The sermon I had all prepared for Sunday the 10th of April, and then I couldn’t be at church, because I was under “house arrest” by doctor’s orders!
If God is God at all, He is God of ALL. He CAN raise the dead. Do you believe this?
You may all recall that when I last spoke I quoted C.S. Lewis, who said: If we let Him -…for we can prevent Him, if we choose-He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a … dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God … His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less.
So, today, I ask you “Do you believe this?” I mean… really? Do you believe that God is able to transform you, like He does in Ezekiel, from dry, brittle bones into a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as you cannot now imagine?
In law, I check guarantees, pledges, letters of credit, and mortgages for my clients. When deciding whether or not a guarantee is any good, the question is not how good the document that I have drafted is, but how deep is the pocket of the person giving the guarantee? It’s not the same to have a letter of credit from HSBC, London as it is to have a letter of credit from Brokaw Credit Union, of outback, Australia. Whose word do I trust?
I trust the one that I know can make good on the guarantee. As a child, I jump off the swings into dad’s arms, because I KNOW he’s going to catch me. As I get older – I want more proof. I want to see that people will keep their promises and build on that trust. And with God – I want to know that the Word is true. That He will do what He says He will do.
Today, I want to talk about THIS faith in God. God asks Ezekiel: “Son of man, can these bones live?” To really understand this question, we need to go back to Ezekiel 36, where God presents Ezekiel with a prophecy to restore Israel: “On the day I cleanse you from all your sins … the ruins will be rebuilt. … I will gather you… I will sprinkle clean water on you and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities… I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. … and I will be your God. … I the Lord have spoken and I will do it…. Then they will know that I am the Lord.”
And so, in Ezekiel 37 the Spirit of the Lord sets Ezekiel in a valley full on bones… dry & brittle bones, and He asks this pointed question: “Son of man, can these bones live?”
Now we all know what the right answer to this question is: “Yes, Lord, I know you can do this.”… how many of us REALLY believe that He can and will do it? Ezekiel hesitates seems to timidly say “O Sovereign Lord, You alone know.”
God, understanding Ezekiel’s hesitation gives him the solution: “prophesy to these bones: “I will put breath in you and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.” (God doesn’t tell Ezekiel to find the best scientist and biologists, to build a genetic lab and see how he could do it by human strength – God says “Hear the Word of the Lord”. Just listen. Hear… You don’t actually have to go DO anything… the Word is enough. I the Lord have spoken and I will do it… )
When you say “our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.”- God says “I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back… I will put my Spirit in you and you will live… Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken and I have done it”… God wants us to believe, but he also understands our frailty and our lack of faith. He tells us – look at the signs and miracles, THEN you will know that I have spoken and I have done it.
Unfortunately, most of us have to be at the bottom of the pit, a valley of dry bones, before we pay attention to the Word… until we try to get to know God, until we finally have the time to spend studying what His promises are and what He will say.
It’s only when we find ourselves, like Mary and Martha, at our hopes end, that we find out what we really believe. We hear both Mary and Martha say to Jesus, when he finally comes to Bethany after holding back for an extra 2 days: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” They both had absolute faith that Jesus could heal the sick and that if he had been present, Lazarus also would have been healed.
But Martha has even more faith and says: “but I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” She ventures a little further… she is desperate to ask Jesus to resurrect Lazarus. And Jesus responds “Your brother will rise again”. I wonder what the tone of Martha’s response was when she said “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day”. Was this a tone of frustration – don’t tell me what I already know… I also believe like all Pharisees in the resurrection? Or was this a kind of pleading with Jesus, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day, but if you could make it happen a little sooner…”
Mary and Martha are in dire straits here… they are 2 single women in a man’s world. The only man of the family has now died and they are likely to end up on the streets. They are like the dry bones of Ezekiel… “our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.” Any day now, we’re going to find ourselves out in the streets begging…
The worst thing is that Jesus delayed two days before coming. He could have gotten there sooner. Lazarus has been in the grave 4 days by now… and if only Jesus had arrived sooner. It’s important to note that Jewish people believed that, after death, the spirit lingers in the tomb for two days before departing. You weren’t officially dead until the third day. So, arguably, if Jesus had arrived 2 days earlier and raised Lazarus, there would be those that would argue that Lazarus wasn’t really dead. In fact, Mary and Martha may not have been so distraught when Jesus arrived, because they would still have had hope. But no, Jesus shows up 4 days after he died… when all hope had gone.
Like the dry bones in Ezekiel. How do you revive them? There’s nothing left here. And so we have Mary and Martha both running to Jesus: “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Helpless and hopeless is exactly how Mary and Martha were feeling after Lazarus’ death, with more than 3 days gone by, no hope of his spirit being put back into his body… hope has died.
