A sermon preached by Pastor Robert Schaefer
First & Spring Creek Lutheran Churches
Fifth Sunday in Lent – March 13, 2005
Text: John 11:1-45
Friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
We’ve had some really long lessons this Lent, haven’t we?
The story of Lazarus – how he fell ill and died, and how Jesus raised him from the grave – is such a long one that we hardly ever read the whole thing in church. It’s not uncommon to hear parts of it at the funeral, but most of the time the pastor will chose just one of the episodes in the story, rather than trying to take on the whole 45 verses of it. Since our gospel was long and full of detail this morning, let me attempt to be brief and to the point. I want to talk about Jesus this morning, and what we learn about him in Lazarus’ story.
The first lesson here for our taking is that Jesus will always come when we call him. Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha had that part absolutely right – when troubles hit them, they called to Jesus, and he came.
When I was little, my dad and I had a whole routine we went through at bedtime. Every night it was word for word the same thing – a special litany to help a little boy rest securely through the night. One line in our bedtime routine stands out to me – “Call me if you need me,” my dad would say to me. He knew that it could get scary in a big, dark room…that sometimes there are frightening noises or unexpected lights. Sometimes little boys don’t feel well, and even get sick. Whatever the trouble was, he wanted me to know that if I needed him after the lights went out, all I had to do was call, and he’d be there. Come to think of it, my parents are still telling me the same thing, twenty-some years later. When you love someone, you’ll come to them when they need you to be there. Jesus loved Lazarus and his family, and he loves us, too. When we call him, he’ll always come to us.
The second lesson is a bit more difficult. You see, Jesus didn’t come right away, or even as quickly as he could when his friends called. He took his time. He waited. And by the time he got to Lazarus’ house, his old friend who had been alive when Jesus was called, had succumbed to the illness he’d been fighting – Jesus came, but not before Lazarus died. What can we make of that?
Sometimes, I think, God’s plan is for us to just endure the painful things in this life, at least for a time. Just because Jesus loves us and will always come when we call him doesn’t mean that life will be a cakewalk. The fact is that we live in a world that’s fallen and full of sin – and that means that pain will always be a part of this life. In Lazarus’ case, the pain was the natural result of a human body that was not meant for eternity. Sickness was a given for Lazarus, and death would come to him eventually. God didn’t strike Lazarus down with an illness just so Jesus could show off – but God was willing to use those enemy powers of sickness and death to strike a blow against the enemy. By allowing his dear friends to continue in their difficulties for a little while longer, by allowing things to play out to their natural end, Jesus would be able to perform an amazing work in their lives, one that would give them the kind of life-changing faith that a quick fix could never achieve. Lazarus’ illness, Jesus said, would prove to reveal God’s glory, and in such a way that everyone who saw it or heard about it would never be the same. Jesus refused to step in until the natural course of suffering in this fallen world had played itself out, because it was then, when there was nothing to hope in except for Jesus himself, that his miracle could most powerfully transform the entire situation.
It will be like that in our lives. We will struggle with painful things, things that are never God’s desire for us. Those things are the natural consequence of life in a fallen, broken world where sin rules. We will call out to Jesus, and although sometimes he will come right away, Lazarus’ story teaches us that sometimes he will delay, allowing the pain to play itself out. Jesus never makes us wait in order to hurt us – but he knows that sometimes it takes our journey through pain in order for his healing touch to do its best work; unless we are at the end of our own ropes, we might not grab onto the new one that Jesus tosses us. Lazarus’ story teaches us that the times when Jesus makes us wait are ultimately for our own good, and that when he tells us, “Hold on, I’m coming,” we can take him at his word – he won’t abandon us.
This is a pretty hard lesson to swallow, and no one knows it better than Jesus himself. That’s why he cries. Look at that, right there in the gospel – Jesus is crying. He’s crying for Lazarus, for Mary and for Martha, even though he knows how the story will end. He’s crying because his heart is breaking for them, just the same.
That’s the lesson I want to leave you with today. Whether Jesus comes right away, or whether he delays in order to give you something better, he will always come for you…and with tears in his eyes. He hates that you’re in pain. He hates it more than you can possibly imagine. He hates the fallenness and brokenness of the world you live in, and it breaks his heart the way sin and death hurt you. Jesus hates these things so much, he went to the cross in order to destroy them. He chose to take away your tears of pain by shedding his own great drops, because he loves you. Whatever the pain you’re experiencing, however long you’ve been calling out to Jesus and waiting for him to help you, never for a minute believe that Jesus doesn’t care about your pain. He cares. All the way to Calvary.
Remember these three lessons as you navigate life’s struggles and pains: Jesus loves you and will come when you call him. The longer he tarries, the more you can count on him to bring blessed healing when he finally arrives. And by his tear-streaked face you can tell that however necessary your pain is, it breaks Jesus’ heart that you need to go through it. That’s why he didn’t stop with healing Lazarus, but went on to Jerusalem, where he would die to put an end to all the sin and suffering and dying, once and for all.
Lord Jesus, hear our voices when we call to you. Come to us quickly, but give us strength to endure should you tarry. Wipe away our tears, for you have saved us from death’s power in your glorious cross. Amen.