Jesus Lives, the Victory’s Won – Sermon for Easter 2017

Jesus Lives, The Victory’s Won!
Exodus 14:10-15:1
Easter Dawn
April 16, 2017
St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

 

“Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt?” What?! Talk about a tone-deaf! That’s not the gratitude Moses was probably hoping for after marching in to Pharaoh’s palace and demanding he “Let my people go!” That’s the perspective of a teenager who screams at her parents that they never give her anything as she goes stomping off down the hallway of the house they pay for, flinging herself onto the bed they bought her and crying into the pillow they gave her before texting or Snapchatting or Instagramming her friends on the smartphone she got from, you guessed it, her parents! And those texts and Snapchats will all be bitterly and angrily written to let the girl’s friends all know how awful her parents are and how they never give her anything.

“Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?”  Did God bring you out of Egypt to kill you? No! Of course not! If he wanted to kill you, he would have directed the 10 plagues at you instead of against the Egyptians. If he wanted to kill you, he wouldn’t have given you the Passover Lamb whose blood painted on your door posts protected you from the Angel of the Lord, he would have left you ignorant and let your firstborn die too. If he wanted to kill you he would have left you to suffer in Egypt under the whips of your slave masters. “Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us out here to die?” No! What had God done to this point that could possibly give you that impression? “What have you done in bringing us out of Egypt?” What do you mean, ‘What have you done?!’ I’ve set you free from a life making bricks with no straw. I’ve set you free from those who would drown your sons in the Nile. I’ve set you free from slavery and oppression. That’s what I’ve done! And now you want to go back?

Talk about short-term memory loss. Talk about selective amnesia. The Israelites were blinded by the threat of Pharaoh’s army closing in. And, to a certain extent, I can’t say I blame them. I mean, each and every one of them had been conditioned from a young age to fear the Egyptians, to cower before the whips and swords of their captors. Now, just a few short days after leaving slavery behind, here was Pharaoh’s army threatening to recapture them. A lifetime of conditioning doesn’t just go away overnight. So to a certain extent, I can understand the fear of the Israelites. They looked at their situation and processed the information according to the only reality they had ever known – the reality of slavery in Egypt.

But God had something different in mind. The Angel of the Lord who had been leading the people in the pillar of cloud and fire moved to the rear guard to protect the people from Pharaoh’s army. God had Moses stretch out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back, and the people of God passed through on dry ground. Of course, the Israelites didn’t stop complaining once they were on the other side. Instead, before they ever reached, Mt. Sinai they accused God of freeing them from slavery only to starve them in the desert, a complaint he answered by giving them miraculous bread from heaven. Then they accused God of bringing them out of Egypt only to kill them with thirst, a complaint God answered by bringing forth water from a rock. Then, while at Mt. Sinai, they thought God had killed Moses up on the mountain, so they demanded that Aaron build them a golden calf to replace the God who had supposedly abandoned them. When they left Mt. Sinai they refused to follow God into the Promised Land because they were afraid of the people who lived there, even accusing God once again of delivering them from Egypt only to kill them by the swords of the Canaanites. And none of these example even touch on Israel’s 40 years of wilderness wandering. These are all accusations against God that happen in the same year as the 10 plagues and deliverance from Egypt. It’s like Israel was completely blind to the many times God had delivered them. All they could see were the challenges and fears before them.

Does that sound familiar? Do you see yourself in the story? Do you see yourself in the Israelites? You should. Each of us should. We are all guilty of stunningly selective amnesia. Here we are today to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Re-sur-rection! Life from death. Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed. More than that, he lives! He has defeated death. Christ is arisen from the grave’s dark prison. All our hopes would be ended had Jesus not ascended from the grave triumphantly. But he did ascend from that stone cold tomb. Jesus lives, the victory’s won!

