Controversial Jesus #14 - Eternity
Strip District Campus Pastor Joel Haldeman continues in the series on the book of John and looks at the physical resurrection and the eternal life that we are given through Jesus.
Have you ever wished for a different ending? Last year, a movie came out, Infinity War, released by Marvel that told part of, but not the entire story, sort of the end of the Avengers story. And that story was continued through a movie that just came out a couple of months ago called End Game, Avengers' End Game, which I haven't seen, so don't worry, I can't ruin it for you.
But the premise of Infinity War is that Thanos, who's sort of this archnemesis is trying to collect these six infinity stones. And as he collects each one he grows in power, and he becomes increasingly more powerful. The goal is for him to be able to collect all six of these stones, that he can snap his fingers and be able to annihilate half of the universe's population. So, really great guy, obviously.
He's on a mission to be able to control the population so that people can live a more peaceful existence. So, the story has this very climactic ending. The whole premise of the movie is that he's on this mission to collect these stones, the Avengers, or these super heroes, are trying to protect these stones from him. But one by one, they fall, and he collects each one of these stones.
It comes down to the end of the movie and Dr. Strange holds the last stone, it's called the time stone. And with this stone, Dr. Strange is able to look into the future. And he says that he's able to foresee 14 million different outcomes in their war against Thanos. But in the ending of this movie, Dr. Strange hands the stone to Thanos in order to protect the life of his buddy, Iron Man. And with this last final stone, Thanos is able to snap his fingers, and the movie ends with half of the world's population just being vaporized.
Now, the story just ends right there. The movie ends right there, but the story is continued in End Game. And so, it was one of those movies that you watch, and you just want another ending. You want to see the next movie, you want to see how this movie will actually ... how this story will turn out for something good.
Have you ever wished for a different ending? We've all at least watched a movie or read a story where you came to the end and were like, "Oh, man! I wish that would have ended differently." But the fact is, you and I have all had experiences in our own life where we wished for a different ending. And when we were in the middle of it, it was so hard.
My wife and I dated when we were in college and I was so confident that when we started dating that I was going to marry her. And so we dated for about a year and I was completely confident that we were going to get married, she wasn't so sure. And so we broke up, she needed some time to shop around, and she came back, just saying.
The decisive moment though, when we got back together, was this moment when we were sitting in a Starbucks and I had this decision to make, am I just going to give up? We were apart for maybe three or four months. Am I going to give up on this and just forget about her? Or am I just going to do everything I can to try to win her back? And so we had this moment where we were sitting in Starbucks and I wrote her this poem in order to win her back.
You didn't think I was actually going to read that, did you? Kurt has already said to me that he wants material for the next marriage series. There's no way that's happening. We obviously got back together and got married. That season of our life, looking back, was so hard for me. It was so challenging because I wanted to see the story have a different ending, because I thought the story was moving in certain direction and the story didn't end, or I didn't think in that moment that it was going to end the way that I wanted it to end. So it was hard. That was devastating to 20 year old Joel.
But as you and I both know, I can look back on that, 14 years later, I can look back on that and I can see that it was actually good for our relationship long term. That it made us love each other even more for being apart. And you know that sometimes our stories are like that, that we have to go through conflict in order to tell a more beautiful story. I mean, that's the truth about every story, right? Every story includes conflict, it includes difficulty, and that's what tells a good story.
But you and I also have stories that we can't look back on that way. Stories where we feel like we've seen the ending and it didn't go the way that we wanted it to. Or you might be living in the midst of one of those stories right now where you don't see the ending, you don't see the hope.
What John 11, the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, has for you and I is the power to give you hope and peace when you're in the midst of those stories and when you're looking back on those stories.
You heard the background to the story read a few minutes ago, Mary and Martha have a brother named Lazarus. He falls sick, word is sent to Jesus that says, "Come, Jesus, come! We know that you're the one who can heal people." They've seen him do that, they've seen him open the eyes of a man who was born blind. So they know that he is this miracle worker. And so they send word for him, they same, "Come and heal our brother, Lazarus." Jesus says, "This sickness will not end in death." A phrase that you and I have to keep in mind, because every single character in this story will forget that line.
