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  • Glenn Rosenbaum

THE GREATEST BATTLE EVER FOUGHT

John 11:17-27, 38-45 17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. 21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 “Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”…38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” 40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” 45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him.

In the name of Jesus Christ, the Savior we need, someone to defeat death, dear Christian friends,

It is not fair to say more people are dying now than at any other time in history, but it is fair to say we are all thinking more about death right now as we daily hear the rising death toll caused by the COVID-19 outbreak and as our own congregation received word this week of the deaths of two members, seemingly unconnected to the pandemic.

But when isn’t death on our minds? With the exceptions of the incredibly healthy individual or the relatively young person, death and thoughts of death affect us all the time. A sickness or injury hits our body and we feel lousy and wonder if it wouldn’t be better if we could just die. An accident or tragedy occurs and the life of one of our loved ones is taken. A virus attacks the world and we dread the idea of it infecting us or one of our family members to end life. Today’s readings bring death to mind as well.

Do you try to avoid the thought of death or do you meet it head on? Do you fear death or do you accept it? Even though the inevitable date of Tax Day was moved back this year, we can’t avoid the fact of death and we are not in charge of pushing it back on the calendar, so let’s make sure we RECOGNIZE THE RESULTS OF DEATH! Today we will look at some of those: I. Crying and II. Confessions of faith and III. Conquered.

There was a lot of crying going on at the time our reading describes. Jesus’ friend and Mary’s brother Lazarus had died. In between the sections of our reading, we hear, “when Jesus saw Mary weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled…Jesus wept (33,35).

One of the results of death is that it brings crying. I’ve done my share of it and seen an even greater amount of it at the bedside of the deceased or at the family’s home shortly afterward. Most of the time those tears are produced by the emotion of sadness. It is sad to see your parent die. It is sad to lose your best friend. It is sad to think you will never see them again this side of heaven.

When we realize that our perfect Savior Jesus wept, we know there is nothing wrong with crying tears of sadness. But some tears are not only sadness, but may be mixed with despair, like the Apostle Paul was referring to in 1 Thessalonians 4:13: “do not grieve like the rest of men who have no hope”.

Christians are sad when fellow Christians die, but we are not in despair or without hope. If we are, then we need to repent of our insecurity of faith and go back to the sure words of our Savior who said here to Martha, He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.

For Christians, there is life after death. The “second death” Revelation (20:14) refers to does not touch a Christian. Jesus has set us free from hell and its eternal death. We Christians are filled with confident hope that the soul of a Christian is enjoying life in heaven immediately upon death because of the forgiveness Jesus won through his death on the cross and the body will be reunited with the soul there on Judgment Day.

That confession of faith I just spoke is another result of death. So was Martha’s wonderful confession of faith. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”

How beautiful is that confession of faith!?! Martha saw Jesus not just as someone who could have used his healing power to keep her brother alive, but also as the Messiah, the one promised ever since the first sin in the Garden of Eden— where death began— who would fulfill Old Testament prophecy and destroy Satan, save and bless his faithful people and rule forever.

Another beautiful confession of faith came from Jesus himself as a result of this death. Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

Jesus trusted his heavenly Father who had sent him from his heavenly throne to this earth not only to raise the dead, but to show his power over death. Jesus trusted God to work through this situation to make his glory evident and to benefit those standing there. That happened as we hear this: many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him.

Confessions of faith are an ongoing result of death. I’ve heard some of the most beautiful things about Jesus and Christian faith and heaven come from the lips of those who are dying. So many are so confident about the paradise which is heaven, about the perfection of Jesus which has made it possible for them to be in heaven and about the promises of Jesus who said they would be there when they die.

Many people may be listening when we die as well. Doctors and nurses, family and friends, maybe even complete strangers may be by our side as we die. What will you say to them? Repeat Martha’s words and tell them Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Reiterate confidently Jesus’ words that he is the resurrection and the life. Such Scriptural words can be shared at any time, especially now as we face the results of COVID-19, so we can assure ourselves and others that “Jesus has this”!

Surprisingly enough, we never hear Lazarus’ confession of faith after this miracle of his resurrection from the dead. Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”… Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

All the Biblical examples of Jesus’ miracles of raising the dead— what we heard in today’s first lesson with the Shunammite woman and here with Lazarus, as well as the young man from Nain, Jairus’ daughter and others— were all a preview of Jesus’ greatest triumph over death when he himself rose from the dead. We never hear anything from any of those raised from the dead, perhaps telling us that the person raised from the dead is not who is important, but rather the person who raised them from the dead is the one on whom we should focus.

This is another result of death: to know that Jesus conquered it. In two weeks, we will celebrate Easter and Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. The grave could not hold him even as it could not hold Lazarus! The grave can not hold us either!

Jesus reigns in heaven and made sure we will someday as well! God tells us in the Book of Hebrews (2:14), “[Jesus] shared in our humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death— that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”

We don’t have to fear death. We can meet it head on because we have Jesus, someone to defeat death for us. Whether it is through COVID-19 or some other way death comes to you or your loved one, be assured that Jesus has conquered it and has given his victory to you and to all who believe in him!


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