Craig Smith - Graves and Glory
Well, hey, welcome to Mission Hills, so glad, so glad to have you with us today. I can’t believe that we’re actually wrapping up our “Living Proof” series today, which means that we are a solid seven weeks into 2020. It’s no longer the New Year, which is really frustrating actually because like I had a whole bunch of plans that I don’t feel like they’re getting any traction yet. So, anybody else? Sorry, just the way it is. We actually have a new series launching next week I’m really excited about, it’s called “Travel Light.” And what we’re gonna do is we’re gonna take a look at a teaching from the Gospel of Matthew, Matthew Chapter 6, where Jesus basically asks us three questions. He asked the question, “Where’s your treasure? Who’s your master?” I gotta be careful because last night I almost said, “Who’s your daddy?” That was just weird. It’s like who’s your master? That’s the word I’m looking for, right? And last question is “What’s your worry?”
And so if you ever experience just a sense of like you’re probably burdened more heavily than you should, you’re not experiencing life in the way that it was intended, those three questions are really helpful. And we’re gonna see Jesus teach on why it is that how we answer those questions really determines what kind of an experience we have of life both in the here and now and in the hereafter. So, I really believe it’s gonna be a powerful series in your life. I also think you probably have some people in your life that would really benefit from that content. So, on your way out today, you’ll find some sermon invite cards that you can use to invite somebody to come to church with you next week because you think that’s gonna be a blessing to them. But that’s next week. This week, we have one more sign to take a look at. For the last several weeks, we’ve been looking at seven stories of seven signs that Jesus performed. And we call them signs rather than miracles because, as we said, they’re not just a proof of what kind of power Jesus had, that they’re the proof of what kind of a person he is.
And today, that’s especially true. And so, I need to tell you in advance that what we’re gonna look at today is gonna tell you some things about Jesus that are not all that fun. Okay. In fact, honestly, what we’re gonna find out about Jesus today might be a little bit confusing for you. I know it is for me sometimes because what we’re gonna find out about Jesus is basically two things. Number one, Jesus is passionate about his people. Nothing really tricky about that. Anybody ever heard that Jesus loves you? All right. We’re gonna affirm that Jesus loves you. Awesome. The other one though is this is that sometimes Jesus allows pain to come into the lives of his people for a greater purpose. Let me say that again. Sometimes even though he loves us, he allows pain to come into the lives of his people for a greater purpose. And I don’t like that second one nearly as much as I like the first one.
But what we’re gonna see today is that both of those things are true, and we have to somehow learn to live in the tension of those. And that’s not an easy thing to do. What I’ve discovered is that it’s actually a much easier thing to do. It’s much easier to believe both of those things when it’s not my pain. Anybody else? Right. When it’s somebody else’s pain, I’m like, “Oh, I totally get it. Jesus loves you, but sometimes he allows pain. I can totally see how that works out.” But when it’s my pain, when it’s my daughter who has, you know, struggled for two years with chronic severe pain and we didn’t have a solution to that, or when it’s my dad whose body has been wrecked by Agent Orange, and he’s got two different kinds of cancer, and liver problems, and kidney problems, and diabetes, and heart issues, when it’s my dad, that’s just a much harder thing to hold on to, right? And yet, I do believe that it’s possible, even in the midst of our own pain, to understand and hold both of those things in a certain kind of tension.
I actually realized last year kind of in the midst of our daughters, my youngest daughter struggle with chronic pain, that I was actually doing it. I was able to believe that God loves me and that he sometimes allows pain to come into our lives and it doesn’t change the fact that he loves me. And I remember kind of having a moment in that going, “Huh, I’m doing it.” Now, I may be honest, sometimes my hold on both of those truths is tenacious and sometimes it’s a little tenuous. Like, they’re kind of always on the edge of slipping out of my fingers. But the reality is it is possible to know and to believe and to trust in both of those things. It’s not easy, but it’s possible. And I think the reason I was able to do that is because I’ve learned some things about who God is that we’re actually gonna see in this story today. And so, I encourage you to go ahead and grab a Bible, start making your way to John Chapter 11. What we’re gonna see in this story are some things that make it possible to believe that God is good, and that he loves us, and that he sometimes allows pain to come into our lives for a greater purpose, and it’s gonna make it easier to do that.
