Reframing Death | John 11:1-44
Topic: Gospel Passage: John 11:1–11:44
Introduction | Death
Good Morning Welcome to Damascus Road where we are Saved by Jesus Work,Changed by Jesus’ Grace, and Living on Jesus’s Mission. Today we are continuing our series REFRAMING JESUS: Portraits of Glory from John’s Gospel.In Reframing Jesus, our desire isn’t to reinvent Jesus into someone He is not or make Jesus into an image we are more comfortable with. Instead, we seek to have our portrait of Jesus reframed by John’s Gospel to see Him as accurately and glorious as possible.
Death. It is a difficult topic. It stirs up great depths of emotions. We don’t like to think about it much and yet it looms over each of us with bit of a shadow. Regardless of if we acknowledge it, death is a great motivator. It motivates us to avoid harm because we know we’re fragile, it motivates us to pursue and enjoy meaningful life of purpose because we know it’s fleeting. So we know it’s in the background but we stay focused on the moments and days we’ve been granted. But the fear remains as the shadow of death grows day by day as we know there is time running out, less days in front of us than the day before.
On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero. – The Narrator – Fight Club
Why do we fear death? Because it’s horrible. It is the end of life. It is painful, except in the most hopeless of circumstances, it is never something we readily desire. We avoid it at all cost because of our great fear.
- We fear death because we don’t understand it properly.We think it’s a “natural part of life”. We, don’t know what is next. Is there an afterlife, is there a second life? Do we only cease to exist? Will I face judgment for my life? Will I be rewarded for good I’ve done? What path should I take to enjoy life now and prepare for the life to come. In the face of the uncertainty of death we need clarity.
- We fear death because it causes strong emotions such grief, loss, anger, and regret we don’t like to engage with. We intrinsically know that when and where there is death something and/or someone has been taken away. Conversations we wish we had don’t happen. The presence of people we love will no longer be felt. We believe life has value so even when there isn’t a close connection we feel disorientated when there is tragedy, or anger when there is injustice done, or even pain when just consequences for evil are see. When a life, or even a season/relationship dies, the potential of a specific flourishing ends and we’re saddened. In the midst of the grief of death we need comfort.
- We fear death because it is powerful. In death, all of our fragility and mortality is highlighted on display. We are vulnerable and can no longer pretend we’re invincible, or unending. We believe we can work to prevent our premature death with prudence and wisdom, or even extend the number and nature of our days. But in the end, living in a broken world, we know we don’t have meaningful control. Things happen outside of our timing and planning. Death seems to be an overwhelming and consuming force we are all at the mercy of. In the looming shadow of death’s power, we need it conquered.
If we’re going to relate to death, the death of others or ourselves we need answers. Answers to big questions about who God is and who we are. We also need to know not only how to understand and prepare for death appropriately, but also how to navigate challenges, difficulty, discouragement, that are faced in this this life. This happens by understanding the character of God when we are struggling.Today we see Jesus engaging with the death of a friend in a meaningful and powerful way giving us hope in Reframing Death.
PART I | Death of Lazarus |John 11:1-16
John 11:1-16 |Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when he heard that Lazaruswas ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world.10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”11 After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died,15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Jesus knows. Jesus knows these people and he knows them intimately and affectionately. These are people who are close to Jesus who have a relationship of friendship. Jesus has healed many seeming by-standards and has been approached by different people seeking healing for themselves or others they care about, but this time it is someone who Jesus and His disciples know really well. The relationship preceded the appeal of need. Jesus friend is in rapidly deteriorating health and Lazarus’ sisters are concerned and now Jesus can bring healing. “Jesus we have a relationship with you and now we clearly need your intervention.”
Jesus knows the depth of Lazarus need and knows how this story will ultimately resolve. He knows the disease will not ultimately lead to death but will serve to bring Jesus Glory. He’s not a vain optimist, Jesus knows what He is going to do in this situation to bring about a resolution that brings Him the most glory and joy for the people in pain. Jesus knows Lazarus illness is terminal and he’s going to die. This is time for Jesus to spring into action at a moment’s notice. This is how we all want God to respond when we are experiencing need. We called the Bat phone for a reason…. And the response is wait two days?? The delay is for a purpose and the purpose is“for God’s glory to be shown in and through Jesus.”That doesn’t seem comforting at the time we’re the one suffering, when it’s our loved one who’s hurting, when death destruction seems near. We begin to believe God isn’t able to bringing healing where there is hurting and life where there is death, or worse that He can but won’t. We question and doubt God when He doesn’t respond when and how we want.When have you been frustrated with God’s timing to act in your life circumstances?