And so, Jesus, who is a two day journey away from Lazarus, makes a decision that he's going to stay exactly where he is, that he's not going to go and heal Lazarus.
Our story unfolds in four parts. The first part is that Jesus waits. Verse five reads this way, "Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days."
Really important Greek word that connects those two verses, un, it means therefore. It says that, "Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, therefore when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was." See, Jesus, because he loved these people, he decided to not turn back and go heal Lazarus, it was out of a love for them that he allowed their conflict to become worse.
Jesus is in a region about two days away from the region of Judea. A lot of the book of John has unfolded in Judea. If you've been with us through this series, The Controversial Jesus, we've seen lots of moments where Jesus came in conflict with the religious leaders of his day. At multiple points, they picked up stones to kill Jesus and he just sort of slipped away.
And so, they've left Judea now, and this is our first story outside of Judea for a long time. And now Jesus says to his disciples, "Let's go back to Judea." After two days have gone by, "Let's go back to Judea to visit with Lazarus." And the disciples, they're like, "Whoa! What? Are you crazy? What are you thinking? We can't go back there, people wanted to kill us there."
And Jesus launches into this sort of sermonette that goes like this, "Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world's light. It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light." His point is, to his disciples, "Listen, you're not seeing clearly. You're in the dark. You're own preoccupation with human things, your own comfort and safety has blinded you to what is the real mission of the Son of God, the mission of Jesus." They're blinded, they're in the darkness.
So then he told them plainly, verse 14, "Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him." So Jesus says, "I am glad, for the sake of you all, that Lazarus has died. Let's go to him. Let's go back to Judea."
Then verse 16, I love this, "Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, 'Let us also go, that we may die with him.'" I love Thomas. He's not afraid, he just doesn't believe. He's willing to go and die. He just doesn't believe.
And so, before we even get to the town that Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are in, there are two very important things, very important background ideas in this passage. The first is that Jesus waited. He waited. He was intentional. He chose to stay right where he was. And the second, is that Jesus waited out of gladness. He says, first of all, that he's going to stay where he is because he loves Mary and Martha. But second, he says to his disciples, "Lazarus is dead, and for your sake, I'm glad that I wasn't there to heal him."
In part two, we see Jesus arriving and Jesus makes a couple of declarations. He comes to this place, region of Judea, but before arriving at the house of Mary and Martha, here's what happens. "On his arrival," verse 17, "Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days."
Now this is a really important piece of information in this story. To the Jewish person, a person wasn't truly, fully definitely dead until after three days had gone by. And the reason for that was simply that their medical practices weren't very great. It wasn't unknown to have somebody placed in a tomb, and then a couple of days later they start knocking on the door. Because they thought the person was dead, their heartbeat had slowed, it wasn't detectable, they put them in the tomb, and the person revives.
And so, it was believed, none of this is biblical, by the way, it was believed that the spirit would hover over the person, the body, for three days. And it would wait until the face would begin to change and darken, that decay would actually set in, and then the spirit would leave that person. This is what's written in ... this is called, The Genesis Midrash, which is a commentary that's written about the book of Genesis. Again, not the Bible, it's a commentary on the Bible that says this.
Bar Kabbalah taught, "The whole strength of mourning is not till the third day. For three days long, the soul returns to the grave, thinking that it will return into the body. When, however, it sees that the color of its face has changed, it then goes away and it leaves it." And so, the practice of people in that day was every single day, they'd go to the tomb for three days and they'd check on the person to see if they've come back to life.
I, by the way, cannot imagine a more terrifying thing than waking up inside a tomb. You'd think they'd leave a candle burning or something. That would be horrible. Now, if you imagine a tomb similar to the one that maybe you picture around the death of Jesus, you think of maybe a hillside that was hollowed out with a cave entrance. And inside, all of its made of stone. But then, inside there'd be these crevices in the rock where they'd lay bodies. And so, these tombs would be shared by a family, or multiple families. And on the outside, they'd have a big rock that was placed in front of that tomb. This is the kind of tomb that probably Lazarus would have been laid in.
