Online Worship for Epiphany Seven, Sunday February 20, 2022
SERMON EPIPHANY SEVEN – JESUS, COMFORTER IN DEATH
Calvary/Marquette ● Soli Deo Gloria
Grace to you and peace from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
John 11:31-44 (NKJV)
31 Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and comforting her, when they saw that Mary rose up quickly and went out, followed her, saying, “She is going to the tomb to weep there.” 32 Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled. 34 And He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 Then the Jews said, “See how He loved him!” 37 And some of them said, “Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?” 38 Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” 41 Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.” 43 Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” 44 And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go.”
In the Name of Jesus Christ,
Who is our only comfort in death,
Dear Fellow Redeemed by His Blood –
It’s often difficult to know what to say, when a friend suddenly calls, and between sobs and tears, tells of a death. We want to speak comforting words, but we find ourselves at a loss.
When you really care about someone, you don’t want to pull out some old tired cliché and offer as comfort: ‘He’s in a better place now.’
We don’t want to sound like God made a mistake when we say, ‘I’m so sorry for your loss.’ Those who die trusting in Jesus aren’t lost -- they are with Christ!
Perhaps it would be better if we simply took up the Scriptures.
In the letter to the Philippians, Paul described the death of a believer like this (Philippians 1:23):
“...to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.”
Let’s take up Scripture when we would offer comfort. After all, Jesus is our comforter in death, isn’t He? He is our comforter both when we face the death of a fellow believer and when we face death ourselves. We will see this and be comforted ourselves this morning as we consider the 7th Sign recorded in John’s Gospel.
May God grant that we may see and believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God – and obtain eternal life in His name. Amen.
They were being good neighbors -- kind and considerate neighbors and friends. When Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha died, their friends and neighbors in Bethany came to them, to comfort them in their grief. They made themselves available, not wanting the sisters to be alone and grow despondent in their grief. So even four days after Lazarus’ death, there were a number of them in the house, trying to comfort them.
We sometimes do similar things today. When there is a death in the family of someone we care about -- we go to them. We bring meals to help and to show our care. We put ourselves at their disposal and offer to help with any need. We comfort and encourage them by bringing the Word of God.
We ought to do these things, because the Lord God encourages us in the Scriptures to (Romans 12:15):
15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.
However, we do them the greatest service when we direct them to Christ and His Word. It’s one thing to just be there for someone. It’s quite another to bring the salve of Christ’s Word to soothe the open wounds that death causes.
The best thing we can do for someone sorrowing at the death of a loved one -- is what Martha did, namely compel them to come to Jesus (John 11:28-29):
28 And when she had said these things, she went her way and secretly called Mary her sister, saying, “The Teacher has come and is calling for you.” 29 As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly and came to Him.
When Lazarus was sick, the sisters immediately sent word to Jesus. They were assured of Jesus love for them and their brother, so they called for Him first. Even after Lazarus died, Mary and Martha still sought out Jesus for comfort.
It wasn’t that their friends and neighbors couldn’t wipe away their tears – it was rather that Jesus’ Word of comfort was better.
Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”
When Mary saw Jesus, she fell down at His feet, and expressed her absolute confidence in Him. She didn’t question His timing or accuse Him of not caring because of His apparently tardy appearance.
Mary’s love for Jesus was born from the time she spent sitting at His feet and hearing His Word.
When death comes to a friend or family member, we ought to first seek Jesus in our sorrow. Why? We seek Jesus because, like Mary, we have heard His Word, which the Spirit of God has used to work faith in our hearts.
We seek Jesus because we know that He humbled Himself and set aside the full use of His Power as God – to live as our perfect substitute and die to release us from the grip of sin and eternal death. He can help and comfort us. He knows what we go through; we have some evidence of that right here:
Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled. 34 And He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.”
35 Jesus wept. 36 Then the Jews said, “See how He loved him!” 37 And some of them said, “Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?”
Jesus heard their crying and knew their sorrows. He knows the anguish and sorrow that we feel. Even though He knew that He would raise up Lazarus – still when seeing their sorrow – He groaned within and was deeply moved with an intense feeling of concern.
Was it because their sorrow was a despondent sorrow, as if there was no hope? Was it because He disappointed because they were not confident in the promises of the Resurrection? Was it simply because He saw the sorrow that death brings?
We can’t say for certain what caused Jesus to groan in the spirit and be troubled.
We can see why we ought to seek Jesus in our sorrows – because He understands, He’s been there. As they proceeded to the tomb of His friend Lazarus -- Jesus cried. He didn’t wail audibly as they had been, a different word is used. It’s indicated that He simply shed tears.
As human beings are sadly prone to do, those who saw His tears reacted to them. Some saw them as evidence of His love for Lazarus. Some questioned why He didn’t do more for His friend. We see them as a proof that He was human, and cared deeply for Lazarus. He cares just as deeply for you.
Seek Him first when sorrowing, and then trust His Word.
Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” 41 Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying.
For many people a graveyard is a creepy place – perhaps most of all because it reminds us of death. We’d just as soon not talk about death; much less be near any reminder of it. A cemetery is not usually a fun place. It’s a place full of painful memories, a place where old wounds are re-opened.
However, what happened in the Bethany Cemetery that day and at a similar tomb on Easter Sunday -- should take away all fear of death for us.
When Jesus asked that they remove the stone from Lazarus’ tomb they must have wondered why. It was the fourth day after Lazarus’ death and in a warm climate like the middle east, the smell of a bloated and rotting corpse would be distasteful to say the least. Mary, like any family member at the grave of a loved one, balked at Jesus’ suggestion, momentarily.
It didn’t take a court order to have Lazarus’ tomb opened.
Jesus Word was enough. All it took was reminding Mary of what Jesus had promised: If you believe, you will see the glory of God. So, they did as Jesus asked.
Jesus will be our comforter in death if we trust Him and His Word. If we turn away from useless clichés and emotional drivel to the Promises of Christ, then hope will carry the day and take the sting from our sorrow.
What could be better than the promise of the Son of God, who defeated death by Himself rising from it? He Himself promises (John 5:24, 28-29a):
“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. . . Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice 29 and come forth—
On the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus visibly showed his glory as the Son of God. In the Bethany Cemetery, Jesus revealed His glory as death’s master in action.
Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.” 43 Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” 44 And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go.”
Jesus’ prayer in this case – as in many others – was not for His sake as much as it was for those who stood near. Jesus prayed that those who heard and saw Him would conclude properly that the Father had sent him.
Jesus not only prayed for them, but also for us. In His High Priestly prayer, while praying for His disciples, Jesus also took the time to pray for you, saying (John 17:20):
“I do not pray for these alone,
but also for those who will believe in Me through their word…
When Jesus finished, then He turned and called Lazarus from death to life. The same Jesus will one day call you from your grave. Then both you, and Lazarus, will come out of the grave, as the Scripture says (John 5:29):
the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves
will hear His voice 29 and come forth—
Jesus promises a resurrection to eternal life to all who hear His voice and believe on Him. He who called Lazarus from death will also command death to let us go, as He Himself promises (John 6:40):
. . . this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
Therefore, to you who believe in Jesus Christ, death is but a door through which we pass into Jesus’ Presence. For the same Jesus who raised Lazarus from the grave Himself arose the third day – confirming that:
• He is the Son of God, that
• Your sins are forgiven, that
• His promises are guaranteed, and that
• You will also be raised.
May God the Holy Spirit keep us all in faith, trusting that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and our comforter in death – even until the day He calls us from our graves. Amen.