And notice I said easier. Not easy, easier. Because let’s just be real with each other, when life is bad, it’s hard to believe that God is good, right? But it’s possible and it’s important, and this story is gonna help us. John 11:1 says this, “Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.” This is Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. That’s another story that John’s told us about this sister. “And so the sister sent word to Jesus, ‘Lord, the one that you love is sick.'” And right there we feel the tension a little bit, right? “Lord, the one that you love that you care deeply about, he is sick.” And it kind of sets up attention right from the very beginning, and we kind of wanna go, “Okay. Well, which is gonna win out,” right? I mean, if love wins out, then the sickness is gonna go away. But if the sickness wins out, then it kind of means that the love wasn’t there in the first place, right? And so we sort of feel this tension from the very beginning, which is it? Is it love or are you gonna let him be sick?
“Now, when he heard this, Jesus said, ‘This sickness will not end in death. No, no, no, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it,'” which sounds like really good news, right? It sounds like love wins. Jesus was like, “Hey, don’t worry about it. This sickness will not end in death.” Now, that sounds like good news as long as you don’t know the rest of the story. But if you know the story at all…and if you don’t, let me just catch up real quick. We’re gonna see it in a second but let me pitch this before. He does stay sick. Lazarus not only stays sick, he gets sicker and he dies. And you’re going, “No, no, no, no, Jesus just said it won’t end in death.” Well, Jesus is being tricky. He is because the reality is it didn’t end in death. That wasn’t the last chapter in the story, and that’s what Jesus is saying. He’s saying, “Death doesn’t get the final say in this story.”
But in reality, death is gonna have a chapter. The sickness is gonna get worse and it’s gonna lead to death. And in addition to Lazarus’s death, that means there’s gonna be pain, and there’s suffering, and there’s grieving, and there’s struggle on the part of everybody surrounding that. Death doesn’t have the final say, but there is some struggle in the chapters leading up to that. And that’s where the tension comes in. How does that work? If you really love them, why would you allow all that to happen? And there’s a couple of things we’re gonna have to come to grips with, a couple of truths that are so important that we begin to bring on board. And the first truth is just this, it’s that the presence of pain doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of love. The presence of pain doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of love. We tend to think that it does, right? We tend to go, “Well, if you really love somebody, you wouldn’t allow pain into their lives. So, if you do allow pain, it must mean that you don’t love them.” And so we translate that to God and we go, “Well, if God really loved me, He wouldn’t allow pain to come into my life.” But that’s not the way it is at all.
The reality is, the truth is, and honestly, this is the truth we experience on a daily basis, the presence of pain doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of love. I mean, think about this, during the worst part of my youngest daughter’s struggle with this chronic pain. Late last year, we got a diagnosis. We’ve been praying for one and we had a doctor who looked at the MRI. Another doctor had looked at the MRI and said everything’s normal, and the other doctor looked at it and went, “No, it’s not. There’s a significant issue, and it’s this and this.” And I remember sitting in my car afterwards and I was crying. I’ll just be honest and admit that. I was crying and I was just so grateful that God had given us a diagnosis. And so I said thank you, and then I picked up the phone, and we called the surgeon, and we scheduled a surgery. And it was a painful surgery. And we knew that going in, we knew that it wasn’t gonna be a quick recovery thing. We knew that what they had to do was pretty invasive and there was gonna be a long-term recovery process. There was gonna be a lot of pain involved in that, but I called the surgeon anyway.
Actually, it’s worse than that. I paid them, right? Like, I paid this surgeon to bring pain into my daughter’s life. Because I don’t love her? No, because I do. The presence of pain doesn’t mean a lack of love. If you’ve ever worked out with a personal trainer, they’ve probably brought some pain into your life, but it’s not because they don’t care. If you’ve ever gotten a kid a bike knowing they’re probably gonna fall off and skin their knees, but there’s so much good that comes from it. You know. You know. You get it. The presence of pain doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of love. But the problem is that we get it when it comes to everyday life, but we forget it when it comes to God. And we find ourselves going, “Well, God, if you really love me, my marriage wouldn’t be on the rocks. God, if you really love me, this relationship wouldn’t have ended that way. God, if you really love me, this abuse would never have come into my life. God, if you love me, my career wouldn’t be where it is. God, if you love me, I wouldn’t have cancer. God, if you love me, whatever,” right?
