03/29/2015 – John 11:17-26 – “There’s Hope in the Possible”

Mark Wheeler
John 11:17-27
“There’s Hope in the Possible”
March 29, 2015
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

Dear God, thank You for bringing us all here to this place. Help us to open our eyes, our ears, our minds, our hearts, and our spirits to better understand who You are and to know You more. Please be with us as we draw near to You and closer to one another. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

Seriously God? Really? This is what You planned? Why? What am I supposed to do now?

Have you ever cried to God something like that? Where were You, God? Where were You?

Five weeks ago we read from the Old Testament book of Exodus – and we listened as God told Moses who God is. Do you remember what God said when Moses asked Him, “Who do I tell people You are?” God said, “I-AM who I-AM. Tell them ‘I-AM has sent me to you.’”
Seriously God? I-AM who I-AM? So, why weren’t You?

The New Testament Gospel according to John records some fascinating ways Jesus also answers Moses’ question.
Jesus identified Himself with God by the way He identified Himself by saying, “I-AM the Bread of Life – I-AM the Light of the World – I-AM the Good Shepherd – I-AM the True Vine – I-AM the way and the truth and the life – I-AM the Resurrection and the Life.”
Mary and Martha, the same Mary and Martha who had that fight over who was going to sit at Jesus’ feet and who was going to make lunch for Jesus and all His disciples, the same Mary and Martha whose father was a leper – Mary and Martha, good Jewish women who knew the Old Testament stories of Abraham and Moses, who knew that God is I-AM who I-AM, are now asking, “Seriously God? I-AM who I-AM? So, why weren’t You?”
Today’s Bible story comes just before Jesus enters Jerusalem for the last time. He is visiting an area across the Jordan River, near Jericho, two short-day’s-walk from Jerusalem, when Jesus gets word that His friend Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, was very sick. Jesus prophesied that this sickness would not lead to death. He said, “This is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” And they waited for two days – and then Jesus said, “Lazarus has died. Let’s go to Bethany (a Jerusalem suburb, where Jesus’ life would be threatened).” And Thomas said, “Let’s all of us go, and if Jesus dies, we’ll all die with Him.” Listen to the Word of God from John 11:17-26 …. —-
17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I-AM the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
May God bless the reading, the hearing, the receiving of His Word which never fails.

God told Moses that God’s name means something like I-AM-THAT-I-AM – there is nowhere where I am not – always, all-the-time, I-am-there!
And Jesus has been identifying Himself with that same divine moniker. I-AM the bread of life, I-AM the light of the world, I-AM the good shepherd.
But … Lazarus still got sick and died! Mary and Martha are grief-stricken – and maybe a little in shock! Where were You, Jesus – the great I-AM?! Why did Lazarus have to die?
Is it comforting to know that even some of Jesus’ best friends felt exactly like you?
Do you know what happened right after what we read this morning? Martha, the sister who seems to take charge when things need to get done, Martha comes out to meet Jesus and question Him about why He waited so long to come. And then she goes back home where Mary is grieving, and eating the casseroles that had been brought, and Martha tells Mary that Jesus had asked for her. Did He? We’re not told, but either way, Martha wants Mary to go find Jesus and see if she can get a better answer out of Him.
So Mary finds Jesus, still outside the village, and asks Him exactly the same question: “Where were You? Why didn’t You come? Maybe Lazarus wouldn’t have died had You not lolly-gagged, but had come right away! Why did You wait?”
Jesus does not answer Mary, instead He just grieves alongside her. Jesus’ human emotion is very real. He is deeply moved and troubled, and then comes every kid’s favorite memory verse: John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” And the Jews saw how much Jesus loved Lazarus!

And we know how this story ends, right? Poor old Lazarus is raised from the dead, resuscitated, revived – not the same way Jesus would be raised from the dead on Easter, resurrected to a new body and to eternal life. Lazarus’ body would one-day have to die again, be buried again, and a whole ’nother funeral would have to be planned for Lazarus later.
But Jesus’ prophecy that, this time, Lazarus’ sickness would not end in death – but would be to reveal the glory of God and the glory of God’s Son – came true! Everyone saw this miracle and was amazed – so much so that the religious and political leaders re-started their plot to kill Jesus.

