Sermon April 6/ Vicar James Preus/ Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life/ John 11
17 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20 So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
It’s inevitable. It encounters each and every of us. As the popular hymn personifies it: “He comes by night, he comes by day, He takes his prey most surely.” We all meet this predator at many stages in our life.
A small child might first encounter this crouching menace after his mom attempts to satisfy his petition for a puppy. The child peers into his fish bowl one morning to see that this fiend made a nocturnal visit on his aquatic friend. Unfortunate Goldie floats lifeless and bloated atop the water, her eyes already glossed creamy white as microorganisms didn’t wait until daybreak to begin the decomposition process. The child is devastated to learn that there is nothing anyone can do.
As sad as this encounter is for a small child, this represents about the least devastating encounters one has with death through the course of a life.
I was six years-old when my grandfather died. I saw his lifeless body in the casket and I watched them lower his coffin into the ground. I have visited that plot in the graveyard of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Maple Grove, MN a number of times over the years. The grave is still there. My grandfather’s body is still there. He hasn’t come out. He’s still in the grave.
A nurse working the nightshift at the hospital hears the alarm of a Code Blue. She rushes to a room down the hall where a number of nurses have already arrived. They struggle urgently to resuscitate the patient, to whom she gave meds just hours ago. Death overtakes him. Time of death is called. The patient is dead…only dead for a few minutes, yet still dead. No one can bring him back to life.
I have never seen a human being, who was actually dead, come back to life. Once the body dies it cannot be brought back to life. That would go against the experience of every living human-being on the planet. Death takes strangers, acquaintances, and family. We watch death claim our grandparents, parents, brothers, sisters, wife, husband, even our children. And no matter how much we love the deceased; there is nothing any of us can do to bring that person back from the dead.
Jesus loved Lazarus. He was his friend. (This is one of those examples of Jesus as a real live human-being). Jesus walked on this earth as a human-being. He met real live people, who struggled to get by in this life just as you and I do today. One of these individuals was Lazarus. When Jesus entered the village of Bethany, it was in Lazarus’ house where he likely lodged. Under Lazarus’ roof Jesus escaped the sun and taught groups of people. Lazarus’ sisters Martha and Mary would attend to Jesus’ needs, bringing him water and food, and of course listening to Jesus teach God’s Word. Jesus ate at Lazarus’ table. And when Jesus continued on his nomadic ministry traveling dirt roads from village to village, Lazarus waited anxiously to hear news of Jesus’ ministry and of the welfare of his dear friend and teacher.
When Lazarus’ sisters sent messengers to Jesus, they said: “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” Yet Jesus dallied. Or he seemed to. Jesus’ disciples thought he avoided Bethany, because Jews sought to stone him there. But Jesus was waiting for Lazarus to die.
Lazarus died. My grandfather died. You have dear loved ones who are dead. Everything we know about death that we can observe with our five senses tells us that once someone dies, he or she stays dead.
Life experience also tells us that everyone dies. In fact, we all are dying. Our bodies edge closer to the grave each day. And as we age, we see the evidence of our inevitable deaths as our muscles fade, our bones become brittle, our joints ache, and our memory weakens.
We inch our way toward death, because we are already spiritually dead. God warned Adam: “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” We know the story. Adam ate the fruit. He didn’t die though! Well, yes, he did. Adam died the day his teeth tore the flesh of that forbidden fruit. He lived his life as a man dead in sin. And we, his children received his curse. St. Paul writes: “just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” Death and sin pulse through our veins clinging to each other as co-dependent parasites.
We die because we’re dying. We’re dying, because we’re sinners. The creators of zombie movies don’t observe dead bodies for their inspiration for gore-hungry ghouls. They look at the living to observe the walking dead. In each of our lives, we indeed behave as if we are but mortal. Our concern is for today and for ourselves. We are constantly inclined to break God’s commands. We don’t love God with our whole hearts; otherwise, God’s Word would be our number-one priority.
God’s Law demands that we consider our neighbor more important than ourselves. That is true love. Yet our inclination is to strive after our own pleasure, hungry for that which is perishable. The corrupt human nature is truly an ugly thing.
The dogma of today instructs us that deep down we are basically good. If we are true to ourselves above all else, then we are truly righteous. However, death, the unbiased executioner, who is not swayed by such philosophies, indiscriminately disperses the wages of sin to all sinful human-beings.
Yet even in the face of death human philosophies strive to twist the truth of death. Romeo and Juliet romanticize it, the children’s movie The Lion King distorts it into “The Circle of Life,” we hide it, cover it up, lie about it. Yet all these efforts prove to be simply pouring perfume on a rotting corpse. Death is real. And as far as we can tell, it’s irreversible.
Yet when Jesus approaches Bethany four days after Lazarus’ stone-cold body was laid in the tomb, Jesus has the audacity to say to Martha: “Your brother will rise again.”