We forget this truth. We get it in our everyday lives, but we forget it when it comes to God. But the reality is presence of pain does not necessarily mean a lack of love. And you might go, “Yeah. The problem with your analogy, Craig, is like your daughter, she understood. Your daughter understood that if she got this painful surgery, it was gonna be good for her over the long haul. It would actually be a reduction.” I mean, she got it. And that’s true, but the reality is I would have done the same thing. I would have scheduled the surgery. I would have paid for them to bring this pain into her life even when she was 2 months old, right? I would have gone even if she can’t see how it was gonna be good for her. I know what’s good, and I’m still gonna do it even though it’s gonna bring some pain into her life.
Sometimes we have this idea that if I can’t see it, it must not be true. And then that’s probably a truth we ought to understand there too. Just because we can’t see how it’s gonna be good doesn’t mean that it’s not, right? And you might go, “Okay. But that’s fine when it’s obviously for their good.” But how was this for Lazarus’s good? How was this pain that Jesus is gonna allow that is gonna allow him to get sicker and ultimately die? And how was the grief and the pain and everything that comes with it? How is that possibly for Lazarus’s good? And, in fact, honestly, let’s be honest, he doesn’t say that it’s for Lazarus’s good. He says, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Come on, Craig, he says it right there, “It’s not for Lazarus’s good. It’s for God’s good. It’s for God’s glory.”
Here’s another truth we gotta come to grips with, giving God glory is good for us. You hear me, Church? Giving God glory is good for us. Why is that? Well, to understand it, the first thing you have to do is you have to recognize what it means to give God glory. So, we have this idea that to give God glory is to praise Jesus. It’s to lift our hands and worship and sing the songs out loud or it’s to say thank you in private. Ultimately, it’s just to, you know, focus on praising and worshiping God. And that’s not actually what it means to give God glory. That might be a way that we do it, but the reality is to give God glory means to make God the highest priority. That’s what it means to give God glory. It means to make him the highest priority. It means that he wins, that he is the heavyweight in the room, and everything else finds its place in orbit around him. It means that we give him the highest priority. That’s what it means to give God glory.
And when we understand that, we can begin to understand how it is that giving God glory is actually good for us. We can talk about it in negative and positive terms. In negative terms, I mean, imagine, you know, God’s kind of like a road roller, you know, those big machines that smooth down the asphalt. Well, you know, if I’m standing in front of the road roller and I’m like, “Stop.” I’m insisting on having the priority, right? But the reality is, like, even if I’m pushing against it, like, I’m not gonna stop that thing. It’s gonna roll over me. It’s not even gonna hesitate, right? So, it’s to my benefit if I do this little thing, right? Get out of the way, that’s negative.
But let’s talk about positive because God wants to do positive things in your life. And when giving God glory is good for you in a positive way, here’s what it means, it means that life doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to unless you’re doing that. It means that unless you’re giving God glory, you’re not gonna get to experience all that God has for you. I mean, here I got a video. Check this out. Okay. So here’s what’s going on. We got a really big boat and we got a very small man. Now, the small man would like to get on the big boat because the big boat’s going somewhere way better. It’s gonna get out of this frozen wasteland. Okay.
But you notice the boat’s not stopping. So the man to get on the boat has to be at exactly the right place. And he waits there, and he’s gotta be right there on the edge. He’s got one chance because the boat’s not slowing down. His only hope of getting on the boat is to grab that ladder, get on it, climb on because the boat didn’t stop. Do you know why? Because the boat’s a jerk. The boat’s an egotistical, self-centered glory hog, right? No, no, because here’s the thing, if the man had been given priority and the boat slowed down, cut the engines and gradually let its inertia come to the point where it stopped so the man could get on at his convenience and then started the engines back up and gradually raised speed until it was moving again, in the time that that would have happened, the ice would have refrozen and the boat and the man wouldn’t be going anywhere. That’s what I mean when I say to give God glory is good for us.
