kill him. Do you think Lazarus was worried about their plan? Do you think he was afraid of dying? They looked at Lazarus and said, “If you don’t keep quiet about this Jesus you are going to die.” Lazarus looked at them and said, “Been there. Done that. No big deal.” Lazarus now knew that his significance and his security lay in the fact that God loved him so much he need no longer fear death because God has taken care of that problem for all who place their faith and trust in Him.
The One who performed that unforgettable miracle on Lazarus, goes on to the cross, to hang there, and die, and pay the complete penalty for your sin and mine. He too was wrapped in burial cloths. He too was placed in the grave. He too was sealed with a stone, but three days later, He was alive never to die again. Now, the question to you is the same question Jesus asked Martha two thousand years ago – do you believe this?
Friends, in two weeks we will celebrate Easter, but we all know that Easter may be just around the corner for each of us. We don’t have to tap Morse Code is there any hope?
Jesus says to us…”Do you Believe this?” Do you believe this?