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As you know I have planned the 3 years in the mornings to be in chronological order going through the four gospels and so it is that I am coming to this passage today.
I am sensitive today because of the news about Phil.
A lot of this sermon was written already as I first preached on this passage nearly ten years ago.
I get a sense of the timing of God for these things.
But let us remember that Sunday by Sunday God speaks with us from His Word and hopefully through what I say or in the interactions that go on between us.
The message God speaks is often to us is to us corporately together as the body of Christ here in this place and He also speaks to us individually.
Today we are introduced to this wonderful family.
We have met the women before - remember Mary and Martha, Mary the one that sat at Jesus feet and Martha the one that ran around the kitchen getting het up.
This home was one of great hospitality and our Lord loved being in their home.
It was the place where Jesus could go and let His hair down for a while and relax.
And this is necessary for all of us.
A time apart from the relentlessness of life.
I was grateful when in my early 20s a family gave me the key to their house.
Their hospitality and heart was enormous and I am grateful to this day for them.
Now Jesus is somewhere to the north when He receives word that the one He loves is sick not even mentioning him by name.
The one He loved.
And Jesus knew that they meant Lazarus.
The sisters message said nothing of coming for they simply assumed that He would immediately set forth for their place.
They knew He would because of His great compassion.
Lazarus was His friend.
In fact He loved this family so much He stayed right where He was.
What?! The love here is that highest of loves, the Greek word, Agape.
An unstoppable love that knows no bounds.
You would have thought that He would have set off immediately but His love said stay.
This is hard to digest.
How is this love?
How is this care?
Sometimes it is difficult to believe in the goodness of God.
It is very evident from this passage that His inaction was based on His love.
His love caused this delay in action.
No matter how it seems He knows our situation and He cares.
When delays and hardships come to us, we cannot expect to know all the details, all the answers, all the reasons.
If we spent all our time asking why, we would be using our time very unprofitably.
Mary and Martha were wondering where Jesus was.
Why hadn’t He come?
Hope gave way to despair.
Soon the sickness led to the death of Lazarus.
And the sisters changed their conversation and often said in the last three days: if Jesus had been here he wouldn’t have died.
if Jesus had been here he wouldn’t have died.
Where are you Lord? You’re too late!
Where were you when my loved one got sick?
Where were you when my loved one died?
Do you think it wrong to ask questions of God? Do you think you are going to offend Him?
Is God not God and able to cope with the anguish poured out to Him? Read the Psalms, so many are laments.
Where are you, Lord?
Of course, God has to be held in proper respect but let it out to Him.
He knows what you are going through.
And now Jesus comes.
And the refrain is repeated to Him: If you had been here we would not be grieving.
This is where the sixth ‘I AM’ statement in John comes
And Martha’s response is just as equal to Peter’s confession of faith; she declares Him to be Jesus the Christ.
What a remarkable faith despite her overwhelming grief.
Mary now comes to meet with Jesus.
If you had been here.
Is this where we are?
If only.
If only this or that had happened but, of course, we are only seeing things from our own perspective, we cannot see the whole outworking of God in our lives.
We all question God’s purpose sometimes.
Sometimes we cannot see a way through.
The Lord’s delays are not His denials.
He loves us.
Sometimes there is a higher purpose that transcends our needs.
If you had been here...
The sense of desolation that occurs when you are losing or have lost a loved one and the resulting emotions incapacitates us and makes us incapable of thinking in straight lines.
Grief has many stages, all of which we need to work through: shock and denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance and hope.
We need to remember these when we are with those who are going through such a time and treat people delicately.
Unless we are in relationship with God we would not know that we shouldn’t rush over and do the thing that is most natural because we could end up being a bull in a China shop (.6).
We all have to come to terms on our own and if we jump in we may short-cut the healing process and leave deeper wounds and maybe never come to terms with what has happened.
When Martha and Mary said “if you had been here” it simply was not right for Him to be there.
The plan of God is not always obvious to us but it does not mean that God is not at work.
In this situation we see that Jesus groaned and was troubled.
He took the grief of Martha and Mary to heart.
He was also perturbed by the crowd’s grief, their criticism, their unbelief, by the loudness of the professional mourners.
And He was moved to do something about it.
Jesus is touched by the feeling of our infirmities
Jesus wept.
The shortest verse in the Bible and clearly one of intense emotion reflected in an earlier prophecy of Him: (Isaiah 53:5) A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
We have a great God and Savior who loves us, who delays and stays away, who allows us to go through ultimate extremity, and then he comes and enters into our sorrow.
He enters the sorrow that he could have prevented in such a way that he gasps, his whole body shudders, and he begins to weep.
That is the perspective Christ wants us to have.
If you are hurting, he wants you to know that he weeps with you.
Jesus is not a stoic, impassible God.
we know his delays are for our ultimate development.
We also know that when affliction comes, we can pour our hearts out to him honestly and with no fear of rejection or reprisal, and he will weep with us.
What of those who said; he could have prevented Lazarus from dying?
They had already taken for granted that Jesus can heal and there was an expectation that he should have done it; if you have it in your power why didn’t you?
This is the same sort of conundrum we have when considering suffering in the world – it is in God’s power to stop it so why doesn’t He?
We know that Jesus heals, why wasn’t He here and why did he not heal the man that he clearly loved.
There was many times when we do not have the answers.
God is love.
And it is to this we must cling.
And to our prayers God answers every one with a yes, a no, or a wait.
We always want the answers now but a day with the Lord is as a thousand and a thousand like a day.
It was June 18th, 1815, the Battle of Waterloo.
The French under the command of Napoleon were fighting the Allies (British, Dutch, and Germans) under the command of Wellington.
The people of England depended on a system of semaphore signals to find out how the battle was going.
One of these signal stations was on the tower of Winchester Cathedral.
Late in the day it flashed the signal: "W-E-L-L-I-N-G-T-O-N--D-E-F-E-A-T-E-D- -." Just at that moment one of those sudden English fog clouds made it impossible to read the message.
The news of defeat quickly spread throughout the city.
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