Sunday, March 9, 2008

When Jesus Is At Work

Fifth Sunday Lent
Sunday, March 9, 2008
John 11:1-45

When Jesus shows up at the tomb of Lazarus some of the bystanders observe that if He had the power to give a blind man sight, as we heard last Sunday, then shouldn’t He have been able to keep Lazarus from dying? From a purely temporal standpoint, the guy has a point.

But he’s missed the point Jesus is trying to make. Last Sunday we saw how Jesus saw the situation of the blind man in a completely different light from everyone else, including the blind man himself. Whereas we may see a tragedy, God sees an opportunity to reveal His gracious works. Normally one would think that receiving sight after being blind your entire life would be the high point of your day. But the greatest blessing that man received that day was coming to know the Savior of the world.

We tend to get wrapped up in the temporal affairs of this life. It’s understandable. I mean, if you’re blind, much of your life is going to revolve around trying to make your way through many challenges just to do very simple things. Like finding a chair to sit in or counting out money to buy something with the hope that you’re not going to get ripped off. But we tend to delve into speculation also, don’t we? Why is one person blind and not another? While it certainly impacts our life here on earth, what impact does it have on you for eternity? Absolutely none. In heaven it will not matter one bit whether you were blind or sighted in this life.

So Jesus shows us the perspective God has on things: His response to the disciples’ question of why the man was born blind was: “We must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.” Jesus has the same approach here with Lazarus’ illness. When He hears Lazarus is sick He waits around for two days. When He is ready to go the disciples are leery because the Jews want to kill Him. This is Jesus’ response: “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”

It may not seem immediately clear what Jesus is getting at since He’s using metaphorical language. But His actions end up showing us what He means. Obviously there are people that work at night. And while it’s true that we end up stumbling around when we’re trying to make our way at night, Jesus here is pointing us to the greater work that He accomplishes. Greater than giving a blind person sight. Even greater than bringing a dead person back to life. There will come a point when all this will come to an end. We live now but this life will not last forever. He truly is the Light of the World—not light for us to see in the dark. Light which brings to an end the darkness of our sin.

This life God has given us in this world is wonderful. But it does not compare to the glory of heaven. That’s why Jesus was doing His thing for three years. It’s not that He was just helping some people for a period of time, what He was doing was accomplishing salvation. And not just for those particular people He helped—for you and me also. What Jesus accomplished for the blind man He accomplishes for you and me. The miracle of bringing a dead man back to life is a miracle that Jesus accomplishes in us.

Now, we may look at such things and wonder how exactly a blind man receiving sight and a dead man raised to life applies to us. How is Jesus accomplishing this kind of work in us? During these six weeks of Lent we have been going through the Catechism. The Catechism takes us through the work of salvation. It brings to us Jesus Christ Himself and what He accomplishes in us. When we look at what He did for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, we see how He does that for us:

The episode begins with an illness that leads to the death of Lazarus. Ultimately, this is where the Ten Commandments leave us, in death. The Ten Commandments are holy and good. They are a guide for us in living in a way that is beneficial to ourselves and to others. But at the end of the day, they are devoid of the one thing that will benefit us eternally—Christ. Ultimately, it is not what we do that saves us. The good things we do are not a pass into heaven, but much more like “Do not pass go, do not collect $200.”

While the Ten Commandments show us God’s will for our lives they also spell out clearly our failure to abide by God’s will. When we are met with the command of God to love Him with our whole heart, mind, and soul and to love our neighbor as ourselves, we are also met with the end result that we see in Lazarus—death. The Ten Commandments do not give life. Our death without Christ is an eternity of torment in hell.

