Greg Laurie - Power Over Death
So my grandchildren used to have a bunch of rabbits and they had different names, Fuzzy and Cotton. One was named Chubby Cutie which is funny because that's what my wife calls me, but... So back to Fuzzy and Cotton, they were a couple, let's say they were very successful at bringing more rabbits into the world. And my granddaughter Allie came to me one day and she was in tears, and she said, "Poppa, Fuzzy the rabbit died". And then she said, "It's not fair". And I assured her that Fuzzy had lived a very long life, he had many offspring that he left behind, we counted around 80 bunnies that were left from Fuzzy.
And so, I actually saw Fuzzy using Tinder on his phone one time, but that's another story for another day. But, you know, I just said, "Hey, you know, this happens". And of course we wonder, will we see our pets again in heaven? Well, I think it's pretty simple answer, all dogs go to heaven, no cats do, simple... no, no, none of that's true, but will we see them? I don't know, who knows? It's possible that you might see your pet on the other side somewhere, but we don't have certainty of that. But we know that when heaven comes to earth and what we call the new earth, that there will be animals with us. And we read about a little child leading a lion, which would be the ultimate pet, a lion. That's one cat I can get behind, right? A lion.
And so, we don't know about these things, but Allie raised a good issue, and it's simply this, death is not fair. Death is harsh, it's mean, and it rips people that we love away from us. Sometimes, expectedly, we know it's coming, other times unexpectedly. The Christian can look death right in the face and not be afraid because we know death is not the end, we know there is life beyond the grave. Sure, we're realists. You know, people accuse Christians of being out of touch with reality. I think other people are out of touch with reality that don't deal with this topic head on as we ought to, because only those who are prepared to die are really ready to live.
So, we look at death and we say, "I'm not looking forward to it, but I know it's not the end and I know I'm simply changing my address from earth to heaven because I put my faith in Jesus Christ". And that's how we can view it and not only does the believer have the hope that the moment they die, they go immediately into the presence of God, but the Bible also teaches there will be a bodily resurrection, that means a body that is in the grave now will one day be resurrected. We will see our loved ones again. But we're so uncomfortable with this topic, we don't even like to use the actual words. Instead of saying, "Someone died," we'll say, "Well, they passed on". Or technically you might say, "Well, they expired".
An undertaker, we call him a mortician, a coffin is called a casket, a graveyard is a memorial park. Well, that's whatever you wanna call it, it is what it is and death is harsh and death is mean and death is final and death is real. And death is not our friend, it is the enemy. In fact, 1 Corinthians 15:26 says, "The last enemy to be destroyed is death". And, actually, God never wanted us to die. There was no death in the Garden of Eden before Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit. There was no sickness, there was no aging, there was no need for police officers or the military or anything of that kind. There was no suffering at all. It was pure bliss, but our first parents ate of the forbidden fruit and sin entered the world, and so did death.
And this is a story before us now in John 11 of three people that were impacted by the death of someone they loved, we're talking about Mary, Martha, and Lazarus and we're talking about when Lazarus, the brother, got sick and died. So this is sign number seven in our series that we're calling "The Seven Signs of Jesus". The first sign was turning water into wine at a wedding. The final sign was a resurrection of a man from the dead. So, we go from a wedding to a funeral, reminding us that God is in control of all things in our life from the beginning to the end. He's there with us in our joys and our sorrows. But the ultimate sign of Jesus was not even the resurrection of Lazarus, as amazing as it was. The ultimate sign of Jesus was his death and resurrection. Everything was building to this crescendo.
Jesus said, "A wicked and an adulterous generation seeks after a sign, but no sign will be given to them, but that of the Prophet Jonah. And as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, or the great Fish, so will I, the Son of Man," Jesus speaking, "Be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights". Loose paraphrase Jesus says, "You guys want a miracle? You want a sign? Here it is, I'm gonna die on a cross, I'm gonna bear the sin of the world, and I'm gonna rise again from the dead". But let's see what happened to Lazarus.
John 11, I'm starting in verse 1, I'm reading from the New King James version. "Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary, and her sister Martha. And it was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. Therefore, this sister sent to him saying, 'Behold, he whom you love is sick.'"
