Fifth Sunday in Lent | March 29, 2020

Ezekiel 37:1-14 • Psalm 130 • Romans 8:6-11 • John 11:1-45

11 A man named Lazarus was sick. He lived in Bethany with his sisters, Mary and Martha. This is the Mary who later poured the expensive perfume on the Lord’s feet and wiped them with her hair. Her brother, Lazarus, was sick. So the two sisters sent a message to Jesus telling him, “Lord, your dear friend is very sick.”

But when Jesus heard about it he said, “Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.” So although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, he stayed where he was for the next two days. Finally, he said to his disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.”

But his disciples objected. “Rabbi,” they said, “only a few days ago the people in Judea were trying to stone you. Are you going there again?”

Jesus replied, “There are twelve hours of daylight every day. During the day people can walk safely. They can see because they have the light of this world. 10 But at night there is danger of stumbling because they have no light.” 11 Then he said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but now I will go and wake him up.”

12 The disciples said, “Lord, if he is sleeping, he will soon get better!” 13 They thought Jesus meant Lazarus was simply sleeping, but Jesus meant Lazarus had died.

14 So he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 And for your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there, for now you will really believe. Come, let’s go see him.”

16 Thomas, nicknamed the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let’s go, too—and die with Jesus.”

17 When Jesus arrived at Bethany, he was told that Lazarus had already been in his grave for four days. 18 Bethany was only a few miles down the road from Jerusalem, 19 and many of the people had come to console Martha and Mary in their loss. 20 When Martha got word that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him. But Mary stayed in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”

23 Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 “Yes,” Martha said, “he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day.”

25 Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. 26 Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?”

27 “Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.” 28 Then she returned to Mary. She called Mary aside from the mourners and told her, “The Teacher is here and wants to see you.” 29 So Mary immediately went to him.

30 Jesus had stayed outside the village, at the place where Martha met him. 31 When the people who were at the house consoling Mary saw her leave so hastily, they assumed she was going to Lazarus’s grave to weep. So they followed her there. 32 When Mary arrived and saw Jesus, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33 When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled. 34 “Where have you put him?” he asked them.

They told him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Then Jesus wept. 36 The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much he loved him!” 37 But some said, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”

38 Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance. 39 “Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them.

But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.”

40 Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” 41 So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” 43 Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!”

45 Many of the people who were with Mary believed in Jesus when they saw this happen.

John 11:1-45 New Living Translation (NLT)


As you can see, today’s text is long. For those of us who grew up in Sunday School it is a very familiar story. I hope that you have taken the time to read the passage above – if not – take the time to more than scan it, but read it. If you are familiar with the story, slow down and read it like you are reading it for the first time.

This is a story of Jesus raising a good friend, Lazarus, from the dead. This is just one of the many miracles that Jesus did during his time on earth. Lazarus is one of several people that Jesus rose from the dead through the power of the Holy Spirit.

There’s an important sentence at the beginning. Mary and Martha send for Jesus because their brother was a close friend of Jesus. When Jesus receives the message, He says this:

Lazarus’ sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.

John 11:4

As I said Jesus performed many miracles during his time on earth. Last week we looked at the healing of the blind man in John 9. I want you to compare the words Jesus spoke before he healed the blind man.

“It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins. This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.

John 9:3

I hope that you can see the similarities. Jesus did these miracles to display the power of God through the work of the Holy Spirit. Going back to Lazarus. You would think that Jesus would have immediately headed to Bethany, but He doesn’t…He delays and during that time his dear friend Lazarus dies. Did you ever feel like God didn’t hear you? I’m sure that’s how Mary and Martha felt about this time…like Jesus didn’t even care. John tells us differently because John tells us how much Jesus loved Lazarus. So why did Jesus wait?

It could be because the last time they were in the region, the people wanted to stone him. (vs 8) That would be a valid reason. Jesus makes a curious statement, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but now I will go and wake him up.” The disciple are confused. What? They had waited a couple extra days because of the threat of stoning and now they were going anyway. One of them pipes up, “If he is only sleeping he will soon get better.”

