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Nov 18, 2012

Not So Final Results

Passage: John 11:1-57

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Life to the Full

Keywords: resurrection, faith, timing, dead-ends, losses, belief


Life's difficult experiences can cause us to seriously question God's love for us. Yet God often waits for life to get more difficult before he steps in on his timing. This message looks at some of the struggles we humans have with God's timing and wisdom as he allows life to unfold in ways that build our faith and his glory.


Not-So-Final Results

Life to the Full—John 11:1-44

November 18, 2012


What’s the last “death” you experienced?  Life has many, some rather small and others overwhelmingly large.  What is it that makes some of life’s “deaths” harder to take while others we seem to be able to handle in stride?


  • Unexpected vs. expected
  • Small vs. large
  • Closeness vs. distant
  • Timely vs. premature
  • Amount/degree of life-change it brings (health, job, future, etc.)
  • Something/one held onto tightly or loosely


It can surprise you how differently people react to different kinds of “death.” 

  • My response of depression to the loss of ability to minister in my native tongue, English.
  • My mother’s rather “mild” response to my father’s passing after 67 years of marriage 3 years ago. 
  • My sister’s loss of her pet duck when she was about 8—days of crying…over a duck?


In John 11 today, we’re encountering Jesus as he encounters death in the lives of some people he is very fond of.  We’re introduced to all the key players in this story in the first few verses:  Lazarus, who is sick; Mary, his sister and Martha his other sister.  John goes on in vs. 2 to identify this particular Mary by an act he will show us she did in the next chapter, that of pouring perfume on Jesus feet and wiping them with her hair. 


[John did this identifying to differentiate this Mary from the other 5 Marys in the Bible: 
1.) Mary, the mother of Jesus. Luke 1:26-32.
2.) Mary Magdalene. Her name likely means "Belonging to Magdala." This could stem from her being from the town of Magdala (or Magadan), though we have no definite proof of this as being her hometown. Luke refers to her as "Mary the so-called Magdalene" at Luke 8:2.
3.) Mary, referred to as "The other Mary" in Matthew 27:61. She was the wife of Clopas (Alphaeus) and the mother of James the Less and Joses. (Mt 27:56; John 19:25)
4.) Mary, the mother of John Mark and the aunt of Barnabas.(Acts 12:12; Colossians 4:10) Her home was used for a meeting place by the early Christian congregation in Jerusalem.
5.) Mary of Rome. Paul sent greetings to her at Romans 16:6, and was spoken well of due to her "many labors" in behalf of the interests of the Roman congregation.]

So, you can see that John really did need to identify which Mary this was he was talking about.


John’s story about Lazarus and his sisters starts right out with an illness

Q:  How many of God’s moves and miracles in our lives start with trouble?  J  There would have been no healing had there not first been an illness. 

Life has lots of “sicknesses”—things that are beyond our ability to “fix,” to “heal,” to resolve.  This sickness was that in the life of Lazarus and his two sisters.  They did everything they knew to do to deal with this illness…and it just got worse. 

Q:  What “illnesses” are you facing in life right now, things that are beyond your ability to change or solve or resolve?  It may be financial or psychological, health-related or something in your family.  I’m not suggesting that God is going to “heal” every problem in your life.  Some he will…and some he won’t.  But every life-challenge outside our power to control has the potential to usher in a fresh move of God in our lives. 


Vs. 3—So Lazarus is so sick that his sisters have to send a currier, a runner, to Jesus.  And Jesus isn’t exactly “down the street” or just across town.  No, as we find out back in chapter 10, vs. 40, he’s been ministering “back across the Jordan where John had been baptizing in the early days” (10:40.  This is some 80 miles or so away from Bethany where Lazarus is. 

Jesus was there because some of the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem were flat out intent upon killing him.  It was not yet “his time” to die, so he left Jerusalem in John 10 and traveled northeast to minister on the east side of the Jordan where John the Baptist had set up shop earlier.    