Yet how often do we, like the Israelites of old, respond to our deliverance by ignoring the manifold ways God has revealed his love for us, focusing instead on the challenges and problems and fears in our lives? “Jesus lives!” the angels say, and our response is, “Yeah, but money’s tight this month. Have you conquered death only to starve me in this life?” “Jesus lives!” the angels say, and our response is, “Yeah, but my cancer isn’t getting any better. Have you conquered death only to give me over to an army of murderous cells?” “Jesus lives!” the angels say, and our response is, “Yeah, but look at how many people are turning their backs the church today. Look at how few there are left. Have you conquered death only to abandon me in the middle of this desert?” “Jesus lives!” the angels say, and our response is, “Yeah, but it’s getting harder and harder to live as a Christian in America. Have you conquered death only to destroy us with the swords of those who inhabit this land?” Are we any different from the Israelites of old? “Have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in this wilderness? To kill us with starvation or thirst?  To destroy us with the sword of our enemies?”

A lifetime of conditioning doesn’t go away overnight.

We do, indeed, live in a world that attacks us our whole life long. We live in a world that gives us reason to fear. So our Lord’s response is as simple as it is merciful. He calls our gaze away from the problems. He calls us to look at the deliverance, to fix our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. O Israel, why are you frightened by the hunger or the thirst or the army closing in on you? Look at the manna and the water from the rock and the Red Sea being pushed back for you to cross! O Christian, why are you focused on the chaos and disease and evil in your life and in the world around you? Why are you focused on chemical attacks in Syria or capricious politicians or the storm clouds brewing in the relationship between church and culture. Yes, in this world you will have tribulation, but take heart. Jesus has overcome the world. This world threw all it could at our Lord. Satan and his demon host attacked our Savior in every way they could conjure. And our Lord bested them all. Our Lord bested death itself. The grave could not hold him.  He has triumphed gloriously. The hosre and his rider have been thrown into the sea! Jesus lives, the victory’s won!

And in your baptism, you live too. You live in him. In this life we will still have hardship. Jesus never promised us anything different. What he promised us is that this life is not all there is. This life is a desert wandering. We are free from the slavery to sin and death, but we have not yet arrived in the promised rest. Like Israel who had been delivered from Egypt but was not yet in the Promised Land, our time in this desert is filled with reasons to fear, with death and disease, with enemies both physical and spiritual, with temptation and despair and doubt. But the gift of today is that our Lord has given us something else to look at. Rather than looking at the problems, look at the cross. Look at the empty tomb. Look at your deliverance. Jesus lives, the victory’s won!

Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on, nor about the things the people of this world will say about you, what they will call you and what you will suffer on account of being faithful to Christ. For the Gentiles seek after these things. But you have a Heavenly Father who knows you need them. And you know he will provide them. You know he loves you, for God demonstrated his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. And now Christ lives. And no matter what this world throws at you, your Lord will deliver you.

Jesus lives, the victory’s won. All you need, God will dispense. Let this be your confidence. Jesus lives, the victory’s won. Death’s reign is done. Brighter scenes will soon commence. Let this be your confidence. Jesus lives, the victory’s won. And now even death itself is but the gate to life immortal. Let this calm your trembling breath in the face of life’s challenges. Let this be your confidence.

Christ is risen. Alleluia!
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

 

 

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Christ, Our Meal With God

Christ, Our Meal With God
Exodus 24:3-11
Maundy Thursday
April 13, 2017
St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

The Temple in Jerusalem was a bustling place, especially during the high feast days like Passover. The priests who worked there filled their day by offering sacrifices on behalf of Israelite worshippers from sunrise to sunset. Every animal sacrifice had two significant parts: the flesh and the blood. The priests did different things with the flesh and the blood, depending on what kind of sacrifice was being offered. But the flesh and the blood were the key elements.

Each day began with a priest on duty offering a whole burnt offering, a sacrifice of an entire lamb. Since only one of these was offered each morning, a priest might only get to perform this sacrifice once in his life. The offering was called the whole burnt offering because the entire animal was sacrificed. The blood of the lamb was splashed against the base of the altar and flesh of the lamb was placed on the altar to be consumed by flame. None of it was eaten by the priest. None of it was eaten by the Israelite worshippers. None of it was used for anything. The whole offering was burnt on the altar.

This daily sacrifice was the divinely instituted means of grace that covered the sins of the people so that the holy God could dwell among them in the Temple. The burning of the meat on the altar would produce a pillar of smoke to remind the Israelites of the pillar of cloud that led them out of Egypt and across the Red Sea in the days of Moses. It served as a visual reminder that just as the Lord dwelt among his people in the pillar of cloud and fire during the Exodus, he was now dwelling among them in the Temple. It was the sacrifice of the whole burnt offering that allowed the people to live in the presence of God.