It’s the only way to actually get to all the good that God has for us. And so Jesus says, “Hey, this sickness won’t end in death.” That’s not gonna be the end of the story for Lazarus, but in the in-between, there’s gonna be some pain. It’s not gonna be easy, but all of this is for God’s glory. But that doesn’t mean it’s not also for Lazarus’s good. Now, verse 3 says, “Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.” He starts with the love. So don’t lose sight of this, he loves them.
“And Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. And so, when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.” That’s a weird sentence, isn’t it? Now, here’s what I expect. He loved them so he got up and ran. He loved them so he leaps to take care of the problem as quickly as possible. He loved them so he’s like, “We don’t even have time to go. I’m just gonna heal him at a distance.” We know Jesus is capable of doing that. He loved them. So, as John says, “He stayed where he was.” That’s weird.
And here’s what’s gonna happen. What Jesus is about to do is so much better than anything else he’s ever done. I mean, he’s made one liquid turn into another kind of liquid. He’s turned water to wine. That was impressive. He’s made a man who couldn’t stand on his legs for longer than most people have survived, he’s given him the ability to stand up again on those legs. He’s given sight back to blind. All of that power, all that’s impressive, but what he’s about to do blows all of that away. And he’s setting the stage for what he’s gonna do that is so much better.
You know, the sisters, they’re like, “If you could just fix the sickness, that’s good. We don’t need anything else. This is good enough.” And Jesus says, “No, I’ve got something way, way better than that, but it’s gonna take a little time.” And so here’s the truth, and I don’t like this truth but it’s true truth, we hurry towards good, God waits for great. Do you hear me, Church? We hurry, we rush towards good, God waits for great. I’ve begun to learn it. And I’m 49 years old, and I’m just now beginning to get a handle on this that when God seems to be taking his sweet time on something that I really, really deeply believe he wants to move in but it’s not happening, I’m finally learning to go, “I bet he’s got something better than I’m looking for.” I’ve seen it so many times in my own life. It’s a hard truth but it’s true. We hurry towards good, but God waits for great.
“And then he said to the disciples, ‘Let’s go back to Judea.’ ‘But Rabbi,’ they said, ‘a short while ago, the Jews there tried to stone you, and you’re gonna go back?’ And Jesus answered, ‘Hey, are there not 12 hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble for they see by this world’s light. It’s when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”‘ And basically, what Jesus is saying is, “We still got time. Don’t worry about it.” He knows that there’s an hour coming when he’s gonna be arrested, he’s gonna be crucified, but he also knows that that time isn’t coming. And nothing any human being does can derail God’s timetable. Okay. God’s the big boat. You can stand in front of the boat and push against it go, “I’m gonna stop this thing.” It’s not gonna go well for you, and the boat’s not gonna slowdown in the slightest. God is going to win. His timetable will always play out.
And so Jesus says, “We don’t have to worry about this. God set the hour, it’s gonna happen. In the meantime, we just need to focus on getting done what we need to do for this hour. So don’t worry about it. It’s gonna be fine.” “Now, after he said this, he went on to tell them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I’m going there to wake him up.’ And his disciples replied, ‘Lord, if he sleeps, he’ll get better.”‘ Naps are good for sick people. Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. “And so he told them plainly,” and I promise you there was an eye-roll here, “Lazarus is dead.” Then he says the weirdest thing. “And for your sake, I’m glad I was not there so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” He says, “For your sake, I’m glad I wasn’t there.”
Now, what Jesus means is that what he’s about to do, the great that he’s been waiting for, is he’s gonna show himself to his disciples in a way they haven’t seen yet. They’ve caught glimpses, they’ve begun to understand, but the whole truth of who Jesus is that he’s God in the flesh, that hasn’t completely come to roost yet. They don’t fully understand that, but what he’s about to say is gonna change all that. And he says, “I’m excited about this moment because it’s gonna allow you to believe. For your sake, I’m glad I wasn’t there. This is so that you may believe and fully understand who I am.” And that’s great for the disciples.
Does anybody feel just a little bad for Lazarus in that? At this point, Lazarus has already died, so he’s in heaven. I don’t know if he gets to listen in, but I can imagine him hearing Jesus go, “For you guys’ sake, I’m glad that I wasn’t there.” And Lazarus is like. “Forget them, what about me? Like, I died. What about my sisters? They’re grieving.” Here’s another hard truth, but it’s a true truth and we gotta get a handle on it, sometimes the good is for others. Sometimes the good’s for others but that will be good for us too. So here’s the thing, like. I actually know some people that they said yes to Jesus. They have a relationship with Jesus because of this story. This story was that light bulb moment for them. And maybe for some of you today, this story is gonna be it. Nobody goes from being an atheist to being a follower of Jesus overnight. It’s always a process.
