A sermon by Steve Cooper
One of the things I value about Jesus is that he brings us hope. All around us we see pain and sorrow and death, and at times we struggle to find meaning and hope. I’m so encouraged when I read the Gospels, and see time after time when Jesus brought hope to people who were in the grip of sadness and despair. Often in my own life when I’m discouraged and anxious about the future, the Lord Jesus brings hope to me.
This morning let’s consider a great incident recorded in John’s Gospel, where Jesus brings hope to two women who were devastated at the death of their brother, Lazarus. The same hope Jesus brought to them is the hope can bring to you and me – if we will place our trust and confidence in Jesus.
There are many Australians who live without much hope. For all of us, there are times when we’re confronted by tragedy and sadness, or people we’re close to go through hardships, and we battle to find any hope. The good news is that Jesus brings hope into every circumstance. This morning let’s reflect on an incident in John’s Gospel where Jesus brought hope into a situation which seemed hopeless.
In John 11 we learn that one of Jesus’ close friends, named Lazarus, had died. Jesus was told that Lazarus was very sick, so he went to the village where Lazarus lived, Bethany. By the time Jesus arrived Lazarus’ body had been in the tomb for four days. Lazarus had two sisters, Martha and Mary, who were understandably upset about the death of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him.
The first words Jesus said to her are surprising. He said ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Jesus was stating a belief that most Jewish people held to – that one day God will commence his eternal kingdom, where he will bring back to life all his faithful people, and they will live in the joy and beauty and blessing of God’s new heavens and new earth. Martha agreed with that Jewish belief, so she replied ‘I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’
Jesus then said something to Martha which was very startling: ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.’
What did Jesus mean by these remarkable words? It’s the culmination of what Jesus had been revealing about himself to many people in the preceding chapters of John’s Gospel. Jesus had shown himself to be the giver of life, in a number of ways. When he turned water into wine at the wedding party in Cana, he was giving material life to water, making it wine. To Nicodemus, he offers the new spiritual life of the kingdom of God. To the woman of Samaria he offers the life which springs up within a person, satisfying all thirst. Physically, he imparts life to a dying boy, a long-standing physically paralysed man, and a man born blind. He is the good shepherd who comes to give life ‘to the full’ (10:10). The life he brings is primarily eternal life, the life of the long-awaited kingdom of God. Jesus now fills out these claims, to Martha, in their fullest proportion. The life Jesus gives is nothing less than the indestructible life of the resurrection, the very life of the deathless God himself.
Jesus then asks Martha a personal question, because he wants to bring hope into her sadness and despair. He asks ‘Do you believe this?’ He is offering her a gift here and now. Martha believes in some such life at the distant horizon of history when the Messiah eventually appears. Jesus invites her to reshape her hope -radically.
What do we do when life seems drained of hope? The answer is to look to Jesus, who brings hope into the most hopeless circumstances. That’s what Jesus invited Martha to receive. Martha was devastated because her dearly loved brother, Lazarus, had recently died. Jesus arrived at their village of Bethany. He asked Martha to look not only for the resurrection life in the distant future when God will bring his eternal kingdom and triumph over death, but to see the hope Jesus brings to her in the present. That resurrection life is present here and now in him who is the Resurrection, the embodiment of the promised life and salvation of God.
Jesus said to Martha: ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ To believe in Jesus means that death lies defeated. True, there may be a moment when the physical body ceases to function any longer, but in fact that will not be ‘death’, in the sense of the elimination of hope and the reduction of existence to a mere shadowy beyond. Ordinary, mortal life ebbs away; the life that Jesus gives never ends. For everyone who believes in Jesus, the present reality is the eternal life of God received through faith in Jesus.
The question is, can Martha place that kind of faith in Jesus? Listen to her reply: ‘Yes, Lord. I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.’ Perhaps Martha didn’t fully understand what she was confessing. But she certainly shows that her faith goes beyond quiet confidence that her brother will be resurrected at the last day, to personal trust in Jesus as the resurrection and the life. She affirms that Jesus is the only person who can grant eternal life and promise the transformation of resurrection. Martha’s firm ‘I believe’ reflects the state of her confident trust in Jesus. Her faith is a rich mixture of personal trust and of confidence that certain things about Jesus are true. She acknowledges that Jesus is the Messiah, that he is the Son of God, who was to come into the world.