Then Jesus tells them the real truth. Lazarus is dead. Here’s where it gets interesting. Jesus tells his disciples that He was glad they weren’t there because now they will really believe. Jesus must have still had some doubters in the crowd – doubters that He really was the Son of God. This idea of belief is a common one in the Gospel of John. He states in his epilogue that “These things are written so that you may believe.”

Both Martha and Mary question why Jesus didn’t come when He heard the news. Jesus meets them both separately. There response to seeing Jesus is almost identical, “Lord if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

They are both disappointed. Jesus delayed his visit. I’m sure both Martha and Mary knew that Jesus had the power to heal their brother. After all they had seen the miracles. They saw the blind healed – they saw the deaf hear – they saw the lame walk. They knew what Jesus could do – and yet their brother died. Jesus delayed – Jesus the Son of God delayed. What do we do with that? How does it feel when we think God delayed? How does it feel when we think that God isn’t answering our prayers?

Jesus reassures Martha with these words, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?

Martha responds, “Yes!” She goes on to tell Jesus that she has always believed that He was the Messiah – the promised one. There’s that word again “believe.”

Jesus knows that this event will show God’s glory. They people are afraid – after all Lazarus has been in the grave for 4 days. Have you ever passed by a deer on the side of the road after it’s been there a couple days? I have during some of my runs. The smell is horrible. Jesus waited four days to show that Lazarus was really dead. You can only imagine the people’s horror when Jesus tells them to roll away the stone.

The people standing near had two thoughts: One group who had seen Jesus weeping for Lazarus said, “See how much he loved him!” While others – the skeptics said, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”

Reluctantly the people roll away the stone. Jesus repeats:

Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?

John 11:40

Then they roll the stone aside and Jesus prays to the Father:

Father, thank you for hearing me. You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.”

John 11:41b-43

Jesus would not have had to shout – but said these words loud – for the people in the back – so that they may believe! We often hear the phrase “Say it louder for the people in the back!” That is what Jesus did. Then he shouts “Lazarus, come out!” Scholars tell us he identified Lazarus, because if he hadn’t, all of the graves would have opened. Immediately, Lazarus comes out of the grave wrapped in cloths and the people unwrap him.

While it isn’t in our text for this morning, I want to continue to verse 45. “Many of the people who were with Mary believed in Jesus when they saw this happen.” What was the purpose of Lazarus’ sickness, death, and subsequent – yet temporary resurrection? There are two that come to mind:

  1. To show the glory of God.
  2. That people would believe that Jesus is who he said he was.

There are times that it is hard to see God’s big picture. Sometimes it’s hard waiting on God. Waiting on God can be frustrating. Pam and I have been there. We wonder why God doesn’t move to our timetable. Sometimes God’s apparent delay causes the death of our plans. It’s frustrating to wait on God to bring healing and resurrection. Mary and Martha were frustrated that Jesus didn’t show up on time. Here it is important to remember that Jesus loves us – even to the point of weeping. Remember that Jesus came into our world – full of pain and death.

This week it seems that I have come back to this passage numerous times:

14 So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. 15 This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. 16 So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.

Hebrews 4:14-17

He longs to come into our lives to bring us life – to bring us into his light – for us to believe that He indeed is the Son of God. He desires to bring us to a point of spiritual resurrection. None of us were able to take the first steps of this spiritual journey from death to life apart from Christ. We did not pull ourselves up from the grave by our own bootstraps. But as Jesus called Lazarus into new life, he calls us to do the same. He calls us to call those in spiritual darkness and spiritual death into new life in Jesus Christ and walk in the newness of life.

Do Not Be Afraid

The Annunciation of the Lord | March 25, 2020

Isaiah 7:10-14 • Psalm 45 • Hebrews 10:4-10 • Luke 1:26-38

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, 27 to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. 28 Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”

29 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. 30 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

34 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”

35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. 36 What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. 37 For the word of God will never fail.”

38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.

Luke 1:26-38 New Living Translation (NLT)


Imagine being a young girl in 1st Century Israel. You knew that at some point the promised Messiah would arrive. You also know that this is a very dark time. Israel had suffered under one occupation after another since the time of Nebuchadnezzar. They hadn’t heard from God via the prophets for over 400 years.

