The Lord promises that He will open our graves and have us rise from them. He offers this promise having just offered a vision of raising dry bones to new life. God offers us his promise of Resurrection. We can count on his promise.
God also promises that He will bring his people back to the Land of Israel. He offers this promise to the Israelites who are in exile in Babylon. We know that God did later do this. So, we have proof that God keeps his promises. We can trust in the Lord and his word.
We are not in geographic exile from our home (There are people who are. One name for them is refugees. We pray for them). Yet, we are a shrinking church. Can the church be restored to its former greatest? Of course for nothing is impossible for God! God promised, “I will put my spirit in you that you may live, and I will settle you upon your land, thus you shall know that I am the Lord.“
God can restore his church. Are you willing to do your part? Remember the Samaritan woman at the well who, although she did not yet fully understand who Jesus is, shared her encounter with Jesus with the townspeople. Because of this, they came to know Jesus for themselves.
Returning to the Lord’s promise to Ezekiel of Resurrection, Jesus fulfills that promise in his own Resurrection. He makes it possible for us to share in the resurrection through his death on the Cross so that our sins can be forgiven.
At the time of the events in today’s gospel, Jesus had not yet been crucified. So, it is not yet time for The Resurrection but it is time for Jesus to do a great sign that shows that He has power even over death. In the Gospel of John, Jesus does seven great signs as testimony to who He is. The seven signs began with the Wedding Feast at Cana when Jesus turned the water into wine. The signs include the story of the healing of the man born blind that we heard last week. The seven sign is the raising of Lazarus that we hear today.
Lazarus, a great friend to Jesus is ill. His sisters “sent word to Jesus saying, “Master, the one you love is ill.” They know Jesus cares for Lazarus. He cares for each one of us. They know that Jesus can help.
What is Jesus’ response to the news that Lazarus was ill? He remained where He was for two days. This is likely not what Martha and Mary expected. They probably thought Jesus would come immediately. Why didn’t He?
Remember last week when Jesus was asked who sinned that the man was born blind? His response was “Neither he nor his parents sinned, it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.” So it is with Lazarus. If Jesus had gone immediately and “simply” healed Lazarus before he died, it would have “just” another healing. Jesus is going to do something far greater through Lazarus.
By the time Jesus arrived in Bethany “Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Given it had been four days, everyone thought there was no chance of Jesus doing anything. (Spoiler alert – they were wrong!)
When Martha hears Jesus is coming, she goes out to meet him. She said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” She has complete faith in Jesus’ power to heal. She continues, “But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will you give.” The death of Lazarus did not cause her to lose faith. She does not grumble to Jesus that He should have come sooner. She doesn’t just believe that God the Father will do what Jesus asks. She knows it. I desire faith like that.
Jesus speaks to her of the resurrection. She professes her faith in the resurrection. Jesus professes, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Jesus is pointing us to eternal life.
Mary, the other sister of Lazarus, will also profess her faith that Jesus could have healed Lazarus. She weeps. Jesus “became perturbed and deeply troubled.” He was not upset at her physical act of weeping. He was concerned that she had not yet come to understand the resurrection, that God has power even over death.
Some of the people asked, “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?” They think it is over with. This too perturbs Jesus. It is not too late. In fact, Jesus’ timing is perfect! It is the time that God has prescribed for a new type of miracle.
Jesus calls Lazarus forth from the grave. The man who was indeed dead has been brought back to life. This, as the seventh great sign, reveals the power of God at work in Jesus.
What Jesus does is restore Lazarus’ life here but it clearly points to the Resurrection in the way it shows God has power over death. Probably one of our Christian beliefs that most draws people to Christianity is our belief in the resurrection. We want to know that there is more to life than what we experience in this world.
Jesus fulfills God’s promise of resurrection. Remember, God also promised through Ezekiel to restore his people. How many times in the Old Testament did the Israelites turn away from the Lord? Every time they did, things got very bad for them; slavery, military defeat, exile. At times the remnant who still had some faith would repent and cry out to God for help. He always heard their cry and would restore his people.
We are a shrinking church today. Many people have fallen away from the faith. Some because they made a decision to say there is no god. Some because they believe that maybe God exists but He doesn’t seem to care about us. They think that if they don’t get what they want, then God either doesn’t care or doesn’t exist.
God does care. God does exist.
Then why does He do something to fix everything?
What makes you think He isn’t doing something?
The fact that things don’t change the way we want, doesn’t mean that God isn’t listening. It doesn’t mean God can’t help us. Well, maybe there is one thing that stops God from helping us. Us!
How can we, who pale in comparison to God, stop him from helping us? God gives us free will. God will not force himself upon us. We may say we want God to fix everything but do we stand in his way by insisting He does things our way? Our way is what got us into trouble in the first place. God has laid a way before us. He reveals to us in his Word. We hear it in his commandments.
For instance, God tells us to keep the Sabbath holy. Do we? Keeping the Sabbath holy begins with coming to church. It doesn’t end there. Do we give God just one hour or do we make it a day for the Lord? What about the rest of the week? What right do we have to demand that God take care of our problems if we spend the rest of our week living in the ways of the world rather than his way?
No wonder people stop coming to church when they see us living contrary to our faith. If you want to change the world, if you want God to change the world, it starts with ourselves.
If you want to see more people coming to church, if you want to see more people practicing their faith, it starts with us. It’s not going to happen overnight. The church has been in decline for a long time. Do not be afraid! There is reason for hope. Pray! God can and restore his church if we let him. He called Lazarus out from the tomb of earthly death. God can bring us to new life from our death in sin.
Let God who has begun a good work in you, bring it to completion (see Philippians 1:6).