Text: John 11:1-45, Romans 8:1-11†† †††† †††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† †††††††††††††††††††5th Sunday in Lent


 

ďLet Us also Go, That We May Die with HimĒ


 

††††††††††† In the name of him who is the Resurrection and the Life, dear friends in Christ:To begin, I want you to put yourself in the sandals of the disciples.Try to get inside their heads and see things from their perspective. So letís paint the broad picture first.Youíve been with Jesus about three years now.In that time youíve seen and heard some absolutely amazing things.Especially that first, say, year and a half you were with him up in Galilee.Hardly a day went by that Jesus didnít say or do something that would have blown your socks right off if youíd been wearing any.Those were the days of the swelling crowds that kept getting bigger as the fame of Jesus spread.Thousands were coming from everywhere for healing and to listen to him teach.And boy could he teach.Heíd hold people spellbound for hours on end Ė sublime words that rang so true and warmed the heart.In those days we could see it:the Messianic Age had dawned.The redemption of Israel was at hand.And we were part of it.We were in on the ground floor, partners with Jesus in ushering in the new kingdom.We figured that very shortly Jesus would lead us at the head of a numberless army to Jerusalem where he would be instantly accepted by all and crowned king.

 

††††††††††† But then things changed.Jesusí teaching became increasingly dark and hard to understand.He often spoke in riddles.He talked about carrying crosses and judgment and persecution and death. He disgusted people outright by saying they had to eat his flesh and drink his blood.That even creeped us out.He also seemed less willing to perform miracles.The result was that the crowds dwindled and then pretty much disappeared altogether. The faithful few who remained with us were few indeed.There was also mounting opposition.On the right, there were the ultra-conservative Pharisees.They were offended because Jesus criticized their traditions and their rigid interpretation of the Law.He rejected their brand of righteousness and was known instead as the friend of sinners. On the left, there were the priests and other religious authorities.They too were stung by his harsh words, and they saw him as a threat to their power.

 

††††††††††† The upshot of all this was that by the time we remaining few followers came south with him to Jerusalem a few months back, it wasnít the grand march on the city that we had envisioned. And there was a lot of tension in the air.The common citizens of the city werenít sure what to think.On one hand, the stories they heard about Jesus sounded very promising. On the other, there were plenty of negative reviews, especially from the leadership.The ruling council had decreed that Jesus was a menace.If anyone was heard even suggesting that he might be the Messiah, he was to be put out of the synagogue (that would be like being excommunicated).Despite this, Jesus spent most of his time in the city teaching openly on in the temple courts.Naturally, this raised tensions higher still.His teaching was as captivating as ever, which drew a lot of people to him.This, in turn, made it impossible for his enemies to do anything against him.They were afraid of what the crowds might do if they arrested him.So they were frustrated and growing more angry and jealous of him by the minute.

 

††††††††††† It came to a head one day while he was teaching at his regular place on Solomonís Porch.A group of his enemies interrupted and started arguing with him.They called him a demon possessed Samaritan, hoping to start a fight.Jesus didnít take the bait; but in the course of the ensuing discussion he did call them the children of the devil and he said that he himself was none other than the same Lord God who had spoken to Abraham and Moses.They went nuts.They tried to stone him for blasphemy right then and there.And of course, we, his disciples, were with him.The situation looked bad for all of us.And we were just as shocked by his brash sounding claim. Sure, we had called him the Son of God; but truth be told, we werenít exactly sure what we meant by it. Certainly we had never heard him come right out and say that he was God as plainly as that.So here we are, about to be stoned by an angry mob and weíre thinking, ďGood grief, Jesus, whyíd you say that?Are you trying to get us all killed?ĒFortunately for us, as he had on several similar occasions, Jesus just walked right through the middle of them and no one stopped him Ė and you can bet we were close on his heels. After that we left the city.We were relieved to be safely out of harmís way; but look:the whole thing confused us.I mean, if Jesus was who he said he was, why did he back down and walk out like that?Why didnít he just use his divine power to sweep his enemies away?It didnít make sense.

