John 11: 1-45
Those of you who participated in our Women of the Bible study in the fall have heard me say this before, “I LOVE this story! It is my favorite!” Of course you also heard me say that about many other of the passages we studied together. But there is something so very special about this particular text. It’s not just the obvious parallel between Lazarus’ death and resurrection and Jesus’ death and resurrection, although that’s important. It’s not just the relationship Jesus has with Martha, Mary, and their brother, although it is touching. The special-ness of this story is so much more than all of that. There is something about this story that reaches into the very deepest parts of me and awakens my soul to the goodness and mercy of God! It’s transformational. It calls us to new life. But there I go, getting excited and getting ahead of the story!
I am struck by Martha in this passage. In Luke’s account of these two sisters’ we are shown a woman dedicated to service to the point of overlooking the importance of time spent with Jesus. The only words we hear from her are those of complaint. And we are told that Mary, the one who sits as a disciple has chosen the better part. We are often left with a feeling that Mary’s faith was stronger than Martha’s. But here it is Martha who runs to meet Jesus outside of the city. It is Martha who first states “If you had been here Lord my brother would not have died.” Too often we are tempted to cut her off right there, as a questioning or even accusing grieving woman, but we must hear what else she has to say. “If you had been here my brother would not have died, but even now,” she continues, “Even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Martha stands there with tears in her eyes and grief in her heart daring to hope, to trust, to ask. Faith seems to pour out of her. Jesus’ reply is simple “Your brother will rise again.” And yet, despite her hopeful tone, her grief keeps her from hearing their truth. “Yes Lord, I know that he will rise again in the last days.” Martha gives the safe Sunday school answer one that may not really comfort, but sounds right in the moment.
But Jesus will not allow her to stay in the safe thoughts of the sweet by and by. Jesus will not let us stay in our safety zones. He challenges her “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" Do you believe this? Jesus looks into her eyes and asks her to really believe, really trust these words that sound too good to be true. Do you believe? “Yes Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”
Martha gives a complete confession of faith. She says that she believes God will listen to Jesus, that she believes he is the resurrection and the life, that she believes he is nothing less than the messiah. In fact Martha’s confession is not too different then the ones we use in worship to state together what we believe. The apostle’s creed, the Nicene Creed, even the one we used today “We are not alone” all have elements taken from Martha’s confession. We too say we believe that God listens; we too say we believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life; we too say that he is indeed the Messiah. And we too have moments like Martha has in verse 39.
Martha, who has just given a complete confession of faith balks when Jesus says “Roll away the stone.” She replies “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days." She has just confessed Jesus to be the Christ and here she takes a step back. How often are we like Martha? We confess our belief, we even take steps to make changes in our lives, but when it gets to the hard stuff we regress. We go back to our unbelief because it is less challenging. We go back to what we know because we are comfortable. We go back because there is less resistance. We go back because we are scared of what real transformation holds.
Here stands Martha filled with the fears of the dead body, the fears of the stench, the fears of her old life. And Jesus tells her “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” The same has been said to us. “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”
We, like Martha need this reminder. The reminder that God is God; That Jesus is indeed who he claimed to be; that the Holy Spirit is with us even now. We join in worship to be reminded. WE say confessions of faith to be reminded. We pray for and with one another to be reminded. We read the scriptures to be reminded. We rehearse these facts so that one day we will not need reminding, we will know. So that one day we won’t need transformation, we will be transformed. So that one day we won’t question Christ’s power but will, like Martha be a witness to it!
After he had said this, Jesus prayed. Then he cried out “Lazarus, Come out.” And the dead man walked out of the tomb still in his grave clothes. Lazarus had been raised, he had been resurrected, he had been transformed. “”Unbind him, and let him go.” Jesus commanded. For once you have experienced the transforming love and power of Christ you must allow yourself to be unbound. Lazarus was no longer bound to the grave, new life had been given. We are no longer bound to the slavery of sin; we are no longer bound to the grave. Yet we sit in our grave clothes afraid to be unbound, afraid to embrace God’s transforming power. We balk at new life. Yet Jesus commands “Unbind them, and let them go.” Embrace the resurrection and the life.
So you may find yourself asking “What does it look like Pastor? What does it look like to be unbound?” If you are unbound you will commit yourself to doing God’s will. It must be strategic. You do not choose a path for convenience. It is not about you. The determining factor is not “will it be convenient and safe?” The real determining factor is “is this what God is calling me to do for the
? Does God want
us to go there?” kingdom
God’s vision must be bigger than just growing our churches, building our buildings, paving our parking lots, meeting our budget, or implementing the latest programs. God’s vision always extends to all the peoples of the earth. This vision by its very nature calls us into relationship with those different from us, culturally, economically, religiously, socially, and politically. His ultimate purpose and vision is reflected in Rev 7:9 “I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and people and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes.” We must be willing to let God take us into new and unfamiliar territory if we are to embrace his vision.
Once Lazarus was unbound, many believed. And Martha believed, the gospel writer could have added, for she had seen the glory of God. So to can many more believe if we will accept the transformation, rise up from our self imposed graves and be unbound. We have been set free! Believe and see the glory of God!