In the very next chapter (12) we have the extravagant anointing of Jesus by Mary, 'for the day of my burial,' said Jesus. It is in chapter 12 we read of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem. These events are that close to Easter. When we think of God's love we consider the events of Easter it's clearest expression, 'For God so loved the world...' (John 3:16)
When we speak of God's love to the world that God so loved, this question arises:
How can there be a God who loves when we look at the state of the world? The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah asks, “Why are the wicked so prosperous? Why are evil people so happy?” (Jer.12:1)
The psalmist writes:
“I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind...Behold these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence...” (Ps.73:3-8)
There are three things we must know as we approcah Easter:
1. We were created for better.
Man, in his original state, was made to reflect the image of God. In Genesis we read:
“God said, 'Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let him rule over the fish of the seas and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen.1:26)
The Psalmist asked:
'What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands...' (Ps.8:3-9)
This text has been used, and quite correctly, as prophetic of Jesus. But in its original context it speaks of mankind in our original creation..
Jesus, of course, is described as the image of the invisible God (Heb.1:3) The difference between Jesus and us is that Jesus is God in the flesh, the exact image, the very imprimatur of God, while we are creatures, made originally to have a history with God that increasingly reflects his image as we grow, multiply and are fruitful on the earth. We were created for better.
We were made to be stewards, co-regent, with God, of the earth. To rule, as described in Genesis, means to enjoy delegated sovereignty under God. Stewardship means being responsible for those things placed under our care. This is the creation mandate. This is who and what we were made to be. We were created for better.
We were made to represent God on the earth. That means running things as he would run them if he were directly in charge. Doing things his way. Again, Genesis reminds us we are to be creative, fruitful, productive, living and reigning according to his rule. We were made to relate to each other in a way that is honouring to God and to each other. Adam says of Eve, “This is now bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh...” so to harm her is to harm himself.
John Donne famously wrote:
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
Paul describes the church in a similar fashion in his letter to Christians in Corinth, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Cor.12:26-27)
The church is meant to be a reflection of this original plan, to show God's purposes to the world and tell people there is a better, a godly way that fulfils us completely. To demonstrate that to be authentically human is to reflect God's image, be God's representative on the earth, to grow in the things of God, to relate correctly to each other, to steward the earth, be fruitful and multiply – be creative like our creator, bringing order out of chaos. By contrast our society has brought chaos out of order.
When we see where we have fallen from then we can see how far we have fallen. If life disappoints us it should, and this is why; we are a fallen people, and we were made for better.
2. We have fallen far
We must realise we are not simply the playthings of the gods, as some societies would have us believe. Neither are we helpless pawns in the hands of a blind and capricious fate. Nor are we the products of a mindless evolutionary process. Mankind was made for relationship and responsibility and we – are – responsible....What of our part in this tragic drama of life?
We have fallen far. It is not simply a question of punishing the wicked and rewarding the righteous-there are no righteous! “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:9) It is a case, rather, of restoring the order, fulfilling God's original purposes. In this restoration we are yet to be stewards of God's new creation, those who reflect his image and glory, represent him on the earth and bring order out of chaos like our Creator/God. But how do we get from here to there?
We have fallen so very far and the problem is more than skin deep. Jesus tells us:
"What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person." (Mk.7:21-23)
We are so blind to our own part in this, we make the problem of sin too small. We call what the other person does “sin,” but when we do it we call it something else; weaknesses, faults (who hasn't got them?, we ask, not realising our question is a confession), being human we say but, as we have seen, being truly human is something else altogether.
The idea of sin is not the product of a less sophisticated, more superstitious time. Sin is a disaster of epic proportions. It lies at the root of everything that is wrong with this world. A massive problem, all-pervasive, staining and spoiling everything. Like putting a red garment in a white wash. Every depravity, every injustice, every cruel act, every lie, theft, betrayal and defamation results from the influence of sin in our lives.
When children are abused it is sin destroying the kind of relationships we were created to have; when a driver speeds his passengers to a terrible death it is sin corrupting his judgement and bringing chaos out of order; when people in positions of power face charges of corruption it is sin taking stewardship and twisting it into exploitation and unrighteous dominion.
It is sin that brings death and death stalks our every waking moment, invades our nightmares and assures us of its eventual victory; the death rate in this world is still 100%. Paul reminds us, “The wages of sin is death” (Ro.6:23) We laugh at sin today, mock it, regard it as quaint. We make death something regrettable but natural and manageable. God sees these things quite differently and he offers us real and sure hope.
We have a sure hope
And so we come to the tomb of Lazarus. Jesus had raised the dead before; the daughter of Jairus, the widow's son at Nain. He knew beforehand what he intended to do for Lazarus, yet he wept?
Were these tears of sorrow? Perhaps so, Isaiah prophetically called Jesus, “a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.” (Is.53:3)
Were they tears of empathy as he saw the inconsolable grief of Mary and Martha, Lazarus' bereft sisters? Again, perhaps so, Matthew tells us in one place that, “when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.” (Mt.9:36) Jesus was, after all, fully human and capable of fellow feeling.
It is tempting to think of this in this way, as a local incident evoking fellow feeling and sympathy. Jesus, who went about doing good, doing good for his friend Lazarus. But nothing Jesus did was incidental and this was an event of eternal significance. Jesus' tears were not primarily those of sorrow, or of compassion. We read in verse 33 of our passage, “When Jesus saw [Mary] weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled”
There is more here than sorrow or sympathy. These words could as easily be rendered, “He was enraged in spirit and troubled himself.” There is indignation here, a sense of outrage and the object of his wrath is death itself. The Prince of life walked the earth and death had the audacity to come this close. Jesus, moved to indignation by the unnatural and violent tyranny of death, advances to the tomb, in Calvin's words, “as a champion prepared for conflict.”
This is a clear demonstration of Jesus' conquest of death and hell. Not in cold unconcern but in flaming anger against the enemy of us all, Jesus strikes a mortal blow in Lazarus’ behalf. Jesus approaches our graves in the same spirit of outrage and divine determination. He suffered the same agitation of spirit, magnified many times over in Gethsemane as he anticipated Calvary and the cross on which he would pay the price for sin and defeat what Paul calls the last enemy to be defeated, death.
When Lazarus comes out from the tomb Jesus says, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
Do you want to hear those words uttered for you? There is hope for you today if you put your trust fully in the Christ who saves and who, when he knew his time had come, said, “Now is the time for judgement on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” (Jn.12:31-33)
Will you be drawn to the one who, in our passage, declared with confidence and divine determination, “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.” (vv 25-26)
It is popular with some to believe the gospel is simply about getting us into heaven because of the blood of Jesus. It is so much more. It is the gift of forgiveness and of a new heart, a call to new life, to become authentically human through Christ’s sacrifice for you on the cross, to grow in the things of God, to reflect God's image, to be God's representative on the earth, to relate correctly to each other, to steward the earth, be fruitful and multiply – be creative like our creator, bringing order out of chaos.