REST ASSURED…GOD IS ON YOUR SIDE
April 7, 2019 … 5th Sunday in Lent
Growing up down along Tobacco Road in Southside Va., it was simply a settled-down fact you were born and bred a fan of the University of North Carolina Tarheels. Why? Because none other than God Almighty was a Tarheel! As the reasoning went, the good Lord had to be a Tarheel because he created the sky Carolina Blue!
Well, truth-be-known, I’m not so sure God is on the side of any particular sports team….and yet, this morning we are going to see that God, through the actions of his Son Jesus Christ, does show partiality to a particular group of people.
Rest assured, God does favor certain folk.
Sit back and listen to this fascinating narrative from John’s gospel. Jesus has received the news that his friend Lazarus has died….
17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now 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 only 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. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
35 Jesus wept.
36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
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 believe, you will 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.”
Tucked away in this narrative are…
TWO WORDS THAT MAKE NO DIFFERENCE- IF ONLY
Jesus arrives in Bethany at the home of his good friends Martha and Mary. And he’s confronted with the searing grief of first Martha, the Mary: “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died!”
When we are slapped in the face by injury, accident, illness or grief, do we not spend countless hours torturing ourselves with instant replay? We twist the screws of the painful circumstance over and over and over in our mind and hearts, saying, “If only I had done this, or hadn’t gone there, or been neglectful of that….” “If only….”
Have you been there, kicking yourself, with those two words? Like George of the Jungle, we forget to watch out for that tree. And then we torture ourselves with the instant replay, revisiting the scene “If only…”
And then there are times, like Mary and Martha, that we torment our Lord with endless counterplay. “If only you had been here, Lord, this wouldn’t have happened!”
We blame God. We bargain with God. We beat on God. And God’s big enough to take our anger and our frustration.
Some things in life aren’t fair. Last Sunday afternoon an engineer and conductor were operating a westbound freight train for the Buckingham Branch Railroad. They had just passed thru Crozet and were reaching full speed, heading toward Afton Mountain. As they rounded a curve, there was a 39-yr-old man walking on the tracks. The engineer applied the brakes, but it was too late. The man was struck and killed, with the engineer and conductor looking on in tragic horror.
Three hours later, that same engineer and conductor had resumed their journey on toward Staunton. They passed thru Waynesboro. Just west of town they came upon another inconceivable sight- a 32-year-old man lying on the train tracks. Once again, brakes were applied…but a train cannot stop on a dime. The man was killed. And a shocked, grief-stricken engineer and conductor were left to deal with the images of two fatalities forever seared into their minds. Two fatalities in one day!
If only… if only they had been behind or ahead on their schedule…if only two young men had not been so careless… if only.
Alas, those two words ultimately make no difference. They don’t change the circumstances. They don’t take away the suffering.
If only. It is ironic, though, that these two words can strangely be a profession of faith. When we are disappointed or angry or frustrated with our Lord, we are at least acknowledging we believe he could have done something. That’s what Martha and Mary are saying here. “Why didn’t you do something, Jesus?”
A colleague of mine once commented, “I didn’t believe in God when I was 25 and my dad died – I didn’t ask then, ‘Why did God allow that to happen?’ because I didn’t think there was any God to ask. It was only after I became a Christian that I started to question God. It was only out of faith.”
But here’s the tough thing: Faith means we learn to accept God’s answers…and even harder, we learn to accept God’s silence. Many times we will never receive an explanation, at least not in this life.
If only…two words that ultimately make no difference.
TWO WORDS THAT MAKE ALL THE DIFFERENCE- JESUS WEPT
Jesus inquires, “Where have you laid Lazarus?” “Come and see, Lord,” they reply. Jesus wept. The shortest verse in all the Bible. Jesus wept.
The word literally means, “burst into tears.” Jesus bursts into tears. He convulses in emotion. He weeps. Why?
Maybe it’s simply grief over his friend Lazarus being dead. That’s possible. After all, Jesus is fully human and experiences grief just like you and me.
On the other hand, Jesus has already proclaimed his intention to resurrect Lazarus, so I really don’t think that’s it. I believe we have to back up a few verses to find the answer:
“When Jesus saw Mary weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.”
Jesus doesn’t stand aloof from the grief of his friends. He participates in the pathos. He stands in the midst of it. The pain moves Jesus to shudder in tears. And that’s who Jesus is—he doesn’t give us all the answers or reasons—he gives us himself. And because that’s who Jesus is, that’s who God is—standing alongside us in our times of deepest hurt.
As God incarnate, Jesus reminds us God is always on the side of the sufferer. And don’t you forget it.
Yes, Jesus will perform a miracle, a sign of God’s power that afternoon. He will raise Lazarus from the dead. And Lazarus will live–and then die-an earthly death, like all of us. But the greater miracle is the raising of our hope and strength Jesus performs when we are in the midst of struggle.
Hebrews 4:15 tells us we have a “high priest who is able to empathize with our weaknesses.” And that high priest is Jesus Christ.
Our Savior doesn’t give us all the answers or reasons. He gives us himself!
Two words that ultimately make no difference – if only.
Two words that ultimately make all the difference – Jesus wept.
One of the finest pastors I have ever known was a gentleman by the name of Bill Russell. Bill was the pastor of John Wesley UMC, a small African-American congregation in Harrisonburg. We became good friends through our mutual involvement on district committees. I had a deep and abiding respect for this man who could have passed for Ray Charles’ twin brother.
Bill did not have much formal seminary training. He had felt God’s call to the ministry late in life. He had come to serve this tiny congregation at the age of 65.
Bill was not a polished speaker. But when he preached and when he prayed, you felt closer to Jesus. You knew what he said came from his heart. His faith was lived out each day in caring deeds for others. I never met a man with greater faith than Bill Russell.
In 1986, Bill was hospitalized with terminal lung cancer. I’ll never forget my final visit with him. We talked. We reminisced. Bill was still able to laugh that deep, hearty laugh in spite of his labored breathing. We prayed.
As I stood up to leave, I guess Bill noticed the sadness etched across my face. He looked at me with a firm eye and an assuring smile, and he said to me, “David, I know my outlook isn’t good. But no matter what comes, I know my Lord is right here with me, and my Lord is still on the throne!”
My good friend Bill Russell entered God’s eternal presence two days later. I have never forgotten his final words to me.
Rest assured, when you are suffering, God will never abandon you. God is on your side.
The Lord is still on the throne!