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September 17, 2017

Sermon John 11:38-44  . . . “People to meet in heaven:  Lazarus”

“People to meet in heaven:  Lazarus”

John 11:38-44

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

Early in the morning, on Christmas Day, 1977, Oona Chaplin and seven of her eight children gathered around the bed of their dear husband and father, Charlie--Charlie Chaplin--one of the most famous actors of all time.  He had already suffered a series of strokes.  His end was near.  And as his family gathered around, he died that Christmas Day, at the age of eighty-eight.  He was buried four days later near Lake Geneva, Switzerland.

Two-and-a-half months later, his wife, Oona, got a call from the police.  They said, “Somebody dug up his grave, and he’s gone!”

Apparently, two unemployed immigrants, one from Poland and the other from Bulgaria, got the bright idea to steal Chaplin’s body and hold it for ransom.  All they wanted, (in today’s money), was $600,000!  The only problem was, Oona didn’t want to pay.  She said, “Charlie would have thought it rather ridiculous.”

But the body snatchers were desperate and the police were diligent.  So after wiretapping Oona’s phone line and monitoring every one of the area two hundred phone booths, the police nabbed the robbers and uncovered his body in a nearby cornfield.  Then they took it and buried it again in the same place, this time beneath a layer of reinforced concrete.

Or think of Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll.  He died in August of 1977, at the age of 42, and was buried two days later at a cemetery just outside of Memphis, in a nine hundred pound, steel-lined, copper-plated coffin.

Two weeks later, a man named Ronnie Adkins called the police to tell them that he had infiltrated a group that planned to steal his body and hold it for ransom.  And sure enough, just as soon as the police went to investigate, they caught three men snooping around his mausoleum.  They charged them with criminal trespassing and threw them into jail.

And to be sure no one would ever try to steal his body again, they moved it to the Presley estate, to Graceland, where it could be watched and guarded seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day.

Grave robbers.  Sometimes you have to wonder.

Oddly enough, our Savior Jesus is a grave robber too.  In fact, as nineteenth century preacher Dwight L. Moody once said, “Jesus broke up every funeral He ever attended.”

If you would, please turn in your Bible to page 1141, to the words of John chapter 11, starting at verse 1:  “Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.  It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill.  So the sisters sent to Him, saying, ‘Lord, he whom You love is ill.’  But when Jesus heard it He said, ‘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.’”

There were many who loved and followed Jesus.  Think of the disciples—Andrew and Philip, Thomas and Bartholomew, Peter, James and John.  They stood with Jesus in the best of times and the worst of times.  And there were the seventy-two, men who went from town to town and village to village to tell the good news of Jesus.

And along with the many who shared in Jesus’ ministry, there were others too, friends, who shared in His company—two sisters named Mary and Martha, and their brother Lazarus.  John even goes so far as to say, in verse 5:  “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.”

The first time Jesus met them was when He first came to Bethany.  The Bible says a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house.  And while she prepared a feast for Him and His twelve disciples, and as Jesus sat teaching, Mary sat listening at His feet.  And while the roast was roasting and flour was flying, she suddenly stormed into the room and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?  Tell her to help me.”

And with a smile, Jesus turned to her and said, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but only one thing is needful.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Then in chapter 12, Mary will pour a flask of oil, pure nard, onto Jesus’ feet, then wipe His feet with her hair.  Judas will scoff, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?”  And Jesus will say, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial.”  And He’ll say, “You will always have the poor, but you do not always have Me.”

Now, as we read in chapter 11, Lazarus became ill.  The Bible doesn’t tell us what happened.  But whatever it was, in a matter of hours, it took his life.

Now you would think that, if Jesus and Lazarus were such close, personal friends, He would make an extra effort to come in their time of trouble and sorrow.  That’s certainly what Mary and Martha seemed to think.  Notice they didn’t say, “Please come.  Lazarus is sick.”  They said:  “Lord, he whom You love is ill.”

Now let me ask, if you were to get a call or an email with the news that one of your closest friends or family members is sick, what would do?  Would you drop everything you’re doing, no matter how important, and run to their side?  Of course you would!  It’s how we show we care.

But what did Jesus do?  Look at verse 6:  “So, when He heard that Lazarus was ill, He stayed two days longer in the place where He was.”

Two days longer?!

Imagine their shock and frustration.  There they sat with their brother and watched him die, waiting, hoping for Jesus to come.  They had already sent word and were sure that, at any minute now, He would walk right through their door, stand beside his bed, and ask God to heal him.  Or, better still, wherever He was, and whatever He was doing, maybe He would stop and pray that God would heal him.  He had done it so many times before.  Why not here?  Why not now?

But if truth be known, what was about to happen would be the best, the crowning achievement of all of His earthly miracles.  It was part of a much, much bigger plan.

You see, in John chapter 2, He changed water into wine.  In chapter 4, He healed a nobleman’s son.  In chapter 5, He healed a man at the pool of Bethesda.  In chapter 6, He fed thousands with fish and bread.  And in chapter 9, He gave sight to a man born blind.

And He had raised others.  There was Jairus’ daughter, a little twelve-year-old girl.  And in Nain, there was a widow’s son.

But Lazarus was different.  He wasn’t dead for only a matter of minutes or hours.  He was dead for four days.  He was dead dead, all wrapped up in linen cloths and laid in a stone cold tomb, as dead as dead could be.

That’s why Jesus said to His disciples, “This is for the glory of God.” 

Now let’s turn a page and skip to chapter 11, verse 17:  “Now when Jesus came, He found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.  Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother.  So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met Him, but Mary remained seated in the house.  Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.  But even now I know that what You ask from God, God will give You.’”

Did you catch that edge, that sound of rebuke in her voice?  “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”  If you didn’t catch it, in verse 32, sister Mary would say it again:  “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”

In other words, we love You, Jesus, we believe in You, and we know You carry the weight of the world on Your shoulders.  But it’s been four days.  Four days.  So don’t bother.  It’s too late.  He’s dead and gone.

But little did they know that there, before their very eyes, they would see the glory of God.

Verse 41:  “So they took away the stone.  And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank You that You have heard Me.  I knew that You always hear Me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that You sent Me.’  When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out.’  The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth.  Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’”

Samuel Weinstein is the chief of pediatric cardio-thoracic surgery for Children’s Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.  In 2006, he went to El Salvador, with Heart Care International, to provide life-saving operations for poor children.

But after twelve hours of surgery, he knew it would take more than expertise and advanced equipment to save the life of Francisco Fernandez.  He was only eight years old, and he was bleeding out of control.  Even worse, the hospital had neither the medicine to stop the bleeding, nor the blood to give the boy a transfusion.  You see, his blood type was B-negative, one of the rarest types of all.

But strangely enough, Dr. Weinstein had the same blood type.  So he laid down his scalpel, took off his gloves and washed his hands and forearm.  Then he sat down and donated his blood.

After giving his pint, he drank some bottled water and ate a Pop-Tart.  Twenty minutes later, he rejoined his colleagues at the table, who watched as Weinstein’s blood began to flow into the little boy’s arm.  Then he finished the operation and saved his life.

Did Jesus love Lazarus?  Does Jesus love you?  Far more than you can ever know.

In the words of a hymn:  “What can wash away my sin?  What can make me whole again?  Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”


By Your great power, dear Jesus, You once raised Lazarus from the dead.  Someday, we pray, raise us up that we too may live forever with You.  This we ask in Your name.  Amen


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