- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 11, 2007

The following are excerpts from a sermon given recently by Tracy W. Marx at Calvary Christian Church:

In John 11:1 we find that a “man named Lazarus was sick. He lived in Bethany with his sisters, Mary and Martha” (New Living Translation). Now those of us who have experienced it know that loving someone and being unable to do anything to take away their pain is a horrible feeling. Mary and Martha are suffering, too. We read in the text that “the two sisters sent a message to Jesus telling him, ‘Lord, the one you love is very sick’ ” (John 11:3 NLT).

That’s it. Jesus will come. He’ll fix everything. After all, look at the great things He’s already done. Surely, Jesus will be able to heal poor, sick Lazarus. But Jesus’ response to the urgent request seems peculiar. Rather than rushing to the scene, He stays right where He is for two more days. Why didn’t He dash to Lazarus’ side? When Jesus finally does arrive, it’s too late. Lazarus is dead.

Now, can you imagine Mary and Martha’s disappointment? They had sent for Jesus several days earlier, but He doesn’t show up until Lazarus has been dead and buried for four days. “Martha said to [Him], ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died’ ” (John 11:21 NLT). Do you feel her anguish? Don’t we often wonder why God doesn’t do things the way we think he should? We may end up thinking: Why weren’t you here when I needed you? Why didn’t you do something?

Jesus finds out where Lazarus is buried and goes there along with Mary and Martha, as well as others. When He gets to the tomb and sees the stone over the opening, He says, ” ‘Take away the stone.’ ‘But, Lord,’ said Martha. … ‘by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days’ ” (John 11:38-39 NIV). The sisters have a big issue. Their brother is dead because Jesus wasn’t there to heal him. Now at the tomb Jesus tells the people to move the stone, but Martha protests.

Do you see the problem we have here? Even when Jesus tells Martha what to do, she doesn’t do it. Martha doesn’t want to smell the stench of her decomposing brother’s body. What’s Jesus talking about? Open up the tomb of a man who’s been dead for four days? No way. Have you ever said something like that to Jesus? “Lord, I’ll obey you. But surely you don’t really want me to do that.”

In order to receive the miracle God has planned for her, Martha needs to risk smelling the stinking, rotting corpse of her dead brother. In order to receive God’s blessings in our lives, we have to risk opening up our problems so that He can take care of them. But we’re afraid to turn things over to Jesus. We might have to deal with problems that stink, and we’d rather leave them buried.

We, too, are sometimes at odds with Jesus. But in a similar way that keeping the tomb closed would cause Lazarus to keep right on rotting, keeping our problems closed off from Jesus will cause them to continue festering. They will not just go away. A problem relationship? A problem of not being saved?

Believing that something cannot be done for the problem is the problem. That’s because we’re turning away from the only one who has the solution. This results in keeping God separated from our problems.

Now, I’m not telling you that if you open it up He’ll take care of the problem the way you think He should. That’s one of the issues of this passage. Mary and Martha thought Jesus should have taken care of the problem right away. But it doesn’t work that way. Jesus had His reason for waiting. We may not always understand it or have all the answers, but thank God He does have all the answers. When we finally do open up and expose our problems in faith to Jesus, He produces results. It may not be instant. It may not be what we expect, but results will happen.

After Martha protests, Jesus says, “Didn’t I tell you that you will see God’s glory if you believe?” (John 11:40 NLT). That’s the reason Jesus waited four days — so what He is about to do could be credited only to God. It’s only when Martha puts her total trust in Jesus and obeys Him that she sees the glory of God. Only when we give God our total trust and obedience will He really work in our lives.

The stone is moved away from the entrance of the tomb, and then comes one of the most dramatic moments in the Gospel of John. Jesus stands in front of the tomb and shouts, “Lazarus, come out.” And Lazarus comes out. It was not too late for God. Only after Martha and the others obeyed his command would Jesus do something to help. He’s not going to force His saving grace upon us. He offers it for us to accept or reject. Martha accepted. Will you?

The Lord can work in our lives in unexpected ways, even when we might think it’s too late. Even when everything seems hopeless, in Jesus there is hope. Even when it seems like something has gotten so bad that not even God can take care of it, He can. It’s then that we’ll see the glory of God.

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