'For the glory of God' John 11
In our reading we are told that Jesus loved Martha, Mary and Lazarus, a brother and two sisters. We are also told that when Jesus hears that Lazarus is seriously sick, he deliberately stays where he is for two more days. And Lazarus dies.
Why does he delay? He knew he could have saved Lazarus.
And Jesus tells his followers, “It is for God’s glory, so that God’s Son may be glorified through it” (v4)
That sounds terrible.
Jesus lets bad stuff happen simply so that people may see how cool or great he is.
Well let’s look and see how the Son of God is glorified.
1. Jesus is glorified because we see his love
Verse 5 of our reading in some translations says this: “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, therefore when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was”.
It seems he stays where he is, not because he doesn’t love Martha and Mary, but because he loves them.
So often the bad things happen not because God does not love us, but because God does loves us.
We may well not understand, but he does it for us. He wants us to become bigger, richer people – more authentic people. He wants us to discover new truths; he wants to draw us closer to him, deeper into himself – because then we will truly live.
We know that it is the times that are most difficult for us that are also the times for growth. I expect that after all of this crisis is over, there will be an explosion of creativity.
It is when we are out of our depth that we have to swim
It is when everything is shaken that we need to rethink and change
It is when we go through what can be called ‘wilderness’ moments – when we find ourselves stripped of everything that we trust in or depend on or live for – that we discover our own nakedness and our utter dependence on God. And we are forced back onto him.
It is when we cry out, ‘Lord, if you had been here …’ that we begin to discover just how close he has been all the time.
When I was a student we had a large mission at our university. And some genius drew a poster. A man was looking up at the sky and crying out, ‘God where are you?’. But if this man had looked down, he would have realised that he was standing on a huge hand.
God is glorified because Martha and Mary – and, for that matter, Lazarus – through this experience, discover a little bit more about his astonishing love for them.
2. God is glorified through this, because we see what true life lived with God can look like.
Jesus lives by putting his trust in his heavenly Father.
It was dangerous for him to go to Jerusalem. Bethany – the home of Martha and Mary - was close to Jerusalem. Jesus could have said, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, ‘Well I would love to do something, but I just can’t go. It is too dangerous for me’
But he doesn’t. His faith conquers his fear. He tells his followers that if we walk in the light of God – if we obey his word, if we do his will, if we do what is right and true by him – then we can have confidence that God is there with us.
It is not a promise that bad stuff won’t happen.
Jesus went to Jerusalem, raised Lazarus from the dead, and by the end of the week he had been crucified.
But we have the promise that if we are doing what God wants us to do, even when the bad stuff happens, he will be there. He is with us.
And we also see here the deep unity, intimacy between the Father and the Son.
It is Jesus, the Son of God, who calls on the Father to raise Lazarus
And it is Jesus who utters the command: ‘Lazarus come out’
But it is the Father who raises Lazarus from the dead
They know each other. They desire the same thing. They work together. They delight in glorifying each other. The glory of Jesus is when the Father is glorified. The glory of the Father is when Jesus is glorified.
And the glory of God is this. This is not just something between Father and Son, leaving all of us on the outside – a bit like a rather awkward gooseberry.
They also want to include us – you – in this deep relationship of love and trust and intimacy. They want us to delight and desire what they delight and desire. They want us to share their life.
3. God is glorified because we see that Jesus is life
‘This illness’, says Jesus, ‘does not lead to death’.
Death is against everything that Jesus is.
We see his grief at death.
V37 is the shortest verse in the bible. It is also used by people as an exclamation. ‘Jesus wept’. But it is a precious verse, because it shows us that the Son of God, who knows that he is going to raise Lazarus from the dead, sees the devastation of death. And it breaks his heart.
There is a poem that sometimes people ask me to read at funerals. It begins with the line ‘Death is nothing at all’.
But death is far from ‘nothing at all’. It breaks us. It crushes hope and it tramples on love.
And Jesus sees this, and Jesus weeps.
He weeps for the pain that Martha and Mary are going through. He weeps for the pain that we will go through
But we also see here the victory of Jesus over death.
Why raise Lazarus? Why not others? Why not the 23 year old woman, with no underlying medical condition, who was just one of thousands in our world last week who died of coronavirus. Why not the 73 year old man with a lung defect? I bet their families prayed that God would save their loved ones. Why do their families need to go through the hell of death?
Jesus only brings back three people from the dead: the widow of Nain’s son, Jairus’ daughter and Lazarus. Today we occasionally hear of others miraculously raised from the dead – but it is one or two out of the billions who do die.
And even those who are brought back still have to die at some point.
But Jesus raises Lazarus as a sign to us.
He is a glimpse of our future. He is our hope.
And Martha and Mary discover more than that there is just a resurrection from the dead.
What they learn is that Jesus himself is the resurrection. Jesus himself is the life.
John 11.25-26: “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 (really) die”
A week after raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus died. But Father God raised Jesus from the dead. And unlike Lazarus, Jesus was not going to die again.
And if we put our trust in Jesus, and if we receive baptism as a free gift of his forgiveness and love, if we choose to follow him, then we are united to Jesus, glued to Jesus – like a piece of card is glued to another piece of card. We have become part of him.
And just as he rose from the dead, so we will rise with him.
And one day we will see him and be with him.
Perhaps, as we go through this crisis – and here in Moscow we are just really at the beginning – we might be with Martha and Mary:
God, Jesus why are you allowing this to happen?
Where are you?
Where are you for the people who are scared?
Where are you for those who are trapped and isolated?
Where are you for those who are trapped and isolated?
Where are you for the sick or those who weep for those they love?
I don’t know.
But what I do know is that through this crisis each one of us can – if we are prepared to turn to him - discover something more of the glory of God
Of his love for us
Of his desire that we might be one with him
Of his final and ultimate victory over death
Jesus says to Martha in verse 40, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”