So we'll stop there. What did we learn from this story? Point number one, if you're taking notes, life is filled with pain and sorrow and the death of loved ones. Is that not the most depressing point of all time? But is it not true? Sorry, that I have to be the one to break this to you in case you don't know it, but life is filled with the pain, death, and sorrow of loved ones. Now, when you're younger, this is hard to wrap your mind around. But you see people dying and it starts to settle in that one day this will happen to you as well. So this is what we see. And when tragedy comes in our life or we lose a loved one, we say, "Why me? Why is this happening to me"? But it's ultimately gonna happen to everyone, including you.
So, we have to accept this fact. But that brings me to point number two, God loves us. God loves us. Don't rush over that, don't misunderstand it, let it sink in, God loves you, okay? I want you to say this out loud, "God loves me," go. congregation: God loves me. It's true. Do you believe that? God loves you, okay? So, no matter what you're facing right now, don't forget this simple fact. Therefore, what he does or allows to happen in your life as his child is motivated by his everlasting love for you.
Now I'm interested in what Mary and Martha do. Now, remember Lazarus is still alive, but he's very sick. They know this is serious. So, they send word to Jesus, "The one that you love is sick," in verse 3. Another translation of the same statement is, "Lord, your dear friend is very sick". And this is an excellent example of what we need to do when we are in crisis. We are not here to tell God what he should do, but we are here to tell him about our problem and say, "Lord, here's my problem," and they describe it to Jesus. Call on the Lord. There's nothing wrong with asking God to help you. Nothing wrong with asking God to deliver you. In fact, you should do it, because in the book of James, it says, "You have not because you ask not".
Now God may deliver you from your problem, and he may simply walk with you through your problem, but bring it before the Lord. Psalm 46:1 reminds us that Jesus is a very present help in times of trouble. A present help. Now they could have said, "Now, look Lord, we fed you so many times, you kind of owe us. It's time to reciprocate," but they didn't do anything like that. They just said, "Lord, the one that you love is sick". They didn't even say, "The one that loves you is sick". They said, "The one that you love is sick". They weren't even appealing on the basis of their love for him, they were appealing on the basis of his love for them.
Let's pick the story up, John 11 verse 4. "When Jesus heard about it, he said, 'Lazarus's sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so the Son of God will receive glory from this.'" Now, don't miss this verse, "Although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, he stayed where he was for the next two days". I'd underline that actually. "Although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, he stayed where he was for the next two days. Then he said to his disciples, 'Let's go back to Judea.'" He loved them, so he waited, that doesn't make sense.
We would expect that verse to say, "Because Jesus loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, he got on the back of the fastest horse and rode to them". Or, hey in the case of Christ he could have just moved there, just, voom, "Here I am". Or he could have spoken the word, he didn't even have to go to them. He could have spoken the word and said, "Lazarus, you are healed". But none of this happened, he delayed his arrival, why? Listen, because he loved Lazarus. Now, we think this is a contradiction. If Jesus really loved Lazarus, why didn't he immediately go and heal him? And in the same way, when hardship, tragedy, or even death come into our lives, we wonder if God really loved me, why did he let this happen, right?
We've asked this before, "If God loved me, why did he let this happen"? It's hard to see through eyes that are filled with tears. And the point that we need to see in all of this is not why it's happened, but remember, God is in control, but also remember that his delays are not necessarily his denials. A verse I love, Ecclesiastes 3:11, says, "God has made everything beautiful in his time". See, we look at the small picture, God looks at the big picture. We look at the temporal, God looks at the eternal.
So, Mary and Martha, I wonder if they've bragged on Jesus a little, "Hey, we know Jesus, we've got him in contacts on our phone. Look, right there, Jesus, right there. I could text him right now. He's over here all the time. Let me tell you all of his favorite meals. Let me tell you". "What's he like in person"? "Let me tell you what he's like in person". They might have said, "You'll see, Jesus will show up, he's our friend". And not only did Jesus not show up, but he got there late and even missed the funeral. So, Lazarus has now died and not only has he died, he's in the process of decomposition. In fact, it's Martha who says to Jesus, "Lord, by now, he stinketh". That's King James, I like that translation, that's a nice way to tell someone they don't smell right. "Have you used deodorant lately"? "Well, I don't know, why do you ask"? "Because by now you stinketh".
