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LOVE

John xi – Phase One

When I started to prepare for this sixth sign in John’s Gospel I intended to deal with the story in one go.  The more I looked into it the more I realised that that would not do it justice – for there are so many interwoven themes in the narrative.

Then I wrote a general title “LIFE” – and that is good, it is about life – about the resurrection life – but it is not the whole of the narrative. So I hope you will forgive me if in the course of my divided ministry amongst you I take parts of this Sixth Sign and preach them separately.

In which case we begin with LOVE.  (I am not sure how we shall divide the rest of the narrative – we shall see when the time comes, perhaps death and life?)

This whole story is about love.

See what John says:

·        2 This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. 

·        3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”

 

·        5 Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.

 

·        35 Jesus wept.

            36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

I also want to include  verse 16 – because I believe it illustrates the love of the disciples for Jesus:

16 Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

John leaves us in no doubt that LOVE PERMEATES THIS NARRATIVE – even though the story is both exquisitely painful as well as wonderfully triumphant. 

Here we have the love OF JESUS and LOVE FOR JESUS – and, as we would expect they are intertwined.   Here too is the love of Jesus as it meets the heart-rending crisis in the life of the family at Bethany where Jesus stayed so often.

I suggest to you tonight that we focus on this story in respect of what it says about the love of Jesus, and the response of love that He provoked;

A.    v 3  “Lord. The one you love is sick”

B.    v 5  “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus … yet stayed where he was two more days.”

C.    vv 35,36  “Jesus wept.  (they said) “See how He loved him!”

D.   vv 2 and 16 Jesus provokes love (Mary and Thomas)

Yes – I apologise, I have FOUR points tonight!

A.  HIS LOVE IN OUR NEED     v3

11 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. …  3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”

The relationship that existed between Mary, Martha and Lazarus and our Lord Jesus implied that in times of trouble He would be approached.  It is implied (correctly) that Jesus will not only want to help them – but that He is able to help them.

Lazarus may be ill – even to the point of death – but Jesus can help: so Jesus is sent a message, a message that took about a day to arrive.

This story has always had much to say about Jesus and OUR needs.  It is the chapter that not only contains the strongest hope of our life beyond the grave – it explains to us the seeming contradictions of the love of Jesus in our difficulties.

Notice that little word at the beginning of verse 3:    “SO the sisters sent word…”

A great deal sits on that little word.

3ἀπέστειλαν οὖν αἱ ἀδελφαὶ πρὸς αὐτὸν λέγουσαι· κύριε, ἴδε ὃν φιλεῖς ἀσθενεῖ.

They sent therefore …

In human relationships love makes demands – it often seems to presume upon the loved one. That is the very nature of love – that it can make assumptions about need and fulfilment.

When we consider the love that existed between this family and their dear friend we recognise that:

1.                It was a natural reaction

2.                It was a reasonable reaction

3.                It assumes that Jesus can, and will help

Their request contains no specific request – it is a statement that shares the bare facts of the tragic situation – they assume that Jesus will understand.  He does.

And when disaster strikes at our heart or our family we make the same assumptions about Him and His love.

It is a natural reaction

It is a reasonable reaction

It assumes that He can and will help

I can hear Him say to them on an earlier occasion as He leaves the home in Bethany.

“Take care.  If anything happens – get in touch with me.”

I have no textual justification for that – but this passage breathes just such a relationship.

NATURAL    REASONABLE    ASSUMING

And should our relationship with Him be any different?

It is important for us to examine the nature of our relationship with Jesus. Do we naturally and reasonably approach Him with our needs?  Or is He a last resort?

The lesson this narrative teaches is that His love can supply all needs – and can conquer death.

But it is also as we see next a lesson in His DELAYS:-

B.  HIS LOVE HAS DIFFERENT PRIORITIES    v5

That is not to say that it is diminished in ANY way.

4 When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” 5 Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.

It is the hardest lesson of all to learn.

It gives rise to the repeated questioning comments of verses 21 and 32

“LORD, IF you had been here….”

John is only too aware of this issue – and indeed that is one of the reasons he records the story for us in this detail.

His comment follows Jesus’ words about the purpose of His glory.

5 Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.