Once God was present among his people by virtue of this whole burnt offering, the priests would then offer the other sin offerings of the day. If a new mother needed purification after giving birth or if a soldier was returning from war with blood on his hands, their offerings would be offered at this point. Again, none of the flesh and blood would be eaten in these offerings. They were sacrifices that made atonement. They were sacrifices that covered the sins of the people. They were whole burnt offerings to the Lord. Day after day, year after year, lamb after lamb was sacrificed to cover the sins of the people, to reconcile God and man, to bring peace where there was division and hostility on account of sin.

Once all the whole offerings for sin had been made each day, once the entire congregation present had their sins covered in order that they could stand in the presence of the holy God, that’s when the peace offerings would happen. They were called peace offerings not because they established peace, but because they reflected the peace that had been brought about by that day’s sin offering. That’s when things really picked up at the Temple. That’s why there would be several priests on duty on any given day. While there may have been only one whole burnt offering each day, there were sometimes hundreds of peace offerings. Peace offerings were celebratory meals.  They were required for each family at the high feasts like Passover or Pentecost, but that’s like saying it is required that you have turkey and pie on Thanksgiving. Peace offerings could also be given throughout the year in thanksgiving for just about anything, like the safe return of a family member from war or the birth of a child.  Just like we celebrate significant events with a meal, the Israelites celebrated significant events with a peace offering.

As with the other sacrifices, the key elements to a peace offering were the flesh and the blood. The Lord’s institution of the peace offerings required that the blood of the animal be splashed against the altar, but the flesh would be consumed by the worshippers. Israelites rarely ate meat – it was expensive to buy an animal and if you killed an animal from your own flock you no longer had that animal for breeding, wool, or milk. Typically, the only time Israelites ate meat was as part of a peace offering. There, they ate the flesh of an animal, but they didn’t eat the whole thing. No, the priest got a small portion, and a small portion was left on the altar for God. God and the Israelite would consume the same animal. Just like your entire family eats one bird on Thanksgiving, God and his people would eat one lamb together. It was a holy meal, one that took place after a whole burnt offering had covered the sin of the people.

This holy meal at the Temple was foreshadowed by the holy meal described in today’s reading from Exodus. At Mount Sinai, God ate with his people. We are told that the there was pavement as sapphire stone under his feet, for Moses and the elders were truly in the presence of God. Yet even though they were in the presence of God, the elders of Israel were not struck down, for God covered their sin. They beheld God, and they ate and drank with him and with each other. In this meal with God on Sinai, like the meals with God in the Temple, the Lord first covered the sin of his guests. In the Temple, this was done through the daily whole burnt offering. At Sinai, we are told that Moses ordered burnt offerings to cover the sins of the people. Then he took half of the blood and threw it against the base of the altar, sprinkling the other half on the people, covering their sins with the blood of the lamb and bringing them into the covenant of God. Once God was present among them, they ate and drank with God.

All of this paved the way for the events we remember today. On the night when he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus instituted a new covenant. And the disciples ate with God. Like the sacrifices of the first covenant, flesh and blood are the key ingredients in this new covenant. Our Lord Jesus Christ took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples and said, “Take and eat. This is the flesh of the new covenant. It is my flesh. I give it for you to cover your sins. I give it to you as your meal with God.” This flesh was sacrificed on the cross as the whole burnt offering to cover the sins of the world. In that one offering, sin was covered once for all. The Temple curtain was torn in two. The earth shook. Graves were opened. God and man were reconciled.

And then he took the cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them saying, “Drink of it all of you – this is the blood of the New Covenant. My blood. I give it for you to cover your sins. I give it to you as your meal with God.” This blood was poured out on the cross. It dripped down our Savior’s back as he was whipped within an inch of his life, down our Savior’s brow as thorns cut into his scalp, down our Savior’s arms as nails were driven into his wrists. The blood was shed once for all. The Temple curtain was torn in two. The earth shook. Graves were opened. God and man were reconciled.

