Sermon for Sunday October 21, 2012 at Weymouth Church of Christ
The Response to Jesus – Mary and Martha
Sometimes men cry. It happens. A few years ago the BBC News blog posted an article called “80 more things that make men cry.” These were responses from men about circumstances that make them cry. Here’s a few of them.
“Being told by the girl you love that she wants you dead.”
“The last page of Winnie the Pooh, as Christopher Robin explains about school – does it every time, without fail. Oh, and when Bambi’s mom dies.”
“When I’m going on a long trip and know I won’t see my mom, dad or sisters for a couple of months, then the goodbye always gets me. Nonetheless, I feel fine five minutes later.”
“Watching my son get married. I’m not even going to go to my daughter’s, I’d be incapable for weeks before and after.”
“I cried at the birth of both my children. They are now teenagers, they presented me with the most wonderful handmade Father’s Day card, filled with poems, quotes of mine and endless praise and thanks for the guidance and advice I have given them. I wept openly, it was the best Father’s Day present ever.”
“I cried the weekend I wrote my 12th anniversary card to my wife. I realised how important she has been to me, how much I appreciate her and how grateful I am she puts up with me. A mixture of gratitude and guilt.”
“Seeing my mom cry is an automatic cry. But for some reason, when I see OTHER men cry it really makes me want to blame hay fever.”
“I find it hard to watch Remembrance Sunday without getting emotional. The enormity of all the pain and suffering can get to you. It always feels better after and I figure it’s a natural reaction for the body to have. I say you’re not a man unless you DO manage a cry.”
For the last two weeks we have discussed responses to Jesus. Two weeks ago we talked about Zacchaeus and how his response was immediate. We talked about how our response to Jesus needs to be like this tax collector. We must own up to our mistakes, repent, and then offer our lives as an example of what a follower of Jesus looks like. Last week we talked about how every life ends up like Judas or like Peter. We are all flawed like these men, but, we either submit ourselves to the authority of Jesus and spend our life in sacrifice for Jesus as Peter did, or we can choose to allow our sinful, selfish nature to dictate our choices and end up like Judas, desperate, empty, filled with shame and spiritually dead. There are those who like Judas can be in the crowd and hear all the things that Jesus says, they can even act like they are one of his followers, they can do and say all the right things, but, at the end of the day they aren’t willing to let go of their selfishness. And there are those who are like Peter, who aren’t perfect, who make mistakes, who sin, but, who more often than not offer their life in service to Jesus. The genuine follower of Jesus is defined by sacrifice.
And this week we are concluding our attention on responses to Jesus by taking a look at a couple of women and how they responded to him.
The gospel of John in chapter 11 records a moment in the life of Jesus when he is confronted with the death of one of his best friends. A man named Lazarus whose sisters are Mary and Martha. We don’t really know anything about Lazarus, who he was, what he did for a living or even how he met Jesus or how they became friends. There is a lot about the life of Jesus we don’t know because the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John don’t record his every move. John concludes his account with this statement, “Jesus also did many other things. If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written.” In other words, there is a lot we don’t know about the activity of Jesus while he lived on the earth.
So we don’t know a whole lot about Lazarus, but, we do know that Jesus loved him. They were close. It’s interesting to me that Jesus didn’t call Lazarus to be a disciple. Lazarus was a close friend but he wasn’t in the inner circle of Peter, James and John. Verse 17 tells us that as soon as Jesus entered the town of Bethany he found out that his close friend had been buried for four days. When Mary and Martha found out that Jesus was in town, Martha went to go find him. She would’ve been upset. Not only because she lost her brother, she would’ve been worried about her and Mary’s financial future. As the head of the house Lazarus was tasked with taking care of his sisters. In that culture women who were widowed or alone were often neglected. On top of all these emotions she was processing, she was upset that Jesus didn’t respond to a message she had sent to Jesus days earlier that Lazarus was sick and asking him to come. So I hear some bitterness in the first thing that she says to Jesus.
“Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.” This is a loaded statement, and a bold one to make, too. We do the same thing though. I know plenty of folks who have been angry with God because someone they loved wasn’t healed, or a job offer didn’t come through, or for a ton of other seemingly unanswered prayer. God often gets the blame when something we want doesn’t happen. But Martha wisely follows up this statement with, “But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.” I like this about Martha because I can relate to her.