John is careful to note something in vs. 3 that gets repeated two more times in this passage.   Lazarus is identified by this phrase the messenger used saying, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” As many of you know, Greek has multiple words to express different aspects of the single word “love” we use in English.  (For a culture that is so obsessed with ‘love’, our language is poverty-stricken.  Everything from lustful love to self-sacrificing love is lumped together in English with the four-letter word “LOVE.”)

            Well the Greek language uses the term for love here (phileo) that emphasizes the kind of love that exists between family members, literally “brotherly love,” love that exists between two people  that is heartfelt, sincere, warm and caring.  We might rephrase the messenger’s statement something like, “Lord, your best friendyour soul brother…is sick…really sick.  He needs you…or he will die!” 


Q:  If you are the runner, the messenger sent by Mary and Martha, what are you hoping to hear from Jesus about this point?

            What could be the best possible thing you could hear Jesus say?  Wouldn’t it be, “No problem.  I’ve got it covered. It’s not as bad as you think.  He’s not going to die.  No, in fact, Lazarus is going to recover just fine…and he’s going to do it in a way that shows God off!  You good with that?” 

            You can almost see the messenger doing the “happy-dance”!  You can hear him shout, “YES!  I knew it, Jesus!” 


Then John repeats the truth that he introduced in vs. 3 again in vs. 5“Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.”  And John ups the bet here by using yet another Greek word for love that steps it up yet another level.  He uses the word agapao here, the highest form of love, a love that does what is in the best interest of the one it loves even though it may cost the lover everything, even their own life. 

John is doing this for a reason.  He’s wanting us to clearly understand that what Jesus is about to do is NOT in any way because he doesn’t love this whole family enough.  In fact, the NIV actually does a poor job in vs. 6 of translating the beginning of that verse.  It makes it sound like “in spite of” (“yet…”) Jesus love for all 3 of them, he stays put for 2 more days before heading out to enter into this family crisis.  The Greek more accurately should be translated, “Because of Jesus’ love for all 3 of them, he stayed where he was 2 more days.” 


Have you ever been in a critical medical situation where someone’s life depended upon the quick action of people with the skills to make a difference?  If you have, then you will be able to appreciate what must have been going through the mind of the messenger who had been sent with this dire and distressing news.  First Jesus tells you that “this sickness will not end in death.  No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”  That’s exactly the news you wanted to hear!  This thing is going to end well.  YES!

            Your next question to Jesus would probably be what?  Something along the lines of, “What can I do to help you pack your bags?”  Or, “You know, if we start out right now, we’ll be able to cover a good 10 miles before it gets dark.”  “So, when do we leave?” 

            And nobody moves.  At least nobody moves in the right direction.  Everyone keeps doing just what they were doing when you arrived moments ago with the terrible news.  You want to pinch yourself to be sure you’re not dreaming.  This is NOT the kind of response you had envisioned.  In fact, while the words Jesus just spoke were welcome, His actions seem grossly indifferent.  Good friends don’t react with this kind of indifference to the dire plight of their friend. 

Vs. 6—“Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.”   


Do you ever have a hard time with God’s responses to your crises?  Does it ever feel like you read his promise about something that makes you feel like, “O.K.  Everything is going to be alright.  I don’t know how, but I’ve got this great promise so, YES, it’s going to be O.K,” only to find that God’s immediate inaction leaves you totally bewildered and throws you right back into a near panic?


ILL:  When Sandy and I were in language school in Costa Rica, Central America, I got to know a gentleman in one of the barrios who was in a wheel chair.  He was a teacher who had been in an auto accident that had left him paralyzed from the waist down. 

            Since the accident had been relatively recent, there was some possibility that further therapy might help him regain more use of his legs.  So one conversation led to another and, long story short, some folks in Spokane here (actually Arne Flores’ dad) arranged for Anibal to get further treatment here in the U.S. totally free of charge. 

