“From Death to Life”
Welcome to “Key to the Kingdom.” My name is Bret McCasland. Many of us face the continual struggle to put away the negative things in our life and to pursue that which is good and right. Oh, we want to get rid of the negative attitudes and behaviors and to embrace a lifestyle that is meaningful and productive; and yet, that is a big challenge. At times, things go pretty well as we move in the right direction. However, that is not always the case, and it is in those times we may get frustrated with ourselves, or perhaps not even put forth an effort any longer. Giving up is not the best option, but we don't know what else to do. All of us can relate to that ongoing struggle with being right with God. Today, on “Key to the Kingdom,” we will look at a story that gives us some insight as to how Jesus can help us. The story offers suggestions about Jesus providing a new beginning, when we turn to Him for help. And that perhaps is what we need to do more than anything else. Instead of relying on our own efforts, we rely on what Jesus has already done for us. We trust in His power to forgive our sin and to give us a new life and a new beginning. I hope you will stay with us for the next few minutes, as we open up our Bibles and study together.
There are several summary statements in the New Testament, which described Jesus’ life and ministry here upon the Earth. They focus primarily on what Jesus did. They tell us about Him teaching on the Kingdom of God. We find many stories about Jesus feeding those who were hungry and healing those who were sick, casting out demons and even raising people from the dead. In Luke chapter 7, for example, John the Baptist sent two of His disciples to inquire of Jesus. He wanted to know if He was the One who was coming into the world, or if they should look for someone else. In other words, was He the Messiah or was He yet to come? Well, we find Jesus’ response to all of that in that 7th chapter of Luke, beginning with verse 21. <At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So He replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor.> Now, that is a summary statement. Those messengers saw and they heard what was going on in Jesus’ ministry, and then He gave them this report to take back to John. Yes, Jesus did these things, and there are at least six things which are identified. Now, if we were to look back into the Scripture, there in the 7th chapter, we find in verse 11, Jesus had just raised a man from the dead; he was the son of a widow. But perhaps the most familiar story about Jesus raising someone from the dead is found in the Gospel of John, chapter 11. It is the story of Him raising Lazarus from the dead. It begins in verse 1 and goes through verse 44. Now, John is the only Gospel writer who records this story. You know, Jesus was a good friend of Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha. And they lived in a village called Bethany, which was just about two miles outside of the city of Jerusalem. And oftentimes, Jesus would go down to the Kidron Valley and across to the garden of Gethsemane and then to that village. And there He would spend some time with those three individuals; Mary, Martha and Lazarus. He wanted to escape from all of the pressing needs of the people with whom He was working there in Jerusalem; and He would enjoy some rest, some relaxation, some good food, and some good conversation. And no doubt, on those occasions, He would talk about the various things that He was doing throughout His ministry. And through all of those experiences, Jesus became a good friend with Lazarus. Well, one day when Jesus was in another area, working, messengers were sent to Him and they had this report: Jesus, the one you love is sick. Well, the message basically was he needs your attention, the two sisters are sending for you. You know, oftentimes today, when a minister or a pastor hears about someone in his congregation or church that is sick or dying, he will immediately go to that person. He will go and offer comfort or encouragement to the family members. And yet, Jesus did not do that on this occasion. In fact, Jesus said, “This illness will not lead to death for it is for the glory of God.” Well, He was not talking about physical death, but rather spiritual death. And when He made that statement, He decided to stay right where He was for two days. Well, after that period of time, Jesus then said to His disciples, “Well, I need to go and wake Lazarus out of his sleep.” And yet that did not make too much sense to His disciples. Well, they said, “If he is sleeping, then he will get better soon. He simply needs to take his rest and that illness or that sickness will soon go away.” They also said, “Jesus, the last time we were down there in Judea, the people were upset and they sought to kill you. It's not safe to go back to the Jerusalem area because you may lose your life.” But He said, “No, we are going to go because it will help your faith. You will believe in Me.” Your faith will be strengthened, in other words. And also what would happen when we arrive will bring glory to God. Well, in the midst of that confusion with the disciples, Jesus then told them, plainly, “Lazarus is dead and we need to go to Bethany.” And so with that, Jesus and the disciples traveled to Bethany to be with Mary and Martha. In fact, Martha met Jesus out on the road, even before He actually came into the village, and there she expressed