God is stirring in our hearts. He’s drawing us to himself, and there’s these moments, there’s these steps that we take, but for most of us, there’s a moment where you’re kind of at the threshold and something happens that turns on the light bulb and you’re like, “Ah, that’s the last thing I needed.” And you’re able to step forward. You’re able to say yes to a relationship with Jesus to receive him by faith to put your trust in him. And I actually know several people that this story was the light bulb moment for them. And I think throughout history, there have been hundreds of thousands of people for whom this story was the light bulb moment, which means someday they’re gonna go find Lazarus. And they’re gonna go, “Hey, I just want you to know I’m here because of what you went through.” And do you know what Lazarus is gonna say? “Worth it.” He’s gonna say, “Worth it. Absolutely, it’s worth it.”
In the same way that police officers, and paramedics, and firefighters, they go out every day. For who? For them? No, it’s for those of us that they serve. They put themselves in harm’s way every day, and at the end of the day they say, “Worth it.” Sometimes the good’s for others. A pastor friend just two weeks ago was talking about the importance of pastors pouring into other pastors, especially younger ones. And he said, “You may not ever actually see the results of the time that you put in with that.” But he said this, and I love this, he said, “Sometimes your fruit grows on other people’s trees.” I was like, “I love that.” And then I added my own little bit, which is sometimes our fruit grows on other people’s trees, and we don’t get to enjoy it until the last banquet.
There’s a day we sit down in front of Jesus at this wedding banquet the Bible describes, and I believe some people are gonna bring you a pie. If this analogy got weird, never mind that. Do you understand what I’m saying? Sometimes the fruit we don’t get to enjoy until another season because sometimes the good’s for others, but that is going to be good for you. It’s going to be good, I promise you that. “And then Thomas, also known as Didymus, said to the disciples, ‘Let us also go with him that we may die with him.'” I love that. I love it because it’s a different picture of Thomas than a lot of us have. Thomas has probably the most unfortunate nickname in the whole Bible. And even if church isn’t a regular part of your life, you’ve probably heard this nickname. The nickname is this, it’s doubting Thomas, right? And you go, “I don’t get it. Why is he doubting Thomas?” This is like faith-filled Thomas, right? This is loyal to the end Thomas. This is courageous Thomas, right? Why would you call him doubting Thomas?
Well, because later in his life, he saw Jesus get arrested. He saw Jesus beaten. He saw Jesus nailed to a cross. He saw Jesus breathe his last breath on the cross. He saw them shove a spear into Jesus’ side to make sure he was really dead. And then they saw him throw his body into a borrowed tomb. He saw all that, and three days later, Jesus rose from the dead. And he met some of his disciples, but Thomas wasn’t with them. And so after they met Jesus, they ran back and they found Thomas. They said, “He’s back.” And Thomas went, “What are you smoking? I’m gonna call nonsense on it. No way. What are you talking about?” Would you have done better? I don’t think it’s a fair nickname. I also think it’s not a fair nickname because here John gives us a very different picture of this man, right? And I love that.
I love that John under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, which is to say God directed John to give us this other picture of Thomas to kind of round him out. Because here’s the thing, this is so important that we understand, God doesn’t define us by our weakest moments, right? God doesn’t define you by your weakest moment. The world does. Okay. To the world he’s doubting Thomas, and to you the world may say you’re your weakest moment but God doesn’t define you by your weakest moment. The world does, God doesn’t. We do, right? We define ourselves by our weakest moment. For so many of us, we live in this cloak of shame because, you know, who am I? Well, I’m the guy who said that horrible thing to his wife. I’m the guy who screwed up so badly with my kids. I’m the man who failed last night one more time on the internet. I’m the person who did this to my friends. That’s who I am. It’s that thing.