At the Temple, once the whole burnt offering had been made for sin, it was time for the peace offering. Now that God and man are reconciled by the sacrifice of the cross, we enjoy a meal with God. It is a meal of thanksgiving, which is why we call it a Eucharist. It is a meal hosted by God himself, which is why we call it the Lord’s Supper. It is a meal shared with God and with each other, which is why we call it a Holy Communion. It has gone by many names through the history of the church, but the dynamic remains the same: once God and man are reconciled, they share a meal. The did it at Sinai. They did it at the Temple. We do it tonight.

And it’s all because of Jesus. He is the fulfillment of the sacrifices of the old covenant. He is the true sin offering, the one who gave himself entirely, the whole burnt offering that covers our sin. On the cross, he offered himself as the sacrifice to forgive all your sin. The lying and lust and anger and bitterness that would separate you from God have been covered by the blood of Jesus. There is no longer any need for sin offerings or whole burnt offerings. God made him who knew no sin to be the sin offering for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God. The suffering and death of Jesus in our place put us right with God. There is no longer any sacrifice for sin. Jesus has done it. It is finished.

But not only is Jesus the true sin offering, he is the true peace offering, the Lamb of God who gives himself as the feast which we eat with God. The Israelites celebrated being reconciled to God by eating with him. So also, in this meal, because we have been reconciled to God by the blood of Christ, we now eat with him. We gather at the Lord’s table as if we were gathered around Easter dinner. The blood of Jesus and water of baptism has brought us into God’s family, and families eat together. We eat with God as part of his family. And as the family of God, we eat with each other.

So let us repent of our bitterness. Let us repent of our grudge holding. Let us repent of our gossip. Let us repent of the ways we drive wedges into the family of God. Let us repent of the ways we bring selfish division.  And let us rejoice in Christ, the whole burnt offering, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Let us rejoice in Christ, the peace offering, the Lamb of God, who is the main course in this our meal with God. The sin offering is done. The peace offering in prepared. The feast is ready. Come to the feast.

+INJ+

Serpents & Doves – Sermon for April 5, 2017

Serpents and Doves
Matthew 10:16-23; 1 Peter 3:8-17
Midweek VI
April 5, 2017
St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

Sheep and wolves, serpents and doves. No, it’s not the passenger list for Noah’s Ark or the table of contents for a volume of Aesop’s fables. It is the animals Jesus speaks about in tonight’s reading. “Behold,” Jesus tells the Apostles, “I am sending you out as sheep among wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Sheep and wolves, serpents and doves.

The sheep and wolves imagery is pretty straight forward and easy to understand. As sheep among wolves, the Apostles will be stalked. They will be hunted. They will be attacked. They might even be devoured, for that is exactly the kind of thing one can expect a wolf to do to a sheep. But Jesus tells them to go anyway, go out and proclaim the good news of the kingdom. But do so with eyes wide open, Jesus says. Make no mistake about what kind of reception you should expect. Be not naïve about how receptive people will be to the message you bring. You are not going out as honeybees among the flowers. You are not going out as frogs among the lily pads. You are going out as sheep among wolves. So be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.

The wisdom of serpents lies in their heightened awareness.  Ophiologists will tell you that snakes have such awareness because they sense vibrations in the ground, which allows them to feel predators coming from any direction, or that their tongue can both smell the air and sense the body heat of other animals in their vicinity. The point is, it’s next to impossible to sneak up on a snake, almost as impossible as sneaking up on a fish in the water. They feel you coming. They sense your presence. They’re aware of danger.

Jesus tells his Apostles to be as wise as serpents. Do not be deceived, Jesus says, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. And wolves love to eat sheep. I am sending you out into harm’s way. Beware of the danger. Be as wise as serpents. Don’t hide your head in the sand. Don’t close your eyes to reality. Be alert. Be aware. Be prepared. They will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues.  You will be dragged before kings for confessing the name of Christ. You will be hated for my name’s sake. They will persecute you. Danger is coming. Be ready for it. Be as wise as serpents.

But also be as innocent as doves. The innocence of doves lies in their helplessness. It lies in their inability or unwillingness to fight back or to defend themselves. Sometimes doves get eaten. Sometimes they fly away. In the case of the Apostles, this dovely innocence is bound up in willingly following Jesus’ commission to place themselves in harm’s way. Jesus is telling the Apostles: Yes, you are going out as sheep among wolves. Yes, the wolves will seek to devour you. Yes, you should be as aware of impending danger as a serpent who senses potential threats. But go anyway, as innocent as doves, willingly suffering opposition and persecution when it comes upon you. Do not be anxious about what you will say in the face of such persecution, for the Holy Spirit will give you the words you need. And when the persecution gets totally out of hand, then, like a dove, spread your wings and fly on to the next town. There are more than enough people who need to hear the Gospel. Don’t beat your head against the wall. Martyrdom may come, but don’t seek out a chance to turn yourself into a martyr for the cause. If people will not listen, if the threat gets too great, fly on to the next town and find someone there to whom you can deliver the good news of the Messiah.

I am sending you out as sheep among wolves, so be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. That’s the message Jesus leaves with his Apostles. What does it have to do with us today?

We too are sheep among wolves. It takes no great cultural analyst to see that Christianity is not well loved in our nation today. If we’re honest about it, it’s not just Christianity that’s on trial but truth itself and the very nature of existence. It’s whether or not there’s any meaningful difference between girls and boys. It’s whether or not it’s in the best interest of a child to be raised by a mother and a father. It’s whether or not the best interests of a child matter at all, or whether the ideology or the needs of the state takes precedence. Truth itself is under attack. We live in a world that can’t agree on what it means to be a person. And if we can’t agree on what it means to be a person, we certainly won’t agree on what purpose people serve or why we’re here. And if we can’t agree on why we’re here, then we certainly won’t be able to agree on what we should honor and esteem, what we should aspire to and hold forth as admirable and noble.

Even speaking of such things will be met with resistance. We live in world addicted to destruction. We live in a world that loves to tear down the gifts and institutions of God. We live in a world that wants to destroy marriage and the family and the church and all manner of other supposedly evil institutions, and they do it all in the name of freedom. But after the world has supposedly freed us from our family and church and God-given identity, it has nothing to put in their place. It leaves people staring into the abyss, frightened and alone. And when people are frightened and alone, they lash out. The world will lash out at you when you speak the truth. The world will lash out at you when you speak of sin. The world will lash out at you when you speak of the Savior. The world will lash out like the alcoholic who takes a swing at anyone who threatens to take away his bottle or the addict who is a danger not only to herself, but to anyone who would confiscate her stash. The world loves the lie. It is addicted to it. It will not give it up willingly. We who cling to the truth are, indeed, sheep among wolves.

So let us also be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. We are called to confess the truth today, to speak of our Savior and all he has done not only for us, but for the world. Let us approach this task with the wisdom of serpents. Let us be realistic about the challenge ahead of us. Let us expect opposition.  But let us also be as innocent as doves. Let us take heart in this simple reality: we confess the truth, and the truth has a way of surviving. Yes, some people will revile and hate us for our confession. But others will be brought back from the edge of the abyss, brought to repentance through a knowledge of their sin and yearning for salvation, brought to life according to God’s design, a life lived in family and church. We have the only cure.  Jesus has placed it into our hands, into our mouths, into the keeping of his church. He has placed it into your hands as a child of God. We have the Word of truth, which means we have the medicine people need. Let’s give it.

To use the words of the Apostle Paul, let us speak the truth in love. In speaking the truth, we confess faithfully what our Lord has revealed in the pages of Scripture.  As the Apostle Peter says, we do so with gentleness and respect. We need to sense the danger like serpents. We don’t need to yell and scream and rant and rage as if that will change the world or the people in it. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling. Yelling only leads to more yelling. Responding to anger and name calling with more anger and name calling is never the answer. Be as wise as serpents. See the danger in the way the world holds conversations, if you can call what goes on today “conversation.”  Sense the danger in simple stereotypes and clichéd villainy.

And be as innocent as doves.  Speak the truth in love. When the world reviles us, we bless in return, for to this we were called. We do not give in to fear; we listen to the words of Jesus. Nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. The lies of the world will be unmasked one day. The spotlight of God’s Word will drive Satan from the shadows, and he will be shown for the liar he is. Maybe that will happen in your lifetime, maybe not. What of it? Do not fear the things or people of the world because they can kill your body. Your soul is safe with Jesus.  Rather, fear only God, for he alone has the power to destroy both body and soul in hell. So confess the truth in love, with gentleness and respect, and let the chips fall where they may. For whoever confesses Jesus before men, Jesus will also acknowledge before the Father in heaven, but whoever denies Jesus before men, Jesus will also deny before the Father in heaven.

