O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Life in Death
Life in Death
Based on John 11:1-45
Preached on April 6, 2014
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Fellow baptized saints, you are going to die. I know, nobody talks about it. We're all afraid of it. But its true! You are going to die. And it is true for everyone. Death laughs in the face of those who say "well, that may be true for you…" No, all must die. The only question is "Do you have life?" You are going to die, but do you have life?
For weeks now, Jesus has been trying to show us the depth of the unbelief we are born into. He has been progressively painting the picture of what this unbelief really is and what He must do to save us from it. First He showed Nicodemus that unbelief rules our thoughts, that it prevents us from understanding God with our reason. Then He taught the Samaritan woman that unbelief rules our actions, that it prevents us from pleasing God with what we think is worship, no matter how many times we go to the well. Then Jesus healed the blind man to show that unbelief is so defective it prevents us from seeing God. And this morning, Jesus completes His picture with a dead man, to show us the ultimate reality - that no matter which way you look at it - unbelief is death.
Remember back to the garden when Lent began, "You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it - in the very moment you don't trust my Word - you shall surely die. Unbelief is death. It is the letting go of God's Word of Life. The fall into the grave that comes from reaching for something other than what God says. This is mankind. And yet, from that terrible moment in the Garden until now - God has been working to restore His people to faith. To give His people life. And this raising of Lazarus from the dead is the perfect picture of God giving faith to one in unbelief. When God gives faith - it is like He is giving life to a dead man. We are dead in unbelief until Jesus calls us to faith. Until - like cold, dead Lazarus - He calls us from the tomb by name.
You have unbelief. I know, nobody talks about it. We are all afraid of it. But its true. You have unbelief. The only question is "Do you have faith?"
And for this - Jesus comes. He comes to the dead one, in whom there is no hint of life - no potential - nothing but a rotting corpse. He comes to the foul one, whose odour should keep Him away - who is sealed and wrapped up in death. Jesus comes - though His enemies are waiting there to stone Him. Jesus comes right up to the evil face of death, holds His gaze and shouts, "I am the resurrection and the life! Be gone death! Run away! For it is I, the Christ, the Son of the living God, here I come."
Jesus pushes death away from Lazarus and onto the cross that awaits Him in a few short days. For this was only the pre-game show. This was only the press conference before the big fight. Jesus isn't here to buy a couple extra years on earth for Lazarus. He is here to purchase eternal life for the whole world with His innocent blood. He is here to pave the path. To enter death Himself - to spill Himself upon it and change it forever for all who are in Him.
Christ has done more than paint the picture of our unbelief, He has painted the deepest bowels of death red with His own blood. He has blown a hole out the back of death so large that it can never hold another person with faith in Christ. Death is nothing for those in Christ. Just another place their living Lord reigns victorious. Just another doorway they safely and confidently walk through with their Lord. For Christ has put His life in your death, and His life is as strong in your death as it is in His heaven.
Yes, you have unbelief - but Christ has given you faith. When he saw you in unbelief He was deeply moved and greatly troubled. The thought of you dead in unbelief forever made Him weep, because you are the one He loves. And so He comes to you to keep you alive in Him by faith in His Word and Sacrament. He is the One who preaches to you. He is the One who speaks. When He speaks His Law, it is not about your neighbour - you know, that person who really needed to hear that sermon - No, it is about you. And when He speaks His promises - all that He has done and will do forever - He speaks them to you and for you.
And you know that this is true, that it will always be true for you, because He has called you by name in baptism. Just as He called Lazarus out from the physical grave, He has called you out from the spiritual grave of unbelief. Called you up out of the waters by name to walk in newness of life. To walk - alive - in this faith He has given you.
Christ has set you free from the burial cloths, all that sin you were wrapped in. He has washed you clean of the odour, that stink of death you were steeped in. You were born from the grave - from Jesus' grave - from His death on the cross into His resurrection from the dead. As St. Paul says, "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
"I am the resurrection and the life. 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?"
Christ has given you faith. He has given you eternal life. And even though you have unbelief, even though you are going to die, you will rise again, for you have Christ. Do not be afraid. Christ has promised you will see the glory of God. And after your skin has been thus destroyed, yet in your flesh you shall see God, whom you shall see for yourself, and your eyes shall behold, you and not another. So glory in the confession of your Lord and Savior. Boast with Martha of the One who loves you, "Yes Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of the living God, who is coming into the world." In His Holy Name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr