LENT 5, A – April 2, 2017

SCRIPTURES – Ezekiel 37:1-14; Romans 8:1-11; John 11:1-53; Ps. 116 

     There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. Rom. 8:1-2

 

Jesus makes a wonderful promise to us today: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” After promising this, He then asks a tough question: “Do you believe this?” He asks this of Martha, whose brother Lazarus had died and been buried. He is also asking this of you.

Ø  Do you believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, and so will raise to life again after they die those who believe in Him?

Ø  Do you believe that He confirmed this by raising Lazarus from the dead, even after had been dead for four days?

Ø  Do you believe that Jesus Himself rose from the dead on the 3rd day after He had been crucified?

Ø  Do you believe that, after you die, Christ will do for you what Ezek. 37 describes, that your physical body will be remade and raised to life again by Him?

You are here because you believe this and rejoice in this. Sadly, there are many who do not, even many who sit in Christian churches and hear the same stories from the Bible that you hear. If you believe that the stories in the Bible are true, blessed are you! You honor your Savior, who expects you to believe this.

 

Now, do you also believe that this is true: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” (Rom. 8:1-2) Let me put it this way: how do you picture God? Do you see Him with a big smile and with arms open wide, ready to wrap you up in a huge hug and hold you close? Or, do you see Him as stern – His forehead wrinkled, His lips tightly pressed together, and His arms crossed – waiting to see what you will do before He decides how to respond? Are you living under the Law, with its requirements and accusations and threats, or in the joyful freedom that comes from knowing that in Christ you are loved no matter what and so will always be helped and blessed?

Whichever way you view God and however you live before Him, learn today how you can live. The Bible says that when you were baptized into Christ you were forgiven all of your sins and were given the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of life. This means that everything has been changed for you. Life now and forever, and lived under the blessing of a God of love, is yours. You have been set free from your sins and death to live this life. “Do you believe this?” I hope you do, for this is what Jesus wants you to believe.

Everything has changed for you who believe in Jesus! Believe this! Believe this even when it seems as if nothing has changed – as it will often seem.

“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus,” we are told. And yet, when Lazarus became seriously ill and his sisters sent word to Him, Jesus didn’t go to him. He stayed where He was for two more days… and Lazarus got sicker… and he died.

Why? Had Lazarus, or his sisters, done something to anger Jesus? Was there some lesson they had to learn, some test they had to pass? Not according to Jesus. “This illness does not lead to death,” He says. It’s not a punishment or a test. “It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

Like Lazarus and Martha and Mary, you face hardships in this life. Sicknesses are common. There can also be financial struggles; incapacitating injuries; physical and mental decline; loneliness and depression; etc.; etc. What is especially tough is when, like Mary and Martha, you ask God for help and get no response. What can you hold onto then?

Hold onto this: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” This means that, even when it seems as if nothing has changed for you, this is not true. Everything has changed for those who believe in Jesus! Your life is His, and He will glorify Himself in your life.

When you are tempted to not believe this, when it doesn’t seem as if it could be true, hold onto these words: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” This means that God is not angry with you or punishing you for some sin you have committed. We are tempted to think He is doing so when a severe illness or some great tragedy comes. After all, we have many sins! You know them: how you have doubted God; or failed to boldly trust and confess Jesus, as Martha did; or any number of other things. We all have plenty of sins, plenty of reasons for God to be angry and withhold His blessing. But remember: He laid all your sins on His Son, and Jesus died for them. Romans 8 says, “By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh” – in Christ’s flesh, upon the cross. There your sin was condemned and punished. It is done! “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The condemnation is over.

And so now, for those who are in Christ Jesus – you, who were baptized into Him and were given His Holy Spirit – sufferings such as sicknesses, and even death, are not the punishments of a God who is angry with you. “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” All that you suffer is “for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Jesus will bring blessing, to you and to others, through your sufferings.

How? And, what blessings? Well, that is the challenge. We must simply trust our Savior and hold to Him in faith. When Mary and Martha first sent for Jesus, they did not have in mind that He would come and raise their brother from the dead. They hoped for his healing, not his resurrection. Jesus chose to do that which they did not desire, and to first put them through the suffering and grief of Lazarus’ death. How much greater, however, was their joy afterward! And, how much greater was Jesus seen to be, as the news of His miracle reached even to the chief priests and Pharisees in Jerusalem.

You, like Lazarus and Martha and Mary, are loved by Jesus. His Spirit of love and life lives within you through your baptism into the Triune God. Rejoice in His love, and in how He will show forth His love for you in your life, even in the greatest trials! And, look forward to the true and holy life with God that will be yours after you die, when He again joins bone to bone and covers you with flesh and breathes His life into you and brings you into your Father’s presence forever!

Believe this. It will be so! For: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” In the blessed name of Jesus. Amen.