17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “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.”
40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 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.”
43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 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.”
45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.
What’s the greatest place on earth? There are tons of options and tons of opinions on that one. If I ask the kids here today, they might say a water park or Disney World. If I ask some of the parents of those kids, they might disagree, saying a tranquil beach or cabin by a lake, as long as it was peaceful and quiet. If I ask you Vikings fans, you might say the greatest place on earth is where the Vikings win the Super Bowl. (This next season it’s at US Bank Stadium!) Today and tomorrow is Opening Day for MLB, I’d sure put Miller Park on that list. Or maybe some of you would say home with all your family around is the greatest place on earth.
Obviously, there are a lot of ways to answer that question depending on who you ask. But reading John 11, I think there is one place that is universally the best. As we watch and listen to Jesus today on this next field of battle, I think he’ll show us, beyond a doubt, what the greatest place on earth really is.
When we first see him today, he’s arriving in a little village outside of Jerusalem, called Bethany. The reason for his appearance is death. Lazarus, Jesus’s good friend and the brother of Mary and Martha had died. Many had come to comfort the sisters in their loss. We know that process well. Because we live on the same earth that they did we are familiar with these gatherings at a funeral. So, people still gather to give comfort and tell stories. You try to help everyone cope the best you can. Death is part of our existence that we have to deal with.
And it’s not just death that we deal with here. We endure pain and suffering from illnesses and insults. We put up with letdowns from work, from relationships, and from our own mistakes. We even have the kind of messes on our hands that we ourselves cause. When you react poorly to stress, sometimes you can create even more. When you look for escapes in a bottle or on a screen, you don’t really find what you’re looking for. When you try to get rid of the hardships by fitting in and putting your faith on the back burner that just does more damage.
You know even those great places on earth have their issues. Depending on what time of year, the beach might not be so great if there’s a hurricane. You might not love the mountains when there’s a blizzard. Disney World might be terrible… honestly, when is there a good time to go to Disney World? When is it cheap and not busy? Vikings fans might be disappointed if there isn’t a victory, which there never has been in a Super Bowl.
As much as we search for the greatest places and the most enjoyment we can find, we’ll always keep searching without finding a perfect place. As much as we desire fulfilling relationships, when there’s two sinful people involved it will NEVER be perfect. Sin has done and will continue to do a lot of damage to your life and mine. And we can’t fix that problem.
That was also the case for the sisters. Mary and Martha had watched their brother’s health decline. They knew Jesus could help. They had seen him heal the sick many times before. That’s why they sent him the message that his dear friend Lazarus was sick. But Jesus waited…he waited for them to put their brother’s cold dead body in a tomb. He waited for the many people to gather to comfort Mary and Martha.
Even though this had happened, Martha has an amazing and uplifting reaction. She says 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.” With her brother dead in a tomb, her faith does not waver. She knows who Jesus is. She knows what he can do.
Then, Jesus says something that you don’t hear at most funerals. And this is the part that piques our interest. Jesus says, “Your brother will rise.” And she believed it was true. She didn’t doubt him for a second, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” That is what faith in Jesus looks like. That is what faith in Jesus talks like. Your faith in him has no reason to doubt the same way Martha’s faith didn’t waver. Jesus never lies. He never breaks a promise. He never does anything that isn’t ultimately for the spiritual and eternal good of his people.
Jesus told Martha and he tells us, that a grave is not sad or lonely or tragic or cruel. He changes our mind, but Jesus has a way of doing that all the time, doesn’t he? He changed the way Mary and Martha thought about their brother’s death. They were sad, but they knew that Jesus would raise him up again and that there would be a reunion in heaven.
They believed Jesus as we believe Jesus. He changes the way we think about pain or illness. Instead of being unfair or harsh, they are ways that God keeps us from wandering off. Jesus changes the way we handle stress. Instead of annoying or debilitating, we have opportunities to cherish God’s comfort and help others do the same when their own difficulties drag them down.
Jesus even changes the way we think of the life and death. Listen to what he says, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” Have you ever heard anyone else talk that way? Jesus is telling the world something that changes the way we think. He says “Martha, I am not just here to give resurrection to a little daughter here, an older son there, and your brother. Martha, I am the resurrection and I am the life. I am the solution to all those problems that plague your life. Where death has brought tragedy and sadness, I am the life that never ends. I am the one who fulfills God’s promises to you. I am the answer to your questions.” Jesus tells you that you don’t need to be afraid anymore, and he is the only one who can say that.
But he doesn’t just say it! Jesus doesn’t go to Bethany only to commiserate and speak words of comfort. He is sad at the toll death takes on this world, but he doesn’t show up in Bethany to show sympathy. And he didn’t come into this world to say great things. Jesus showed up in Bethany and he came to our world to show us what kind of Savior we have. Watch what The Resurrection and The Life does to prove who he is and what he says.
“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 believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone… Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 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.”
All the problems in Mary and Martha’s life and all the tragedy and trauma of their brother’s death came face to face with The Resurrection and The Life, and it wasn’t even a close fight. Jesus sent them all away with his all-powerful Word. He proved his power over death.
My brothers and sisters, Jesus has done the same for you. That’s why you are here right now. The Resurrection and The Life, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, has changed our minds, our hearts, and our whole lives. Through faith in him, we have that same power over death.
That’s why Ethan and Courtney brought Gunner here today. We all know this cute little guy isn’t going to live on this earth forever. But with Jesus, he has an eternal home in heaven. Today, that’s the gift God gave Gunner. He has been changed from death to life. He’s been clothed with The Resurrection and The Life. He has the same victory that Jesus has.
That’s why we come here and keep coming back. That’s why we’ll be back on Wednesday for our last midweek Lent service and a week from now when we wave palm branches around and sing Hosanna. And that’s why you read your bible to listen to your Resurrection and Life speak his all-powerful Word to you building your faith. That’s why we stand on Jesus’ foundation, because we know it cannot be broken, not even by death. That’s why you spend a lot of time and energy and money to support his work and his ministry. You do all of this for one reason, because you believe everything Jesus said and everything he did. You believe that Jesus is your resurrection and he is your life! And he always, ALWAYS, will be!
Now, can we get back to that question that I asked at the beginning for a moment? What is the greatest place on earth? I’m thinking Jesus has changed your mind a little bit today. We see where all our passions and desire get us. We see where all our problems lead. We see where things like greed, immorality, selfishness – where all sin gets us. We end up like Lazarus, dead and laid in a grave. But Jesus has shown you that the problems and tragedies sin has caused in your life don’t have to bother you anymore. He has displayed his dominance over death. When a dead man comes out of his tomb alive, that changes things. In a couple weeks, it won’t be Lazarus that we are talking about. He eventually had to die all over again. Instead, we will talk about the one who came back from his own tomb never to die again. Jesus has the complete and total victory over death. In two weeks, we will be talking about The Resurrection and The Life who has the eternal triumph so that you and I have a home with him in heaven. Only Jesus can do that.
So, let’s answer the question: what’s the greatest place on earth? Today, Jesus shows us …
… it’s an empty tomb! Amen.