March 9, 2008: Who Benefits Most?

Let us pray: Dear Savior, today as we stand on the verge of Easter, we thank You for providing us with a little “mini-Easter!” We thank You for comforting us, just like You did Mary and Martha, by holding before us this miracle of resurrection. By pondering it, may we see not only Your power over death, but Your compassion for each of us who has lost or will lose loved ones to it. And may we never, ever, give up the hope and certainty of resurrection. Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE MIRACLE WORKER!

TEXT: John 11: 17-27, 38-45

Fellow Redeemed Sinners:

An aged lady dies. In her will she leaves money to her loving niece and nephew. They are flabbergasted over her generosity. They are also a bit sheepish when they think back on all the times they could have been there for her and weren’t. Who benefits most from the women’s generosity? Most would say: the niece and nephew. But, if the old lady were still alive, she would disagree. She would say: “I do!” For in death she was able to have her love for them live on.

There are different ways to view a generous nature and the benefits it creates. And when we look at other people’s receiving kindness and love, the obvious answer as to whom it benefits most may not reveal the whole picture. That’s the case in today’s lesson. So, as we ponder Christ’s raising Lazarus from the dead, think about this question:

WHO BENEFITS MOST?

I

It is a few weeks before Christ’s passion. He’s busy preaching and engaging in various miracles in the TransJordan region, the east side of the Jordan river. He receives word that His friend, Lazarus, is very sick. Lazarus’ loving sisters, Mary and Martha, have sent a message. They want the Lord to come. But Jesus sends back this word: “This sickness will not end in death. No, it’s for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Then He continues His work in that area. Two days later, Jesus informs the disciples: “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” They don’t understand what He’s referring to, so then Christ bluntly tells them: “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

When they arrive at Bethany, they meet with a funeral group at the house. Lazarus has been dead for 4 days. Martha, always the forward one, comes out to Christ and announces: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Then she hopefully adds, “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” That’s an interesting statement that provides us with insight into Martha’s mind and her faith. She knew all about the many miracles. She knew of Jairus’ daughter and the youth of Nain, and how they had been resurrected by Christ. She has a smidgen of hope, born of faith in her grief-filled heart. Christ knows that, too. So, He seeks to fan that flame of faith by saying: “Your brother will rise again.”

Recall that belief in the final resurrection from the dead was a commonly held view among most Jews at that time. The Pharisees taught it. The people held to it. Only the liberal Sadducees, the ruling religious elite scoffed at it. But, Martha knew her Bible and she knew the Ezekiel passage we heard earlier about the “dry bones.” She trusted God. She believed in resurrection, just like you and me. Hence her words: “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

Jesus wants to strengthen her faith, Mary’s faith, and the faith of the people who were there. He wants to strengthen the disciples’ faith (recall His earlier words) and of course, He wants to uplift our faith, too. This is a golden opportunity, arranged by God to achieve those goals. And so, He replies with those beautiful words: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die.” Then, He pointedly asks Martha: “Do you believe this?”

II

Usually, when we think of Mary and Martha, we think of a faith-filled Mary and an industrious Martha. But here, Martha gives a tremendous confession of her faith which rivals that of St. Peter. “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” Yes, in this moment of great stress, Martha shows her faith. She clings to her Savior. Already you can almost see her grow before your eyes.

John tells us that they then went to the tomb. And there Jesus wept. His love and compassion for everyone involved welled up and our Brother cried for them and over them. He cried over the pain that death causes.

At the grave He tells them: “Take away the stone.” Again, Martha, always the forward one, warns: “But Lord, by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” Obviously they didn’t embalm many people in those days. And in that heat, decay would have set in. Not a pretty picture or a pretty smell. But Christ is emphatic. And then He prays those powerful words: “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I 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.” Then Christ called out in a loud voice: “Lazarus, come out!” And we’re told: “The dead man came out.”

So, let’s go back to the question I poised to you: Who Benefits Most? The easy answer is: Lazarus. After all, he came back to life. The second answer is: Martha and her sister, Mary. They got their brother back. Their faith was solidified, and joy filled their hearts. The third answer is: the disciples. And we can only wonder if on Easter morning they thought back to this event? But then, considering their discounting the reports of the women, I guess they let grief cloud their memory. We’re told that the Sadducees viewed this miracle as the final straw. It solidified their opposition to Christ. Now they actively plotted to kill Him. So, no benefit to them. But, what about you and me? According to Christ’s prayer, those standing around the tomb benefited from this miracle. All of them were given a glimpse at the power, majesty, and victory of Jesus over death and its cause: sin. I know we weren’t actually “there” that day. None of us is that old. But, since God’s word is living and active, and since this miracle was done to invoke faith in doubting, hurting humans, in a sense we were there. We benefit, too! So, Who Benefited Most? Every single believer in Christ! You and me! Or, as our Lord says: “he who believes in me will live, and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die!” And finally, don’t forget about Christ. He, also, reaped a benefit. For it is belief in the resurrection that has made us His eternal heirs. Amen