What? How can Jesus say a thing that so clearly contradicts everything our reason teaches us? And to say this to a woman, who is bawling her eyes out mourning her dead brother! Yet astonishingly Martha responds: “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” She KNOWS that her dead brother will rise? How on earth could Martha know that? Everyone knows the dead don’t rise! They stay dead!
Here Martha beautifully confesses her faith in the resurrection of the dead. Martha is an orthodox Jew. Orthodox means correct teaching. The Old Testament clearing teaches that God has the power to raise the dead (as we heard read in our Old Testament reading from Ezekiel), and the Old Testament clearly promises that God will raise all the dead. The Lord promised: “And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and raise you from your graves.”
Jesus is an orthodox teacher. He teaches the truth about God’s Word. He stated in John chapter 5: “For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.” And again in chapter 6: “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.” Jesus teaches the resurrection of the dead on the last day. And he teaches that he himself will raise the dead!
Jesus responds to Martha’s confession of the resurrection of the dead:
“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?”
Martha again gives a beautiful confession, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
Martha is a good listener. She paid attention when Jesus taught her. She studied his words so well, that she could repeat them back to him! God blessed Martha with ears of faith!
Martha believes in the resurrection of the dead, because God’s Word promises that the dead will rise. And God’s Word does not simply promise a second temporary life. God’s Word promises abundant life! The dead will no longer be dead, but they will live forever! Yet, when Jesus commands that the stone be rolled away from Lazarus’ tomb, Martha warns him: “Lord, by this time there will be an odor.” Martha understands death. She felt her brother’s cold, pulse-less hand. She saw the color flee his face as his blood literally ran cold. And she knew after four days his body would smell.
Yet Jesus insists, so that they would see the glory of God. Jesus even speaks to Lazarus. Lazarus is dead. The dead can’t hear. Yet, Jesus commands the dead man to come out! Is this lunacy? No. Jesus, the Son of God has the authority he claims from God the Father. Jesus speaks. The dead listen. Lazarus, the man who had been dead four days walks out of his tomb alive!
The crowd saw the glory of God that day. They saw Jesus’ power over death. Many believed in Jesus because of this. However, as long as sin lies unaccounted for, we are still the walking dead. Dead in sin, destined to die in the flesh.
So Jesus demonstrated the glory of God for all humanity. God laid on Jesus the sins of the entire world. That includes each and every sin of each and every one of you. Jesus became our scapegoat, bearing the judgment of all selfishness, every trespass that we, destined to die, commit. Jesus never sinned. Jesus was not the walking dead. Yet Jesus became the form of sin for us. And the death that had no claim on him conquered Jesus. Jesus died to sin. And in an act of glory greater than the resurrection of Lazarus outside Bethany, Jesus rose from the dead outside Jerusalem! This is an actual event in human history! We know that the dead will rise, despite our own experience, because Jesus has the authority and the power to raise the dead. Jesus in fact rose from the dead after he died in our sins.
On their way to Bethany, knowing that the Jews waited there to stone Jesus, Thomas bravely asserted: “Let us also go, that we may die with Jesus.” At the time Thomas did not understand the significance to his statement. Yet here, we all have something we can cling to that gives us certainty that we will rise from the dead and live with Jesus forever! In Baptism you were baptized into the death of Christ Jesus! In Baptism you died with Jesus! You are united to Jesus’ death and his resurrection. Jesus did not stay dead. Jesus rose from the dead and he is still alive! Jesus died to sin and is alive to God. You too, as a baptized child of God are dead to sin and alive to God. Although you live in the sin-corrupted flesh, you are not of the flesh anymore. You are forgiven! You are of the Spirit of God.
Through faith and through Baptism you are alive in the Spirit, despite being dead in the flesh. God’s Word promises that if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies.” This life will not be a corrupt life. This life will be better than any life you could hope for. This life will last forever! This life will be with Jesus!
Through our dying eyes we see that the dead stay dead. Yet through faith we trust that Jesus has authority over death. We believe that Jesus paid for our sin that brings us death. We believe that the dead will hear the voice of Jesus, just as Lazarus heard Jesus. When the dead hear the voice of Jesus, their graves will be opened; their bodies will be restored. We who see the glory of God dimly through faith will see the glory of God clearly with our own eyes when the living and the dead will stand before Jesus.
I have Good News for you! You, who have faith in Jesus, will live with Jesus forever. This promise also includes all your loved ones, who have died with Jesus. Neither sin nor death will ever harm you again. Thanks be to God that he has given us assurance of the resurrection of the dead and eternal life in Christ Jesus!
Let us pray:
Let us also live with Jesus.
He has risen from the dead
That to life we may awaken.
Jesus You are now our head.
We are Your own living members;
Where you live, there we shall be
In Your presence constantly,
Living there with You forever.
Jesus, let me faithful be,
Life eternal grant to me. 
LSB 716 ‘I Walk in Danger All the Way’ Stz. 3.
LSB 685. Let Us Ever Walk with Jesus Stz. 4.