What a wonderful and thought provoking Valley Worship service we had yesterday led by John Barber. Nicky Barber spoke about Lazarus from John 11: 21-44 her talk can be heard here or the transcript can be read below. Our Everyday Lives slot was this month filled by Sarah Tillett who spoke about her life and her faith and Kate Mezger led our prayers.
We were thrilled with the relaunch of The Ark which now will takes place outside during Valley Worship. 20 children enjoyed wonderful hot chocolate and cup cakes to welcome and warm them, kindly provided by Jill Croft. They then explored Jesus appearing to many after his resurrection with the aid of clay modelling and a mud cake bakery!
Many thanks to Verity and James Greig and everyone who helped make this so much fun for all of the children who attended and we look forward to seeing them all again. The Ark will be on the 4th Sunday of each month and we hope for it to continue being outside with the aid of the gazebo and children wrapped up when necessary!
How many of us have something we longed for that didn’t happen? (our son Ben’s dog). Someone who could have “fixed it”?
Some of us will have had deep disappointment about longings which have not been fulfilled. It’s tough.
Open Bibles and look together at the story in John 11 of Lazarus – keep following in text – I will skim through the first part.
Lazarus is ill, his sisters Martha and Mary, send for Jesus.
Jesus eventually reaches Bethany but Lazarus has died and has been in the tomb 4 days. Well and truly dead. Martha comes to meet Jesus while Mary stays at home.
Focus on that scene and immerse ourselves in it as we go more slowly through the next few verses:
21 Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’ 23 Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ 24 Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ 25 Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.[a] Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ 27 She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah,[b] the Son of God, the one coming into the world.’
We see Martha going back and bringing Mary to Jesus. Not just the two of them though. Lots of people were there with her. (These are Jewish people not reserved Brits, weeks of mourning, all their friends clustered round them, 2 flutes, professional wailer. Noisy, crowded, faces wet with tears.)
A weeping Mary reaches Jesus and falls at his feet, surrounded by weeping friends. Jesus “greatly disturbed in Spirit and deeply moved” – begins to weep too. NIV translation it is the shortest verse in the Bible: “Jesus wept ”.
38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.’ 40 Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’
It’s hard for us to imagine this. Lazarus was probably buried in a piece of cloth more than twice as long as him and wide enough to create a sort of envelope, his feet at one end and the cloth drawn over his head and back to his feet and tied at the feet and hands with further strips of cloth. His head would have been wrapped in a separate cloth.
When Lazarus came out, he could only have jumped or hopped, drawn out of the darkness and cold of the cave to the voice of the one calling his name, not even able to see where he was going.
What a climax for everyone watching. Martha and Mary not knowing whether to laugh or cry, hugging their brother.
This is not the end of the story. This was a miracle, but it was also a sign which challenged people to react to Jesus either by believing in him or by rejecting him. It revealed his power over death and therefore his divinity (only God can raise people from the dead) but it also signed his own death warrant.
When the Pharisees were told what had happened, they decided that Jesus must die (v.50-53), he was too much of a challenge to the status quo. Later (John 12 v.10) they decided Lazarus should also die (again!).
The bible doesn’t tell us whether Lazarus escaped their clutches or not but we do know that Jesus did die at their hands. Every Good Friday, even 2,000 years later, we remember that when Jesus hung on a cross, all my rebellion against God and yours was heaped on him and he received the guilty verdict in our place. But his story didn’t end at the cross, death couldn’t hold him. Once he had defeated sin and death, God raised him from the dead.
Where does this leave us? V. 25-26 hold the key.
“I am the resurrection and the Life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Martha did believe that somehow through Jesus she could have eternal life but didn’t initially realise that this life starts Now not just some time in the distant future.
Some of those watching also believed but others saw the miracle but missed the glory – instead of believing that Jesus was who he said he was, they went to the Pharisees and told them what he had done.
Lazarus didn’t just belief that he had eternal life. He was dead and came back to life. He knew and experienced life in the present not just as a future promise.
He would know it at a deeper level soon after the death and resurrection of Jesus. Was he part of the group watching Jesus die in agony on the cross, wondering how God was going to “fix it” this time?
Martha, the other Jews, Lazarus, what about us? What exactly do we believe? Have we moved from death to life?
I hope most of us can say yes to that question. Yes, I believe in Jesus and I have received eternal life. But can we also say that we are living that life to the full now?
True belief in Jesus should fill us with hope, with security, should mean that we know the presence of Jesus in our everyday lives.
What belief that leads to real life will not do is guarantee us a happy and care free life. It won’t inoculate us from the pain of living in this fallen world where for now sin and the devil are allowed to wreak their havoc. There will still be times when life can be really tough when we are struggling with ill health, financial worries, relationship issues or lack of fulfilling relationships, problems at work or lack of work.