            Now the next challenge was to somehow fund a ticket from San Jose, Costa Rica to Spokane, WA, USA.  Someone got the tickets from LA to Spokane donated so that all that was left was the leg from San Jose to LA.  Through a series of contacts, we were actually able to get a letter from the President of Costa Rica’s office requesting that the national airline of Costa Rica provide two tickets free of charge for Anibal and me to travel to the U.S. and back.  It was one amazing provision after another. 

            This all came to a head the last day of my last week of class in language school.  I had my final exam to take and, while the airline had assured us that they would provide the tickets, we still didn’t have them in hand.  So before I headed into my last final, I gave the letter from the President’s office to a fellow classmate at school instructing him to go to the national airline’s central office and pick up the tickets.  Knowing that God had made this whole big miracle possible, I peacefully headed into my final exam. 

            When I finally emerged from the exam, bags packed and ready to head to the airport, I was met in the breezeway by my classmate.  “They wouldn’t give us the tickets,” he said.  “Somebody who is supposed to authorize them is gone and they can’t issue them until after the weekend.”  I went from euphoric to panic-stricken. 

            “God, you can’t do this to us.  We’ve seen you do too much already.  This has to work out…and it has to work out NOW!” 


Ever felt that way about the work of God in your life?  Felt like he had given you a promise or a series of events that just had to be His hand only to have them crash on the runway of life?  That could well have been what this messenger was feeling during those entire 2 days of waiting. 

            Either that or he just figured that Jesus was going to heal at a distance like He had done with the Centurion’s servant from Capernaum in Matthew 8.  He just spoke the word from a distance and it was done. 


However it unfolded, you can be sure that there were a whole lot of very shocked and confused disciples when they eventually realized that Lazarus had actually died.  The disciples had already questioned the advisability of returning to the greater-Jerusalem area since their last run-in with the religious authorities who were now trying to kill Jesus.  Vss. 7-16 cover the conversation back and forth between them.  John lets us know that during their discussion, Jesus informed them that Lazarus had, in fact, died.  He used the euphemism of sleep to talk about his death.  They, of course, didn’t pick up on it.  So Jesus simply tells them straight out in vss. 14-15, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.”


Death so that they might believe?  What sense does that make?  Since when do you let your best friend die and expect to see people put more faith and trust in you?  That had to make no sense to them whatsoever.


What is God trying to say to us so far in this story?

May I suggest a few things that I think this story is clearly calling us to embrace. 

#1.  THE most difficult, gut-wrenching experiences of life do NOT mean that God doesn’t love us very much or very well. In fact, just the opposite is true.  Hard stuff in life…the hardest stuff…can be the times when God wants us to hold onto his love for us more deeply than ever before. 

            Later on in this story, when Jesus breaks down and cries with the grieving family and friends of Lazarus in vs. 35, the people who are watching him, remark about how deeply Jesus loved (phileo) Lazarus.  Nobody watching the response of God in human flesh to the suffering and sadness of Lazarus’ family could conclude anything but that Jesus truly, truly loved this man and this family. 

If life-threatening sickness and death itself are not evidence of God’s lack of love for us, then nothing need be.  God very clearly wants us to know that the presence of challenges, difficulties and even death itself does nothing to diminish His heart-felt and sacrificial love for us.  He is not untouched by our pain BUT he is unmoved from His deep and complete love for us. 


#2.  Our dead ends may be God’s through streets to new experiences with Him. 

Death is certainly life’s hardest and most jarring “Dead End.”  Death finishes the last chapter of every person’s life on this earth.  Or so we think. 

It didn’t for Lazarus…and it didn’t for Mary and Martha.  And it didn’t for Jairus or for his 12 year old daughter in Luke 8. 

Life will lead us down many “dead ends”…or so they will seem.  There are things…and perhaps even people…we will have to bury along the way that will leave us wondering, “Jesus, why didn’t you show up earlier?  Why didn’t you salvage this one?  Why did you seemingly promise one thing and deliver another?” 


But sometimes God has greater things he wants to do through death than he can through life.  Sometimes he wants to take us through that valley of death so that he can show us something of himself that we never would have seen or understood otherwise. 

