Fr Darren's Passion Sunday Sermon : Raising Lazarus from the Dead
Some of you who have been a part of the congregation for many years usually know when I say, on my recent visit to the holy land, it either means there is a good story coming up about the holy land or that we have actually got a trip to the holy land coming up. Today you are very lucky you have both.
Today we are looking at the story of Lazarus of Bethany. First, I want to put a bit in context about where Bethany is and where Lazarus, Mary and Martha lived.
The Village of Bethany
Bethany is literally just the other side of the Kidron Valley, the other side of the hill or the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. So you would come out of the old city into the Kidron Valley, up through the olive trees, the All Nations Church, to the top; and until 20 years ago, at the top of the hill just walk over, and you would be at Lazarus’ house.
Sadly because the wall of separation has since been built at that point, to get to Lazarus’ house today and Bethany takes about 45 minutes in a coach because you have to go outside Jerusalem and do a long loop around to get there.
Bethany was a place that Jesus went to a lot. He went to be with Lazarus, Mary and Martha on several occasions. Because when he would go to Jerusalem to teach and preach, he would then go to a place where he felt relaxed. He would do the short walk outside Jerusalem and stay in the household of people he loved.
Lazarus, Mary and Martha
In this house were Lazarus, Mary and Martha. We don’t know much about the family, but it was Lazarus’ house. We don’t know how old they were. Some say they were probably in their early 20s, and their parents may have died. We don’t know for sure, but we do know that they loved Christ, and Christ loved them.
You can imagine the scene of Mary and Martha when they knew that Lazarus was unwell and they started to panic and probably thought, if he goes, we not only lose our brother, but our protector, the head of our house, the person who was there to look after us.
Lazarus Dies and Jesus Wept
Then sadly, we hear that Lazarus died. You can imagine how Mary and Martha would have felt, how distressed they would have been, and wonder why Jesus did not come when asked.
No doubt all of us have been in those moments when we wished Christ had been there when we were going through a similar situation.
The women sent a note to Jesus to say, ‘Our Lord Christ, Lazarus is dead’, but Jesus still goes to Bethany. He still wants to meet with Mary and Martha, he still wants to be with them in their grief.
You can understand why his disciples were not keen on him going on this journey. Because every time he headed towards Judea and Jerusalem, people tried to kill him. They thought he must be absolutely mad to want to go back there. But Jesus had to turn his face towards Jerusalem because it is through there that we are saved.
The weird thing is as Jesus starts approaching Bethany. Normally, in other stories, we have heard of Mary and Martha, it was Mary who was spontaneous and goes out to meet Jesus. She was the one who washed his feet with oil and then wiped them clean with her hair.
But this time, Martha, the steady one, who stayed home and wanted to make a home for them, ran out and said, ‘Lord, if you had been here, our brother would not have died’. She fully trusted Jesus in who he was and had full confidence that he would have saved Lazarus.
They turned and started walking back to the house, then Mary came and joined them and said the same as Martha and Jesus talked to them and said, ‘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’. John 11:25-26
He wanted them to realise that even in this darkest moment, he could still be there to care and to save. And at this point, he did not take on a superman syndrome. He didn’t say follow me and run towards the grave, flinging the door open and screaming, ‘Lazarus come out’.
The first thing he did was weep with them. He felt their pain, could feel their loss, and was overwhelmed and wept with them.
Christ had also lost someone he loved, and he saw two more people he loved in front of him, and he wept for their pain.
At the Side of the Tomb
Others gathered around the grave, who just saw death as death, and they challenged Jesus to do more than they thought he could ever do. Being a bit sneaky, saying surely, if he was the Messiah, he could call Lazarus back from the dead.
Jesus went with Mary and Martha to the grave and said, ‘roll away the stone’.
At that moment, you can imagine how Mary and Martha would have felt, on one hand as they said, my lord, if we do that, he has been dead for four days the smell will be bad.
But on the other hand, thinking this is Jesus, he can do anything.
Then the stone is rolled away, and Jesus shouts, ‘Lazarus come out’. You can imagine the stillness after he said that, with people thinking, is this man mad? Does he truly think he can bring someone back from the dead after four days; then suddenly, Lazarus walks out of the tomb.
I would have loved to have seen the faces of those who thought it was impossible. I would have loved to have seen the faces of Mary and Martha as they rejoiced at seeing their brother return.
This was Jesus bringing back, resuscitating, Lazerus. One day he would need that tomb again, but he would continue to live his life and one day be placed back in there at the end of his life.
Jesus, from that point, turns his face towards Jerusalem, and he starts to head towards his own death and resurrection.
Turning our Faces to Jerusalem Today
Over the coming two weeks, as we turn our faces towards Golgotha, we, too, start to live a little bit with the pain of Mary and Martha.
We start to have the joy of knowing that Easter is coming but also the sadness of knowing Good Friday is there too, where we will witness our lord’s death.
The death and resurrection of Christ bring us into a different relationship with God because he knows our human condition. He knows our pain; he has wept as we have wept and has felt pain on the cross as we have felt pain in life.
This week, our lent group focused on Christ on the cross and the feeling that God was not present with him. Many a time I guarantee that we have felt a situation where God was not present. And we would have loved for him to turn up and make all things right.
But we have to remember the words that Christ said to Mary and Martha, ‘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.’ John 11:25-26
As we journey towards the cross with those words in our minds and hearts, the words remind us that the world is not as it seems to others.
The world for us is a world of hope, a world of life and a world of life beyond death. A live journey with Christ and a life that finishes and goes on into eternity with him.
We believe that God is there for us this day and every day. He is there as our aide in the morning, our person who carries us through the day. And our reassurance at night when we lay down to sleep.
But we know through Christ’s life, death and resurrection, that we should not fear the end because God is there in every part of it. Our beginning and our ending, and he is most definitely there in our eternity.