The Fifth Sunday in Lent
“This Illness Does Not Lead to Death”
April 2, 2017
Sermon Text: John 11:1-45
Peace be unto you from the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, Christ Jesus. Amen.
Dearly Beloved of the Lord,
How many times have we heard something and realized that it does not make sense. Well, maybe we heard it wrong. But then, upon learning that we had not, we are at a loss as to what to do… how to make sense of it all.
How many times in our dear Lord’s ministry here on earth… in His time here on earth… did He say things, proclaim things that simply did not make sense to those who first heard it… as well as those who still hear it today, but do not have as our Savior said, “ears to hear” … spiritual ears… ears opened and minds enlightened by the Holy Spirt.
Just for a minute or two, let’s go through some of the things Jesus said that, on the surface, make little or no sense… that which defied human logic. For example when He proclaimed,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58)
Or our Lord’s other “I am” statements, such as:
“I am the bread of life.” (John 6:48)
“I am the door of the sheep.” (John 10:7)
“I am the good shepherd.” (John 10:11)
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
Or when He said to Nicodemus, “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)
How about the time when Christ flat out declared, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:53-54)
And then there was the occasion when Jesus said to a group of people mourning over the lifeless body of an adolescent, “‘Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him.” (Matthew 9:24)
Which brings us to today’s appointed Gospel lesson and the raising of yet another lifeless body. Our Lord, along with the disciples, first receive word that Lazarus is ill. And of all the comments one would think that Jesus might say to this, it probably isn’t the one made. He declares, “This illness does not lead to death.” (John 11:4)
But it does, doesn’t it? Didn’t it? The disciples were probably reassured initially by Jesus’ statement and didn’t think twice of the two-day delay before going to Bethany to the home of Lazarus, Mary and Martha. I mean after all, if Lazarus is going to recover what is the rush?
More perplexing and disconcerting is when Christ tells the twelve “We are going to Judea” wherein the town of Bethany is found. In fact, the disciples lodge their concern saying, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” (John 11:8)
Yes… Yes, He is. He goes there again… to Bethany and then to Jerusalem… not to be stoned, but crucified.
Arriving on the outskirts of the town, they learn that Lazarus has, in fact, died… four days ago no less! He whom the Rabbi said that his illness would not lead to death. Then said he had died… what gives?
Well, what is given to the disciples and all of us through these events is a clearer understanding of what death is and what it is not. Something that, sadly, causes much confusion and consternation, much undue fretting and frustration in this world of ours.
You see, my friends, there is death and then there is death. There is the death that is not really death… and there is death that truly is death. Oh, thanks Pastor for clarifying that! But those who have ears to hear and have heard, have been catechized, understand this. What is more, they… we… rejoice in it!
We rejoice that for us as Christians… for all who have a living faith in Jesus Christ… we never, will never undergo true death, eternal death in hell. We have been spared from the same and it is our Lord and Savior who did the sparing.
What we may experience (if Christ does not return beforehand) is what is commonly known as “temporal death” … temporary death which is but going from this life into the greater life that is ours in heaven… and this through the merits of Christ our Lord. For us, death is not the end. It is the beginning.
Indeed, what we have in this account of Lazarus is a wonderful preview of what will happen for all who “fall asleep” in Christ… that is, for all whose bodies are placed in the grave until the Day of Resurrection.
We, too, will hear the voice of the One who is the Lord of Life calling our bodies out of the tomb. We, too, will have our grave clothes removed… for the living have no need of them.
My friends, now and in the week before us, consider again and again this wonderful account before us. And especially the wonderful interchange that we find herein where “Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘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?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.’” (John 11:21-27)
The One who “is coming” has indeed come. And He has defeated death and the grave once and for all… for you… for me… for all people. And all of our loved ones who lived in the faith and died in the faith know this firsthand… those whose mortal remains now rest in blissful repose in the grave awaiting the sure and certain resurrection to come.
Let us not be fooled… or frightened… mournful and inconsolable. Not in light of what Christ has accomplished.
Instead, let us rejoice and have true confidence and peace in the knowledge that, for us and all believers, there is no illness that leads to death and this includes the most deadly illness of them all… sin.
Let us rejoice, even though we all looked into a mirror this morning and again came face to face with the physical effects of sin. And you who are young, in your teens or twenties, just wait…
Let us all just remember the Words of Holy Scripture where we are told that “this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ O death, where is your victory? [It has none] O death, where is your sting? [There is none for us. Our Savior fully felt it and endured it in our place] The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:53-57)
And to think… all of us together… have the blessed opportunity to see this victory play out as we now come to the holiest of weeks, stopping as we will this Wednesday at of all places, Bethany, in our last midweek service before entering Jerusalem with our Lord this coming Sunday.
Thanks be to God that we know the outcome. Thanks be to God that this illness we were all born in, namely sin, does not lead to death. Our dear Lord Jesus has seen to that. To Him X alone with the Father and the Spirit, be all glory now and forevermore. Amen!
May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.
“This Illness Does Not Lead to Death”
4/2/17 The Rev. Mark H. Hein
St. Paul’s Ev. Lutheran Church, Lockport, IL