And so, here's what happens, "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.'" Do you hear the desperation? Martha is someone who knew Jesus as a miracle worker. She knew that he could heal the sick. "If you only you would have been here, he wouldn't have died."
Verse 22, "'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.'" Now, just to be very clear, Martha is not expecting that Jesus is going to rise Lazarus from the dead, that's crystal clear from her conversation with him. "If only you had been here," she said, "but I know that God will give you whatever you ask." She's probably expecting comfort or some sort of hope that Lazarus will rise from the dead one day in this eternal resurrection. She doesn't believe it's going to happen right now.
"Jesus said to her," verse 25, "'I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?' 'Yes, Lord,' she replied, 'I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.'"
Jesus says two things about himself, and these have been themes throughout the book of John and will continue to be themes throughout the book of John. The first is that, I am the resurrection, the second is that, I am the life. That in Jesus, people experience a physical, bodily resurrection one day. That though we will all die, our bodies will be laid in a grave, that a day will come when all people will rise and appear before God.
The second theme is life. That in Jesus is life. That not only will there be a resurrection, but there will be this eternal, this everlasting life that is given to those who believe in Christ. By the way, this life theme is such a big deal. This is why, at the end of the book of John, when Jesus is on the cross, a spear is pushed into his side, right? Just to confirm that Jesus was actually dead before putting him in the tomb. And we read that there's this flow of blood and water that comes out of Jesus. They didn't even have to break his legs to show that Jesus no longer had life.
A third part of our story is one in which Jesus expresses emotions. Now this is a little strange to you and I. Let's talk about emotions for a little bit. You know that the emotions that you hold are probably the most significant things that effect the quality of your life. Your disposition around your circumstances, the way that you respond emotionally to the things around you are some of the most important things about you.
The way that we normally think about emotions is that emotions are something that are outside of our control. This weekend, I went to the town that I was born and raised in with my kids and wife. And one of the things that we did was we visited my dad's grave site. He died six years ago and we went to it, and it was very emotional for me. I think it was the first time we had visited since he had passed away.
And as we walked up to the gravestone, my son asks me, "Dad, why are you crying?" And of course, I said, "Because I'm sad because I miss my dad." Because when I thought forward to this moment, being 33 years old and hanging out with my kids, I didn't expect to be visiting his gravestone. I expected to be visiting with him. To be laughing, to be having a good time.
And so, when he asked me why am I sad, I pointed to a circumstance, right? Because my dad has died. If you go into work one day and you're grumpy, and somebody says to you, "Why are you grumpy?" You're not going to say, "Because I'm choosing to be grumpy today." You're going to say, "This is why I'm grumpy. Because these things happened to me." Right?
And so, the way that we tend to think about emotions is that emotions are the result of things that happen to us and most of the time that's generally true. Our emotions are oftentimes out of our control. Right? Oftentimes, we feel like we're a buoy bobbing in the water, being tossed around by waves. Those are our emotions.
But just imagine for a second, imagine if I had no love for my dad. Imagine if I had a bitter, abusive, hard childhood and there was no love in our family. Imagine if I hated him, my visit would have been a lot different, right? My emotional reaction to that moment would have been a lot different. And so, it's not just circumstances that affect our emotion. It's our circumstances plus our perception of our circumstances. Both of those things are very important. Those are the things that are going to define our emotional reactions.
Now, I want you to think about this for a second. God is not a buoy. He's the unmoved mover. He's not tossed about by circumstances that happen to him, right? And so, when God expresses an emotion, he does it with complete awareness of that emotion. He's never surprised by anything that arises within him. And his emotions are born out of the way that he thinks. I mean, this I really obvious.
If somebody comes up to you today and says, "Hey, that's a really ugly shirt. You shouldn't have worn that shirt today. Are you so stupid? Why did you wear that?" You could respond in one of two ways. You might be really hurt by that. And you might think about it all day long, you might think about it all week and just think about how much that offended you when that happened.