John realises that his readers will likely misinterpret Jesus’ actions – much as Mary and Martha did.

He uses a DIFFERENT word for love in v5 – it is the word agaph

 

5ἠγάπα δὲ Ἰησοῦς τὴν Μάρθαν καὶ τὴν ἀδελφὴν αὐτῆς καὶ τὸν Λάζαρον. 6ὡς οὖν ἤκουσεν ὅτι ἀσθενεῖ, τότε μὲν ἔμεινεν ἐν ἦν τόπῳ δύο ἡμέρας,

Whilst the change is difficult to render in English – it is an important distinction that John makes.  Jesus loves them in both ways – the love of friendship and the love of devotion – but that love of devotion that Jesus takes to its highest point is the love that motivates Him here.  It may still puzzle us.

The Message rather nicely captures the sense of mystery here:

Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, but oddly, when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed on where he was for two more days. After the two days, he said to his disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.”

Yes – it’s very odd.    We might be tempted to use a much stronger word.

Do you think it was easy for Jesus?

How do you think He felt as He purposely delayed – to the accompaniment of obtuse disciples who want to prevent Him going back to Judea at all and don’t understand what He says about Lazarus’ condition.

I know – you will say that He knows what He will do… but He also knows what the friends at Bethany are enduring while He delays.

But His work has other folk in mind – others who would not be there at Bethany if He went at once (and, besides, Lazarus is already dead when the message reaches Jesus.) and there would not be that amazing sign nor that incredible faith.

There are so many lessons to learn from this narrative – yet just a few need reiterating here:

1.                His delay does not deny His love

2.                He will be glorified

3.                He has others in His view and His plan

Besides – there are always LESSONS TO BE LEARNED – lessons that cannot be learned by the immediate granting of needs however great.

The sovereign Lord must be allowed the control of the TIMING of His work.

It is NOT because He does not love

It is NOT because He does not feel the need

It is NOT because He somehow “plays” with us in our extremity

5 Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.

14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

C.  HIS LOVE WILL BE DEMONSTRATED  vv 35,36

We jump across the intervening verses (to which we will return on a later occasion) to the point where Martha and Mary have complained about His not coming in time.

(Could He have come in time??)

And – with the witnesses to the miracle amongst the mourners we have a different perspective of Christ’s amazing love:

35 Jesus wept.

36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

John is once again very careful with his language. The word he uses for wept is the silent flowing of tears – compared with the wailing of Mary and the Jews in verse 33.

Once again the Message gets some of that :

When Jesus saw her sobbing and the Jews with her sobbing, a deep anger welled up within him. He said, “Where did you put him?”

“Master, come and see,” they said. Now Jesus wept.

The Jews said, “Look how deeply he loved him.”

Others among them said, “Well, if he loved him so much, why didn’t he do something to keep him from dying? After all, he opened the eyes of a blind man.”

The tears of Jesus are witnessed and interpreted by those who saw them: How deeply he loved him.

But they did not know the half of it!

In 33 and 38 John tells us of the DEEP EMOTIONAL FEELINGS OF JESUS

I don’t know about you – but I need a God like this.  I need a Lord who not only understands the sadness – but feels the awfulness of the sinful predicament of a desperate world.

 

I need a Lord who cries.

15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. 16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.      HEBREWS 4:14

 

And, if I should doubt it – I am pointed away to the cross on which He died that I may see how God deals with sin – not in some distant working of an academic miracle – but in the close up and terrible agony of carrying my sins to His cross!

HIS LOVE IS DEMONSTRATED!

D.  HIS LOVE PROVOKES A RESPONSE   v2 and v 16

John tells us of two seemingly different reactions to Jesus:

11 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.

14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

16 Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Mary – and Thomas – both loved Jesus.  They demonstrated their relationship to their Lord in different ways.

John tells us – anticipating events in the next chapter - that this Mary was the one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped His feet with her hair.

He tells us too that, when they realised Jesus intended to go back into the dangerous territory of Judaea – Thomas volunteered to go with Him – even to death.

I leave you to judge which of them suits your own reaction.

But in both there is the essential truth that such love as we see in this narrative demands a reaction from those whom Jesus loves.   

ADORATION and WILLING SERVICE.

How will you respond to love like His?

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