And listen to me, please hear me, God does not define you by your weakest moment. Especially if you’re a follower of Jesus, you have been set free, not only from the guilt of your sin, but he longs to set you free from the shame of it. And so often we allow Jesus to forgive our sin, but we hold on to the weight of our shame. And Jesus goes, “Why are you doing that? Do you understand that it’s trapping you in a grave and I’m trying to call you out of it?” Listen to me, God does not define you by your weakest moment. “And on his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed home.” It’s so interesting. We know Mary from some other places in Scripture, and we know that she’s a woman of tremendous faith. But it’s interesting that faith is not really on display here.
John didn’t have to tell us that Mary stayed home, he could have just focused on Martha. But he makes sure that we understand that Martha gets up and runs and Mary sits where she is. It doesn’t mean she doesn’t that faith, but it does mean she’s struggling. Maybe even she’s a little frustrated with Jesus, maybe even a little bitter. It’s not to say that Martha doesn’t have some questions too. Check this out. “‘Lord,’ Martha said to Jesus, ‘if you’d been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.'” Do you hear the doubt? Do you hear the question? I mean, I know it’s a statement, right? “If you’d been here, my brother would not have died.” I know that’s a statement, but there’s a question in there too, isn’t there? Probably a whole lot of them. Where were you? Why did you take so long? I don’t get it. I don’t understand. I thought you loved us. But also notice that she voices what she doesn’t know, what she doesn’t get, what she doesn’t understand, but she moves forward on what she does know. She says “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” I love that.
If you were with us last week, Reza taught us that’s how you deal with doubt. You don’t deny it. You don’t pretend it doesn’t exist. You don’t fail to acknowledge the questions that we have that we’re looking for answers for. We acknowledge what we don’t know, but we move forward on what we do. We focus on what we do know. That’s what Martha’s doing here, right? And what this tells us is this, it tells us that you don’t have to have all the answers to move forward in faith. Some of you are here today and you’re struggling. Maybe you’re a follower of Jesus, but it’s hard for you to trust God in something because you’ve got questions. You don’t understand why he hasn’t or why he has, and, like, you got all kinds of questions. That’s fair, but you don’t have to have all the answers to move forward in faith. The question is whether or not you’re focused on what you don’t know or what you do.
Or maybe you’re here today and you’re not a follower of Jesus. And maybe you’re at that place, maybe you’re that person I was talking to a moment ago that’s gotten to the edge of the threshold. Something’s going on in you. You’re being drawn, and you find yourself moving towards God and towards faith in Jesus, but you can’t quite step in yet because there’s a question that hasn’t been resolved. There’s a struggle you’re still trying to work your way through. And you know what? The reality is sometimes you’re not gonna get all of the answers, but you don’t have to have all the answers to move forward in faith. Maybe today’s the day you need to take that step. Martha trusts in what she knows. “And Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ And Martha answered, ‘I know.'” She focuses on what she knows. “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” The Jews knew because God had told them in the Old Testament that there was a day coming he would make everything new again, and in that moment, all of those who had a relationship with him would be raised to life, given new bodies, and they’d be reunited with those that had passed before them that had a relationship with God.
She says, “I know that’s coming. That’s what I’m trusting and that’s what I’m waiting for.” And Jesus says to her, “Basically, the wait is over.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.” He says, “I’m what you’ve been waiting for. The day that you’ve been waiting to come, it has dawned. The sun is peeking over the horizon. Everything is changing because I’m here now. I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live even though they die, and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Martha, do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God who is to come into the world.” This is so cool.
Listen, in the ancient Near Eastern world when you wrote a book like these Gospels we’re looking at, when you wrote a book, typically, the way you structured it in the ancient world was right in the middle of the book you put a key event. And it was kind of the pinnacle. It’s almost the climax of the book. It was a pivotal point that everything kind of shifted and move forward from there. And we have four Gospels in the Bible: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John tell us the story of Jesus’s life. Well, all four of them do the same thing. Right in the middle, they put a pivotal event.
Now, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all have the same event in the dead center of their Gospel. And that event is at a moment when Jesus looked at his followers and he said, “Who do you guys say that I am?” And a man named Peter went, “Oh, I got this one. I totally got this. I know I messed up the last one, but I got this one. I totally got it.” And he said, “You’re the Christ. You’re the Son of the Living God.” And Jesus said, “You’re right.” And then Jesus went on and he said, “And, you know, you didn’t just like realize this,” roughly, he said, “My Father in heaven revealed this to you.” You guys heard that, right? “Yeah. God talks to me. Not so much you John, but me he does.” But that’s the moment, that’s the pivot. Like somebody going, “I get it. I see you for who you are.” And that’s the pivot point.
