"Never Was Love Like Thine"

Text: John 11
Date: Lent V + 4/6/14

Are you looking forward to Easter? The catechumens have been slowly drawn and taught and enlightened by the Word of God in preparation for their Holy Baptism at the Vigil and joining the fellowship of believers that is the Church. Recall with me briefly the curriculum: Lent 1—Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness and won the battle. We are preparing for a constant battle with Satan being equipped with the very same weapons that Jesus had, namely, the Word of God and the Spirit of God. Lent 2 – like Nicodemus we were told that we would receive God’s Word and Spirit by means of being born again by water and the Spirit. Lent 3—like the Samaritan woman at the well we were told that Holy Baptism isn’t just a one-time thing, even though it is administered only once, because the Christian life is supplied and empowered by living water, that is, by God’s gift and working and creation and sustaining of faith in your heart. Lent 4—more than that, like the man born blind, we were told that this faith lifts the veil of our former blindness and receives “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor 4:3-4). So now today, Lent 5, on our last Sunday before entering the Great and Holy Week you may be getting a little excited anticipating almost a miracle to happen to you as you are baptized. And it is, and you will. (A little note here that some have suggested that, in ancient times, the candidates were not told beforehand that they would be plunged under the water, a sort of surprise that would not be forgotten).

But now Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman and the man born blind gather around us with the faithful women, Martha and Mary to teach us the most difficult thing to learn and to believe about the Christian faith. And that is summarized by Jesus’ words to Martha, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Do you believe this? Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.

This was the last straw, the single event that finally broke the proverbial camel’s back, the raising of Lazarus from the dead right in front of everybody. “From that day on [the Jewish Council] made plans to put [Jesus] to death.” Whether it was some phony trick or a real event didn’t seem to matter more than the political implications of the Jewish rulers losing control of things. Which makes me wonder, to what extent are we moved or stirred or mystified at the reality of this miracle? To what extent do we really, truly believe that, at the Last Day, our loved ones or we ourselves will be raised from the dead?

We are like Martha. Four days after the funeral of their brother Lazarus, when she heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet Him. But it wasn’t so much out of faith or love that she went but rather to complain! “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Did you ever, or better, how often have you complained to God or about God? The implication was that it was at least partly His fault, because of Jesus’ inaction that Lazarus had died. Believers cry, “Where is God?” while unbelievers don’t even think there is One. Both are blinded by the evil and cruelty and pointlessness of life in a world ravaged and devastated by some malicious force. If that force is God then He is an evil God. But what the blind and unenlightened cannot see, know or understand is that that evil force is sin, their own sin and that of the entire human race.

Like Martha, however, you have been enlightened by the revelation of God’s Word especially as you have been learning it from the catechism. When told by Jesus that her brother would rise again Martha said, “I know.” And she recited the creed that says, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” So the creed has us say, “I believe in…the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting,” and our catechism explains, “On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.” So Martha was right. And you are right. But not “right enough”!

Who is going to raise us from the dead, and how is He going to do it? Why die in the first place? Did God create us only to die? When Jesus finally showed up, all He did was join in the sorrow and weeping. “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” (John 11:37) they wondered…we wonder…Martha and Mary both wondered.

That’s a good question because at least it is asking about Jesus, who He really is and what He really has done and can do. So when we with Martha recite the creed and the catechism about the resurrection as a coming event, Jesus responds with the mysterious words, “I am.” “I am the resurrection!” The resurrection is not only a coming event. The resurrection is a Person: Jesus, the only-begotten Son of God…by whom all things were made. Jesus, the incarnate Son of Mary come down from heaven to save us from the disaster of sin by His death on the Cross. The One who opened the eyes of a blind man is not just a miracle worker but is, as the Roman centurion who saw Him die said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matt 27:54). So the One who created mankind from the dust of the earth in the first place also has the power to raise all who have died back to life again.

But now the surprise. As the resurrection is not just a future event (“whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live”), and as Jesus says the resurrection is a Person, that is, He Himself, so “everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die!” That’s why Jesus could say earlier to His disciples, “‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep’…but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep.” But no, in Christ death has been transformed from the last enemy that it is to be but a sleep for the Christian, a sleep as Luther said that does not exclude the joy of being with the Lord. More than that, by your baptism into the death of Christ you are already raised to newness of life, the daily workmanship of God.

So on Easter Sunday, and every Sunday as a weekly celebration of the resurrection, your eyes mysteriously behold Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, Jesus our Savior, Jesus the resurrection and the life, Jesus our resurrection and our life.

For me to live is Jesus,
To die is gain for me;
So when my Savior pleases,
I meet death willingly. (LSB 742)