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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Lent 04/02/2017

It has been said that John’s gospel begins where the other three gospels end.  In the accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke despite spending time with Jesus, despite seeing the miraculous things he did, despite hearing the wisdom of what he said, his disciples consistently fail to recognize who Jesus really is.  The only exception is Peter when he says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” but even then, a few verses later Jesus rebukes him saying, “Get behind me Satan!” when it’s clear that Peter doesn’t really understand what it means for Jesus to be the Christ.

It’s only at the end, in Matthew and Luke anyway, that they finally get it. Only after encountering the crucified and Risen Jesus and in having the scriptures opened to them, do they begin to put things together and recognize Jesus as more than human.  Mark’s gospel never even gets that far, ending abruptly with the women fleeing from the empty tomb, saying nothing to anyone because they were afraid.

In contrast, John begins with, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God,” all of which introduces Jesus’ divine, eternal nature, Jesus as much more than just a prophet or teacher.  Then, following that, as the narrative of John’s gospel begins you have John the Baptist declaring, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” another aspect of Jesus’ divine nature.  

From the beginning of his gospel, there’s no mystery about who John believes Jesus to be and therefore he writes from that perspective, Jesus himself most frequently speaks from that perspective.  In general then, Matthew, Mark and Luke portray a more human Jesus until the very end while John puts more emphasis on the divine Jesus, confident and in control of himself and his destiny…except in this story of the raising of Lazarus where, it could be argued, we get as human a Jesus as we get in any of the other gospels, maybe an even more human Jesus.

In some ways this story is typical John, with events not always proceeding  in the logical order that one might expect.  One example of this that is frequently noted is Jesus delay in going to Lazarus when he hears that he is ill: “Having heard that Lazarus was ill he stayed two days longer in the place where he was,” and we all say, “Two days longer??  What’s he waiting for?”   Lazarus is supposed to be Jesus’ friend, but he doesn’t immediately rush to his side and from our perspective that seems bothersome.  Now I guess you could say that this is consistent with John’s Jesus with the delay being Jesus way of saying, “Relax, everything’s under control; no need to get excited, I’ve got this one.”

What I see though, is the usually in control Jesus recognizing that he’s getting close to facing the ultimate enemy, that enemy being death itself.  Recognizing that, in his humanity, he needs some time to sort things out.  What I see here is a Jesus struggling to be the non-anxious presence people expect him to be, but inside he is deeply disturbed in part at the illness and imminent death of his friend Lazarus, but even more by what this represents, that being the presence of death and evil and brokenness, the very things he has come to take on.  This is Jesus struggling like the psalmist today out of and against the depths, the depths that represent the chaotic forces that challenge human life.

In the midst of his portrayal of all knowing and in control Jesus, John gives us this very human Jesus, as emotional as he ever gets.  Twice he is described as being deeply disturbed, the Greek word here meaning to be moved with deepest emotions, even to snort with anger, in this case the anger being directed at illness and conditions thought to be manifestations of Satan’s kingdom of evil. 

John’s gospel doesn’t include a temptation in the wilderness story like what all the others have with Jesus being tempted by Satan at the beginning of his ministry.  In John though, you can kind of picture Satan lurking on the edges of things, always there but hard to find, creating chaos in and among people, more like how we might experience the presence of evil.  But now Jesus knows it’s about to get real, that he’s about to personally encounter the evil that Satan represents, the death that he represents…and he is deeply disturbed at the thought.

Getting closer to the tomb, Jesus’ emotions again well up and he weeps.  When the stone is rolled away, it’s not Jesus meek and mild at work, nor is it relaxed and under control Jesus; it’s angry and emotional Jesus crying with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” and then I picture Jesus emotionally and physically drained saying, “Unbind him and let him go.”  Jesus enters into a situation of grief and hopelessness and transforms it into new life, but it comes at a cost.  It’s what he came to do, but he knows that for him, this is only the beginning.

Jesus came to be the final chapter in the story of God’s love and continuing care for humanity.  Throughout the Bible, Old Testament and New, the theme that recurs over and over is hope out of hopelessness, new life and second chances despite the repeated failure of God’s people to be who God would have them be.  Today’s Dry Bones text from Ezekiel is another example of this.  Jerusalem had been destroyed and the people, including Ezekiel, had been taken into exile in Babylon; but from there, Ezekiel has this vision.  In the face of “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely,” Ezekiel has this vision of life being breathed into those dead dry bones.  It is another dramatic image of new life and the Lord’s unwillingness to give up on these people, another example of hope when there seems to be no reason for hope.

Jesus though is the final answer for a people cut off from God because of sin, sin which most fundamentally is turning from being God centered to being self centered.  With that turn, the divine image in which we were created has been obscured, leaving us in a situation from which we cannot save ourselves; only by the grace of God can that happen.  Out of God’s love and grace then, Jesus, the Word, becomes flesh, sharing fully in what it is to be human as John illustrates so dramatically in the emotion of the Lazarus story. 

Sharing fully in what it means to be human though, also means sharing in death and for Jesus, that’s the next step, that’s what looms ahead of him.  As dramatic as the raising of Lazarus was, Jesus knew that it wasn’t enough.  It was only by his own death on behalf of all people that he could write that final chapter, transforming death into life not just for himself but for all of us.  He shares in our death so that we can share in his life. 

Trusting in that, believing Jesus has done what needs to be done, in faith we are made whole. The divine image that is tarnished by sin is restored and that’s the ultimate story of new life and hope.  Reality is redefined so that in Christ, we never lose hope because we know how the story ends.

I love the image of the watchman in today’s psalm because I think it provides insight into the nature of Christian hope.  “I wait for you, O Lord; my soul waits; in your word is my hope.  My soul waits for the Lord more than those who keep watch for the morning, more than those who keep watch for the morning.”  I like the image because the night watchman knows that morning will come; it’s not hope that is mostly wishful thinking, it’s hope that knows.  That’s the kind of hope and the kind of faith we are called to, confident and knowing that just as God has acted, God will act again, with us and for us in all that we face.

“Unbind him and let him go,” Jesus said and he wasn’t talking to those gathered there.  He was addressing the forces that represent evil and death because that’s what he does, that’s what he still does.  Those forces that keep us bound are still out there, but so is Jesus and in him, we never lose hope.

Rev. Warren Geier


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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