Sarah Matters, Preached at the NNU Wesley Festival of Young Preachers
Imagine this with me. It is 10:45 at night and you are laying in your bed and if you are anything like me you have ignored all the scientific studies that say not to be on your phone before going to bed. So you are scrolling through social media. Your eyes soon begin to close and you realize you are more tired then you thought. So you go and set that dreaded 7 am alarm. Now, if I am being honest here. I set that 7 am alarm but I also set a 6:55 am alarm a 6:50am alarm, a 6:45am alarm..all with the hope that I am out of bed by 7am. The hardest thing for me to do is wake up in the morning. Leaving the warmth and comfort of my bed is the last thing I want to do. One afternoon, my roommate, was explaining to me one of the hardest tasks our bodies have to do. I think she caught onto my getting out of bed in the morning struggle and was trying her best to encourage me. She went on to say, “did you know that difficult task is for our bodies to wake ourselves up?”
Our heart has to begin to pump enough blood to awake our brains from the deep sleep it was just in. Our lungs have to begin to take in enough oxygen to increase our breathing. Our bodies are some of most incredible masterpieces created by God himself. Think about this, humans become physically awakened everyday but it is not all the time that humans are awakened by God because they did not hear His call.
Today I want to talk about a man and a community who were physically and spiritually awakened by God. If you have your Bibles and you can see them turn with me to John 11 staring at verse 1 as we read about Lazarus.
A man named Lazarus was sick. He lived in Bethany with his sisters, Mary and Martha. 2 This is the Mary who later poured the expensive perfume on the Lord’s feet and wiped them with her hair.[a] Her brother, Lazarus, was sick. 3 So the two sisters sent a message to Jesus telling him, “Lord, your dear friend is very sick.” 4 But when Jesus heard about it he said, “Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.” 5 So although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, 6 he stayed where he was for the next two days. 7 Finally, he said to his disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.” 8 But his disciples objected. “Rabbi,” they said, “only a few days ago the people[b] in Judea were trying to stone you. Are you going there again?” 9 Jesus replied, “There are twelve hours of daylight every day. During the day people can walk safely. They can see because they have the light of this world. 10 But at night there is danger of stumbling because they have no light.” 11 Then he said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but now I will go and wake him up.” 12 The disciples said, “Lord, if he is sleeping, he will soon get better!” 13 They thought Jesus meant Lazarus was simply sleeping, but Jesus meant Lazarus had died.
14 So he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 And for your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there, for now you will really believe. Come, let’s go see him.” 16 Thomas, nicknamed the Twin,[c] said to his fellow disciples, “Let’s go, too—and die with Jesus.”
Verse four is where the red letters show up and Jesus beings to speak, declaring that Lazarus sickness is for God’s glory. Jesus is saying that someone is sick and he knows him and he loves him yet there is a bigger picture going on. I believe there are seven purposes to be found in Lazarus’ sickness but I want to focus on four today:
- To glorify God and to proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God.
- To show Jesus’ great love for us.
- To show that sometimes we need to be woke up by Jesus.
- To help strengthen our belief.
Now I don’t know what you are going through but it is possible that you have been told, “what you are going through is for God’s glory and it will be ok.” I, myself have been told that exact statement before. And most of the time I rolled my eyes at the person and thought to myself “you have no idea what I am going through.” But I have held onto this idea, that I took from the story of Lazarus, that the pain and difficulty I am presently facing is for a bigger picture. In Lazarus case, his death was not the end of his story. Lazarus’ sickness was not for death. He was to die for the glory of God. He was sick, and he was to die so that the works of God could be demonstrated. So Lazarus died so that God could be glorified.
The second purpose of Lazarus’ sickness was to show Jesus’ great love. Each member of the family is mentioned separately. Scripture says, “So although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus” He loved the family, but He also loved each one individually. Each one of these family members had a need and each one received help from Jesus. Lazarus’ death gave Jesus the opportunity to demonstrate His great love not only for the families of the world but for each individual in the world. Jesus loved these people and He loves you. You may be going through sickness or death or your family might have just been torn apart and often times in those situations I have a tendency to look up and say “where are you God and do you even care about me?” But He always inserts carefully “I love you.”