Now, God breaks the silence – first to Zechariah, then to Mary. Gabriel’s visit comes as a surprise. We often think of angels as meek and mild creatures, but as Pam reminded us on Sunday, angels are part of the armies of heaven. I think this is a good representation of an angel:

No wonder the angel’s first words were “Do not be afraid.” I certainly would be afraid to see the creature above. Not only is the appearance frightening, but the angel brings unbelievable news. Mary learns that she – a virgin and pledged to Joseph was going to have a baby. This baby would be the promised Messiah.

She still doesn’t understand and asks for more detail. The angel obliges. Gives her the details and offers reassurance.

Mary’s response is this: “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”

The times we are living in try our souls. The angel’s message to us would be the same, “Do not be afraid.”

We need to remember that God is with us through His Son, Jesus. John writes: 14 So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.” (John 1:14)

Jesus has experienced the things that we are experiencing.

The writer of Hebrews writes: 16 We also know that the Son did not come to help angels; he came to help the descendants of Abraham. 17 Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. 18 Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested. (Hebrews 2:16-18)

We are reminded that since he has gone through the same sufferings and testings we have gone through – Jesus is able to help us. The angel said, “Do not be afraid.” Today we remember that when we need comfort…when we need Jesus’ help, he is there. He is our great high priest and we are encouraged to boldly go to the throne of our gracious God – who desires to give us grace when we need it the most.

14 So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. 15 This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. 16 So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

So today – just nine months before Christmas, we celebrate the angel Gabriel coming to Mary, telling her, “Do not be afraid” because the Son of God is coming in the flesh and Jesus came to save us and give us eternal life. This same Jesus can give us comfort in our times of trials.

Do Not Be Afraid! Why?

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us. (2 Corinthians 1:3-7)

Blessings….

Prayer for the Week

Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Blind But Now I See…

Fourth Sunday In Lent | March 22, 2020

Ban, Shigeru, 1957-. “Cardboard Cathedral,” transitional Christchurch Cathedral, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55818 [retrieved March 20, 2020]. Original source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/geoftheref/9477818560.

1 Samuel 16:1-13 • Psalm 23 • Ephesians 5:8-14 • John 9:1-41

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?”

“It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him. We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work. But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.”

Then he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and spread the mud over the blind man’s eyes. He told him, “Go wash yourself in the pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “sent”). So the man went and washed and came back seeing!

His neighbors and others who knew him as a blind beggar asked each other, “Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?” Some said he was, and others said, “No, he just looks like him!”

But the beggar kept saying, “Yes, I am the same one!”

10 They asked, “Who healed you? What happened?”

11 He told them, “The man they call Jesus made mud and spread it over my eyes and told me, ‘Go to the pool of Siloam and wash yourself.’ So I went and washed, and now I can see!”

12 “Where is he now?” they asked.

“I don’t know,” he replied.

13 Then they took the man who had been blind to the Pharisees, 14 because it was on the Sabbath that Jesus had made the mud and healed him. 15 The Pharisees asked the man all about it. So he told them, “He put the mud over my eyes, and when I washed it away, I could see!”

16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man Jesus is not from God, for he is working on the Sabbath.” Others said, “But how could an ordinary sinner do such miraculous signs?” So there was a deep division of opinion among them.

17 Then the Pharisees again questioned the man who had been blind and demanded, “What’s your opinion about this man who healed you?”

The man replied, “I think he must be a prophet.”

18 The Jewish leaders still refused to believe the man had been blind and could now see, so they called in his parents. 19 They asked them, “Is this your son? Was he born blind? If so, how can he now see?”

20 His parents replied, “We know this is our son and that he was born blind, 21 but we don’t know how he can see or who healed him. Ask him. He is old enough to speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who had announced that anyone saying Jesus was the Messiah would be expelled from the synagogue. 23 That’s why they said, “He is old enough. Ask him.”

24 So for the second time they called in the man who had been blind and told him, “God should get the glory for this, because we know this man Jesus is a sinner.”

25 “I don’t know whether he is a sinner,” the man replied. “But I know this: I was blind, and now I can see!”

26 “But what did he do?” they asked. “How did he heal you?”