The morning of February 14, 1994, Kristi woke me up. She was 9 months pregnant and more than ready to deliver our second son. She wasn’t feeling well and wanted me to take her to the hospital. We figured we were going to have a baby that day. When we arrived at the hospital we shared Kristi’s symptoms with the admitting nurse who asked us to wait while she finished the paperwork. She didn’t seem alarmed so we waited. We waited, and waited and waited. Finally I asked for a nurse to take a look at Kristi because she was becoming alarmed by the fact that she didn’t feel the baby moving. Finally the nurse took us in a room and performed a check for the heartbeat. She didn’t find one. “Sometimes,” She said, “we have a difficult time finding the heartbeat because of how the baby is positioned.” But we sensed trouble and I started praying. I had been praying to myself but I guess now you might define it as begging. I walked outside the area where Kristi was being observed and I pleaded, begged and bargained.
Have you ever done that? Have you ever been so desperate for God to answer a prayer that you’ve begged and bargained with him? “God if you’ll just save my baby, I’ll do whatever you want. “Take my life, but, let him live.” I bargained. But we lost Neal. We have no idea why. Even after the autopsy there was no answer for his death. It just happened. I cried. I wept. I was bitter and angry. Like Martha I was upset with God. I know what it feels like to hurt with the pain of terrible loss and feel that God ignored me. But like Martha I didn’t allow my feelings to negate my faith. Even though I was in pain I continued to believe in God and even love Him though I didn’t understand why I had to endure this trial. Martha held on to her faith.
Then Jesus says something to Martha that we say to fellow believers when a loved one passes away. “He will rise again.” This is our hope. When Jared was diagnosed with cancer the doctor as sympathetically as she could said, “This is a terminal illness. There is no guarantee that Jared will live through this.” She promised the doctors and staff would do everything they could and hopefully we would have a positive outcome, but, she could make no promises. Jesus does. Jesus says, “Your brother will rise again.” This is our hope. Kristi and I decided that no matter what happened we would place our faith in the hope that even if Jared didn’t make it through this, “He would rise again.” We know that our son Neal will one day, “rise again.”
This isn’t really what Martha wanted to hear. She wanted her brother to live. But she recognized the hope in His words. “Yes,” she responded, “Lazarus will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day.”
Jesus wants to drive the point home. “I am the resurrection and the life.Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?”
I have a lot of friends. I have some very close friends. But I assure you that if any of my friends ever said this to me I would not just walk away I would run as fast as I could. But then again none of my friends have ever healed a leper, or a blind guy, or raised someone from the dead. Jesus had done all these things. His close friends had seen Jesus perform the most miraculous, incredible, jaw dropping stuff ever. Even still Jesus often had to affirm his place as Lord in the lives of his followers. He asked his followers once, “Who do people say I am?” “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say you are one of the other prophets.” Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?” Peter replied, “You are the Messiah.”
Here is another example of Jesus making sure his follower understands who He is. Let me ask this question Jesus posed to Martha, but, I want you to answer it for yourself. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life.Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this?”
Do you live in Jesus and believe in Him? It’s important to note that Jesus didn’t say, “just believe” he said, “live in me.” James says, “You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?” If you really believe that there is life after death in Jesus then this belief will impact the way you do life.
Martha responds the same way I hope you do this morning. I’m not saying that it’s easy every day. I certainly don’t find living in Jesus an easy thing to do. I’m as selfish as the next guy. Some days it’s more difficult. I wish I could tell you I have found a way to always and in every moment be a sacrificial, perfect and completely devoted follower of Jesus. It’s not possible for us in the human body to become spiritually perfect. We will always struggle in this life with our sinful nature. Paul says, “ I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me” Martha wasn’t perfect. But her response to Jesus affirms her faith even in this darkest hour. “Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.”
I hope that you can affirm the same this morning. Do you believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God who has come into the world from God? And more importantly has this belief transformed the way you live? Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 this understanding is what is most important. “I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said.” This is the core truth of our faith. When you come to terms with this truth, the day you actually believe it, your life will change and you will never be the same. It’s impossible to encounter Jesus, to meet him and to agree that He is your Savior, and walk away the same as you were before. For those who choose not to follow Jesus, they remain the same as they always were, but, for those who give their lives to follow him, they are never the same, they are eternally changed.
This exchange between Martha and Jesus was short and intense. Martha confirmed her belief in Jesus even though she was disappointed he didn’t come earlier to heal her brother. No doubt that as she walks away from this conversation to summon her sister she is still hurting. She has lost her brother, her protector and provider, but even in her grief she doesn’t waver from her faith.