But somebody else here, maybe somebody comes up to you and says, "You have an ugly shirt. Why are you so stupid for wearing that?" And they walk away and you're just like, "That was weird." And you don't think again about it. It doesn't bother you. And the difference between those two people has to do with what you value, right? It has to do with how you think about yourself and your clothing choices and all of these things.
And so, those emotions, the emotional response is born out of our thinking, our circumstances, and our perception of those circumstances. And so, when God expresses an emotion, God is doing it as someone who values all things perfectly. He doesn't overvalue, he doesn't undervalue things. He thinks about all things perfectly. He thinks rightly and he's not affected by circumstances that are outside of his control.
So watch what happens. Martha had already come out of the house, ran to Jesus. And now Martha calls back and calls for Mary, verse 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." Now, this is Mary, who was at the home along with the mourners, who had come out after Martha had called for them. And Jesus looks at all of these people weeping and what we have is kind of a lousy translation in the NIV. We use the NIV, it's a great translation, it just missed the mark on this one.
So here's another person's translation. "When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became angry in spirit and very agitated." We have two verbs here, one that denotes anger, and one that denotes agitation. It'll happen again a little while later when Jesus comes to the tomb. He'll see the sadness among the people and it'll say, "Jesus therefore again in a state of anger within comes to the tomb."
See, Jesus is expressing this emotion of anger because of the unbelief that he sees among these people. They are the very ones who were with him when he healed sick people, when he opened the eyes of the blind. And what Jesus sees in this moment very clearly is that they see him, yes as being more than human, but not as being fully God.
And so our story tells us that Jesus weeps, verse 35 says, "Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, 'See how he loved him!'" Jesus weeps and the mourners who are there, they see him weeping and they think, "Man, look how much Jesus loved Lazarus." And they totally get it wrong. This doesn't make any sense. This is the guy from the very beginning who said, "This sickness doesn't end in death." Jesus doesn't weep over the loss of Lazarus, he knows how this story is going to end.
And so the Jews totally miss it. Jesus is sad because he's looking at the effects of sin on these people, that is causing them to reject Jesus, to not believe in the power that he has. And so, in part four of our story, Jesus comes to the tomb. I already the verse about how, when he comes to the tomb he's angry at the response of the people.
And here at the tomb, there are three commands given. The first is to take away the stone. Verse 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.' Martha. She doesn't see Jesus as being powerful enough to fix this. "But, Jesus, wait a second. Don't take away the stone. Let me remind you of something, I understand this a little better than you do. He's been in there four days, don't take the stone away. You don't know what you're doing. But, Jesus!"
And watch, verse 40, "Then Jesus said, 'Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will 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.'"
I want you to just consider for a second that all of this could have been avoided if Jesus just would have come right away. But he waited. All the turmoil that Martha and Mary go through, all that could have been avoided. Jesus could have showed up, healed the man just like he healed so many other people. But he waits. And he waits so that the people will believe and so that they will see and experience the glory of God. Just think for a second, that Jesus thought it was better to let Lazarus die.
Verse 43, "When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, 'Lazarus, come out!'" And the very same power that spoke the universe into existence, the very same power that from the very beginning resulted in all of the universe listening to the voice of God and just becoming, that very same voice reached down into the grave, beyond Lazarus, reached down to his soul, commanded the soul of Lazarus to return to his body. Reversed the effects of decay on his body, caused the man to stand up in the grave and walk right out.
Verse 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.'" And the story ends. John doesn't record that Mary and Martha came and fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him and praised him and said, "Now I really believe that you're God!" He doesn't record if they run and embrace Lazarus and are so thankful. He doesn't record any of that, because the climactic event of our story is not the response of humans, it's the act of God.
The three commands, roll away the stone, Lazarus come out, take off his graveclothes. And it's done. Our story really unfolds on two different levels, two different planes of the story. And they're two very different stories. If you read it through the eyes of Mary and Martha, we see the human plane. It's full of worry, it's full of sadness, it's full of regret. It's full of if only.
But if you read it through the eyes of Jesus, if you see the story on the divine plane, it's a totally different story. It's a story of, "Come on, guys! I got this! This is never outside of my control." It's a story where all of it's happening according to the plan of Jesus, for the glory of God and so that people will believe.
