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Life and Death and Time

Sermon passage: (John 11:1-27) Spoken on: March 28, 2018
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee
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About Rev. Wong Siow Hwee: Rev. Wong is currently serving as a pastor in the children and young family ministries, as well as the LED and worship ministries.

Title: Life and Death and Time
Date: 18th March 2018
Preacher: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee

In the opening words of John, John described Jesus in John 1: 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. To me, this means not only that Jesus gives life, but that he enlightens us about what it means to live. We say that life is precious. But I think that how you live your life is even more precious. Jesus is life. But more importantly, his life is the light of the world. Today, I wish to share what makes Jesus’ life the light of the world.

First, I need to talk about our human situation. In my ministry, I have witnessed two kinds of people. The first kind of people are those who live with a regret about death. We see this reaction in Martha “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”(v.21) Mary later repeated the same sentiment “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (v.32). Some of the Jews said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” (v.37) Their underlying meanings were the same: they all wished that Lazarus was still alive. Both Mary and Martha believed in the resurrection. In fact most Jews at that time, except for the Sadducees, believed in the resurrection. But Mary and Martha were not comforted by this belief. I think their reaction of regret towards death is very normal. In fact, I think that most of us belong to this category of people. Most people would wish for more time on earth. And so we regret that there is death. Our regret about death is perhaps reflected in our daily busy-ness, to make full use of our limited time within our limited lifespan. In a way, I think that it is a very admirable quality of our humanity. We want to do everything we can, while we can, to provide for our family, to build a legacy, or even to make a difference to the world. We know that our work stops the moment we die. So we must do all that we can while we are alive, because there is death. Death becomes a regrettable fact that hangs over our time on earth.

But I have also witnessed another kind of people who live with a regret about living. That might sound strange to some of us. Isn’t it good to be alive? I guess it depends on each individual situation. For some who are living through the pain of depression, their time on earth can be a torture. There are others who worry about being a burden to their family, either because of their disabilities, or perhaps other life difficulties, such as financial difficulties. While many of us regret what little time we have, there are others who wish for their time to come to an end. In my years of visitations, I have heard many requests for the Lord to bring them home, for their time on earth has been more than enough. As I was preparing my message on today’s passage, I wondered if Jesus’ life can be a light that shines on this darkness, whether it is regrets about death, or regrets about a life in pain.

The raising of Lazarus is a familiar Sunday school story and we often think that the moral of the story is that Jesus was able to raise Lazarus from the dead. But the truth is that it wasn’t really that big a deal. Matthew, Mark and Luke made no record of this. And prior to this, Jesus had already raised others from the dead, including Jairus’ daughter (Matt 9:18-26; Mk 5:21-43; Luke 8:40-56) and the widow’s son (Luke 7:11-17). Instead, I believe the real mission of Jesus in this story was to confirm his death. I have 3 proofs of this. First we have proof from Jesus’ own words. We read from the beginning that when Jesus received the message about Lazarus’ sickness, he said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” However, in the gospel of John, the cross is the moment that manifests the full glory of Jesus. So Jesus was in fact prophesying that the event with Lazarus would eventually end with his moment of glory on the cross.

Then we have proof from the disciples’ words. The disciples responded, “But Rabbi, a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?” It is a reminder to readers that Bethany was extremely near to Jerusalem (v.18). This event was highly dangerous because of the intensifying heated conflict with the Jewish authorities. Did Jesus know it? Of course. When Jesus told them explicitly that Lazarus was dead, Thomas gave a very revealing response. “Let us also go that we may die with him.” Thomas was not joking here. This might very well have been the final showdown.

Lastly, we have words from the Jewish authorities. At the end of chapter 11, because of the miracle, the Jewish authorities called a meeting. Their concern was clear, “If we let him go on like this, everybody will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” It was at this very meeting that we are told “so from that day on they plotted to take his life.” This is a story of Jesus sealing his own death. Jesus knew of the outcome from the very beginning and the events at the end proved to be so. Jesus was on his mission to die on the cross. The raising of Lazarus is a story about life and death. And here we witness in Jesus’ life, how he walked courageously towards his death.

Brothers and sisters, I hope that we can learn to look at life and death from a new perspective from today’s story. Mary and Martha believed in the resurrection on the last day. But like the others, they felt helpless in the face of death. They regretted that Jesus had not been around, or Lazarus would still had been alive. Death was the inevitable enemy that had taken Lazarus away. But Jesus did not look at death in the same way. In fact, Jesus was on a vengeance to conquer death. And he demonstrated his way of living by going to die.

Brothers and sisters, this is the true meaning of the saying “I am the resurrection and the life.” It is more than just a saying that Jesus gives life after death. It means that Jesus embodies what it means to truly live beyond the reality of death, to display the essence of life itself. Jesus was not helpless before the fate of death. On the contrary, Jesus confronted and defeated death. The belief in the resurrection is not just hope for the future, it is for us to live our lives courageously now. We know death, but we also know that we have the victory in Jesus.

To those who have regrets about death, I hope you can see that our limited lifespan is not something regrettable. In fact, Jesus had a shorter lifespan than me. But he lived every moment fearlessly for the people he loved. The love between Jesus and the family of Mary, Martha and Lazarus was stated at the beginning of the story and repeated throughout the story. In John 10: 14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. Brothers and sisters, are you living your life to the full for the people you love?

I also wish to share a word of comfort for those who have regrets about living on in pain. Though I cannot physically or even mentally share your pain, I do know that death is not the answer. I know that from the life of Jesus. Life can be painful at times, and even Jesus could not and chose not to escape from the pain. He faced rejection, physical pain, and even the threat of death itself. But particularly in the Gospel of John, I saw how Jesus shared his pain with his disciples. Each day, as I read the Lent devotions, I’m struck by the intimacy between Jesus and his disciples. His disciples might not have understood Jesus’ mission and imminent hardship fully. But I appreciate the talking and sharing. Even in today’s passage, words between Jesus and his disciples are riddled with misunderstanding and confusion. But it was also about Jesus sharing his burden with them. It is not escapism. It is living life, by sharing life.

Lastly, I want to talk about time. When Jesus heard that Lazarus was dying, he intentionally delayed his arrival to Bethany for two days. Notice that this is in sharp contrast to all the regrets about him coming too late for Lazarus. Jesus was in full control of his plans. This was the way he dealt with life and death. It was without regrets and without fear, and everything in his own timing. 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? A man who walks by the day will not stumble, for he sees by this world’s light. It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light.” Daylight refers to the time while he was still on earth. Jesus was very clear about when to finish his work and when he chose to lay down his life. This is yet another recurring theme in the Gospel. At times Jesus would say “My time is not yet here” (7:6), at times he would say that “a time is coming” (5:25), and finally he would declare “Now is the time.” (12:31) I think that Jesus was fully comfortable with his life and death because time was in his hands.

We often fret about too little time or too much time in our lives because we don’t feel in control of time. We are fearful when the good times slip away, and when we don’t know when the bad times will end. When we lose control of time, we feel we are helpless over life and death itself. Yet we see Jesus who is fully in control. Time does not dominate him, or manipulate his life and death. How can his life become a light for us? One can argue that Jesus can live and die so courageously because he can see all of time. But we are mere humans who cannot know what tomorrow will bring. How can we live like Jesus? I have two reflections. One, it’s true we cannot see all of time, but we can see each moment each day. Then, let us control each moment each day. Sometimes, we fret over the past and future so much that we lose sight of what we have right now. We have each moment in time. We can find peace and live accordingly in each moment. Secondly, though we cannot see all of time, Jesus can. And we can live a life in union with Jesus. Psalm 31: 14 But I trust in you, Lord; I say, “You are my God.” 15 My times are in your hands. So let’s not worry about our helplessness about time, but trust God with the times. He is our God after all. And as the Psalmist also says, Psalm 23: Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.