 

††††††††††† So thatís the general situation; now hereíre the more recent specifics.Since that time weíve pretty much been laying low with Jesus over the winter months in the hill country of southern Galilee.Yes, he still gets around and teaches in some of the synagogues; but itís nothing like it was a couple years ago.His over all approval rating is still in the drain.And us, well, weíre disappointed.Our former expectations have been shattered.Of this we are certain:Jerusalem is hostile territory.We canít go back there.But if Jesus is the Messiah, thatís where heís supposed to rule from.But nothing Jesus is doing now seems even remotely geared toward raising the kind of forces and support weíre going to need to go back there and do the job.So weíre completely confused.And itís caused us to do some rethinking.Maybe Jesus isnít who we thought he was.Yes, heís still our teacher and a good and godly man; but maybe thatís all he is.

 

††††††††††† Now hopefully youíre still with me and can appreciate some of the doubts and the general confusion of the disciples.Now add this to the mix:first comes word from Bethany that Lazarus is sick.Itís serious. The sisters Mary and Martha want Jesus there right away.It makes the disciples nervous because it means going back to Jerusalemóthe last place they want to be.So theyíre relieved to hear Jesus say, ďThis illness does not lead to death.ĒWhew, that means were staying here where itís safe.So imagine how it hits them a couple days later when Jesus says, ďAll right, now letís go back to JudeaThe disciples try to talk him out of it: ďYou canít be serious.They tried to kill you down there.ĒAnd of course theyíre thinking thereís no reason to go Ė after all, Lazarus is going to recover, you said so yourself.This is further reinforced when Jesus says ďheís sleepingĒ.Great.It means the fever broke and heís already getting better.No reason to go now.Then Jesus drops the bomb:ďHeís dead.Ē

 

††††††††††† They donít hear the part about ďAnd for your sake Iím glad I wasnít there, so that you may believe.ĒWhat they hear instead is that Jesus was wrong.They think he was wrong about Lazarus getting better Ė and by the time we get down there itíll be too late for him to do anything about it.And if Jesus was wrong about something as important as this Ö well, you can do the math.Their doubts about him go through the roof.Theyíre completely disillusioned.And theyíre swept by a wave of fatalism.ďWell, thatís it then.Itís over.Jesus isnít who we thought Ė not the great Messiah we hoped he was.And now heís going to get himself killed.ĒItís more out of the feeling of being lost and devastated that they all share than a sense of loyalty that Thomas says, ďLet us also go, that we may die with him.Ē

 

††††††††††† ďLet us also go, that we may die with him.ĒThe disciples donít know it yet, but itís one of those phrases in which someone says exactly the right thing for all the wrong reasons.But weíll come back to that.First letís fast forward a few days and see how this plays out Ė again from the disciplesí perspective.

 

††††††††††† Martha was furious.They heard the sense of betrayal in her voice when she told Jesus that it was his fault her brother died.ďYou could have saved him if youíd come.ĒAnd the disciples are thinking, ďYeah, thatís right.He could have come but he didnít.Ē Mary was more hurt than angry. And it broke their hearts to see her pain.Again, they silently blame Jesus and his lack of action. Then they see him weeping before the tomb.And Iíll tell you what they see:Itís Jesus the failure.Jesus the guy we were wrong to put our trust in.You really messed up this time, didnít you?

 

††††††††††† Iíve heard many explanations for why Jesus wept at Lazarusí tomb; but most of them donít make much sense.It couldnít be simply that his friend had died, since he knew he was going to raise him up. No, I think what broke Jesusí heart was that at that point no one believed in him.After all the time he spent with them, after all theyíd seen and heard, they still didnít trust him.And thatís what breaks his heart still today:that those who claim to be his disciples donít really believe him.But Iím getting ahead of myself again.

