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First Presbyterian Church, Nashville

Dr. Todd B. Jones

April 2, 2017

 Do You Believe This?

Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 11:1-45

            This past week Connie and I spent four days in South Carolina taking care of three grandchildren, ages nine, seven and six.  The two youngest attend Pine Street School in Spartanburg.  The first two days in picking them up or dropping them off in the pick-up-line, I was cited for violating practices in the pick-up and drop-off lines.  The first day Connie and I picked a spot to park so we could wait for Ellie and Garrett at the bottom of the hill.  The crossing guard walked over to tell us that we had picked the perfect spot, but it was illegal, and we would have to find another.  The second day I stopped the car to drop them off in the morning, something I had done many mornings with Sarah years ago, and this time, the Assistant Principal informed me that I had gone too far, that the drop-off point was a car length behind me.  “I’m sorry – I’m a dumb out-of-town grandparent!”  He smiled.  “That’s obvious.”  Rules – honestly, you cannot live well without them – in a pickup line, at a school, on the job, in a game, in a family, in life.  Rules provide structure, order, clarity.  And yet, the Gospel always offers something more, something beyond, something richer and deeper than simply living by the rules ever can.

            One of the most immutable rules of life is death.  “Death comes once to every man,” said Alexander the Great.  Aristotle added, “Death is a dreadful thing, for it is the end.”  Everybody ever born into this world must one day die.  Even Lazarus finally did.  But the Gospel offers to us something more, something else, beyond this rule of death.

            Nowhere do we see this any clearer than in today’s account, the raising of Lazarus from a stinking, rotting grave by Jesus.  This story only appears in John’s Gospel, and as such, it is the seventh of Jesus’ “signs,” a word John uses where we might use “miracles,” because a sign points beyond itself to something more, something else, something deeper and fuller.

            The heart of this passage occurs in many ways not when Jesus calls Lazarus out of the tomb, from death to life.  The real heart of this astounding Gospel account, which gives us a glimpse of Easter, happens earlier, between Martha and Jesus.  Mary, Martha and Lazarus provided Jesus with a home when He came to Jerusalem.  They were essentially “family” to Jesus.  So when Lazarus was ill, word was sent to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”  Having heard this, Jesus waits two more days before returning to Bethany.  We could talk all morning about Jesus’ delay, about His own sense of God’s time.  Jesus knows that Lazarus has already died.  So when Martha finally sees Jesus, she says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  Jesus says, “Your brother will rise again.”  Martha, a faithful Jew, assumes that he will rise on the last day, at the general resurrection of the dead, something Pharisees, among other Jews, believed.  Jesus says to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”  This is the heart of this passage, for like every other account in John, it is primarily an account about who Jesus is; about the identity of Jesus, and the power and life that comes in believing in Him.

            In some ways, the question Jesus asks of Martha after this final, this seventh “I am” saying, is more important than the “sign,” the actual raising of Lazarus.  “I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus says.  “Do you believe this?”  This question is the point of the whole Lazarus event, and the point of the Gospel itself.  “Do you believe this?” – “that everyone who lives and believes in me will never die?”  Do you believe that Jesus gives life that not even death can extinguish?

            To illustrate how crucial this question is, I would like to move back, then move forward in John’s own Gospel.  In the first chapter, in the Prologue, John says of Jesus, the Word-made-flesh, “In Him was life, and this life was the light of all people.”

            Jesus is life, and wherever Jesus goes He gives life.  No one who ever dies in Jesus’ presence in the Gospel, stays dead.  Not one!  (You can check it out!)  Jesus’ life is something He came to share.  It is contagious.  I have always loved the way Irenaeus put it: “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.”  Jesus’ life is “the light of all people,” the light of the world.  Wherever Jesus comes, He comes bringing life.  We see this in all creation, for John said, “In the beginning was the Word.”  “All things came into being through Him….”  Yesterday, driving home through Tennessee’s beautiful mountains, all we could see was life.  Dogwoods and redbuds lined the highways, and I gloried in their beauty once again.  God is ever and always a God of life, and the One who gives life, life that not even death can stifle.

            Then looking forward, to so-called doubting Thomas, who did not see the risen Jesus, but only heard from the others of His resurrection: “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in His sides, I will not believe.”  So Jesus comes and says to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands….”  Thomas answers, “My Lord and my God!”  But Jesus says something as important as what He said to Martha: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

            That would be folks like us, who believe because we trust these faithful, reliable witnesses, but who even more, believe because we have experienced life in Jesus.

            This is what it means to believe in Jesus.  Faith in Jesus is not just a noun.  It is also a verb, it is the experience of life in all its fullness, a life that not even death itself can end.  So let me ask you: “Do you believe this?”  Do you believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life?

            Many years ago I took Josh and Sarah to the Morristown Museum, when Josh was five and Sarah a very chatty two-year-old.  As we walked into the great hall, with all these wonderful specimens of animals that were native to George Washington’s Morristown: deer and wolves, fox and bear, Josh said rather authoritatively to his sister, “Sarah, these animals are real; they’re just dead and stuffed!”  Too many people I know are just like them – real, but dead and stuffed, not really alive, not really living life fully, joyfully, passionately.  We are, too often, dead and stuffed.

            Remember what Jesus said in John?  “I have come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly.”  There is that word again!  Life.  Jesus is “the resurrection and the life.”  And the life Jesus came to give can begin today, here and now, but it is a life that never ends, not even in death.  And I do not want for you to miss out on this life that Jesus promises to those who believe, to those with the courage to follow Him.

            Last week I drove Ben each day to school in Greenville.  He loves country music, so we listened to The Highway coming and going.  Have you heard the lyrics to Luke Bryan’s new song, Fast?  It is really a song about life

Fast

That’s the kind of car you wanna drive when you’re sixteen

Fast

That’s the kind of boys that you want on your home team

Fast

Yeah, you think you’re gonna catch your big dreams just like that

Fast

And here you are, looking back

Sixty seconds now feels more like thirty

Tick-tock, won’t stop, and round it goes

Sand through the glass sure falls in a hurry

And all you keep trying to do is slow it down, soak it in

Keep trying to make the good times last as long as you can

But you can’t, man

It just goes too fast

Looking at you looking out the window right now

Those eyes, that dress, that smile, that laugh

If I could hit pause I would somehow

But it don’t work like that

Sixty seconds now feels more like thirty

Tick-tock, won’t stop, and round it goes

Sand through the glass sure falls in a hurry

And all you keep trying to do is slow it down, soak it in

Keep trying to make the good times last as long as you can

But you can’t, yeah man

It goes too fast

It just goes way too fast

 

                                                                                    Amen.

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