Jesus delays isn’t an indication He doesn’t care about Lazarus or this family.Jesus isn’t a cold or unfeeling deity that is like “Sorry this is going to be hard for you to endure but it’s all for my glory. You understand right?”After Jesus says it’s all for God/Jesus’s Glory, John immediately says “Jesus loves this family” so… when he heard about the challenge He intentionally stayed put. So all they are going through and all they are about to go through and this delay ALSO a factor of His love for them. Sometimes Jesus delays to answer and respond, to “show up” because He loves us. For Jesus to serve this family for Jesus/God to be glorified means Jesus will intentionally delay even where there is difficult circumstances to produced in us greater faith in Him. How does knowing Jesus character help us when our circumstances seem hopeless? Jesus delays but doesn’t fail to act. He tells his disciples how beyond hopeless the situation is so they can see Him work.
PART II | Jesus is Life | John 11:17-27
John 11:17-27 | 17 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother.20 So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
Lazarus is dead and buried. You’ve got a full tomb and full house of mourners for this prominent family (including many of the religious leaders from Jerusalem who are opposed to Jesus) four days dead and just now Jesus shows up. But what does it matter? If the paramedics show up to a funeral ready to work you don’t let them in. The time for action has passed the stone has been rolled over the body. It’s time to process what happened and then move on with life. But Jesus enters into a place of death with His presence.
Martha is the older sister she’s the perfectionist who’s always working while everyone else isn’t. She did all she could got let Jesus know what was needed. She could have called Jesus out for not responding in the time and way she wants. Yet she doesn’t come to Jesus angrily or accusatorily, she come showing she has great confidence that the presence of Jesus actively working in a situation wouldn’t lead to this painful moment where her brother is dead and the chance to bring healing has passed. She has faith in Jesus.
We get clarity theologically from Jesus. Jesus first answer to the fear, distress, and uncertainty of death is to remind her (or tell her for the first time) what is true. Jesus meets grief with good theology. Your brother will rise! (1 Thess 4 tells us not to grieve with no hope because we have the hope of resurrection.) This is true of course on two levels. First, there is an eschatological truth Jesus is declaring that was understood my many (but not all) of the Jewish faith at that time. While sin has entered the world and the wages of sin the result of sin and effects of corruption is death, there will be a day final where God will engage in a specific way renew and restore all things and at that time all who have died, who’s faith is in God of the Bible will be raise from the dead. This is her hope. That the God who created life will resurrect life for those who have died, there is more life than what is experienced in this world.Jesus is about to give more clarity.
Jesus is Life and Life Eternal.– Jesus tells her. HE is the resurrection and the life (eternal life) In case there is a lack of clarity around ones final destination around how life after death will be granted or experienced. Jesus is THE exclusive way to have hope of reconciliation with God and resurrection for eternity with God. If you want the hope Martha has for a final resurrection on the last day then you need to know the power and promise of that day and life for this day are found in Jesus only. Faith in, belief in, trust in Jesus means even when you experience death, even when this life ends, that you will be transitioning to experience eternal life with God and His people. So it means we have hope for a better future and we have hope for those we know who Trust Jesus and have passed away. We can know these truths at a head level but when we’re suffer we need to be reminded of them so they can impact us at a heart level. We question what God is doing in the midst pain and suffering, but it is not the end of the story,He tells us there is a real promise of eternal life. This life is in the future and is now. Jesus begins to answer our fear of death with clarity and promise of what He will do in the future so we can be hopeful in the face of death today.
PART III | Jesus Feels |John 11:28-37
John 11:28-37 | 28 When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So 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 also have kept this man from dying?”
Jesus Feels – Truth without love isn’t comforting it’s cold. We need truth and clarity, but we also need more.
Martha got clarity, by Mary needs something else. Mary is experiencing the same emotions as Martha but is much more expressive and emotive. She left the house to go out and meet Jesus. Some of the Jewish leaders (present as mourners) When she meets Jesus she has the same assertion (Had you been present and active in this situation it would have gone differently, but she’s running out on ground wailing.