Sheep and wolves, serpents and doves. There’s a lot of animals involved in confessing the faith. It may not be Aesop’s Fables, but the message is still simple: confess the faith. Don’t worry about what will happen or how it will go, just confess faithfully. So that’s what we’ll do. We will confess faithfully, with our lips and our lives, in our jobs and in our families and in our nation. We will confess faithfully, even if we are sheep among wolves.  We will confess faithfully, as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. We will confess faithfully, for the Lion of Judah is watching over us.

Jesus, the Resurrection – Sermon for April 2/3, 2017

Jesus, the Resurrection
John 11:1-45
Fifth Sunday in Lent
April 2nd/3rd, 2017
St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

            Spring is in the air.  Finally.  Maybe. You can never quite tell in Michigan, can you? One day it’s sunny and beautiful, the next it’s snowing and sleeting. But regardless of what’s going on with the weather, we have turned the calendar to April. Every morning when I get dressed I can hear the sound of birds chirping outside my window.  The days are getting longer. March Madness is almost over, baseball season is here. But the surest sign that warmer days are ahead is the return of the construction barrel, that ubiquitous orange decoration that frustrates drivers across the state from the first thaw until the winter chill returns at the end of next fall.  Yes, construction season has returned, so get ready for some detours. The barrels are already out on Garfield, and I hear Schoenherr between 15 and 16 Mile roads will get torn up too, not to mention the major closure on I-75 South between Detroit and Downriver.  If you are headed in those directions, better plan on being rerouted.

Today’s Gospel reading tells of a rerouting of sorts.  It tells of a detour. Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem where he would be greeted by throngs of people waving palm branches as he enters the city riding on the colt of a donkey.  But that’s the reading for next week. Before we reach the triumphal entry of Palm Sunday, we take a slight detour and visit the cemetery.  This detour might have taken us to the deathbed of a dying Lazarus, but as you just heard in the reading a few moments ago, when Jesus heard that Lazarus was ill, he waited for two full days before going to him.  We visit a cemetery instead of a hospital bed because Jesus waited.  He waited for Lazarus to die.

When He finally arrived, Martha, the sister of Lazarus, greeted him with the following words: “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.”  Jesus had a reputation for miraculous healing. That’s why crowds of people would bring their sick loved one to Jesus. Martha knows Jesus healed a veritable army of strangers, but when his friend is deathly ill, he doesn’t drop everything and rush to heal him? Why in the world would Jesus wait? Why would he do that to her? In her grief she comes out and accuses Jesus of being responsible for her pain.  “Lord, if you would have been here, my brother would not have died. If you wouldn’t have forgotten about Lazarus, if you would’ve only gotten here on time, when I told you to be here, then my brother would be alive, and I wouldn’t be hurting.”

Jesus comforts her by reminding her, “Your brother will rise again.”  And Martha admits knows that Lazarus will be raised on the last day.  But that offers little comfort to her right now.  Right here and now, Lazarus is still dead.  This isn’t what Martha had in mind at all.  This isn’t how Martha planned it. This isn’t what her life was supposed to be. So Jesus tells Martha, “I am the resurrection.  I am the Life.  I may not have been here on your time table, but I am here now, here in my time, here for you.”  But Martha didn’t understand.  What Martha wanted was for Jesus to have healed her brother and protected her from feeling grief.  But Jesus didn’t do that. Jesus had something else in mind.

Lazarus’s other sister Mary also greeted Jesus, much in the same way as her sister Martha.  She also tells Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.”  And then she breaks down into tears, overrun with grief at the death of her brother.  Jesus, seeing her grief, weeps with her.  The sadness and grief he feels is evident by his own reaction to the situation. But some of those who had gathered at the tomb saw Jesus weeping and said, “Couldn’t he who opened the eyes of the blind have kept this man from dying?  Couldn’t he have prevented this pain?”  From their perspective, Jesus is to blame for this pain. Jesus should have done something to keep Lazarus from dying.  Then Mary and Martha wouldn’t have to experience the terrible grief of losing a family member.  Then Mary and Martha would know that Jesus loved them, if he shielded them from the hurts and afflictions of this life.  But Jesus didn’t do that. Jesus had something else in mind.

