This is a very rough transcript of a message I preached at several camps this summer; some campers requested a copy of it, so I'm posting it here, for any to read. Sorry it took so long to get it posted! It is not a complete transcript; I left out a few pieces here and there, but tried to hit the most important parts.
Every year when I've gone out to do Sunday Schools and church services -- preaching and singing and doing ventriloquism -- I've always had a couple young men trained to run my sound system. (Since I never know what kind of system a church will have, I find it easier to bring my own). A couple years ago, my sound men were a young adult named Ben, and a teenager named Tommy. Ben and Tommy would swap off weekends; one would travel with me one week and the other would get to stay at home. At least...that was the plan.
One Saturday evening in September, Ben and I were in Orrington getting ready for services the next day, and I got an e-mail from my church. The message really shook us both up: Tommy had been in an ATV accident, and was in critical condition -- the doctors said things didn't look good. Part of me wanted to pack up and go home. But we didn't.
The next morning when I got up, I checked my e-mail again, and found terrible, distressing news: Tommy had died during the previous evening. At that point, I'm not exactly sure how Ben felt, but I know I really wanted to just go home and be with friends and family. But we had committed to preaching in Orrington, and I didn't want to leave them in the lurch just hours before their service.
I wonder, is that how Jesus felt when he got word that his friend Lazarus was dying? Because Jesus didn't go immediately to be with the family. He stayed where he was (finishing up some unfinished ministry, perhaps?). And when he was finally went to be with the family, it was "too late" -- Lazarus was already dead.
As Jesus was on his way to Bethany to be with the family, he was met on the road by Martha, Lazarus's sister. Martha, along with Mary and Lazarus, was a dear, dear friend to Jesus. But she certainly didn't act like one! She walked up to Jesus, and I can just imagine her shaking her finger in his face as she said, "If you had been here, my brother would not have died."
How completely unfair she was being to Jesus. But I've discovered something about grief: grief can cause people to be unreasonable, and even irrational. When we are grieving, we don't always think straight. How important it is for us, when friends are going through difficult times, to be patient and encouraging with them, even when they are unfair and unreasonable to us. This is part of showing our love to those in need, to respond with gentleness even in the face of a harsh word.
Jesus, true to his character, merely says to her: "Your brother will live again." And then He adds these famous words: "I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in me, even if he dies, will live again."
And then Jesus comes to the tomb, and he does something extraordinary, that's recorded for us in John 11:35 - "Jesus wept." We don't necessarily think about God crying, but here Jesus shows us his own grief and sorrow over the loss of his beloved friend.
It reminded me of something I heard people saying to some of our teenagers after Tommy died: "Don't cry. Tommy wouldn't want you to cry."
These words made me angry. First I thought, "How do you know what Tommy would want?" And then I thought, "And why shouldn't they cry?" Jesus himself cried at the grave of his friend! His sorrow was a proof and demonstration of his great love for his friend, and so it was also a way of honoring his friend. Even the people standing by said, "See how much Jesus must have loved Lazarus!" When I cried for Tommy, I honored his memory, and there is nothing wrong with that.
Yes, the Bible says that our grief is not the same as the grief of unbelievers, but that is because they have no hope. We do. And here we find the point of the story of Lazarus.
Jesus walks up to the tomb, and asks the people to open the tomb. Once the tomb is opened, Jesus cries out, "Lazarus, come forth!" To everyone's amazement, the dead man ceases to be dead, and walks out of the grave -- ALIVE!
What has Jesus done? He has proven, once and for all, that he has a power beyond the power of any angel or demon, or any human power: he has the power to control death itself. With one single statement he reverses death, and the man who had been dead four days returns to life.
Jesus has given us the proof that when he says, "I am the Resurrection and the Life," he is not just speaking in metaphors; He truly is Resurrection. He truly is Life. And for all who believe in Him, death is NOT the end.
One thing I will never forget, listening to all of Tommy's friends from the church speak at his memorial service: almost every one of them finished their comments and memories by saying: "I know that I will see Tommy again someday."
This is the power of the Resurrection. This is the power of the Life. This is why, though we grieve, it is not like those who have no hope. We have hope. We have Jesus. And even death cannot stand against Him.