 

††††††††††† Retuning to the story, you can almost hear the disciples groan inwardly when he orders the stone removed from the tomb.ďWhatís he up to?Oh, this is going to be a disaster.And in front of all these people.Why in the world didnít we have the good sense to stay where we were? Now everyone is going to see what a failure he is.Ē

 

††††††††††† Itís a good thing for the disciples, both those back then and those of us today, that Jesus knows some lessons can only be learned the hard way.We have to be brought to the point where weíre saying, ďItís too late, itís impossible, it canít be done, Jesus was wrong, he messed up, he let me downĒ before he can answer, ďDid I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?Ē

†††††††††††

††††††††††† Listen:I expect thereís not one person here today who doesnít believe that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.Nor is there anyone here who doesnít believe that Jesus will raise us all on the last day. Am I right about that?Donít we all agree that with him thereís no such thing as impossible or too late?That with him there are no mistakes?That he cannot and will not let us down?Does anyone disagree?And yet how often do we find ourselves with the disciples thinking, ďHereís one that Jesus canít fix.This time he made a mistakeĒ?

 

What am I talking about?Iím talking about the new life that Jesus promises us in the present.Iím talking about the power of his Holy Spirit to raise us up and make us better people now.It isnít just in the resurrection on the last day that Jesus has promised to make us anew. Yes, thatís when the job will be done completely; but that work begins now.We donít have to wait for it.This is what Paul is saying in this morningís Epistle.ďIf the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.Ē Please understand what heís saying. Heís not talking about the resurrection. Thatís when Jesus will raise you up in an immortal body.But here Paul is talking about a new life for your mortal body:the one you have now.

††††††††††† The question is this:what is it in your life that youíve determined is impossible for Jesus to deal with?Do you have a temptation that always gets the best of you?One that youíve told yourself youíll just have to live with and yes, give in to now and then, because your flesh is just too weak and the Spirit of Jesus isnít strong enough to help you overcome it?Or how about an ongoing conflict with another member of the body of Christ?A spouse, or a family member, or maybe some other believer whom you just canít get along with?Or who has done something that for you is impossible to forgive Ė and that youíve convinced yourself that even Jesus canít bring reconciliation and peace to the situation?ďNo, not this time.Not in this case.Itís too late.Thereíre too many hard feelings.Too many terrible things have been said and done.Ē

 

††††††††††† It may be something else, but I hope you see my point.If thatís what youíre thinking about anything, what youíre essentially saying is that you donít believe Jesus is who he said he is.You donít believe he has the power to raise you up and give you new life.And let me tell you what that unbelief is:in part, it is a perverse form of pride that imagines you have a problem or a special circumstance so unique that Jesus canít transform you.Likely too itís part fear of what letting Jesus at the problem would actually mean. We tend to guard our pet sins and donít want to live without them.In the case of conflict there are many factors at play, but one of them is the feeling of moral superiority we have over the person we believe has wronged us. Holding a grudge is a way of reminding ourselves that ďIím a better person than the one who offended me.Ē And we dearly hate to let go of that feeling.So convincing ourselves that Jesus canít fix the problem is a way of making sure we donít have to give it up.

 

††††††††††† But letís call the unbelief what it really is:itís sin, pure and simple.Itís the part of you thatís dead.Itís the part of you that stinks.Itís the part of you that you have sealed up in your darkness of your heart and are trying to keep hidden and out of sight.Jesus says take away the stone youíve got covering it up.Let his light in there.Let his word be heard there.ďBelieve in me and you will see the glory of God.Ē

 

††††††††††† And this is where Thomas had it exactly right.Jesus went to Jerusalem not only to raise his Lazarus from the dead, but to show all of his disciples that they too were dead in unbelief.They just didnít know it.They had to be shown.They had to be convicted and ďkilledĒ as it were before they could be raised up in a new and stronger living faith in Jesus.And the same is true for us.We believe that Jesus died for our sin.And we believe that he will raise us up on the last day.But itís our present unbelief that stands in the way of living as we ought now.Letís call it what it is.Letís put it to death.Letís go also and die with him to our sin and unbelief precisely so that he can raise us up to live as Godís faithful children now and forever.In Jesusí name.Amen.


 

Soli Deo Gloria!