Since I’m no longer a pastor, and pastors want to be in their pulpits on Easter Sunday for good reason, I rarely preach an Easter sermon any more. But I love this wonderful day and all it represents. Here is a message on one aspect of the Lord’s resurrection…
The text is John 12:9-11….
“Now, a great many of the Jews knew that (Jesus) was (in Bethany at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus); and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also, because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus.”
Title: DEAD MAN WALKING
When the family goes with dad to a convention, they hope it’s in a location like Orlando so there are plenty of activities for everyone. If possible, they like to arrive a couple of days early or stick around after the meeting for fun activities.
It has always been this way.
In the first century, Jewish families traveled long distances for Passover in Jerusalem. This was their big event of the year. The family’s calendar revolved around the Passover Trip. And, lest we misunderstand at this remote distance, the trip–all on foot or by slow animals–was not all drudgery either. Families joined up together and crowds made the trek over several days. Cousins who had not seen each other in a year excitedly hugged and chatted and played. Romances were formed among young people on these annual outings.
Once the families arrived in Jerusalem’s outskirts, they erected makeshift tents and set up housekeeping for a week of religious and social activities. And then they began looking.
The parents were giving in to the cries of their children. “What is there to do here?” “Is there anything for the children!”
And then someone told them.
Over in Bethany–just on the back side of the Mount of Olives–there is a man who was dead for four whole days. And yes, it was Jesus, the Nazarene, who raised him to life.
“Let’s go see!”
Lazarus was exhibit A.
People flowed out of the Eastern Gate, down the Kidron Valley, across the wadi, and up the Mount of Olives. In the distance they could see the small community of Bethany where Lazarus lived.
The visitors crowded around his little house, eager to get a peek at this man with such an incredible story to tell.
There’s no indication Lazarus said a word. He didn’t have to. The fact that he was alive was dramatic enough. Witnesses abounded to testify that they had been there when Lazarus died, that they had seen the body laid out for burial, and that after four days, the decomposition had set in and the odor was awful.
Yet, here he was, alive.
In my mind, Lazarus sits on his front porch, perhaps in a rocking chair. Not saying a word.
Exhibit A. Proof positive that Jesus of Nazareth was Who He claimed to be, could do all He said He could, and that trusting in Him was not only smart but a no-brainer.
Do we need to stress here that every believer is sent into this world as an exhibit of Christ’s power to save? That we are to “show forth the praises of Him who has called (us) out of darkness into His marvelous light”? (I Peter 2:9) That others may “see (our) good works and glorify the Father who is in Heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
Scripture says people believed in Jesus because of Lazarus.
They took one look at this man and heard his story–perhaps from others standing nearby, always glad to be the one in the know–and believed on Jesus.
On account of Him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus.
Wouldn’t it be great to have people turn to Jesus as a result of beholding our lives?
That’s the plan, actually.
Jesus told the former Gadarene demoniac, “Go home to your people and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and that He has had compassion on you.” (Mark 5:19)
Sadly, we need to point out the opposite is also true. Some turn away from Jesus when they see how we live. They see our hypocrisy, that we say one thing and do another, they see the absence of Christlikeness in us, and they want no part of Jesus.
The father of a troubled child had a story to tell. He had brought his son to the disciples, asking them to heal him. Give them credit, they tried. But they were unable to effect a cure. As a result of their inability, the man was giving up hope. He said to Jesus, “If you can do anything, help us.” (Mark 9:22)
Don’t miss that. The failure of the disciples made him doubt Jesus.
The Lord, however, turned it back on the man. “Sir, if you can believe, all things are possible.” The “if” is on you, on us, not on Him.
The crowds looked at the life in Lazarus and wanted more of Jesus.
If they look at you and me, they should see new life also, spiritual life, a power that has changed us forever from who we used to be into a new creature who is like Jesus.
They will believe we have been raised to new life when they observe our changed behavior. Our transformed values. Our reordered lives.
When businessman Lawrence Bryant came to Christ one morning in his living room, he rose to his feet knowing that everything had changed. Two hours later, he called a meeting of the board of directors of his company, followed by a gathering of the 100 employees. He had something important to share with them.
“I’m not real sure what happened to me this morning,” he said. “But I know that when I got up this morning, I was on my way to hell. And when I got through praying, I was on my way to heaven.”
“I want everyone to know that this business is going to be run differently from now on.”
And it was. I became Lawrence Bryant’s pastor some ten years after that eventful day, and people in the town were still talking about the changes in his personal life and in the way his business was run. People would say to me, “I was in the crowd when he made that announcement. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place.” You never forget something like that.
When Mr. Bryant went to heaven, some three decades after that decision, many hundreds of people were prepared to go also. He had devoted his life to living the Christ-life before others and helping them come to Christ. He was the best soul-winner I ever knew.
When David sinned with Bathsheba, he felt sure no one would know of his misdeed but the two of them. Later, as his treachery escalated, he added manslaughter to his list of sins. Then, when the man of God confronted him, David crumbled and admitted what he had done. The prophet Nathan assured him that although God had forgiven the sin, there was collateral damage that had to be dealt with.
“By this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme,” Nathan said (II Samuel 12:14). Instead of their turning to God because of his faithfulness, they were scoffing at the Lord due to his sin.
The enemy has no answer for the power of the resurrected life.
This might be one of the funniest lines in Scripture. The religious leaders grew alarmed over the endless flow of pilgrims out to Bethany to see the resurrected man Lazarus and by their belief in Jesus. They had to do something, they decided. So they held a quick conference. And here’s what they came up with:
The chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death. (John 12:10)
They’re going to kill the fellow who was dead for four days.
We would like to say to them, “Hey guys! That doesn’t work any more! Jesus would just raise him up again!”
The simple fact is, death is the biggest gun in the devil’s arsenal. If it no longer works, he’s out of ammunition. He has nothing more to frighten the believer with, if death is found to be a toothless tiger.
And so it is. Out of business. Found to be an impostor. A sham scaring people by shadows on the wall.
Hear the Apostle Paul: Death is swallowed up in victory. ‘O death, where is your sting? O hades, where is your victory?’ Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! (I Corinthians 15:54-57)
That’s why I love holding Easter sunrise services in cemeteries. It’s our in-your-face-statement to death. “You are out of business! We are invading your territory to tell you that all those you hold will be coming out of the graves! You cannot scare us any longer.”
So, let us live boldly, Christian. Let us fear nothing on this earth except displeasing the Master.
Let us live like the newborn people we are, exhibits of His grace and mercy and transforming power.