The point that I'd have you take away from John 11 is that Jesus gives a new and better ending to every story. Every story that you and I experience, every story that you and I hear, Jesus gives a new and better ending to it. You know, you to walk away from the Lazarus story with a very careful balance. Because on the one hand, the story is a story about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. But that's not the only thing that the story is about. It's just as much a story about the fact that Jesus let Lazarus die, and he did it out of love, out of gladness, out of a concern for the glory of God and that people would believe.
And so, in reconciling these two things, raises Lazarus but also lets Lazarus die, we have to see that the point is not simply that Jesus is going to wipe away every one of your problems and make your life easy. That's simply not the case. Jesus doesn't exist to make your life easy and happy and fun and light. Sometimes heavy things come into our life. We experience stories that are full of conflict.
But what's even better is that Jesus will give a new and better ending to those stories. You know that a story that tells a good story is one that's full of conflict. A story without conflict is not a story. And when you look at your own life, it's those points of conflict that have given you meaning and caused you to find your identity.
You know, back to that scene with Dr. Strange at the end of Infinity War, there was this moment where it seemed like it was the end. And the movie does end with this feeling that this is the end. The stone is handed over. There's this moment of defeat. Now, I haven't seen the next movie. My guess is that it's that moment of defeat that actually gives way to the ultimate victory.
And there's another story that follows that same path, right? It's the story of Jesus on the cross, that he goes to his death, dying for sin. And all of his followers leave and run. They think it's the moment of ultimate defeat. "Where is Jesus? He's left us. What do we do now?" But it was that moment of defeat that actually gave way to victory. See, that's the defining narrative of Christianity. That through defeat comes victory. And when you and I make that the defining narrative in our lives, we can see stories completely differently.
In that story that I told you about my wife and I breaking up, there was an obvious defeat and victory thread that runs through it, but not every story ends that way. I don't know why my dad died at a young age. I talked to somebody a couple of weeks ago that was telling me about a business venture that they were a part of and it failed. And they were looking back on it and saying, "I don't know why I had to go through that. I still don't see the purpose in it." And sometimes that's the case, that we don't always see the victory moment. We just see the defeat moment. But the good news is that every one of those stories, every one of those defeats finds a new and better ending, a victory moment in Jesus.
Now, I don't know, you might feel like you're in a season of life where everything you touch turns to gold. You might feel like everything's perfect right now, like whatever lies in your future next week, next year, is so exciting that you're only thinking victory. But the good news about what this story teaches us, is that even your success story has a new and better ending in Jesus. That Jesus can take that, what feels like success, and he can turn it into something that's even more beautiful. Because he has a purpose and he has an outcome.
Now here's a very cool thing, we talked about emotions. Jesus had a different emotional reaction than everybody else because he saw things differently than everyone else. Because he was seeing everything on the divine plane, not the human plane. Because he knew that it's through victory, that it's through defeat that we experience victory.
And the truth is, that when you and I come to see things that way as well, our emotional reactions change. Not that you won't be sad, not that you won't mourn over the loss of a person or a thing. But you can handle those completely differently knowing that it's through that defeat that you will experience the ultimate victory. That's the hope for you and I, make Jesus the narrative of your life. Make the Jesus defeat victory narrative the defining narrative of your life. See your stories on the divine plane and you and I will be able to handle whatever comes with purpose and intentionality.
I have an announcement to read, that's unrelated to this, and then we'll pray for us and be done. You may be aware, one of our ministry staff resigned recently. Next weekend, after all of our services in every location, we'll hold a brief meeting to give you more information about that. If Orchard Hill is your church home, it would be helpful for you, it would be helpful to you to come to those meetings. And those will be at all of our locations, Butler Strip district, Wexford, and there will be an alternate meeting with the same content on Wednesday, August 28th.
Let me pray for us.
Father, we are so thankful that you are the God who gives a new and better ending to every story. And I pray for every person listening, whether they are in the midst of a story full of conflict or a story full of success, that they would lean on you to be the one who tells the victory story. In Jesus' name, amen.
We'll see you next time.