King Solomon wrote these startling words, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart…The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning (Ecclesiastes 7:2,4)
It is startling to hear that there is good to be gained by being here today. There is a good for us that is sweeter and better than the pleasure we might feel if we went to a party instead. Our time is short and valuable; I want to make the most of the time we have. I want to hold out the possibility of good and I want to encourage you to go after it.
Let’s begin with 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (read it)
I must be clear with you that everything good I hold out to you depends on Jesus’ perfect life, atoning death, victorious resurrection, and promised return. Everything good depends on him.
In those verses I read, you heard God’s plan for the future. Jesus who died and rose again, will return to this earth. When Jesus returns he will bring with him all those who have died trusting in him. We look forward to a mighty and wonderful reunion when Jesus returns and unites all of us always. We are told to encourage one another with these truths.
Take courage. All those who died trusting Christ will return with Christ and we will be united with them always.
The Gospel of John, chapter 11, holds out good to us because it is the account of Jesus attending a funeral. The chapter opens by telling us that a man named Lazarus is sick. Now, this isn’t just any sick guy, Jesus is very connected to this family. So, Lazarus’s sisters, Mary and Martha, write to Jesus telling him, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” This is classic humans interacting with God; if you love me, you will do what I want. I want Lazarus to be healed, if you love me, you will heal Lazarus. In more specific terms we say, “If God is good he must always do good and I get to define what is good.” God, you love Lazarus so heal Lazarus.
Early on in chapter 11 we are given insight into what Jesus is going to do. It’s like the narrator explaining the story to the audience. Jesus said that the purpose of Lazarus’s sickness, even his death, is to demonstrate the greatness of God. The purpose of this bad thing is to glorify Jesus who is the king (11.4). We are meant to learn something and believe something about Jesus. Let’s recap. We approach God demanding he do our good thing, but God is God and he is committed to doing his glorious thing.
Fast forward. Jesus doesn’t go and Lazarus dies. This obviously puts Mary and Martha into a state of shock and confusion. Is God good? Is God all-powerful? Does God love me? Maybe that’s you today. At the hospital or here in this room you have begun to think about deep and painful things for the first time in a long time. Is God even there? Is God good? Is God all-powerful? Does God love me? Those are good questions to ask because the answers are wonderful.
We’re told that after Lazarus died, Jesus went to the city. There, like today, Mary and Martha were surrounded by friends and family who sought to comfort them. Even this, your presence today, is evidence of God’s grace. You are not alone. God shows his care for you by sending friends and family to care for you.
Imagine Mary and Martha grieving and surrounded by comforters. Word comes to Martha that Jesus has finally arrived; finally arrived. He’s late. He did nothing. Martha is honest. We should be honest. She says to Jesus, “If you would have been here my brother would not have died.” You can hear the pain and anger and confusion in her voice. Where were you? I thought you loved us? There is a tear in her eye.
Alongside the pain you can hear the faith. Next she says, “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” There is a twinkle in her eye. “Jesus, you are powerful. Jesus, you are good. Jesus, you do love us. Help us.” Death does this to us. Death reminds us of our weakness and drives us to seek strength.
Listen to Jesus, “Your brother will rise again.” This is 1 Thessalonians 4 language. There is a resurrection coming. This funeral is not the end of the story. This death is not final. Your brother will rise again. Your mother will rise again. Your wife will rise again. Your friend will rise again.
With great faith and clarity Martha holds on to this promise. Martha replies, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” This is beautiful faith. She is a bit angry, hurt, and confused. She is grieving. She is hoping. She is believing. This funeral is not the end. Resurrection is coming. Martha is in a good spot. It hurts and its hard but its good. She’s putting what she believes into practice. Jesus wants to take her further.
Jesus responds, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Jesus is the cause and the power and the ruler of the resurrection. Jesus is the cause and the power and the ruler over life. Jesus gives life and Jesus raises the dead. Jesus is the center of the future of us all. It all hinges on him. Jesus promises resurrection. Jesus promises the gift of eternal life. There is healing coming for Lazarus. There is life coming for Lazarus. There is healing coming for Betty. There is life coming for Betty.
Whoever believes in Jesus, though she die, yet shall she live. Everyone who lives and believes in Jesus shall never die. Death is not the end of the story for those who trust in Jesus.
Then comes the question, “Do you believe this?” Martha says yes, she believes. What about you? What do you believe about life and death and the future?
The story ends with a soul-stabilizing act. Words are good but promises without power are pointless. Jesus can talk all day but if he doesn’t have the power to back up his talk then he should not be trusted. However, if Jesus does have the power to back up his resurrection talk then he should be trusted. We should trust him.
To prove his point and strengthen our souls, Jesus goes to Lazarus’ tomb. He orders the stone to be rolled away and then he faces the darkness. Lazarus has been dead four days. With a cry of command, Jesus demands, “Lazarus, come forth.”
Lazarus once dead becomes Lazarus now alive because Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
The question for us today is what will we do with this? Some of us will shrug it all off as a myth, a fairy tale for the weak and foolish. You will try to comfort the family, but you know at the end of the day you have nothing comforting to offer. You’ll go from this place and keep doing your thing.
Some of us will begin to consider the life and promises of Jesus. Maybe you’ll get a Bible on the way home and read it for yourself. I recommend you start with the gospel of Mark and then read the gospel of John. Start with Mark then read John. Make plans to attend a Bible believing church. Today you will gain the good of beginning your journey of figuring out what life is all about.
Still others will drink deeply of the good. Like Martha, you will feel the emotions of fear, anger, and confusion. Why did this happen this way? But in your trouble, you will look to Jesus who is the resurrection and the life. You will grieve but not like those who have no hope. As you ache, you will hope. Jesus said he is coming and he will bring with him all that have died believing in him. There is a good future coming after this bad day.
Drink deeply of the truth that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. He will raise the dead and he will give us life today. Jesus has strength for you in your weakness. Jesus has joy for you in your sorrow. Jesus has wisdom for you in your confusion. Jesus has hope for you in your pain. Jesus has forgiveness for you in your failings. Because Jesus has died and rose again, because Jesus is the resurrection and the life, we can start fresh and keep going. There is good for us even on days like today. Let’s seek the good that is Jesus.