March 17, 2019

Perhaps You Presume Too Much
John 11:1-44

Before I begin today’s sermon, let me remind you that the purple draped cross on the communion table reminds us that we are in the Season of Lent, a time set aside to do what it takes to deepen our relationship with God. Our Lenten theme this year is, “Lent, A Time for Giving Up.” Last Sunday I asked you to give up your unforgiving spirit, to give up your grudges. This week, I won’t suggest what you should give up until the very end of the sermon, because I don’t think you’ll really understand what I’m talking about until you’ve grappled with the pathos of today’s biblical text.

Today’s text covers John 11:1-44. So let’s begin our journey through this interesting text as John sets up the story for us in verses 1-7.

Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.)
So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

Okay, a quick review. Some of Jesus’s dearest friends were Mary, Martha and Lazarus. That’s why, in verse 5, John writes “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” In fact, Jesus often stayed in their home on his way to Jerusalem as he passed through Bethany. Historians tell us that they were wealthy people and likely supported Jesus’ ministry financially. So it shouldn’t surprise us that when Lazarus became sick, the family called upon Jesus. They presumed that, as soon as Jesus heard Lazarus was sick, he’d drop everything and come heal him. But Jesus didn’t. In fact, John tells us that once Jesus heard about Lazarus’ illness, he stayed where he was for two more days. And because he didn’t come when his good friends called, Mary and Martha were really ticked off. They were extremely disappointed in their good old friend Jesus.

To better understand the story, let’s listen in on the likely conversation between Mary and Martha, the day before Lazarus died.

Mary said, “Are you sure Jesus got the message about our brother?”

“Yes, I’m sure,” replied Martha. “The courier told me he placed it squarely in Jesus’ hand.”

“But that was . . . that was 2 days ago,” replied Mary. “He should be here by now.”

Martha, hunting for an excuse for Jesus said, “Well, maybe he got tied up with his preaching or his teaching ministry, or maybe he had to break bread and feed a multitude of people, or maybe he encountered a group of lepers and had to. . .

“Martha, we’re not talking about some itinerate evangelist, we’re talking about our dear friend Jesus. If you were in his place wouldn’t you have dropped everything to come and heal your sick friend? For goodness sakes, Martha, if it wasn’t for our support, Jesus wouldn’t even have a ministry. No, there’s really no excuse for Jesus not being here.”

A stunned Martha replied, “But Mary, Jesus will be here. Just you wait and see. I don’t know what’s happened to delay him, but I know he’ll get here just in time; and, when he does, he’ll take care of Lazarus. Just you wait and see.”

That was the day, before Lazarus died. But despite Martha’s sincere hopes, Jesus didn’t show up, and Lazarus died.

Over the next three days Mary and Martha dealt with a funeral, a burial and the grief that accompanies a severely broken heart.

After the crowd left Mary and Martha alone, Mary let out the feelings she could contain no longer.

“Some friend Jesus was,” she said. “He could have healed Lazarus if he had only come when we called. But no, Jesus didn’t even have the courtesy to come to the funeral and say his goodbyes.”

Sadly Martha replied, “Yeah, I know what you mean. I really thought he’d come through in the end; but here we are with a dead brother and no sign of our ‘good old friend Jesus.’”

As they were talking, a neighbor entered the room and interrupted, “Excuse me, ladies, but someone just saw Jesus and his disciples coming into town. I think they’re headed this way.”

“Thanks,” said Martha.

“’Bout time he showed up,” barks Mary. “Of course, a lot of good he can do us now.”

Then for the longest time, neither sister spoke. Finally, Martha broke the silence and said, “I think I’ll go out and see him. Maybe he can explain why he wasn’t here.”

“There is no good explanation,” said Mary. “You go out and see him if you want, but I’ve really got better things to do.”

At this point, John continues the story with these words from Scripture, beginning with verse 20. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.

So after her talk with Jesus, Martha returned to Mary.

“Did you see him?” asked Mary.

“Yes, he was there, as kind and gentle as always.”

“We’ll kind and gentle didn’t do much for our sick brother, did it . . . What did he have to say?”

“He told me Lazarus would rise in the last resurrection. Of course, that’s what all our comforters have been saying these last four days.”

“Did he tell you why he ignored us when we needed him most?”

“No,” replied Martha. “He really didn’t say. All he said was that he’d like to speak with you.”

“Well, I’m not really in any mood to speak with him,” she said; and then for several minutes she remain seated where she was.

Finally, she said, “Okay, I’ll go and talk to him. I’ll go and let him know just how much he has hurt us; just how much he has disappointed us.”

So Mary went outside, and even though she was angry and disappointed with Christ, she couldn’t help but love him when she saw his face. Again, John picks up on the story in verse 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.”

Obviously, Mary and Martha were angry and disappointed. They had made presumptions about Jesus that proved to be untrue, and those presumptions had set them up for one of the biggest disappointments of their lives.

But of course, we know that the story doesn’t end here. According to the text, Jesus asked Mary to take him to Lazarus’ tomb.

I’m sure Mary thought he intended to go there to pay his last respects. In her mind she must have been thinking, “I guess I’m glad you’re here, but . . . but . . . but if you’d had just been here four days ago my brother would not have died and everything would have been so different.”

Again, John picks up the story in verse 38.

Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance.
“Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” (And) the dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

So let’s recap what happened with Mary and Martha. They presumed Jesus would come when they called. They presumed Jesus would heal Lazarus and that Lazarus would not die. They presumed that, because Jesus loved them, he would do exactly what they wanted, and when he didn’t, they were extremely disappointed with him.

But as we read on in the story we discover that Jesus had so much more in mind than Mary and Martha could imagine. Yes, Jesus had other plans, better plans, plans that were grander than their grandest expectations.

Sadly, Mary and Martha went through times of shattered hope and dissolution because of their false presumptions. If they had only trusted Jesus to be Jesus, they could have avoided much of their pain.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve stood right along beside Mary and Martha. I know what it’s like to ask Jesus to come and do my bidding. I know what it’s like to presume that Jesus will do exactly what I want, because, you see, like Mary and Martha, I believe Jesus loves me. And I also know what it’s like to be broken-hearted when what I presume just doesn’t come true.

I’ll never forget, when I was in my early 20s, I spent a week praying for my mother to be healed from debilitating arthritis. At the end of that week I just knew she would be better. I just knew that Jesus was going to honor my prayers. So at the end of the week, when I called my father to check on my mother you can imagine how disappointed I was when he told me that it had been one of her worst weeks ever. Yes, for a long time, I was really disappointed with Jesus. And even to this day, I still don’t understand why he allowed my mother to suffer. But I’ve come to peace knowing that God’s plans are greater than any plan I can fathom; that God plans are often incomprehensible to the human mind.

Over the years, as my faith has grown deeper, my presumptions have become fewer. Instead of presuming upon God to do what I want, or what I ask, I simply trust God to be God, knowing that I will never fully understand what God thinks or how he works until I see him face to face.

My theme has become that of the song writer who says,
Simply trusting every day, trusting through a stormy way.
Even when my faith is small, trusting Jesus, that is all.
Trusting as the moments fly, trusting as the days go by;
Trusting him whate’er befall; trusting Jesus, that is all.

So what am I asking you to give up this week for Lent? I’m asking you to give up some of your divine presumptions. Give up your divine expectations. Yes, bring to God the requests of your heart – your hurts, your pains, your fears and your needs but then just trust God to be God. Granted, you may never understand what God has in mind, but that’s okay, for in the end, I’m still convinced that God works all things together for good, to those who love him, to those called according to his purpose.