Lazarus is one of the best known stories in the Bible.
Even those who are not familiar with him know something about the story.
That Lazarus died and rose from the dead.
But that is not the extent of what Jesus is trying to teach us.
Do you remember the account of Jesus healing the Centurion’s servant?
The Centurion’s faith in Jesus meant that he didn’t require Jesus to be present with his servant in order for him to be healed.
He said to Jesus – Say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
Say the word, and let my servant be healed.
The focus in the raising of Lazarus was not to bring comfort that Lazarus was back alive but to show the full extent of Jesus’ power and authority.
Mary and Martha didn’t understand that and were succumbed by the grief of their brother’s death and were upset, even angry, that Jesus didn’t prevent it.
Mary rushed out to Jesus and said; “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Haven’t we heard that – or similar – where is God in all this?
Can’t God stop this?
Jesus didn’t need to be there, as in the healing of the Centurion’s servant.
But Jesus explains God’s plan to his disciples – Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.
What did Jesus mean by that – he was glad he was NOT there so they may believe?
Jesus is using this tragedy in order to create faith because eternal life is more important that worldly life.
Jesus came so that we might not perish but receive eternal life.
He didn’t cause the death but he is going to use it in order to create faith in his disciples.
As a church have we not been saying for a generation or more our grief that our churches are dying and wondering what we can do to bring people back to church?
We have tried making church more entertaining, less judgmental, more worldly so that people will like us and come flooding back.
Has that worked?
The danger to faith is prosperity.
In our prosperity we have no need for God – or so we think.
When Israel were about to enter the Promised Land – a land abounding with goodness and success, God gave them a warning.
In your prosperity – do not forget the Lord.
No one is suggesting that God has caused this situation in the world.
Just as he did not cause Lazarus to die.
But God can, and will, show his strength in this.
The Government has closed our church buildings but it cannot close the body of Christ – you and me.
The church is not a building- it is the people – you and me.
And while a Government can shut down a building, it cannot shut down the people of God.
And God’s strength is made known in times of adversity as seen in the raising of Lazarus from the dead.
That’s what John declares at the end of this passage:
Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.
If Jesus had been there – or had he given the order for Lazarus to get well – then his friends and family and Jesus’ disciples would not have witnessed just how powerful Jesus is.
This is the toughest challenge that many people have had for their faith, including me.
And this is the time that we need to get on our knees and pray.
Because God is the one – the only one – who can bring hope – who can bring life.
It looks bleak.
It looks dismal.
It looks like the scene in our Old Testament passage from Ezekiel:
The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry.
That’s the picture we see before us.
The queues at Centrelink.
The “closed” signs on shopfronts.
And something I thought I would never see – “cancelled” signs on churches.
It looks very much like the valley of dry bones that Ezekiel saw.
Bones – the last symbol of death.
The last symbol of all hope being removed.
But not for God.
Bones are left after the body has perished – but the body that is buried perishable is raised imperishable.
What is impossible with humanity is possible with God as God gives the order to Ezekiel:
Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.
Hear the word of the Lord.
Thus says to the Lord.
I will cause breath to enter you and you shall live.
Just as death is not the end of life for Jesus, so too in this life it is God who brings renewal.
But sometimes, in order to bring renewal, death must come first.
And that’s where the voice crying out to God comes from in our Psalm:
Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice; let your ears consider well the voice of my prayer.
As St Paul reminds us – our hope is in Christ.
The Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you,
He who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit that dwells in you.
Next Sunday will be Palm Sunday.
It is the day when we remember what Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem meant.
Jesus explained to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
But he first had to die to be raised from death.
The world did its worse to Jesus – they tortured him; they humiliated him; they put him to death.
But then God stepped in and raised him from the dead to eternal life.
And we know that God will also step in and rescue us.
Yes it is bad at present.
And it may get worse.
But once the world has done its worse, God steps in and does his best.
Sometimes God allows the world to do its worse in order to show us just what God has in store for us.
God didn’t create or send the coronavirus.
That’s the world’s doing.
But sometimes God allows the world to overstep so he can show his strength.
God’s weakness is more powerful that human strength.
Just like he did with Satan and Job.
In order to show Satan what Job’s faith was truly like he allowed his suffering.
But God set the limits.
And then after Satan had done his worse God did his best and blessed Job with more than he had in the beginning.
Friends, this looks dire.
This looks frightening.
But just as God breathed into the lifeless dry bones in Ezekiel;
Just as Lazarus breathed his last and then God breathed new life;
So too God can and WILL bring us through.
And I am certain that there is blessing in this that maybe a new faith will be breathed into our world and into our churches.
Maybe there will be a renewal of people’s faith as they see what the world can do them.
The world that they thought was their friend has turned against them.
But with God there is hope:
I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him; in his word is my hope.
My soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.
Hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.