Now, John doesn’t tell us that story. John, “Hey, three other guys already told you.” Let me tell you another story, let me tell you another story of a person who got it, who saw Jesus for who he was, and by the way, we are at dead center in John’s Gospel right now. And there’s a story of another person who said something very similar. She said, “I believe. I believe you’re the Christ, you’re the Messiah, you’re the Savior, you’re the Son of God.” No, it’s not Peter here. It’s Martha. It’s a woman, and I love that because sometimes we can get this idea, some women get the idea that maybe you’re not as important in the kingdom.
In the ancient world, women often didn’t have value. And sometimes we look at those stories and were like, “Yeah, they’re not really given real value.” But you understand that Jesus didn’t treat women that way. Jesus allowed Martha and Mary to sit at his feet learning from him. John, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, allows a woman to sit in this pivotal moment in the Gospel of John where it all comes together. And it’s a woman who says, “Yeah, I believe you’re the Christ, you’re the Son of God.” I love that.
“Now, after she said this, she went back and she called her sister Mary aside, ‘The Teacher is here,’ she said, ‘and he’s asking for you.’ And when Mary heard this, she got up quickly, and she went to him. Now, Jesus did not get into the village but was still at the place where Martha had met him. Now, when the Jews who had been with Mary in the house comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there. And when Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, and she said, ‘Lord, if you’d been here, my brother would not have died.'” So, interesting.
She has the same questions as her sister Martha, “Where were you? If you’d been here, this wouldn’t happen. What were you doing? What took you so long? I thought you loved us.” What’s interesting, though, is she doesn’t say what she does know. And for a while, for a long time, actually, I thought that she just didn’t express her faith. But I realized recently, yes, she did. She just did it without words. She fell at his feet. She came and she fell at his feet with her brokenness and maybe even a little bit of bitterness, but she still fell at his feet. And, yes, it took a little extra push to get her there, but she fell at his feet.
She didn’t have the words because her grief had robbed her of the words. Her struggle, her pain, her suffering had taken the words out, but she still fell at his feet. And that’s faith. Listen to me, where we fall matters more than what we say. Sometimes we lose track of that in the Christian world. I feel it a lot as a pastor, we have this idea that if you really love Jesus, if you really have faith in Jesus, then, you know, when you’re going through a hard thing and somebody says, “How you’re doing?” You’re supposed to say, “This is hard but God is good.” But you know what? Sometimes I don’t have those words, and maybe you’re here today and you don’t have them either. That’s okay.
The question is not whether or not you have the right words, the question is whether or not you know the right place to fall. Where we fall matters more than what we say. Fall at his feet with your brokenness, and your pain, and your suffering, and your bitterness, even when you have no words, fall at his feet. And that’s the place to be. “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” And it’s interesting that the word troubled or deeply moved in spirit, it literally, it’s usually translated as angry. He was angry. We don’t translate it that way because it doesn’t make sense what he’s angry at, and I don’t think he’s actually angry.
I think what John’s doing is he’s trying to find a word that conveys how deeply he was passionate about this, and sometimes really passionate people look angry. How many passionate people have ever been accused of being mad and you’re like, “No, I’m just excited”? Sometimes really deep passion looks anger from the outside. He’s like, “That’s how deep it was.” “‘Where have you laid him?’ he asked ‘Come and see, Lord,’ they replied. And Jesus wept.” It’s the shortest verse in the Bible, also maybe one of the most powerful because it demonstrates his passion. See, I think sometimes we have this idea that what God does for us he does because it’s somehow in the God job description. And I want you to understand this truth, Church, what God does for us he does because he’s passionate about us. It’s because he’s crazy about you, not because he has to. He didn’t have to do anything. God does for us what he does because he’s passionate about us.