We all have the benefit of knowing how this part of the story ends: and so can understand Jesus’ response to Lazarus’ illness: “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it”. Do you believe this?
When we’re at the bottom of the abyss and all hope is gone, the human in us is not thinking “God be glorified”.
• Most of us are thinking “how do I stop this pain? Just please make it stop.”
• We dare to call into question God’s wisdom “Why God?” “If he could open the eyes of the blind man, couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?” Could he have prevented all this horrible pain and heartache?
• We forget that God is omni-present “Where are you God when I need you?”
• We feel self-pity – “Why does this have to happen to me?”
• We recriminate – “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
And yet, some of us have had the wondrous experience of having Jesus walk up to us, when we are at the bottom of that abyss, in the valley of dry bones, and say to us “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
The psalmist reminds us in Psalms 130: Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his Word I put my hope. …
So, when you’re at the bottom of the abyss, when you’re standing in the valley of the dry bones, when Jesus says to you “Do you believe this?”
Do you respond like Martha “Yes Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”
or Ezekiel “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know.” I’m really not sure – I’d like to believe, but I need a sign (or two or three).
As the Centurion (Matthew 8) that asks Christ to heal his servant, and tells Jesus “I don’t need you to come to my house to heal him, Just say the word, and my servant will be healed.”
Or do you respond like demon-possessed boy’s father “I do believe, help my unbelief”. I the Lord have spoken and I will do it…. Then they will know that I am the Lord.
Or am I like the disciples, watching Christ daily: performing miracles, healing the sick, raising the dead, casting our demons, and earning His chiding: “Oh ye of little faith”?
1. Matthew 6:30: don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or drink… or about your body, what you will wear. … will He not much more clothe you, Oh ye of little faith…
2. Matthew 8:26 – when faced with a storm, and the boat is sinking “Lord, save us!”, and he replies “O ye of little faith, why are you so afraid?”
3. Matthew 14:31 – when Peter walks on water, he takes his eyes off Jesus, looks at the storm, is afraid, and starts sinking: Jesus says “Ye of little faith, why did you doubt?”
4. Matthew 16:8 – the disciples have come out with Christ and forgotten to pack a lunch. “Ye of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the 5 loaves and fishes for 5000? Or the 7 loaves for 4000?
Matthew 17 recounts how the disciples were trying to drive out the demon, and were not able to… and when they ask Jesus why he responds “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain “Move from here to there” and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you”.
So, coming back to our reading in John, we have Martha saying to Christ “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died, but I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” Just say the word…
After an emotional encounter with Mary, where Jesus empathises with her pain and suffering, cries with her, he then goes with Mary and Martha to the tomb where Lazarus is buried.
When Jesus asks them to roll away the stone, practical Martha, (like most of us, seeing the reality of this material world and the impossibility of what she has asked), totally forgets her professions of faith “I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” And “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world”, and blurts out “by this time there is a bad odour, for her has been there 4 days”. Jesus chides her “did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”
If only we believed… If only we had a little more faith, the size of a mustard seed…
If God is God at all, He is God of ALL.
Elohim – the One that said “Let there be light”… the One that formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; the Almighty God that turned rivers into blood, that parted the Red Sea; that made one day longer for Israel to win a war, that said to Job “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. On what were the earth’s footing set, or who laid its cornerstone?… Who shut up the sea behind the doors… Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? Tell me, if you know all this. Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons…? Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth? And to whom we, like Job, can only reply: “I am unworthy, how can I reply to you?… Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. … My ears had heard OF you, but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”
For many of us, it’s only when we are in the valley of the dry bones, to whom God prophecies “hear the Word of the Lord”, that we come to know that He is God and HE has saved us from death.
Do you believe this?
We need that personal encounter with the only One who can say: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. … and I will be your God.”
We’ve been commissioned by Christ: “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. … Do not be afraid…”
And we can only do this because our God is GOD OF ALL. He can raise the dead. We need, as Romans 8 tells us to have our mind controlled by the Spirit of God, the Spirit of life and peace; the Spirit that lives in us, the Spirit of righteousness and holiness. Because if the Spirit of Him that raised Jesus from the dead is living in us, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life through His Spirit…
and so If we let Him … El-Shaddai will take this Church, today filled with a small group that may include the feeblest of faith and those hoping to find the truth (those dry, brittle bones in a valley of death) and transform Balboa Union Church into a church bursting at the seams with dazzling, radiant, immortal creatures, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects God’s boundless power and delight and goodness: A Church that brings glory to God. The process may long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less.
Do you believe this?