Now, Jesus needed to talk with Mary. And can you guess what she says? The first thing out of her mouth is the same accusation her sister brought against Jesus. “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Here we go again. God hears this kind of thing every day and many times. And Jesus has an emotional reaction. John says, “When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him.” So hang on a sec. Jesus saw Mary at his feet bawling her head off and then he looks around at others crying and weeping, and he becomes…angry? This is the New Living Translation version. The New International Version translates it this way, “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit.” According to the Greek concordance the word that the NLT translates as “deep anger” or that the NIV translates as “deeply moved” literally means “I snort, express indignant displeasure.” And “a deep feeling that is moved to sternly admonish”
So, yes, Jesus was ticked off. So upset that it drove him to tears. Did Jesus feel compassion? Of course. Was he sad about the situation? Undoubtedly. But these feelings didn’t drive him to cry. Jesus was so angry, upset and frustrated that he was moved to weep. I know how Jesus feels here. I’ve had to deal with Canadian Immigration.
Seriously though, why was Jesus so frustrated? I mean this is a deep level of anger. The key to how Jesus was feeling I believe is found in what happened next. John says, “See how much he loved him!” But some said, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?” There was a bunch of people there. But some of the folks with Jesus in this scene were his best friends and followers. Martha had just proclaimed him the Savior of the world. But there is still confusion as to who he is and what he’s about. He invested the last three years of his life working miracle after miracle, including raising the dead, and here among those who were questioning him were those who saw these incredible acts with their own eyes. And yet they still didn’t see. Mary, Martha, his own followers were still blind to who he was. He just couldn’t believe it. He was extremely frustrated by this.
John continues, “Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance. “Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them.” Jesus was staring at a tomb very similar to one that in less than a week he would be placed in. Martha didn’t think this was a good idea, “But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.” It’s important to note Jesus’ state of mind as he responds. Hear his frustration in this statement. How do you think this would’ve sounded coming from his mouth, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?”
You see Martha said she believed in the resurrection, but she wasn’t expecting it to happen. Here she was in the presence of the Savior of the world, the one who had already raised from the dead a widow’s son and the daughter of a centurion, but she didn’t expect that Jesus would do this for Lazarus. Actually she assumed that he wouldn’t or couldn’t. And neither did anyone else standing there. Don’t you know that you will see God’s glory if you believe? Don’t you know that believing and living in Jesus means expecting God’s glory to show up?
John tells us what happened next. “Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, Father, thank you for hearing me. You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in grave clothes, his face wrapped in a head cloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!” Many of the people who were with Mary believed in Jesus when they saw this happen.
I guess so. Now they get it. Sort of. They knew now that Jesus was something more special than any other self-proclaimed messiah that had come along. The excitement of people who witnessed this event culminated the next day on the streets of Jerusalem as throngs of people waving palm branches proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah, shouting, “Praise God! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hail to the King of Israel!”
Mary and Martha had their brother back. Last week we talked about how Mary thanked Jesus. She took a $25,000 bottle of perfume and poured it over Jesus head and feet. This had happened to Jesus before. A prostitute crashed a dinner party at a pharisee’s house and while crying tears that spilled on his feet dabbed some perfume on them and wiped her tears and perfume from his feet with her hair. Interestingly enough earlier in Luke 7, the chapter that records this scene, Jesus had raised a widow’s son from the dead. As a result of this miracle Luke says, “Great fear swept the crowd, and they praised God, saying, “A mighty prophet has risen among us,” and “God has visited his people today.” And the news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding countryside.”
This prostitute had heard of Jesus and she believed. Her new found faith in the Messiah transformed her life. Jesus forgave her sin on the spot. Another life changed and transformed during a meal. We’ve talked about this quite a bit the last few weeks. Is your home a place for those who are hurting to find Jesus?
We’ve discussed the last few weeks, the responses of Zaccheaus, Judas, Peter, Mary and Martha to Jesus. None of these folks were perfect. They were all flawed, just like you and I are. There’s no such thing as perfection. Only Jesus was perfect. But we can strive for it. We can seek holiness instead of happiness. We can make daily decisions to be a follower of Jesus rather than deny or betray him. Some days you’ll do better at this than others. For the Jesus follower we know the victory of Jesus. We are also aware of our failures. Our ultimate victory is conquering death. Our eternal security is in Jesus. Do you know him?
Colossians 2:12 says, “For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead.” Have you experienced this new life yet?
Have you been transformed by this truth yet? I ask you to reflect on whether you just believe in Jesus or do you live really live in Jesus every day.