Lent 5 2023
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
March 26, 2023
Ezekiel 37:1-14, Romans 8:1-11, John 11:1-53


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            Unless you were paying close attention, you would have missed it.  Jesus’ first sign in the Gospel of John is done very quietly.  At His mother’s request He turns 120 gallons of water into wine at a wedding in Cana a few miles north of Nazareth.  Jesus does the miracle discreetly.  Only Mary, the disciples and the servants know what happened.  It was the first of Jesus’ signs of who He really is, but He does not make a big deal out of it.

            His identifying signs become less discreet as He interacts with the Samaritan woman at the well and tells her all about herself and she shares it with her whole village.  Then, back in Cana, Jesus heals the son of an official from Capernaum.  Down in Jerusalem on a Sabbath, Jesus heals a crippled man at the pool of Bethesda and the man tells the Jewish leaders it was Jesus who did it.  Up in Galilee Jesus feeds 5,000 and then walks on water.  In our Gospel reading last week Jesus heals a man born blind in Jerusalem causing a great stir among the people and the religious leaders. The number of people following Jesus grows, and the opposition to Jesus grows.  There are plans to arrest Jesus and plots to kill Jesus, especially in the areas around Jerusalem.  It is a tense situation.  Despite the danger, Jesus visits Jerusalem for the winter Feast of Dedication, which is now called Hanukkah, and while He is there the Jews pick up rocks and are ready to stone Jesus to death but He escapes and goes down across the Jordan where it is calmer and safer.

            Jesus starts out discreetly doing signs, now He is going to do a sign with audacity.  Jesus is going to take bold risks.  At Jesus’ first miracle in Cana He tells His mother, John 2:4 (ESV) 4 … “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”  Now, Jesus’ hour has come.  He is across the Jordan at the place John had been baptizing. He is hunkered down with his disciples. People come to Jesus saying, John 10:41 (ESV) 41 … “John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.”  Into this riverside place of peace and safety comes a messenger from the village of Bethany near Jerusalem.  Jesus’ friend Lazarus is sick.  His sisters, Mary and Martha, want Jesus to come and heal Lazarus. The disciples must really tense up to think they will have to return to where Jesus was almost killed.  They don’t understand that it is now Jesus’ hour. Jesus is going to be audacious and He strategically sets everything up just right.  He delays their return to Bethany by telling the disciples, John 11:4 (ESV) 4 …“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.”  It sounds like they are staying put so the disciples relax.  Two days pass and then Jesus announces John 11:7 (ESV) 7 … “Let us go to Judea again.” 

            The disciples had been relieved, but are now concerned and protest,  John 11:8 (ESV) 8 … “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?”  It is kind of cute how the disciples, just like us, feel the need to remind Jesus of the “reality” of the situation as they second guess his decisions.  Jesus declares that it is time to act while it is day and that Lazarus is asleep and Jesus will go awaken Him, and then has to explain to the disciples that when He said Lazarus is asleep, He meant…Lazarus is dead. Thomas, knowing the risks of Jerusalem, bravely declares to the twelve, John 11:16 (ESV) 16 …“Let us also go, that we may die with him.” 

            Jesus and the disciples go to Bethany and meet Lazarus’ sister Martha on the road.  Martha is distraught with grief over her brother who has been dead for four days. She is upset that Jesus was not there to save Lazarus, but still retains faith in Jesus.  John 11:21-22 (ESV) 21 Martha [says] 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.”

            John 11:23-24 (ESV) 23 Jesus [says] to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha [says] to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

            Martha has good, solid faith in God.  She knows, perhaps better than many Christians today, that the dead will be raised on the last day.  What she doesn’t know is she has the resurrection standing in front of her.

            Jesus is truly audacious.  He confronts death and declares, John 11:25-26 (ESV) 25 … “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?” 

Jesus is the resurrection and He declares victory over death right there in Bethany to grieving Martha with Lazarus lying dead nearby in a tomb.  Jesus declares authority over death and now He will demonstrate that audacious authority in front of a crowd of witnesses so there will be no denying what He has done.