How does Jesus respond to her dramatic expression of emotion?He could have told her to get up. To rebuke her in her grief. To tell her to trust him more to have more faith. That you’re not suffering well enough. Nothing more helpful when you’re suffering and emotionally wrecked for someone to let you know you’re not processing this well. Or he could have done the same thing He did with Martha and give her some good theology. Hey, don’t worry today sucks but the last day is coming… in at least a few thousand years. Instead Jesus empathically engages with the full range of emotions that she and those around them are experiencing and processing as they’re suffering in the mourning of death. He feels with them. He is also troubled about brokenness in the world and the individual and communal outworking of it. There is man dead, a family hurting, and a community in mourning. Jesus isn’t just aware of our pain and our grief in the abstract. He is not distant or disconnected. But He is present with us in the places of our greatest pain, loss anger, grief. During painful times it’s ok to be in melancholy and sadness because God meets us there.Where to you need God to meet you in your grief and pain and feel His presence and empathy?
What do we learn about Jesus heart for suffering people from this response? God is acquainted with grief and pain and empathic to us when we’re sad or suffering.He cares to know our pain in great depth… “Where have you laid him? Where is death’s embodiment” He doesn’t avoid painful emotions, He presses into them. There is genuine emotion from and with God who knows the story of everything and everyone in it’s entirety, yet also recognizes we are experiencing it in real time enduing a difficult chapter now and He knows we’re hurting, we’re grieving, we’re in pain NOW and he feels is with us even fully knowing what is later. Jesus is about to perform a great miracle in front of many and bring Lazarus back to life. Yet He is still present and moved by the deep mourning and suffering of His people to genuinely weep with them sharing their grief.He can be both present with us in suffering even as He is preparing to powerfully display His glory in a way that brings life and joy to those around Him.Jesus engages our fear of death by being present with us and comforting us in the midst of mourning and grief. This leads to soft hearts for some who see how much Jesus cares, but others (I’d say perhaps rightly) want more from Jesus in this moment. They can believe a promise, feel His presence, but still doubt He is a God with Power. If God/Jesus really wanted to help he wouldn’t just teach and counsel, He’d do something to change what is wrong.
PART IV | Jesus Saves |John 11:38-44
John 11:38-44 |38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
Jesus Saves – It’s great that Martha got a theology lesson and the Mary got to grieve with Jesus, but the one who needs the most help is Lazarus. He’s not trying to understand death, or grieve, he has died.
There are circumstances that need more than a pastor with good theology to teach us or a deeply empathic grief counselor to help us process. For an enemy of life that is as strong and unrelenting as death I need a God who is overwhelmingly powerful who with a word. I need the creator of the universe who spoke the world in to existence with a word to speak a word of life in to a tomb of death. We need more than truth and comfort we need action and an enemy overcome. Jesus seeing the death of His friend cannot and will not let death win in this moment. Tells Martha to have the tomb opened, and she’s a bit reluctant because she’s decide the time for things to change is over (sometimes it is), but Jesus has another plan at this time.
He prays to God the Father for the purpose of clarity for those around Him to know the nature and truth of who Jesus is and what mission He’s on so the miracle He’s about to perform isn’t just for Lazarus but is also to spur faith in Jesus in those who see Jesus work. Then speaks life into His friend with the power of the one who spoke the entirety of creation into existence. Lazarus lives and is free because Jesus spoke with power.
Jesus overcomes our fear of death by displaying His power over it, so we can have more confidence in His promises and comfort in His presence when we’re in the midst of death, pain and loss in any situation.
Unbind him and let him go….Lazarus didn’t stay in the tomb or act dead. He came out and lived with and engaged with others who follow Jesus. Without the work of Jesus in our lives spiritually we are as dead as Lazarus was physically. God takes us who are spiritual dead and brings us to life with the power of His word so we can live unbound from death and free with Him and His people.But when you’ve been called from Death to Life by Jesus it’s time to change… You don’t have to be in your burial cloths anymore!! You’re not your dead self but your living self… so it’s time to take out the death clothes… they have you stink of death on them.. Your life of sin smells like 4 day old death, when you’ve been given new life with Jesus it’s time to walk out of the tomb, repent of sin, you walk and follow Jesus with His people.
Who are you in this story? Are you calling out and waiting for God to act? Do you need to be reminded what is true? Do you need to be comforted pain? Do you need a difficult and near hopeless circumstances redeemed for God’s Glory? Or are you spiritually dead and you need the hope of eternal life with Jesus and His people now and forever? Know Jesus is power to speak words of life in to any situation. But don’t despair if He appears to delay or don’t work in a way you had hoped. Pray, ask God to give you perseverance in the face of suffering. Praise the God who speaks life into dead situations. Bring your fear, grief, and pain to the God who empathizes with our difficult experiences when we Trust Jesus.