Sermon April 26, 2020

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1442    Click here for audio worship.

April 26, 2020 John 11.1-44

Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)

 

“Unbind Them, and Let Them Go”

1Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 5Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9Jesus answered, “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. 10But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 12The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” 17Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, 19and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. 21Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” 28When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 31When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32Now 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.” 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35Jesus wept. 36So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” 38Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

 

  • For the Glory of God

 

One of the things we do as readers of the Scripture is look for ways to relate to our world in light of what the Scriptures reveal to us. That means that our first source for authority and meaning is God’s Holy Word. One of the questions I sometimes remember to ask is, how might we live our lives through this particular passage? How might we see God in the midst of our context? That question is especially poignant during this corona virus period. Answering those questions takes an inspired imagination. As I have prayed and thought about preaching during this time, my primary goal has been to bring encouragement through the Bible. But, I must also admit that the longer this goes on, the more energy it takes to exercise that imagination. Fortunately, the Lord is good and gives us text after text after text to contemplate!

As we read this story about Jesus and Lazarus, and the other characters involved, we might imagine our lives through the power of Jesus that raised Lazarus from the dead. It is the power of Jesus to call Lazarus out, “Lazarus, come out!” Imagine that we are the ones entombed by an invisible enemy, COVID-19, and soon and very soon, the king will come to do something that will lead us to see once again the glory of God.

In verse 4 of our reading for today...4But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” I want to suggest that this virus will soon lead to a revelation God’s glory and that Jesus will be glorified through it as well. Yes, people are dying from COVID-19, and yes Lazarus died from his illness, but we know that Jesus Christ is Lord over all things – Lord over life and death. As the apostle Paul states, “for if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's” (Rom 14.8). Life and death, wholeness and illness, what we are going through at this time can be perceived as all for the glory of God. It may not appear as so right now. We may have to wait to see it come to be, but this is our hope and our prayer. To God be the glory.

 

  • Walking into the Storm

 

We see that Jesus was willing to face the danger of Rome in order to bring glory to God. From His conversation with the disciples, it is apparent that Jesus was walking into a possible storm of persecution by going to Judea. But Jesus was willing to do so and even the disciples had a little more courage than we often see in them. Imagine our future in light of this scene. How will we react when it comes time to come out of our homes still knowing that dangers lurk in our world? But more importantly, how will we react knowing that God may be glorified by our actions and words and witness to Christ? Will we conduct ourselves differently knowing that pandemics are possible today and salvation is needed today? Will we be willing to walk into the storms, not just of possible illness, but the storms that come when we are willing to present the Gospel message to those in need? It takes the courage that only God can give. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that we go without precautions for health and well being, but I am suggesting that we constantly keep this lens of the Gospel before us in order to see the world as Jesus sees it and to have the courage and the faith to walk into the storms of life without fear.

 

  • Christ, the Resurrection and the Life

 

Jesus gives us the Gospel in this passage in verses 25-26, 25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” The question is for us as well, do we believe this? Because the challenge before us in believing is to ask others if they believe this. Martha believed...27She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” The Lord put this powerful testimony in her heart. He has placed this same belief in our hearts and we have to ask ourselves if we can believe that God can be glorified out of anything in this world. We have to imagine that Jesus will soon be calling us out as He called Lazarus out. We have to be faithful and confident that Jesus will unbind us that we might go for Christ, in Christ, and through Christ to proclaim Him as the resurrection and the life and whoever believes in Him will live forever!

 

  • Church, Come Out!

 

43When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.”

 

It will not be health officials giving us the okay, not the politicians, not the President or Governor, but it will be Jesus Himself! “Church, come out!”

 

Isaiah 49.8-10 Thus says the Lord: 8“In a time of favor I have answered you; in a day of salvation I have helped you; I will keep you and give you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages, 9saying to the prisoners, ‘Come out,’ to those who are in darkness, ‘Appear.’ They shall feed along the ways; on all bare heights shall be their pasture; 10they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them.

 

See the language of Isaiah is the same as Jesus, “Come out!” Come out of your exile. Come out of the tomb. Come out from COVID-19. We are soon to be resurrected from corona virus. New life has come and is coming. Jesus will bring us another opportunity, beside still waters, refreshment of our bodies and our spirit. He will end this strange exhaustion and stress we have been living under. God will renew us for new life post-COVID-19.