If we are willing to endure pain, suffering and loss, there is no telling how God can be glorified through it.  What looked like it was the end of life as Lazarus, Mary and Martha knew it, spelled the beginning of a whole new journey with Jesus.  Lazarus became such a well-known icon of Jesus’ power that the Pharisees hatched an assassination plot against (Jn. 12:10).  What were they thinking?  How blind people can be to the power of God?   To think that by killing someone who was just raised from the dead that you could stop the very power that raised him from the dead is ludicrous. 

I doubt that that was the kind of reception Lazarus ever imagined he would get—from no-name to instant celebrity to fugitive.  Not exactly the life many of us would choose. 

And I’m not so sure his life got easier from that point on.  But when God turns a dead end into a through-street in our lives, we don’t get to choose where or what he connects that new street to. 


So pick up the story in vs. 17-20.

Notice the two different responses of these two very different sisters.  Which one would you have expected to be first to go out to find Jesus when he arrived in town?  Wasn’t Mary the one who had sat at Jesus’ feet, enthralled with his teaching, commended by Jesus for choosing the better thing than her task-focused sister Martha, fuming in the kitchen (Lk. 10)?  But Mary doesn’t budge.  Why not? 

            Well, go over to her first encounter with Jesus in vs. 32.  “When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  So, whose fault in her thinking was it that led to her brother’s death?  J…E…S…U…S!  (And she wasn’t cheering.) 


Loss can do funny things to people.  Those you sometimes think will faint under the heat of the experience can turn out to have amazing strength while those you thought would weather it well can go all to pieces. 

            To be fair, Martha’s response is virtually the same as Mary’s.  She says the identical thing in vs. 21—“Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.”  But the difference is that she brings her troubled heart right out to Jesus.  She doesn’t hide in the shadows of her home.  She doesn’t hang out with the other mourners, so wounded that she doesn’t really want to talk with Jesus.  She takes her deepest grief and marches right up to the one man in the whole universe who could have intervened and brought about a different outcome.  Like the cook in the kitchen of Luke 10, she comes right out with what she’s thinking and struggling with. 

At the same time, she adds vs. 22But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”  She’s troubled, but she’s still affirming what little she yet understands and clings to about the person of Jesus in the midst of her pain.  “I know God answers your prayers.”  Perhaps she is thinking, “He doesn’t answer mine, but I know he answers yours.” 

Then Jesus makes this statement in vs. 23—“Your brother will rise again.” And here Martha demonstrates her good theological training as well as some amazing faith when she replies, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”  Having far less biblical evidence for a resurrection than we do, Martha readily agrees with Jesus’ statement.  Whereas the religious sect of the Sadducees of her day denied the truth of a bodily resurrection, she must have hung onto the thin thread of evidence given in a handful of Old Testament passages.

  • Job had said: "I know that my redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And . . . in my flesh shall I see God" (Job 19:25-26).
  • The prophet Daniel had written, "Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt." (Daniel 12:2).
  • Isaiah, in his song of praise in Isaiah 26, says this about the resurrection (vs. 19):  “But your dead will live; their bodies will rise.  You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy.  Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.” 

Like all faith-filled saints of the Old Testament, like Abraham who “reasoned that God could raise the dead” (Heb. 11:19), Martha believed that there would be a resurrection “at the last day.” 


But this passage makes it clear that she believed much more than that.  She is, I think, THE person of greatest faith in this entire book of John.  When Jesus speaks these monumental words of John 11:24, she, in the midst of probably the deepest sorrow and darkest hour of her life to date, comes forward with an astounding affirmation of faith in Jesus Christ who has just disappointed her terribly. 

Vs. 25—“Jesus said to her, “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.  Do you believe this?” 


“I am the resurrection and the life!”  You’re asking me to believe that YOU, the one who could have prevented this death, is the One who will raise all mankind from the dead one day?  Really?  Right now?  In the midst of this blackness?  This sorrow?  This disillusionment with you???


