Jesus Comforts the Sisters
17On his arrival [at Bethany], Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.
21Martha, the sister of Lazarus, said to Jesus, ""Lord, if you had been here, my brother Lazarus would not have died. 22But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask."
23Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again."
24Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day."
25Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"
27"Yes, Lord," she told him, "I believe that you are the Christ,[b] the Son of God, who was to come into the world."
33When Jesus saw her weeping, and those who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34"Where have you laid him?" he asked.
"Come and see, Lord," they replied.
36 And they said, "See how he loved him!"
37But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?"
Jesus Raises Lazarus From the Dead
38Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. . .
40Then Jesus said, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?"
41. . . Then Jesus looked up and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me."
43When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" 44The dead man came out,
45Therefore many of [those] who had come to visit Mary [and Martha], and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him.
Martin, Brigitte, Andrea, and all of us who sit here in our grief and sadness:
With Martha, we may well ask: So, where was Jesus last Friday as Stefan and Matt where heading to Oma Mueller’s house? He mustn’t have been there! Because according to Martha, had Jesus been there, they would not have died. We’ve all heard those who escape a close brush with disaster or death state with conviction: God . . . an angel . . . someone was watching over them! They survived, because some power protected them.
But not Stefan! Not Matt! Nor Lazarus! Jesus hadn’t been watching; he wasn’t there. And so they died.
It gets worse: Jesus purposely delayed. He let it happen!
He let Lazarus die, though he could have prevented it.
And he let Stefan die!
That is why Martha and the crowd gather around the tomb of Lazarus; that is why all of us are gathered here. Jesus had not come through. Jesus had failed to deliver in the way he had delivered before. Others were healed. Others were rescued. Others were saved. But with Lazarus, with Stefan, Jesus fell short. At least, he fell short according to our expectations and specifications.
But Jesus is not limited by our expectations and specifications. He could have prevented this disaster. But he didn’t. He could have come to heal; but he didn’t. Instead, he delayed. Because he came to do something much greater! Just how much greater would be shown at the tomb of Lazarus!
Because when Jesus let Lazarus die, he did it to reveal something about himself that no one would have come to hear or see otherwise. “I am the resurrection and the life. If anyone believes in me, even though he dies, yet he shall live. And anyone who believes in me will never die!”
“Never die,” says Jesus!
Now that’s contrary to fact if anything is:
Because Lazarus believed, and he died.
Stefan believed, and died.
Many of us here also believe, and yet we will all die.
So, is it just cryptic religious talk? Well religious talk it is, but far from cryptic.
Jesus wants those at the tomb of Lazarus then, and us who are gathered here this afternoon to see life and death with different eyes; eyes that have been enlightened by the faith that comes only from God.
Because those eyes see life and death differently. Those eyes see that life and death are not defined by biology. Those eyes see life and death as God sees them. And what God sees is this: because of sin, we who think we are alive, are in fact already dead; And God sees those who have died with their sins forgiven as alive. Where there is forgiveness, there is life in God, now and forever.
And for this reason Jesus delayed coming to Bethany. He sought to reveal to those gathered back then at Bethany, and to us gathered here today at Bethel that death will not have the final word for those who believe. Lazarus died so that Jesus could reveal his power over death and the tomb; and when Lazarus came forth, he revealed to everyone that he truly is the resurrection and the life.
But Jesus does so amid tears. Our tears and his tears!
For Martha wept; Mary wept; many in the crowd wept. Even as we weep! They and we weep because it hurts so much when someone we love dies. We weep because of what was, and because of the memories we cherish; and we weep because of what will never be: marriage, children, and all that which such a talented and gifted young man would have accomplished in his life. What can we do but weep?
And so even Jesus wept! He wept for the pain and sorrow that death has inflicted on Martha, Mary, and all those who loved Lazarus.
And Jesus weeps for the pain that Stefan’s death has inflicted upon us.
Jesus weeps for his friend; he wept for Lazarus, because he loved and will die for him.
And Jesus weeps for the child upon whom his name was placed at his baptism; he weeps for Stefan, because Jesus loves and has died for him.
Jesus wept, because that is what people do who truly love one another. God in human flesh cannot but weep with us in our sorrow.
As we gather to grieve a beloved son, brother, and friend, all of us are again met by the Jesus who weeps with us, but who also announces to you and to me amid our tears:”I am the resurrection and the life! Do you believe this?” And he asks this of Martha, Mary, you and me before he has done anything: Lazarus still lies dead in the tomb. Stefan lies there before us. Jesus himself has not yet risen. And yet Jesus asks: “Do you believe that I am the resurrection and the life! Do you believe that this is not all that there is, and that death has not spoken the final word?”
“Yes,” says Martha, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world." Faith, sight unseen! Before the raising of Lazarus; before Jesus’ own resurrection! Martha believed!
Stefan believed this also. It was given him to believe in his baptism. This faith was confessed from his lips at his confirmation. “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” Upon his confession, Pastor Kihn gave to him the verse from the book of Revelation that we heard earlier: “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” Faithful, to the point of death!
That faithfulness is the hope in which all those who confess Christ live, and in which all those who live in Christ die. There is no other hope. There is no other way to wipe away tears or grief or sorrow in the face of death. Memories let us look back and remember fondly what we have lost, but they cannot console. The unrealized dreams can only leave us to lament what might have been and what will never be, and that may even make us bitter and resentful.
And so there is only Jesus. The Jesus who extracts the sting of death; the Jesus who makes the victory of the grave but temporary! “Do you believe this?” Jesus asks.
Martha believed this. And Stefan believed this. For this reason, he even now celebrates Christ’s victory over death, and bears the crown of eternal life, even as he bears the name “Stefan,” which is Greek for “Victory Crown.”
You see, at his most Holy Baptism, when he was given his name, Stefan, the crown of victory over death, the crown of life, of eternal life was placed upon him. And so we may say the words of Jesus like this: “Stefan, who believed in me, even though he has died, yet he lives. And because Stefan has believed in me, he shall never die.”
“Do you believe this?” asks Jesus of Martha, of the crowd, of us. She says “yes.” Stefan said “yes.” Only the faith that can say this yes can fathom what Jesus does next.
He sighs. He sighs deeply! He looks to the Father and calls forth Lazarus from the grave. He calls with the authority that only the Son of God can exercise. With that call he proves to those who were there who he truly is: the resurrection and the life. Lazarus is raised! Martha was right to put her faith in Jesus, because he has the power over death and the grave.
Now, many of those who came to Bethany believed because of what they had seen. But Martha had believed, though she had not seen. Stefan had believed, even though HE had not seen. And we believe, even though we have not seen.
But we have heard it! These words are true, they are certain: Jesus truly is the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in Jesus, even though he dies, yet he lives!
And he lives not just a few decades in this world, but eternally: with Jesus, with Lazarus, with the saints, with Stefan, and with all the company of heaven. AMEN
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