It is only when Jesus comes on the scene that we see that there is hope for Lazarus. It is only in the action of Christ that Lazarus has life. This is the confession of faith in the Creed. While our lives on earth are largely concerned with earthly matters, we must always remember that our souls are eternal and that there are only two prospects at our physical death: eternal death and eternal life. The Creed is infused with language like we hear in Jesus’ dialogue with Martha at the death of Lazarus. When Jesus says to her, “Your brother will rise again,” Martha responds with a confession of faith that we also confess in the Apostles’ Creed: “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” His response to that, then, is what the Creed is all about; why we know we will rise again on the last day: “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. Do you believe this?” And like her with her response, we confess what we believe to be true: “Yes, Lord; I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” He was in a tomb just as Lazarus was. But that was because He willingly chose death, in our place, so that it won’t be our ultimate end. He willingly suffered death so that we may live and His resurrection ensures this.

What does new life like this look like? What does one who has received eternal life do now that we know we haven’t done anything to gain it and yet are called by God to live according to His will? Jesus gave us the Lord’s Prayer not just to pray. It is also a picture of holy living. Jesus exemplified that holy living in His very life on earth.

When you pray does it sometimes feel like you’re praying to some cosmic force? Do you wonder if your prayers sometimes get lost somewhere up in the stratosphere? It’s easy to forget that God is not just God. Jesus became a man. He knows exactly what we’re going through. He identifies with our hurts, our struggles, our grief. When Jesus went to Mary and Martha He took time to comfort them. After talking with Martha, she went to Mary to tell her that Jesus wanted to talk to her also. When Mary saw Him she displayed actions that we would normally associate with prayer: “Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw Him, she fell at His feet, saying to Him, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.’” The act of reverence is certainly an attitude we should have in prayer, and her talking to Him is what we normally think of as praying to God.

But there’s another aspect of prayer shown here that we might not think much about, and that is Jesus’ response to her statement: “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in His spirit and greatly troubled.” When we pray, our Lord is right along with us in our prayers! He is moved at our petitions to Him! This is seen all the more when Jesus actually got to the tomb and wept Himself. He loved Lazarus. He loved Mary and Martha. In the same way He loves us, and that’s a comforting thing to know when we’re praying to Him.

There are three other things Jesus does for us that reinforce this salvation He accomplishes for us, this new life He gives to us. But they don’t just reinforce—they are actually the means by which He brings about our salvation, the forgiveness of all our sins. They are Baptism, Confession and Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper.

Bringing Lazarus from his grave is a vivid picture of what God does for us in Baptism. There was no way he was getting up from his tomb on his own. Four days in there had already brought on the odor of decay. And while we may not be able to smell the stench from our sin, we are decaying. We, in fact, are dead in our trespasses and sins. But in Baptism we are raised. We are brought out of our own tomb of death.

And what does a person do who has been raised from the dead? Well, he lives. And one isn’t going to have much of a life if he’s still wrapped up in his burial cloths. So Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” That’s exactly what Jesus does for us when we confess our sins. He speaks His word of Absolution to us and we are unbound of our burial cloths. We are loosed. Set free. We are forgiven and given a new lease on life.

The site of Lazarus staggering from his tomb was a spectacle. He may have been wondering himself what in the world was going on. The people witnessing it were undoubtedly amazed. And this was the result: “Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what He did, believed in Him.” Seeing is believing, as they say.

So what does Jesus do for us today? Any spectacular miracles He has to perform for us so that we, too, may see and believe? So that we may be rid of all doubts lingering in the back of our minds? So that we may know for sure? What He does is exactly that. A miracle. A thing we can see. And not only that, but also that we may taste and smell and that we actually eat. What He gives us is Himself. His body and His blood. He gives us Himself in things that we can see, touch, smell, and eat, in bread and wine. It’s a miracle. We can understand it no more than we’d be able to understand a man walking from a stinking grave four days after he had been placed in it. But we believe. We believe because He has said it is what He has said it is. And that is Himself. His body. His blood. For you. For the forgiveness of your sins.

When Jesus is at work, life is brought about. We saw that with the blind man. The main thing there was not in his receiving sight, but in receiving eternal life through the one who had given him sight. We saw it with the raising of Lazarus. Christ has power over our sin and death. The Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Baptism, Confession and Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper spell this out for us. It is Jesus at work in your life to give you true and eternal life. Amen.


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