We have been entombed, not just by COVID-19, but by officials who deem the church as a non-essential. What does that mean for us? How shall we respond? Are we growing more toward the church of the first century, irrelevant to the culture in which we live? Has that ship sailed a long time ago? And what part have we played in this condition? Apathy? Lukewarm? Too comfortable? Assimilated into the culture? It is a danger to become assimilated, just another booth to choose from on the carnival midway.

You may not think this is the case but John Stonestreet recently wrote an article illustrating our current situation. While speaking about the essential nature of Jesus Christ and the Church, Stonestreet reported that...

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was asked during a press briefing why the coronavirus infection rate was slowing in his state. Governor Cuomo said: “The number is down because we brought the number down. God did not do that. Faith did not do that. Destiny did not do that. A lot of pain and suffering did that.” (https://www.breakpoint.org/the-non-essential-church)

 

Cuomo claims to be a Catholic, but has apparently never read Deuteronomy 8 where God warns the people to remember that God brought them out of trouble and to think that they did it on their own was a huge mistake; that means sin! It is a rebellion against God.

 

17Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ 18You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. 19And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. 20Like the nations that the Lord makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the Lord your God.

 

Most politicians would at least have the common courtesy to not mention God at all, but this one wants to raise the stakes to denounce God without even being asked about faith or religion in the first place. Is it just another sign that our nation has fallen far from its heights of Christian ideals and morals and awareness of God? Is it the power of secularism that has swept the country to the point that even when President Trump declared a “National Day of Prayer for All Americans Affected by the Coronavirus,” it does not seem to be taken with any seriousness by the whole country? Back during the terrorist attack of 9/11 it seemed, at least, that the country pulled together in prayer, among other things, but maybe that was just us. Perhaps the only people who turn to God anymore are the most ardent committed Christians and not the nominal folks who simple believe a higher being exists somewhere out there.

Here is the interpretive point I want us to see in John 11. The world’s view is that God has nothing to do with the affairs of this world. Our view is that Jesus will soon be calling the church to come out! It won’t be the health officials. It won’t be the government. It will be Jesus calling us into the world to bring the Gospel to the people of our community and nation, even to the world. Church, come out! Do not fear. Come out!

 

  • Unbind Them, and Let Them Go

 

44The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

 

My last bullet point is “Unbind Them, and Let Them Go”. Moses told Pharaoh, “Let my people go.” Some parts of the government are acting like Pharaoh. Jesus’ last words with Lazarus were to unbind him, and let him go. Jesus will speak to the virus and to any government official who has sought to bind the church. Jesus waited until Lazarus was four days in the tomb, a certain time frame to God’s timing. It won’t be the slow down in COVID-19 cases, nor the decisions by officials to open the country, but it will be Jesus calling out these words, “Unbind them, and let them go.” That’s how we see the world and that is how we see Jesus at work in the world. If we do not, we are looking through the wrong lens.

We can look at this entire episode of confinement as an opportunity for the church to be unbound by any restraints – those of plagues, governments, fear, apathy, helplessness, etc. We find this as an opportunity for the church to recognize our essential influence in the world. It is the opportunity for the church to not go back to normal, especially if that normal means treating discipleship as a social club mentality. Now Jesus will call us to be unencumbered.

This call out of the tomb and to unbind Lazarus is a call to the church to be unbound and let go...and when we are let go it leads to another familiar word from Jesus, to go therefore and make disciples. Unbind them, and let them go therefore and make disciples. It is also a letting go to worship and pray and obey the Scriptures and fellowship and love and show mercy and perform acts of kindness and to follow Jesus with complete devotion and passion and intentionality.

See the world through the gospel narratives, through the biblical stories. See the world through eyes that see Jesus and love Jesus and follow Jesus. It is the only way to live. He is the way to live; He is the truth for life, and Jesus is the life. Jesus calls us out of out our “tombs” to live in Him. Church, come out! Unbind them, and let them go. Hear His call when it comes --any day now. Amen.

 
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