Jesus gives the image of death by using the word sleep. Jesus said to his disciples, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but now I will go and wake him up.” The disciples said, “Lord, if he is sleeping, he will soon get better!” They thought Jesus meant Lazarus was simply sleeping, but Jesus meant Lazarus had died. So he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead.
Four key points can come from this section of scripture:
- Jesus called Lazarus “our friend”
- I am a current Greek student and I had the chance to talk with my professor, Dr. Smith about Lazarus. You see the greek word for friend is “philos” which means treasured, to be deeply loved
- Jesus called Lazarus “our friend” and Jesus calls me His friend and Jesus calls you His friend!
- Jesus was going to “wake up” Lazarus meaning He believed He was going to resurrect him.
- The disciples misunderstood Jesus and they way He used the word death. Many people today still misunderstand the meaning of the words death and resurrection.
- Jesus said that death is as “sleep. Death is called “sleep” in order to picture the idea that the believer is resting in the presence and comfort of God—resting from the labor of his service on earth.
I believe that Jesus was not just talking about Lazarus falling asleep, I think He was talking to His disciples and believers who have fallen asleep in their faith. Who need a radical awakening of their faith. Jesus can be the only one who has the power pick you up and give you a little shake to awaken your faith.
I find myself relating more to the disciples in this passage then anything else. The disciples just thought that since Lazarus was sick he would need rest and waking him up would not make sense. But then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead.” Then Jesus, in what seems like a harsh response says, “And for your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there, for now you will really believe. Come, let’s go see him.”
You see we are reading this thousands of years later so it makes sense to us, but at the time the disciples had no clue. Lazarus sickness helped strengthen the disciples’ belief. Jesus said He rejoiced that He was not there when Lazarus was sick. Now why is that?
When my great grandmother passed away I was young but I was deeply saddened. The family around me was hurting and I struggled to find ways to provide comfort. I remember people coming up to me at church and offering their sympathy and my response was not “I am glad I was not there.” I was deeply hurt and sad over the loss of my great grandmother.
Jesus found joy over what was to happen. Lazarus was to be raise from the dead, which meant that every believer, both then and in the coming years, would experience a great leap of faith. When I picture this scene in my mind I am at a loss for words recognizing the power that God has over death.
Now, skipping down to the good part. Verse 43, “Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in grave clothes, his face wrapped in a head cloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!”
When Jesus called out at that tomb, He issued a very personal call. He called specifically for Lazarus to come out of that tomb. That call was for no one else that day, but it was for Lazarus alone. It was a call designed for one man and one man alone.
The call was very clear that day “Come out!” Jesus told Lazarus exactly what he was supposed to do. I wonder if Lazarus knew? If he knew what the Lord had in store for his little life. Of he thought his death was the end, if he got a glimpse of Heaven? When He comes calling, we may have no idea what is in store for us but there will be no doubt as to what He wants you to do! When He comes calling, His call will be for you to come to Him. His call will be for you to believe on Him by faith. His call will be a call to repent of your sins and to turn Jesus for salvation, When God calls, there will be no doubt as to what He wants you to do.
This call was a powerful call for Lazarus. It brought him out of death and darkness into light and life! It changed everything for this man forever. I have experienced a powerful call. I was a senior in high school struggling to hear the call God had placed on my life. I wanted to go one way after graduation but I knew the Lord was calling me somewhere better. It wasn’t easy for me to be open to that specific call from Jesus. I struggled to see the bigger picture and found myself fighting my human desires against God’s perfect will. I think, more often then not, we as a people battle the Lord’s call for our lives. It is human nature to fight something that is out of our control but being able to stand and say “Lord, here I am, send me” is all because of faith.
When the call of Jesus comes to a life and when that call is heeded, it has the power and the potential to change all of life forever. His call has the power to penetrate the blindness and deadness of sin and awaken the lost person to his need for the Lord. His call is a painful thing, but it is necessary and, in the end, it turns out to be a really good thing that does nothing short of bringing glory to God.