            Martha goes to get Mary, and Mary quickly gets up and departs and the Jews at the house follow her and they all meet Jesus on the road.  Mary is crying, the Jews are crying, everyone is torn up by the death of Lazarus.  Death is tragic.  Death is the enemy.  Death is not part of God’s original plan in creation but is a result of sin.  Jesus is deeply moved and troubled by death and asks to be taken to the grave and then Jesus weeps.  Even knowing what is about to happen, death troubles Jesus; death saddens Jesus.

            I think this is an important point to remember when Christians mourn the death of loved ones.  There is some social push lately to not have a funeral or memorial service but instead have a celebration of life.  I fear that this can make folks feel guilty that they are sad at the death of a loved one; as if their grief is somehow denying the resurrection of the dead. Jesus shows us here how there is absolutely a resurrection of the dead, and, at the same time, death still brings tears. 

            There is murmuring in the crowd as there was with Mary and Martha, “Why didn’t Jesus keep Lazarus from dying?” 

            Jesus, Mary and Martha, and the crowd of Jews go to the tomb and Jesus, with great audacity, demands that they take away the stone from the front of the tomb. And at this point Martha, dear, practical Martha, really must protest.  Okay, all this raising of the dead talk is fine and dandy, but this is real death, there is a real dead body in that tomb, and it has really been in there for four days, and real dead bodies decompose and start to smell like…well, they smell like death. 

            Jesus, however, is not worried about the reality or stench of death because Jesus has real authority over death and with great audacity John 11:40 (ESV) 40 Jesus [says] to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”  Jesus’ audacity is greater than practical concerns about the stink of death and they roll away the stone.  Jesus prays out loud so that people will hear him and know that Jesus is the one sent by God the Father.  And then Jesus does something so audacious it is really ridiculous.  Jesus yells at a corpse.  Jesus gives an order to a dead man.  John 11:43 (ESV) 43 … “Lazarus, come out.”  How stupid is it to yell orders at a dead man?  It is ultimately stupid, unless…unless…you are the resurrection and the life…unless, you have authority over death…unless, you are God in flesh.

            The dead man obeys Jesus’ command and Lazarus comes walking out of the tomb wrapped in grave clothes.  Jesus orders that he be unbound and freed.

            In front of a crowd of onlookers Jesus raises a man from the dead who has been dead for four days.  The people are amazed by what they see.  Some believe that Jesus is the Christ sent from God.  Others are horrified, because Jesus is their enemy, and they run off to the Pharisees to report what has happened.  Jesus purposely does an audacious miracle that cannot be explained away or ignored, and the Jewish leaders are stirred to action.  Jesus must die.  He must die as soon as possible.  The Jewish leaders lament, John 11:48 (ESV) 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” You just can’t let someone live who is audacious enough to command dead people to live and they obey.  It is time for Jesus to die.  Jesus’ hour has come. 

            John 11:49-50 (ESV) 49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50 Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.”

            Caiaphas is more right than he knows.  Truly, truly it is better for one man to die to save the people.  This is what Jesus has come to do.  This is Jesus’ mission that will soon bring Him in front of Caiaphas to be questioned, found guilty, turned over to Pontius Pilate, flogged, crowned with thorns, paraded through the streets, and crucified at Golgotha, the place of a skull.  Jesus’ audacity in raising Lazarus from the dead leads to Jesus’ crucifixion and death and burial in a tomb.  Jesus trades places with Lazarus.  But Jesus has authority over death. 

            It is with great audacity that even though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death you fear no evil.  In the face of the death of a loved one; in the face of your own death, you are saddened, but you do not grieve as those who have no hope.  You have great hope.  You have Jesus. 

            This is quite an Easter Gospel reading here in the middle of Lent.  Jesus is the resurrection and the life.  Jesus can raise the dead.  Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.  Jesus Himself is raised from the dead, and Jesus will raise you from the dead. 

            And so it is with great audacity that each week you confess in the creed that you believe in the resurrection of the dead.  You believe in the resurrection of your body on the Last Day. It is with great audacity that at funerals we declare Jesus’ words, John 11:25-26 (ESV) 25 … “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. …”

            It is with great audacity that even though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death you fear no evil.  In the face of the death of a loved one; in the face of your own death, you are saddened, but you do not grieve as those who have no hope.  You have great hope.  You have Jesus. 

Jesus is the resurrection and the life. You have the audacity to believe that you have eternal life, and you know it is true, because that is what Jesus has promised you.  Amen.