Come What May It Will Be Okay
September 21, 2008
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
A Person You Love Is Sick
1. There were two sisters whom Jesus knew on personal terms in the village of Bethany. They were the sisters named Martha and Mary. These women also are found in The Gospel According To Luke, (Luke 10:38 ff). It describes the situation in which Jesus was giving forth God's word in that house. In The Gospel According To John their brother comes into the story. [His] name [is] Lazarus. He also loved Jesus and was loved by the Lord.
2. However, what is written in today's passage of scripture is the story of this same Lazarus falling sick. Worse still, it was a serious illness involving his life. News of it got through to Jesus by a messenger. "Oh Lord, a person you love is sick." By this way of saying it, it is hardly clear that he had been in delicate health for so long a time. Contrary to expectations, Lazarus was forced into bed rest, and then worse still, it turned into a grave life-threatening condition.
3. Until then he was in abundant fellowship with Christ, his home was filled with joy but then the hardship of unforeseen illness had made a sudden visit to [his home]. The inside of the home turned completely dark as if it disappeared. Were we also to stand in the place into which they were put, we would surely have to ask anybody we could the question "Why?" Why did our brother have to get sick? Why must we have such a sorrowful go of things? We wonder if [things] will lead to more and more serious questions just because we are on such intimate terms with Christ, just because we have known God's love through Christ. Why does such a thing happen to us who know Jesus as a friend? Is this happening to us due to our being loved by [God]?
4. "Oh Lord, a person you love is sick."
5. When you give it some thought, as for the statement that comes next, "Oh Lord, a person you love [is sick]," it is not just [a statement] that [the person] is sick. [Scholars] say that about the time this gospel was written, it was an era in which the Christian church was being completely chased out from the world of Judaism, and it had become the target of political persecution as an unauthorized religion [of the Roman government]. Therefore, for the readers of this gospel perhaps a statement of another kind had echoed in their hearts. "Oh Lord, a person you love is being persecuted. Oh Lord, a person you love has ended up arrested." Perhaps also, different words may be echoing among those of you who are here in this place. "Oh Lord, a person you love is being pinched economically." "Oh Lord, a person you love is suffering in interpersonal relationships."
6. Isn't it just this way? Even though Lazarus was loved by Jesus, he ended up sick anyway. Likewise then, even though the early church was loved by Jesus, it had suffered under persecution. What could this mean? Put the opposite way, becoming sick doesn't mean that "you are not loved by Jesus." Having hard times doesn't mean that "you are not loved by Jesus." It is clearly written in verse five that "Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus."
7. But, what about what's written right after that? In verse six the text says, "Even after he had heard that Lazarus was sick, he still stayed two more days in the same place." Jesus does not immediately come. At the time that Jesus did get there, four days had already passed since Lazarus had been dead. So, we can suppose that even if he had not delayed two days, he still wouldn't have been on time either way. But, don't we still get the feeling that "If he loved him, why didn't he come sooner?" In fact, Both Martha and Mary say the same thing. "Oh Lord, had you been here, my brother wouldn't have died," (verses twenty-one, thirty-two). Yes, [both said the same thing]. They wanted Jesus to come right away. They wanted him to be there to help.
8. Just ago I mentioned that being sick doesn't mean that "Jesus doesn't love [you]." But, what if when Jesus doesn't help and then somebody dies? Or if we go by the reasoning I offered earlier, what about in the scenario when [the church] was not only being persecuted and Jesus hadn't come to help, and then they ended up murdered? At around the time this gospel was being read, this kind of thing was definitely going on all too often in the real world. Don't we also have similar thoughts and feelings along these lines as well? We've suffered a long time, we have been wanting him to help us right away too, but notwithstanding the fact that we have been calling Jesus and seeking him, the Lord's help did not come right away. Or else he did not come in time. At such times, don't we too feel like "I am not loved by the Lord!?"
9. I think we do. It is precisely because we [feel] like that that we need the words of the scripture that we read today. This passage is a must read. The scripture still declares to us that, "Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus." Yes it does. How ever things may have appeared to the eye, the Lord did love Lazarus. Even though it may have looked like he was late, Jesus did still love Lazarus. And he does love us.
This Sickness Is Not Something That Ends With Death
10. "Oh Lord, a person you love is sick." After Jesus had heard the news, he said the following about Lazarus. "This sickness is not something that ends with death. It is for the glory of God. The son of God will receive glory through it," (verse four).