“And then the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him.’ But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?'” And the hard answer is, yeah, he could have, but he didn’t. That doesn’t mean he didn’t love him. “And Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. ‘Take away the stone,’ he said. But, ‘Lord,’ said Martha, the sister of the dead man, ‘but by this time there’s a bad odor, for it’s been four days.’ And Jesus said, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?'” And we could add in, “And it will be good for you.”
“And so they took away the stone. And then Jesus looked up and he said, ‘Father, I thank you that you’ve heard me. I 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.'” Sometimes the good grows on other people’s trees. “When he’d said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out.’ And the dead man came out, his hands and his feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.” It’s so interesting. He’s basically a mummy, right? I mean, he’s still wrapped up, and he still hasn’t even taken the cloth off of his face maybe because his hands are wrapped up. It’s so interesting because it means that with Jesus’s command, his soul leapt from heaven back into his body, and he bolted upright, and he jumped to his feet. And the command was so urgent, his desire to obey it so deep that he…not rushed, he waddled without even taking time to break his hands free and to take the cloth off of his face. He came out into the light, and Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go.'” And this is the living proof of what he said to Martha, “I am the resurrection of life,” right?
I mean, anybody can say they’re the resurrection of life. Only Jesus can call a dead man out of the grave to prove it, right? This is the living proof. But really, this is just a prelude to the real proof, right? Because the real proof of who Jesus is isn’t that he called this man out of his grave, the real proof of who he is and what he’s all about is that he went to the grave for us. That because of his love for us, he died to pay for our sins. Because of his love for us, they put him in a borrowed tomb. And because of his love for us, he got up out of that grave and walked out of it so that he could look back and call us out of ours. Why does he do this? Because he loves us. Listen to me, Jesus died so he could walk out of his grave and call us out of ours because he loves us. Three questions for you. Question number one, “Where in my life do I need to make God the priority?” Because we all have these areas of our lives and we’re like, “Lord, I know that you really are the priority, but in this area, it really feels like it would be better for me if I just kind of did my own thing.” It never will be. Giving God glory is good for us. We need to identify those places in our lives where we are not making God the priority. We’re not giving him the glory. And we need to change, or it’s not gonna be good for us. Where in your life is that true?
Question number two, “Where do I need to stop defining myself by my weakest moment?” As I said, God doesn’t but we so often do. And Jesus, not only has called us out of the grave of our sin, but he’s saying to us, “Take off the grave clothes.” If you’re no longer guilty of your sin, well, what advantage do you gain by continuing to wrap yourself in the grave clothes of shame and defining yourself by your weakest moments? All that’s doing is keeping you from moving into all that I have for you and all that I wanna do in the world through you. Where do you need to stop defining yourself by your weakest moment and accept that you’re not only forgiven of your sin, but you’re free of the shame of it? You’re a new creation in Christ, and it’s time to live that way. And then lastly, “What step do I need to take to move forward in faith?” Maybe you’re a believer and God’s calling you to some step of faith, some new way of being on mission with him or just trusting him in your life, or maybe you’re listening to this and you’re not a follower of Jesus, and that’s your step of faith. Today’s the day to say, “I don’t have all the answers, but it’s time to take that next step.” I wanna give you the opportunity to do that.
In fact, everybody just close your eyes, bow your heads. If you’re a follower Jesus, we’ll just begin praying right now for those that are listening to this message wherever they are, who haven’t said yes to a relationship with Jesus. And if that’s you, I just wanna speak to you for a moment. It’s time. Today is the day. Jesus is looking back at you. He’s walked out of his grave, he’s looking back, and he’s saying, “Come out. Come out of the grave of your sin. I wanna set you free from your shame.” Because he loves you. God loves you so much. He sent his Son to die for you to pay for your sin. Three days later, he rose from the dead and he is calling you into forgiveness and new life with him. And if you don’t have that, you can have it right here right now. Here’s what you’re gonna do, you’re just gonna say yes and have a conversation, have this conversation in your heart right now. Do it right now. You’re gonna say:
God, I’ve done wrong, and I’m sorry. I know my sin put me in the grave. Jesus, thank you for coming and dying for my sin. I believe you rose from the dead and I understand that I’m kind of like Lazarus. You’re calling me out of my grave, so I’m saying yes. I’m walking out, accepting your forgiveness, accepting freedom I can have from shame and guilt. Jesus, I’m yours for now and forever. Amen.