November 5, 2000
Sermon by Rev. Sherry Parker
Dundee United Methodist Church
All Saints Sunday
Please note: Because I do not use notes when I preach, the text in the written sermon may vary slightly from the spoken sermon. My prayer is that in both my writing and my speaking the Holy Spirit works to make this message worthy of God's purpose.
Scripture: Psalm 24; Revelation 21:1-6a; John 11:32-44
While Jesus was on the eastern side of the Jordan River, many miles away, near Jerusalem, his good friend Lazarus lay dying. Jesus received word that Lazarus was ill, but put off going to see him until it was too late. When he arrived in Bethany, Lazarus had already been dead four days. Martha, one of Lazarus' sisters, came to greet Jesus as he entered the town. She told Jesus that if he had been there Lazarus would not have died. She confessed her believe that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus told her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me will live, even though they die, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die." (John 11:25-26)
Jesus then met Mary, another sister of Lazarus. Read John 11:32-44.
This wonderful account includes all the details of the death of one who dies in Christ, whether it is a death that occurred hundreds of years ago, in our life times or within these last 12 months. The loss of a loved one is painful and numbing. Those of us who have mourned a loved one, we can understand Martha and Mary running to ask Jesus, "Why did this happen? Why weren't you here?" And for those whom we know who have died in Christ, we take comfort in Jesus' tears and find consolation as Lazarus is called forth from the tomb. Death is for Christian believers a mixture of sorrow and celebration, an end and a beginning, the tragic completion of life's passage and God's care infinitely onward.
In the midst of grief and resurrection Jesus weeps. "Jesus wept." John 11:35. You may have, as a youngster, chosen this Bible verse to memorize. There's less challenge. But have you ever asked the challenging question, "Why?" Why would Jesus weep when he knew his purpose in standing before Lazarus' tomb? Why would he weep over the dead when in the next few minutes he would bring overwhelming joy with the words "Lazarus, come out!"?
Jesus was greatly affected by the grief of the mourners. He wept with them. He wept for them. Lazarus had been buried four days, yet the grief of his loss still filled the community. Mary, Martha, and many of their friends were grieving. Jesus was touched by their pain. Through Jesus Christ, God knows the pain of loss, as the parent knows the loss of a child.
When we feel pain, whether it is the pain of these frail bodies, these clay vessels, or it is the pain of frustration, loneliness or broken relationship, God knows. It is not in God's character to be unmoved by suffering. This is evident from the Exodus, where God led God's people out of captivity to Jesus' healing presence with those who suffered infirmities and isolation. We do not worship a God, cold and unaffected by the trials we experience, but one who shows infinite mercy through Jesus Christ.
Jesus wept not only out of compassion, but also out of pity. It was spontaneously displayed as he looked upon the circumstances of human beings in this world. What did he see? He saw the victory of death. He saw the mourning multitudes, not just at that moment, but all who came before and all who would come after, brought low by sin and death, God's creatures who do not recognize God's power.
In the creation story of Genesis 1 God brings forth creation and calls it good: the light, the land and waters, the plants and animals, man and woman. Jesus, Son of God, wept with pity as he realized these people did not see the goodness. He stood, the Creator, surrounded by the works of his hands so marred, so far from what he had intended.
God does not will that we live a flawed life in a flawed world. God does not will that we live, yawning through our days, uninspired and uninvolved in the wonder of His creation. Jesus knew the life-giving power of God and he wept for those who only knew death.
Jesus also wept for the joyous secret he kept to himself. He had come to perform an act of mercy. He had come to do more for Lazarus than the mourners could possibly hope for or understand.
The scene reminds me of Joseph meeting his brothers. He knew he would eventually reveal his identity to them, and looking forward to that joy, he sought a place to weep. Is there any time more emotional than when we are about to break good news to a friend or a loved one? I remember the long wait as my brother underwent heart surgery. During all that time, no one cried. But when the surgeon came in and said that all had gone well, no one could hold back the tears.
We cry for joy at the birth of children. We cry for joy as our children discover the world, our youth celebrate victories and young adults marry. We cry for joy when we hear the story of one who turns from a destructive path in life to the love of God through Jesus Christ.
Jesus saw the grief all about him. What the miracle of new and eternal life could do for these people! They would dance; they would cry out in praise; they would weep. Their joy would be overwhelming.
When there is new life in Christ, our own or someone else's, we can feel the joy that brought our Savior to tears. The miracle of new life is no longer a secret. When Jesus took on death and won, his victory became ours.
Jesus brought Lazarus forth from the grave with a strong, confident command, and Jesus' face was streaked with tears. He cried in mercy and compassion for the pain and loss of this life we live. He cries for us. He cried in pity for those who could not, would not see the Glory of God. He cries for every sin. He cries for every lost sinner. And Jesus cried with joy in his heart for the Good News, that life is eternal through Jesus Christ.
Jesus raising of Lazarus was just a hint of what was and is to come. For what Jesus said to Martha--Jesus says to all who believe--He says it now and for all time--"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."