No one likes to be ill. All the feelings that are surrounded by being ill are rather uncomfortable. Most of the time, with rest and the right medications, we normally bounce back from our illness. However, that does not prove to be the case with Lazarus. Mary and Martha, his sisters, send word to Jesus to inform Him of Lazarus’ illness: “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” When one receives word that a loved one is ill, our minds don’t immediately run to death, but Jesus does. “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.”
That’s a rather unusual response that Jesus has, one that doesn’t seem right. Obviously Jesus did not know that Lazarus was sick until He received word from Mary and Martha. Once He does receive word, He immediately goes to death. Did Jesus know something about Lazarus’ illness that his sisters did not? Does Jesus know more than what He’s letting on to the disciples?
Upon hearing of Lazarus’ illness, Jesus doesn’t immediately make His way to Bethany; rather, He stayed two days longer in the place where He was. That doesn’t necessarily mean anything other than Jesus’ work in that region was not yet complete, and so He remained until it was finished. But then He tells the disciples that they are setting out to Judea again. They are quick to respond, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” You can almost hear the emotions in their voices. Why would Jesus willfully go back to a place where the inhabitants sought to put Him to death? Obviously going back to Judea isn’t high on the disciples’ list of places to visit again, and yet Jesus has set His face towards a place where the people want to put Him to death.
While on their way, Jesus tells them that Lazarus has fallen asleep. The disciples did not truly understand what Jesus was saying to them. As far as they were concerned, if he has fallen asleep due to his illness, he will wake up and be well again. But that is not what Jesus meant. Lazarus, dear friend of Jesus, has died. To make things perfectly clear, Jesus says, “Lazarus has died….”
Death is the ultimate result of sin. Sin separated us from God. Sin caused pain and hurt to enter into creation. As a final result, sin gave to us death, the ultimate separation from God. It separates us from His holiness, His perfection and His Word of truth.
At the loss of a loved one, we seek comfort. Some seek comfort in friends and family. Some seek comfort in the things of this world. For Martha, she sought comfort in her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. She tells him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” She knows that while family and friends can tell her that things will be okay, her brother is still dead. She knows that the world can bring her comfort in many things, but in the end, the world cannot bring back her dead brother. She goes seeking Jesus because she knows that He is the Christ, the Son of God. He gives her the assurance that she is looking for: “Your brother will rise again.” That is the assurance that Christ gives to each and every one of us: you will rise again.
During this season of Lent, now, more than ever, we hold the cross before us as a constant reminder of why the cross is there. The cross is there because of you. The cross is there because of me. The cross is there because of your sin. The cross is there because of my sin. Paul knew that it was his sins that put Christ on the cross. As he writes to Timothy and his church at Ephesus, he says, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” He knew of his acts against Christianity, how he murdered Christian after Christian after Christian. He knew, after meeting Jesus on the Damascus Road, that he was indeed a sinner and was in need of forgiveness. He knew that he was spiritually dead because of sin.
Do you know that you are spiritually dead because of sin? Do you truly and honestly accept that fact? The psalmist David did when he wrote Psalm 51: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” We are sinners, each and every one of us. However, that does not mean that we are left without hope. There is indeed hope for each and every one of us, hope for every man, woman, and child. That hope cannot be found in the teachings of Islam or Buddhism. You can’t go to Wal-Mart and say that you want hope for sinners. That hope can only be found in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
While Martha grieves the death of Lazarus, Jesus gives to her that hope that is only found in him: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” That is the hope which we have to look forward to. That is the hope which the world cannot give. This is hope which can only come from God. It comes to us through Jesus Christ and His life, death, and resurrection. This is hope which we see demonstrated for us on the cross of Calvary.
Where Jesus is, life is. That’s what Jesus is about: and whenever He is present forgiving sins, He is also present giving life. By His forgiveness, He already declares that eternal life is yours, for He has done all to accomplish it by His death and resurrection. At your baptism, Jesus declared, “Come out! Come out of the bondage of sin, for I make you My beloved child this day!” Your resurrection at the font was a greater miracle than the one of Lazarus at the tomb: Jesus gave physical life back to Lazarus’ body, and that life would be lost again—Lazarus’ body would die again. Jesus has given eternal life to you: you already have it. Unless the Lord returns, your body will eventually die. Your soul will not: you are alive forever, and the Lord will raise your body up, too, on the Last Day.
Where Jesus is, life is. And whenever He is present forgiving sins, He is also present giving life. His Word gives life. He spoke to bring Lazarus back from death. He put His words in Ezekiel’s mouth, and those words made dry bones alive. This day, He speaks His forgiveness to you. These are not empty words: they give you life, renew that eternal life in you once again.
And where Jesus is, life is. Do not despair, repentant people of God. Whatever sins you have clung to in the past, He has died for them all; and He promises “everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.” This promise is for you. It is for all the penitent people of God who have died in the faith. Those who died in the faith are alive with Christ even as they await the resurrection of their bodies; and on the Last Day, the Lord will bring forth those bodies in the ultimate restoration of life as He calls His people from the grave. For Christ will return in glory; and where Jesus is, life is. That is your hope for you and for all who die in Christ. He is the Resurrection and the Life, and He has given that life to you, because you are forgiven for all of your sins. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.