27 “Look!” the man exclaimed. “I told you once. Didn’t you listen? Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?”

28 Then they cursed him and said, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses! 29 We know God spoke to Moses, but we don’t even know where this man comes from.”

30 “Why, that’s very strange!” the man replied. “He healed my eyes, and yet you don’t know where he comes from? 31 We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but he is ready to hear those who worship him and do his will. 32 Ever since the world began, no one has been able to open the eyes of someone born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he couldn’t have done it.”

34 “You were born a total sinner!” they answered. “Are you trying to teach us?” And they threw him out of the synagogue.

35 When Jesus heard what had happened, he found the man and asked, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

36 The man answered, “Who is he, sir? I want to believe in him.”

37 “You have seen him,” Jesus said, “and he is speaking to you!”

38 “Yes, Lord, I believe!” the man said. And he worshiped Jesus.

39 Then Jesus told him, “I entered this world to render judgment—to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind.”

40 Some Pharisees who were standing nearby heard him and asked, “Are you saying we’re blind?”

41 “If you were blind, you wouldn’t be guilty,” Jesus replied. “But you remain guilty because you claim you can see.

John 9 New Living Translation (NLT)


I really hope that you took the time to read through the entire 41 verses above. If you didn’t, go back and read through them. This is a truly amazing story. One of the themes that John likes to contrast is this light vs. dark. In the previous chapter, Jesus has announced that He was the light of the world.

In this passage, Jesus teaches his disciples about spiritual blindness. His disciples as the question, “Why was this man born blind?”

Jesus replies, “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.” Jesus then admonishes his disciples that the night is coming – and that we must quickly carry out our assigned tasks. Wow! So relevant to our time today.

Yesterday, the state of Pennsylvania was essentially closed and today New York told all non-essential workers to stay home. These are peculiar times indeed. I know that I along with many of my co-laborers in the gospel are trying to figure out how we minister in these days. We have no idea how long this will last.

Yet even in these times we are called to be Children of Light – just as Jesus is the light of the world. We should take Jesus’ words to heart…to use this time…so that the power of God may be seen in us – the Church. We must quickly carry out our tasks.

The Lord has been speaking to me about obedience. One of the things that was required of the blind man was to go wash his eyes in the pool of Siloam. Immediately, he was able to see. If had not been obedient, he would have stayed in his blinded state. We need to be obedient in order to be faithful to God. Obedience is the key to unlocking faith. There are times that I wonder if that’s not the reason that the church at times is powerless.

Later in the story, the Pharisees find out that Jesus healed on the Sabbath. Jesus has already caused quite a stir and this healing adds fuel to the fire. The Pharisees track down the former blind man and question him, not once, not twice, even question his parents and then question him a third time.

Remember that Jesus said that this happened so the power of God could be seen in this man? One of the things that is very clear is that the blind man – as a result of the healing – had a God-encounter. I love his answer when the Pharisees ask, “God should get the glory for this, because we know this man Jesus is a sinner.” Wow! strong words from the Pharisees.

The former blind man answers, “I don’t know whether he is a sinner, but I know this: I was blind but now I can see!” He really didn’t care how Jesus healed him, he only knew that he was healed. He continues with his testimony until the Pharisees throw him out. Accusing him of being a sinner.

The blind man has already had a God-encounter when he meets Jesus again. Jesus asks if he believes in the Son of Man. The man wants to know who he is and Jesus reveals Himself to the man and he becomes a Christ-follower. Jesus commends the man for his spiritual sight. That day, he not only received his physical sight but spiritual sight. What a day!

There is no great witness than that of a changed life. The blind man’s life was changed in an instant and he became an instant witness. Each one of us who have followed Jesus at one time were blind in our sins, but when Jesus was revealed to us our eyes were opened. Because of that we should shout it from the rooftops, “But I know this: I was blind, but now I see!”

St. Patrick’s Day

Today is St. Patrick’s Day – because of COVID-19 – the usual revelry will be at a minimum. Perhaps the best thing we could do today is remember this prayer attributed to St. Patrick.

This is a shortened version that is in our hymnal

I arise today through God's strength to pilot me,
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear for me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me.
Christ be with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.