I am sorry I missed the last two Sundays. I did’t write a manuscript two weeks ago and can’t find last weeks.
Go and die for a new life
We Catholics and Protestants celebrated Easter a couple of weeks ago. In Orthodox Christianity, the Saturday before Palm Sunday is dedicated to remembering how Jesus raised Lazarus from the grave. This miracle is the prelude to our Lord’s own resurrection which is celebrated the week after. While we know the great joy of our Lord’s resurrection, we ought not forget the happiness that happened at the resurrection of Lazarus. That Jesus, out of his great Godly power and profound human love, was able to bring his dear dead friend back to life. That Jesus came to the tomb after he was dead for four days and the body had the undeniable stench of death. That Jesus taught some of the greatest words of hope for our salvation; “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he may die, he shall live. and whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” Some criticized asking why He couldn’t have prevented Lazarus from dying. Mary and Martha said that if He had been there, their brother would not have died. Martha only saw the possibility of new life in the last day. But, Jesus clearly demonstrated that as a sign of that greater new life to come, new life is possible now.
For those of us who follow Christ, in order to experience this gift of new life, we must be willing to go with Jesus not so that we can see the miracle. Today, we have the advantage of the text to tell us what was meant by, “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him.” But, there will be times in our Christian journey that we will not understand what is going on, where God is leading us to, and why He is leading us out of our places of safety and comfort. Sometimes we will not understand why God will call us to follow him to risk our comfort, status, security, and even our lives for what seems to be a vague promise. All that we know is that He is who He is. That we have come to believe that Jesus is the Only Begotten Son of the Heavenly Father and He has the words of eternal life. Sometimes, we must go with Jesus that we may die with him.
Jesus and his disciples were on the other side of the Jordan River at the place where John used to baptize people. It is a holy place as this is where all three persons of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) were present for our Lord’s baptism. While there, many people came to Jesus and believed in Him. So, if a blessed base of operation and new followers, if those were our Lord’s ony goals, surely He could have remained where he was.
But the mission of the Gospel was more than setting up shop in a good location and expecting people to come. Jesus had to show that true faith and love could not be held hostage to human complacency and fear. Sure, He could have offered a prayer from that side of the Jordan and Lazarus would have been cured even before death set in. But the Lord led his disciples by example and risked going back to the place where the Jews wanted to stone him to show them and others the power of Gospel to give new life to the faithful.
Thomas, like the other disciples, may not have understood all that Jesus was saying to them. But, he did understand that it would be better to go with Christ and die with him rather than live in complacency and fear. If Thomas’s expectation was right, that the Jews would seize and kill Jesus and themselves also on the spot, at least they would have died with the one they came to know as the Son of God. At least there would be some reward for their faith. Apart from their master, the disciples could do nothing to hold the new believers together. And who was to say that the Jews wouldn’t discover and kill them where they were. Complacency and fear are not gateways to eternal life with God and certainly cannot promise a restored life with Christ. Thomas, for all of his doubting of the resurrection later in this Gospel, understood these points. To see the fullness of our Lord, we must go also that we may die with Him.
Perhaps the biggest problem with the modern church is that, too often, we don’t want to go also that we may die with Him. Too often, church has become a center of comfortable entertainment with a faith that does not challenge us to grow into spiritual newness. People come to such centers to be inspired and have a good time once, or perhaps, twice a week. It is not uncommon for people to come to religious entertainment on a regular basis and still hold on to their sins as the preachers do not challenge their congregants to repent and grow as new creatures in Christ Jesus through prayer, fasting, and acts of mercy. Indeed, too many such preachers that see themselves as religious entertainment leaders aren’t living godly lives themselves. But, as long as attendance increases and a profit is being made through such well-marketed models of ministry, no one is asking critical questions. Those who do end up being nominal Christians, cult members (such as Jehovah’s Witnesses), or atheist. The empty doctrines of market-driven, entertainment based Christianity cannot give answers to what is dead, decaying, and rotten inside of humanity. More and more, our churches prefer complacent doctrines of success rather than the Jesus who call us to life and new life even though we must walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
Along with complacency is fear. Some fear, such as not wanting to corner a Copperhead snake, is useful to keep us safe. Other fears hinder our spiritual growth. In many Protestant Churches, the use of Holy Images or icons is frowned upon as breaking the Second Commandment of not making graven images to God. Many of us refuse to have them in our homes or churches because that looks too much like the Roman Catholics. But, as we see the sun shining through our beautiful stained glass images of the life of Jesus, we focus on the light of God’s mercy shining down on us. Glass is glass. It is the one represented in the Glass that we worship and they visually remind us who we worship. I have two prayer corners in my house with icons of Jesus, Mary, and some saints. I don’t say about any of them like Aaron did with the golden calf or Jeroboam with the golden bulls that this is the God who brought me out of Egypt. What I have is ink and paper. It is the Jesus who is represented in the picture that I worship. It is a saintly life that I am trying to live. My icons are my visual aids in personal, daily and nightly worship. If a teacher can use visual aids to teach math and science, why should we be afraid to use them to teach about who God is? Satan uses the unholy images of pornography and graphic violence to bring souls down. Why shouldn’t we Christians use holy images to help renew our spirits? And the same God that told Moses not to make graven images in Exodus 20:4-6 is the same God that told Moses to make holy images of cherubim and have them on the mercy seat and in the tabernacle in Exodus 25:17-22 and 26:31-35. Instead of being afraid of stones, we need to build our faith on the firm foundation of the Solid Rock.
When we let complacency and fear keep us on the wrong side of the Jordan, we will have abandoned the promise of a resurrected life both here and in the world to come. We will keep ourselves in tombs where Jesus wants us released from. We will keep ourselves in a foul smell that we ought to be freed from. Indeed, we become more dead than Lazarus. But, when we put our fears aside and walk with the Lord, we free ourselves from the tombs of complacency and fear that pose just as much a threat to our souls as any sin that Satan can attack us with. And it is not that we understand everything that God is leading us into. But, we walk forward in faith knowing that whatever happens, His will shall be done. His will is that what is given up for dead in ourselves will be brought back to life. Whatever is foul about us will be refreshed. Whatever is decaying and rotting inside of us will be restored and made whole. The only way to see and experience this restoration, refreshment, and resurrection is to also go that we may die with Him. Only in death to this world can we truly be made alive.