It’s in the words of Jesus that we see what that “something else” was. “I am the resurrection and the life.”  Resurrection.  Now there’s a loaded word.  For while resurrection certainly calls to mind images of life, in order for there to be a resurrection there must first be a death.  If there is no death, there can be no resurrection.  When Jesus tells us, “I am the resurrection and the life,” what he is also saying in these words is “I bring death.”

“How can Jesus bring death?” you may be asking yourself.  “Didn’t Jesus tell us that he came in order that we, his sheep, may have life, and have it abundantly?  How can Jesus bring death?”  And yet we’re left to meditate on what Jesus really said, not just on what we wish he would have said. “I am the resurrection,” he said. Jesus brings death.  Jesus brought death to Lazarus. He waited to go to the house until Lazarus had died. But death doesn’t get the last word because Jesus doesn’t bring death to just Lazarus. Remember, this stopover at the tomb of Lazarus is nothing more than a detour on Jesus’ journey to his own tomb.  Don’t forget where Jesus goes when he leaves Mary, Martha, and their resurrected brother.  Think of where this road is taking him, from Bethany to Jerusalem: to Palm Sunday, to Maundy Thursday, to Good Friday and the cross.

“Hosanna!” the people will shout when he arrives in Jerusalem, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Have mercy on us.  Save us!”  And save them he will, but not in the way that they expect. Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.  Behold, the perfect sacrifice, bloodied and dead under the judgment our sins deserve.  Behold, he who is the resurrection and the life. But for there to be resurrection, there must be death first.

All too often, we too would have Jesus simply protect us from our daily pain and affliction.  Like Mary and Martha, we look at the problems and hurt in our lives and say, “Lord, you could have prevented this!  Why did you let this happen to me?  Where were you?”  We look at Jesus as the one to deliver us from financial or emotional difficulties, to heal our earthly infirmities or cure our cancer.  To make everything right and comfortable and to put things just the way we want them. We cry out, “Lord, have mercy on me where I tell you to, where I think I need it.”  But Jesus has something else in mind, something greater.

Jesus didn’t take on human flesh in order to make us comfortable or to give us what we think we want.  He didn’t come to make us only feel better for a little while.  He came with the true cure.  He came to make us his own.  He didn’t come to put a band-aid on our sinfulness.  He came to kill it, to crucify it with himself on the cross.  If anyone would follow him, let him take up his own cross. “Or don’t you know, all of you who were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death?”  The road from Bethany to Jerusalem, like all roads in the life of Christ, leads to death.  The entire journey of Lent is a journey of death, a journey of repentance where our old Adam daily drowns and dies, along with all sins and evil desires, and a new man arises to live before God in righteousness and purity for ever.

Jesus is not impressed with our perception of the problems in our lives; he knows what the true problem is: sin.  That is why he came.  That is why he went to Jerusalem.  That is why he lived. That is why he died.  There were no construction barrels that could keep our Lord from reaching his destination.  There was nothing that was going to keep him from reaching the cross.  He didn’t come to give us what we want.  He came to give us what we need.

“I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus said. He came to earth, took human flesh, and traveled to Jerusalem for one reason: to die and rise again.  And through our baptism we too die with him there.  But death is not the final word; Jesus is the resurrection.  And Jesus is not only the resurrection, he is our resurrection.  He is your resurrection. Now we live in our baptism, living in repentance, dying to our sinful flesh, united to Christ in his resurrection.  The resurrection lives within us.  Christ lives within us.  Jesus did not give Mary and Martha a temporary solution or quick fix.  Jesus came to bring true life and true freedom, the life and freedom which can only be had through death . . . and resurrection.  Such is your life as a child of God, a life of death and resurrection.  So live as the children of God you truly are! Repent! and die to your sins.  Repent! and be made alive in him who is the resurrection and the life.  Repent! and live in Christ, never to die again.