Back to Martha and Jesus. Did you catch the theological debate they had? Martha is in tears, grieving the untimely death of her brother, and she hears Jesus say all the wrong things about comfort.
A week ago, a few of us were super-privileged to attend an intro-training seminar on caring for others. One of the exercises was to come up with all the wrong things we have heard people say to people grieving the death of a loved one. What do you think some of those would be: she’s in a better place; he’s not suffering anymore; you’re young, you can have another baby; etc.
That’s what Martha hears Jesus say. 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” She completely mis-heard Him. And her response is reasonable – “Don’t tell me about the end-times – You should have been here 4 days ago so You could save him before he died!”

Jesus knew the ultimate truth. We all die. We do. And poor Lazarus gets to die twice. But had Jesus arrived 4 days earlier, and had He rescued Lazarus from his sickness, had He brought him back to health before he died – we would not have a record this beautiful truth. Jesus tells Martha – and He tells us, “I-AM the resurrection, and I-AM the life. He who believes in me shall never suffer the fate of eternal death but he who believes in me will live a new and eternal life.”
In John 3:16 we hear the words of love, “God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son, so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but shall have everlasting life.”
Here, seven chapters later, Jesus claims in no uncertain terms, that He is the Son. “I-AM the resurrection”; “I-am the way and the truth and the life – no one comes to the Father except through me.”

Martha went back home to fetch her sister Mary. Did she go to get Mary because she wanted Mary to hear the same words Jesus told her? Did she get Mary because she wanted Mary to be on her side in this argument with Jesus? We’re not told exactly, but what we see is that Jesus cared very much for this family, and that He, too, grieved these women’s brother’s death.
Jesus understood the ultimate truth of salvation, and He still wept. It’s OK to have emotions. It’s OK to be sad, or happy, or scared, or courageous. But Jesus wants for us to face these real-life emotions with the truth in our hearts and minds.
He tells Martha, “I-AM the resurrection and the life – if you believe this, you will have eternal life. That’s the truth.” Then He faces Martha, I see Him looking squarely into her eyes, and He asks, “Martha, do you believe this?”

Sit quietly for a moment. Consider your own life-situation: new diagnosis, new financial condition, new relationship to understand, new losses, new gains. Everyone in this room is dealing with their own frustrations, confusions, opportunities, whatever…. Now, recognize Jesus’ eyes looking squarely into your own … and hear His voice asking you, “Do you believe this? Do you believe that I-AM the resurrection and the life? Do you trust that I-AM here with you, even in the middle of this mess or this moment? Do you believe this?”
Martha’s answer was clear and straight: “Yes Lord, I believe You are the Messiah, the Son of God who has come into the world.”

In just a few minutes we will come to the Lord’s Table, and Jesus asks us again, “Do you believe?” What will be your answer? Just imagine the impact the Church could have on our city, our state, our country, if we really believed that with God, we have all hope in the ultimate Possible – even the dead are raised to life! Amen.

Living Christ, thank You for Your life that gives us life, now and eternally. Teach us how to leave the past behind and live in the power of Your resurrection every day, as a witness to the new life we celebrate at Easter. Through Christ, the resurrection and the life, Amen.

Resources:
Fuquay, Rob; The God We Can Know: Exploring the “I Am” Sayings of Jesus (Adult Group Guide); Upper Room Books; Nashville, TN; 2014; Pp. 40-45.

Stephen Ministry Introduction Seminar.

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02/08/2015 – Daniel 11:35 – “Who’s the Real Winner?”

Mark Wheeler
February 8, 2015
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Daniel 11:35
“Who’s the Real Winner?”

You are our refuge, O Lord. We pour our lives into Your hands that we may discover all the benefits of Your grace, in Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“In the spirit of a last minute effort to score more points than our opponents, I’m calling a short touchdown pass play (which hasn’t been very successful for the first 59:30 minutes of play) rather than simply hand the ball to the ‘beast’ in order to gain the last 18 inches of ground into the endzone.”
Something like that was the thought process for Pete Carroll last Sunday evening. And, I admit, it is super easy to call the right play from my easy-chair, after the bad play happened; and not at all that easy to call in the middle of the heat of the fiery furnace, or while the hungry, ferocious lions are circling their prey.
But, one of the things we learned here last week was that, no matter how the Super Bowl finished, we would still recognize that the only sovereign and ultimate authority over life is God – and He presents Himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The Old Testament book of Daniel, with all those stories of Daniel’s heroic faith, always reminds us that Daniel is not the real hero – God is!
If, as we discovered last Sunday, the first half of Daniel is all about how Daniel keeps pointing us to God as the
hero of all the stories, then, today we start with a Who Wants to Be a Millionaire question. Do you wanna
play?
The question on the board is: What is the main point of the last half of the book of Daniel?
A) The End Times will be Scary!
B) God is the ultimate winner!
C) Winning isn’t Everything.
D) Daniel learned to win from Mr. Miyagi. FINAL ANSWER?