11. The [biblical] text here is saying three things. First, "This sickness is not something that ends with death." It does not mean that "it is not a sickness that goes as far as death." He does not say that "Lazarus will not die." Afterwards Jesus does clearly say that "Lazarus is dead," (verse fourteen). The fact that Lazarus died was clearly understood by Jesus. But, [his] sickness does not end with death. Death is not a final goal. It is not the ultimate conclusion. [He implies] that there is more after it. And then second, [he] says that it was for the glory of God. Then third, [he] says Christ the son of God receives glory through it.
12. As a matter of fact, how does this story move forward? After Jesus had stayed two days in the same place, he went to Bethany. When we read after the passage that we read for today, the things that happened in Bethany are recorded. As it has it in verse seventeen, when Jesus got there, four days had already passed since Lazarus was buried in the tomb. However, after Jesus came to the tomb he then said, "Remove that stone!" The people removed the stone which closed over the grave hole. Jesus prays to God the Father, "Oh father, I give thanks because you are granting my request. I know that you always hear my requests. But, the reason I am asking this is for the crowd around me. It is to cause them to believe that you have sent me." After Jesus prayed that way, he went to the tomb and cried out aloud, "Lazarus, come out!" Whereupon, Lazarus came out still having his arms and legs wrapped in cloth.
13. I think we can say that it turned out exactly as Jesus had said it would. "This sickness is not something that ends with death." And it didn't. He died but it wasn't the end. He came back to life. But, if that were all, in spite of whether we believed this marvelous event or not, in either case, it would seem like words that have nothing whatsoever to do with us here in this place. I say that because that kind of thing doesn't typically happen at funeral services at Shoei Church. Indeed, not only our church, but even in the churches during the era of persecution about when this gospel had been written, that kind of thing definitely did not typically happen. "Oh Lord, a person you love was arrested and then [she] was killed." At least I have never seen with my own eyes an account where [somebody] came back to life, afterwards, after four days or so.
14. So why has this event, which does not accord with general experience, been recorded and passed on by the Bible? It is because this event is consistently and persistently one of the signs. It is because this event in and of itself is a message that is relating something of importance. What is this matter of importance? It is that whenever Jesus is there, death is not the end. It is that death is not hopelessness. When we usually seek for help we seek for it as something that [will come] while we are alive. Therefore, we ask, at times with desperate hearts, "Please hurry! So it won't be too late and passed the time to do any good. Some way or other please hurry!" Then when help doesn't come to them at all, and they end up dying, we think, "Oh how terrible!" That's true. When they die, we think it's over with. We think there's never any thing more to hope for beyond that. But, today's message declares to us that "That is not true!"
15. In a sense, I can make the claim that today's passage of scripture declares the supreme hope. It is saying, "Even though you die, it is not the end. Even though you die you are fine and safe." Among the Jews there was a superstition that for three days the soul of the deceased floated around the corpse. However, even according to that superstition, when it turned the fourth day, it could not come back any more. In other words, "the fourth day" stands for utter hopelessness. Even in that utter hopelessness, it was not hopeless for Jesus. It was not over. The Lord said about Lazarus, "Our friend Lazarus is asleep. But, I am going to awaken him," (verse eleven). Of course, what Jesus said meant, "He's dead." In verse fourteen the text says the following. Even assuming that he had died, for Jesus, though, it was no more than "sleeping."
16. For Jesus death is no more than being asleep. When Jesus is there, death is not hopeless. When we say, "When Jesus is there, even though he died, he was safe," it could also mean, put another way, "Come what may it will be okay!"
17. Everyone of us uses the word "okay" probably way too much; however, there are two ways to be "okay." For example, when you go to an examination for an illness, somebody will say, "You won't have any illness. You'll be okay." [That's] one kind of "okay" that we say like that. We use it a lot. "You will be okay because what you're worried about won't happen." And then there are some people who seek in faith [to be] "okay." "When you believe in God, what you are worrying about won't happen. So you'll be okay." But, in that kind of being "okay" an insecurity tags along no matter how much time passes. You don't have supreme peace in that. Isn't that true?
18. What we truly need is not this type of being "okay." What we truly need is "Even if what you are worried about did happen, you will be okay." [We need] the okay of "Even though it's here, I'm okay." What we need is the One who says to us with conviction "You are safe, [fine, okay]." And Jesus himself is that very one. He is the one who asserts "This sickness will not end with death." He is the one who is able to announce the hope that breaks through death. And he is the one who knew even about himself that even a death that comes from a cross will not be the end.
19. [We] are loved by this same Jesus. When we're sick it doesn't mean [we're] not loved. When we're having troubles, it doesn't mean [we're] not loved. When it looks like Jesus is running late, when we have to wait, it does not mean that [we're] not loved. What we need is to believe in Jesus and to live being supremely "okay" through him.