I wonder how Lazarus felt about being brought back into this world and knowing that he would have to go through physical death all over again one day?
Jesus says to each of us “Follow me. Take up your cross and follow me” and that means following him as he steps into the pain and suffering of this world to bring redemption, healing and salvation often using our hands, feet and voices as he does so.
We may wonder why God allows pain and suffering to continue instead of always “fixing it”. Even the best theologians find it hard to answer that question but what we do know as we watch Jesus in this story is that God cares. He doesn’t ignore our cries; he is not indifferent to our pain. Jesus wept. God weeps with us when we bring our pain to him, he weeps over a world where man’s sin and unbelief cause such terrible suffering, he weeps for those who could know true life but choose not to accept his offer.
1 Corinthians 13 tells us “For now we see through a glass (or mirror) dimly but then we will see face to face”.
We know Jesus is there, we sense his presence and learn how to tune into his voice but it is a bit hazy. We are still tethered to this fallen decaying world but we will spend eternity in God’s restored creation where there will be no more pain or tears. Sometimes, as here, we get a little glimpse of heaven invading earth when his healing, deliverance or provision break through into our lives but it doesn’t happen all the time.
No amount of money, power, possessions, social media likes could equal the life that Jesus is giving us. Why do we so often think it is safer to be back in the cave?
I have been walking lots of footpaths in the last few days – lots of rain so deep sticky mud in places. Sometimes there is a piece of wood lying in the middle of it or a large stone. Dare I step out onto it and see if it will take my weight or will it just sink under me and ditch me into the mud? Or sometimes there is a little path going off in a different direction which avoids the mud but I don’t know where it will land up. Believing in Jesus involves lots of sticky patches and detours, scary or painful times where we have to choose to step out and trust Jesus to look after us.
Kate’s story: (her husband Trevor’s death a few years ago left her with three teenage sons and no home or income). Kate could have blamed God for her husband’s death, become bitter and disillusioned but instead she has thrown herself into the hands of the one who is life and she is learning to live a new life in him.
I read her blog this week where she says “I have found that as I get older, I am more and more aware that I need repair. It isn’t always comfy, sometimes it feels like a breaking … but worth it because God’s promise is restoration. Our place of brokenness can become the place where we are restored and become even stronger than before.” She finishes “God restores lives”.
Look back at the story of Lazarus. Where are each of us in it and is it possible to move into a better place?
Stuck in the cave? Waiting for his voice to call us out?
Outside, in the light but still wrapped in our grave clothes?
We are not meant to wear clothes which belong in the cave – they will hold us back, take away our freedom, stop us moving forward. Some of them might be shame or guilt, sinful habits, pride or idolatry. Or perhaps there are painful wounds or unforgiveness which stop us fully experiencing life.
Perhaps some of us are believers like Martha was before she saw Jesus bring her brother back to life. We know the theory but are missing that experience of life now, in the present? Worried about taking the stone away in case we let the stench out.
I hope that many of us do believe in Jesus and have received life from him and are throwing ourselves whole heartedly into it.
Whichever of those we most identify with, the key to being and staying alive is to keep listening for his voice and when we hear it to respond, to jump up and follow him, wherever he leads.
For some it might mean for the first time daring to say to Jesus that you want to come out of the cave and meet with him, that you want more than what this present mortal life has to offer. If you sense he might be calling you to follow him and live – don’t delay, dare to put your hand in his today and ask someone else who knows him to show you how to do so.
For others it might be asking Jesus and other Christians to help you to take off some of those grave clothes. A bit like one of those TV makeovers but this time for real not just temporary, from the inside out and it will last forever. It’s part of the process of what the bible calls sanctification, allowing the holy spirit to restore the broken image of Jesus in us.
Maybe for you it is just the realisation that even though you believe in Jesus and have received eternal life, your time and energy have been poured into things that belong to this dying world not to the life that is to come. That while you do believe, you haven’t yet surrendered your will to his and made yourself fully available to him wherever he decides to lead you.
Sometimes it is fear that holds us back, or complacency, or not wanting to let go of some of the toys this world and the devil have been trying to tempt you with. Or it might just be busyness, focusing too much on structures and services, oughts and duties and missing the point, which is the person himself, Jesus.
There are so many people out there lost in their dark and deadly caves, trapped in their grave clothes. Who will call them out to meet Jesus? Who will help unbind them and set them free? It may be a bit scary talking to people about God, they might think we are weird or reject us but it’s a risk worth taking when so much is at stake.
There is so much good stuff that I don’t do because of fear. Fear of getting it wrong, or of being hurt or rejected. I love paddle boarding but find windsurfing a bit too scary in case I am swept out to sea and can’t get back to the shore.
Is God calling me to take more risks, to give him control and allow his wind to fill my sail and teach me how to really live, scary though that feels?
What about you?
Why don’t we each risk it and see what happens.
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