The narrative in John 11 goes on to describe Jesus’ arrival at the tomb of Lazarus, his request that the stone be taken away, his loud cry ‘Lazarus, come out’, and Lazarus coming forth alive from the tomb. The raising of Lazarus became a paradigm, an acted parable of the life-giving power of Jesus. Martha realised that there is good reason to place her personal confidence in Jesus. Jesus brings hope. Jesus can grant eternal life to all who believe in him, and promises the transformation of resurrection when God’s eternal kingdom commences.
What Martha learned on that unforgettable day is a lesson we must keep learning. Jesus invited her to focus not just on abstract belief in the future, but to place her personal faith in Jesus, who alone can bring hope. The Lord Jesus not only raises the dead on the last day, but is himself the resurrection and life. There is neither resurrection nor eternal life outside of him.
This morning we’re considering the hope Jesus brings. He brought hope to two sisters grieving over the recent death of their brother, Lazarus. To one of those sisters, Martha, Jesus said ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.’ Jesus brought Martha hope that not only will her brother share in the resurrection when God begins his eternal kingdom, but those who have confident trust in Jesus receive that indestructible life now.
Several years ago I was in Israel. I walked from the old city of Jerusalem to the village of Bethany. It took me about 40 minutes – up the steep hill of the Mount of Olives, along a ridge, and down into a valley. It was wonderful to explore the village, and go to the traditional site of Lazarus’ tomb. I could vividly imagine how the life of that family was changed as Jesus brought them life and hope. It reminded me that in any situation I face, no matter how hopeless I might feel, the Lord Jesus is present to give me hope.
I wonder how life is going for you? Perhaps things are OK, and you are not currently struggling to find hope. Yet we all know that those times of losing hope do come, and we need to be ready for them. Perhaps things are not going well for you at all. Maybe the sadness and pain of life is too much at present, and you don’t have much hope. Perhaps the end of life seems not far away, and you wonder what awaits you on the other side of death? Whatever you’re feeling, we all need to hear these claims of Jesus: ‘I am the resurrection and the life.’ We hear his invitation, which he gave to Martha: ‘Do you believe this?’ We can respond like Martha did: ‘Yes, Lord. I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.’ When we place our confident trust in Jesus, we receive his forgiveness for our sin, and the gift of eternal life in God’s kingdom. Jesus defeated sin and death in his crucifixion and resurrection, and every believer can enjoy the hope of knowing we have the eternal life of God through faith in Jesus.
Being a follower of Jesus doesn’t just mean we have hope, but also we give hope to others. We join with the Lord Jesus, and with all who follow him, to give hope to others who live in darkness and despair. Think of people in your family, your neighbours, your work colleagues and friends, and remember they need the hope only Jesus can bring. We are to roll up our sleeves, and get involved in hopeless situations alongside those with little hope, showing the love of Jesus in practical ways. Following Francis of Assisi, we need to pray that where there is hatred, we may give love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is sadness, joy; where there is darkness, light. As his famous prayer goes: ‘Grant that we may not seek so much to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for in giving we receive, in pardoning, we are pardoned, and dying we are born to eternal life.’
Jesus brings hope. To grieving sisters, mourning the death of their brother Lazarus, Jesus invited them to have confident trust in him as the one who give resurrection life – life that never ends. He invites us today to trust him, just as he invited Martha. If you are struggling to find hope, have faith in the Lord Jesus. If you know of others who need hope, be the representative of Christ to them and give them hope.
‘Loving God, our heavenly Father, thank you that your Son, Jesus, defeated sin and death through his death and resurrection. Enable us to trust confidently in Jesus, receive the hope you offer, and bring hope to others. We ask though Christ, our Saviour and Lord. Amen.’