Think about using that if you like, it's all yours. So, he shows up late. He comes into town, the funeral service is over, it's a complete disaster. What happens next? John 11, verse 20. "Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him. Mary was sitting in the house, and Martha said to Jesus, 'Lord, if you would have been here, my brother would not have died. But now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.' Jesus said, 'Your brother will rise again.'" Martha says, "Yeah, I know he'll rise again in the resurrection at the last day". Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He that believes in me though he were dead, yet shall he live, and whosoever lives and believes in me shall never die".
Oh, I love that statement, don't you? What a powerful statement of Jesus Christ. But Martha's effectively saying, allow me to paraphrase, "Jesus, you blew it. We were bragging on you, we were expecting you to show up. If you had been here, my brother would not have died. You missed the opportunity". Jesus says, "Your brother will rise again". "Yeah, I know, in the resurrection". "No, Martha, read my lips, I am the resurrection, I am the life. He that believes in me though he were dead, yet shall he live". But we've all said things like this maybe to the Lord. "Where were you, Lord? Where were you when my marriage dissolved? Where were you when my parents divorced? Where were you when my child went astray? Where were you when my loved one died"?
And so, there's nothing wrong with telling God how you feel. You know, I think sometimes people will say, "You know, never pray a prayer like that". No, pour your heart out to God. And if you're hurting, tell God you're hurting. If you're confused, tell God you're confused. If you don't like what's happening to you, go ahead and tell him you don't like what's happening to you, but cast it on the Lord. See, I think the problem is sometimes we withdraw from God in times of crisis. We don't talk to God, we don't talk to anybody else, we're in our little cocoon of depression and misery. No, you need to call out to God. "God, why did you let this happen"?
Now don't expect an answer. I think if God told you why things happened, you wouldn't be satisfied anyway, you know? How is it gonna make things better? God says, "My ways are above your ways, my thoughts are above your thoughts". We live on promises, not explanations, so we should not spend too much time asking why. But I love what Jesus says, he says, "Your brother will rise again," and, "I am the resurrection and the life". And then Mary now comes. We pick the story up, John 11 verse 32, "Then Mary came where Jesus was and saw him and fell down at his feet, saying, 'Lord if you would have been here, my brother would not have died.' Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who came with her weeping, he groaned in the spirit and was troubled, and he said, 'Where have you laid him?' They said, 'Lord, come and see.'"
Now the shortest verse in all of the Bible, John 11:35, "Jesus wept". Two words, Jesus wept. And the Jews said, "See how he loved him". Point number two, because Jesus loves us, he weeps with us in our times of pain. Because Jesus loves us, he weeps with us in our times of pain. Yes, Jesus was God walking among us, but Jesus was also a man who felt our pain and sorrows. Isaiah 53 says of Jesus, "He was despised and rejected, a man of sorrows and acquainted with the bitterest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way when he went by, he was despised, and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses that he carried. It was our sorrows that weighed him down".
Wow. Jesus has walked in your shoes and then some. He voluntarily put himself in the way of danger to bear your sorrows on the cross. He didn't just bear your sins, he bore your sorrows. You might say, "God doesn't know what it's like to live in this earth". Oh, doesn't he? "Well, God doesn't know what it's like to lose a son". Doesn't he? He gave his only begotten Son. "Well, God doesn't know what it's like to be misunderstood". Oh, I think he does. "God doesn't know what it's like to be rejected by people and be betrayed". Oh, he knows that well. "Well, he doesn't know what it's like to be lonely".
Listen, Jesus was the loneliest man who ever walked this earth. When he hung on that cross and bore the sins of the world, and even his Father turned his face away at that moment, causing Christ to say, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me"? Jesus understands everything that you are going through right now, and he cares and he sorrows with you in that time of sorrow. Hebrews 2:17 says, "It was necessary for Jesus to be in every respect like us. That's why he had to enter into every detail of human life". And then when he came before God as high priest, to get rid of people's sins, he would have already experienced it on himself, all the pain, all the testing, and would be able to help where help was needed. He knows what you're going through.