You can almost hear her voice tremble as she utters perhaps the most difficult words of faith she ever spoke:  “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” 


That is, in my opinion, THE single greatest affirmation of faith of anyone in all the gospels prior to Jesus’ own death and resurrection.  Even Peter’s great confession in Matthew 16:16 takes second place.  Peter hadn’t just lost his closest family member to death.  Peter wasn’t in the depths of grief.  Peter wasn’t disappointed with Jesus in the moment or trying to make sense of a very uncertain future.  Martha was.  And she exercises her faith with words that must have been very difficult to both utter and truly believe. 

            “Yes, Lord, I believe you are the resurrection and the life…even though my brother is dead and I have never seen or heard of anyone rising from the dead.”

            “Yes, Lord, I believe in you and that by doing so, I will never die…even though my brother believed in you too, and he now lies dead in that cold tomb.” 

            “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, who we’ve been waiting for for centuries…even though I waited this whole week for you to show up and you didn’t until it was too late.” 


And still Jesus waits.  If I had been Jesus, I would have taken Martha to her brother’s tomb right then and there.  I would have rewarded her amazing answer and affirmation of faith with her brother’s resurrection right there.  But still Jesus waits.

            He watches her leave and walk slowly home again… alone…still grieving…still wondering why Jesus didn’t do what she knew he could and had so hoped he would.    


God’s timing ever bug you?  Why does he almost always seem to be LATE?  Why does he dilly-dally around when people are dying?  Why does he seem to take his sweet time when we’re out of time? 

I sure don’t have the definitive answer to that question, but I think this passage gives us one very clear answer:  our “end” is never His “ending.”  “No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it,” (11:4). 



What are the “losses” you are grieving?  Whatever they are, this is not God’s ending.  It may be the end of something or someone irreplaceable, but it is not God’s ending.  He would like to write a different ending, one that will bring great glory to Him.  All he’s asking is, “Do you believe?”  Do you have enough faith to trust Jesus Christ in the midst of the perplexities, the imponderables, the darkness and the pain and sorrow? 

What has “fallen asleep”…died…for all intents and purposes in your life that Jesus might want to resurrect?  Did you get burned in church once and swear off to ever serving the Body of Christ again?  Did you lose a love relationship and determine never to love like that again?  Did you lose a dream or a career or a loved one that has left you with more questions for God than answers for yourself? 

What about God’s timing seems terribly off to you right now?  Is God asking you to let go of your calendar but hang onto your faith?  Is He asking you to believe in the dark what you knew to be true when there was light? 

Living on this side of Jesus’ resurrection, living after the historical event of the resurrection of Jesus Christ—probably THE single most tested and reliable historical event of all time—“Do YOU believe?”  Do you believe that Jesus is your resurrection and your life?  Do you embrace by faith  that he will give you life and life eternal through nothing more or less than belief in who he said he was—the Savior of the world, the Son of God in human flesh?


Remember my friend from Costa Rica.  Well, that story does not have an ending, because, as far as I know, his life isn’t over yet.

We picked Anibal up at his house that afternoon after class and swung by the headquarters of the airlines on the way to the airport.  We prayed and prayed and argued and prayed at their office.  And we even mentioned how “bad it would look in the U.S. newspapers if all those arrangements and all that free medical care was wasted because someone in their company wouldn’t issue what their President had already authorized.” 

And we got the tickets…and we made it to the airport just in time…and we got that extra exit visa they requested at the gate at the last minute…and we were the last people on that flight. 

And we made it to Spokane… and Anibal got the best medical care known to man in those days.  He lived with a Christian family and experienced the life of God’s people with church people that loved him right here in Spokane.  

But he never did get use of his legs back…and he returned to Costa Rica deeply disappointed with God. 

I still don’t know if he’s put his faith in Jesus Christ yet.  I still think he lives in a dead-end side street in a little barrio at the end of the bus line.  But I also know that if he will simply believe in Jesus, there will be a resurrection one day of those dead legs that will bring great glory to Jesus Christ.  And I know that between now and then God wants to prove to Him in the middle of his darkness and loss that He is “the resurrection and the life.” 


Do YOU believe?