Listen to this quick recap of the book of Daniel:
1) Nebuchadnezzar makes a huge gold statue of himself, and requires everyone to worship it
2) Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego refuse – and are thrown into a fiery furnace – but not burned – and there’s a fourth, un-named one, like the Son of God, in the furnace with them
3) A weird hand from the sky writes something no one can read on a wall – Daniel reads and interprets it
4) When Daniel refuses to stop praying to God (and start praying to Nebuchadnezzar) – he gets thrown into the Lion’s Den – and is not eaten! In every story so-far, God is the hero!
5) Then we come to the last half of Daniel – and the stories change from dramatic Sunday School stories of faith to apocalyptic visions of End Times events (and historical events that hadn’t happened yet)
6) In chapter 7, Daniel has a dream about Four Beasts
7) In chapter 8, Daniel has a vision about a Ram and a Goat
8) In chapter 9, Daniel prays and receives a message from Gabriel about “Seven Seventies”
9) In chapter 10, Daniel has a vision of a Man
10) In chapter 11, Daniel receives a message from Michael
11) And in chapter 12, Daniel receives an End-Times vision from Michael, including some strange language about 3-½ and an odd assortment of days that might reference 3-½ years.

Now, listen to the Word of God from this Old Testament book of Daniel 11:35 …. —-
Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time.
May God bless the reading, the hearing, the receiving of His Word which never fails.

We experience great light in the truth that God did, and does, show up. Jesus did come. For us and for our salvation. This truth changes everything.

Today’s verse comes in the middle of the longest chapter of Daniel, and from the message from Michael. Who does this verse say is in charge?
What will come “at the appointed time”?
Remember what was happening in world history during the time of Daniel: Life could hardly have been darker. Because of the people’s departure from the ways of God, God allowed them to be disciplined by the world-power of King Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon – forced to leave their homeland and become slaves, for the most part, of the Chaldeans; forced to abandon their Jewish Laws; forced to eat food they considered unclean; forced to worship idols; forced to pray to something far less than their God – separated from family, from home, from custom, from language, from faith.
So, God provided Daniel and Shadrach and Meshach and Abednego to remind them of God’s majesty.
But then the whole book changes emphasis and direction and starts prophesying about even far worse days with much deeper darkness, the abomination that causes desolation – the Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes who, until Adolph Hitler, was the biggest scourge in all of Jewish history.
But in the middle of their personal crisis, and in the midst of the warning that it will get much worse for their great-great-grandchildren, Daniel reminds them who is in charge.

If that is true – that God, whom we know of as omnipotent, as omniscient, as omnipresent, as prevenient, as perfect in goodness – what does that mean for you and me?
What is the crises we are facing today? What health issue, financial constraint, relationship break-up, legal difficulty, startles you awake each night?
What piece of world news weighs your soul down? How does local news affect your day-to-day activities? What challenge is just too big? What fear is simply too overwhelming? What hurt or anger or attitude seems to control your every thought and action?

Name a time in your own life when you felt helpless, defeated, cornered, no-way-out: If what we said about
God is accurate, then we can trust Him to see this world through – we don’t need Daniel’s strength or faith or nerve. All we need is Daniel’s God! His God can be our God! And we can trust God – not because we are so awesome, but because God is so awesome!

Who here is disappointed in last Sunday’s Super Bowl game outcome?
Who here never really cared about it to begin with?
Who is just plain tired of all the Super Bowl hype regardless of who won the game?
On the ½ yard line, with 30 seconds on the clock, and Marshawn Lynch standing right next to you – it was not a guarantee, but it was a pretty good bet – and Seattle threw it … away!
I made a bet that, win or lose, Russell Wilson would hold a prayer-huddle, as is his usual practice (although winning is also his usual practice!). I did not see that happen – but maybe the cameras were focused on the celebrating New England Patriots instead.

That was just a game – a big game, but just a game. What we can give testimony to here is that in life, God is always the winner! A song I wish was in our hymnbook asks the question, Whose side you leanin’ on? With the responsive answer: I’m leanin’ on the Lord’s side!
Whose side you leanin’ on? I’m leanin’ on the Lord’s side.
I lean, I lean, I lean, I lean; I’m leanin’ on the Lord’s side.
I lean, I lean, I lean, I lean; I’m leanin’ on the Lord’s side.
Let’s always choose to lean on the Lord’s side.

Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.