Death breaks the heart of God, just as it breaks ours. So, we say then, why doesn't he do something about it? Well actually, he has. Look at John 11, verse 33, and then I'll drop down to verse 38. "When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, he was moved with indignation and was deeply troubled. And again," verse 38, "he was deeply troubled. and they came to the grave. And it was a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance".
Now this word used here for trouble could be translated mad, Jesus was mad. Yes, Jesus had anger. He never lost his temper like we do, but he had righteous indignation. He was angry. Why was he angry? Was he angry at Mary and Martha for doubting him? No. Was he angry at the people who are mourning the death of Lazarus? Again, no. He was angry with the grim reaper, if you will, he was angry with death itself, he was angry because this was not the way it was meant to be, and it made him angry. Then he says, "Remove the stone". Martha says, "Lord, he stinks". "Move the stone". And then he says, "Lazarus, come forth". And Lazarus comes back from the other side. He's still wrapped up in bandages.
So, it's not like Lazarus comes out, "Hey," he's more like, "Um, someone unwrap these things". It's a good thing Jesus said, "Lazarus, come forth," because if he'd simply said, "Come forth," everybody and every grave in every place would have burst out at that moment. "Lazarus in particular come forth". And by the way, I feel sorry for Lazarus, you say, "Why"? Cause he had to die twice. Isn't it bad enough to die once? This poor guy had to go twice. You know, when a loved one leaves you, you want to communicate with them. And sometimes people try to contact people on the other side. Never do that, the Bible forbids it. They can't hear you and any messages people say are coming from the other side, that's not true, okay?
But I understand the longing to communicate with someone that has died. You can't talk to them. They can't talk to you, so don't try, but you can talk to the Lord about what you're facing. But let's just say, for the sake of a point, that we can make a phone call. When did this become the symbol of a phone call? But we all do it right? Someone called me... my phone doesn't look like that, but anyway, let's just say we could call our loved one and have a, "I've missed you so much. And guess what? I want you to come back here again".
You know what would happen? They'd hang up on you. "What? I don't wanna go back there". "No, come back, it's so great, we have the greatest burger". "What? What"? "We saw an amazing sunset". "I'm sure you did," if they could speak to you, "But you're not seeing what I'm seeing right now. I can't wait till you join me here". No one in heaven would ever wanna come back to earth if they were even given the choice. But having said that, here's Lazarus called from the other side. Now he has to die again and face all of the challenges of life. But here's the big story, not just that a man was raised from the dead, but it's this, death is not the end. The tomb for the Christian is not the entrance to death, but to life. heaven is the earthly life of the believer, glorified and perfected, okay?
So, your loved ones are in pure bliss. The reason they don't wanna come back is because it's better where they are. It'd be like... imagine the most beautiful place you've ever been, you know, maybe some tropical island, looking at the greatest sunset of all time, eating your favorite food with someone you love, and dolphins are jumping out and unicorns are galloping by. I don't know, there's no unicorns, but you know. It's just a perfect moment. "Oh, this is so great". And then imagine someone saying, "We need to leave immediately and go to the dump. I hear they're burning some trash right now".
Why? Why would I wanna go to the dump when I'm here? And that's what it would be like to go from heaven to earth. Heaven is so much better, but the real message here is that death is not the end and God will be with you in the hardest times of your life, and he'll be with you in the greatest times of your life, he'll be with you for all of your life, he'll never abandon you. Jesus said, "I will never leave you or forsake you". One of my favorite verses is Isaiah 43 when God says, "When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I'll be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up, the flames will not consume you".
David said in Psalm 23, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil," why David? "Because you are with me". God will be with you in every phase of your life, going back to the first miracle, water into wine, wedding day, amazing day. He's there at the birth of a baby. He's there at the death of a loved one. He's there at the beginning of life, the middle of life, and he's there at the end of life and then he's there to take you to the afterlife.