her concern as to why Jesus had not come earlier. She wondered where He was. Two days You stayed right where You were, why did not You come in and help the situation? And no doubt Martha had heard stories, perhaps even seeing them herself, about Jesus casting out demons and healing those who were sick. And she knew, without a doubt, that if Jesus had shown up earlier then He could have done the very same thing for her brother. And then she made the statement, “If You had been here, my brother would not have died.” And perhaps that is true. Perhaps Jesus could have been there to prevent his death. Well, as they are talking, there on the road, Jesus made the statement, “Your brother will rise again.” And she said, “I know he will rise again, at the resurrection and the last day.” And then Jesus said to her these words, in verse 25 and following: <“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he die, he shall live; and whoever believes in Me shall never die."> And then He asked, Martha, <“Do you believe this?” and Martha responded by saying, “Yes, Jesus, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, and You are the One who is coming into the world.”> You know, with that, Martha expressed her faith in Jesus Christ. She knew that He was someone special. She knew that He had come from God. She knew that He was working miracles and that He had the Good News of the Kingdom of God. Well, after that conversation with Martha, they went back into the village of Bethany. And that is where Jesus met her sister, named Mary. We find, in that story, that Mary is surrounded by a host of people who have come to offer comfort and consolation. No doubt many people grieved over the loss of Lazarus. They were His friends and they shared time together, just like Jesus had done. And then Jesus asked the question, “Where have you laid him?” And the response was, “Come and see.” Yes, Jesus wanted to see where Lazarus was buried, and so He followed them out to the edge of town, to the tomb in which Lazarus was buried. And it was there we find that Jesus wept; and those were the words in verse 35 of that 11th chapter, the shortest verse in all of Scripture. Jesus cried. He wept over the loss of His dear friend, Lazarus. He would miss him. He also wept for Mary and Martha, and for all of those who were grieving over the loss of their friend and loved one. Beyond that, however, Jesus was grieving over the fact that many people did not believe, like Martha did, that He was the resurrection and the life. He was grieving over the fact that death was still taking its toll on people and they needed some kind of hope. They needed something to help move them beyond the reality of physical life, of living and dying. And with that, we notice what happened next. Let's read the Scripture now, beginning with verse 38 of that 11th chapter. <Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” He said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that you always hear Me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that You sent Me.” When He had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”> Martha was hesitant, obviously, to have the stone removed from the entrance to the tomb. She knew that her brother had been in there four days, and the body was beginning to decay, and there would be a bad odor; and she did not want that to offend all of the people who had assembled around the tomb. You know, the common practice was, and still is today for many people in eastern countries, when someone passed away, they are immediately buried. There is no embalming going on. They are simply buried, and then a memorial service is held at a later time. And that, evidently, is what happened here. Lazarus was buried. He had been in the tomb four days, and there was beginning to be a smell. Yet, Jesus was not concerned about that at all, and so the stone was rolled away. And after the stone was rolled away, Jesus turned His attention to His Father and He prayed. And that was something Jesus did on a regular basis. He, indeed, was a praying man. We find in Scripture that oftentimes He would pray early in the morning before anybody else got up from their sleep. He would pray all night long about something that concerned Him. He prayed in regards to major things that were happening in His ministry. And this obviously was one of those times when He went to His Father and prayed. And He prayed that God would receive the glory for what was about to happen. He prayed that all of those people who had assembled would have the opportunity to express their faith and their belief in Him as the Son of God. Well, after He prayed, He then called out to Lazarus, and Lazarus immediately obeyed. He immediately came out of the tomb. He went in as a dead man, but he came out as a live man. He came out so quickly that the grave clothes were still attached to him, and Jesus gave the order for all of those grave clothes to be removed. And the result was that those who saw all of that take place believed in Jesus, and glory was given to God. When I think about this story, I am reminded of the solution that Jesus offers to those who are spiritually dead, today. You know, we have a sin problem, for which we have no answer. And yet, God knew that long before we knew it, and God provided a solution through His Son, Jesus Christ; and that was the primary reason for which Jesus came to this Earth. You know, Jesus came to this Earth, He ministered and He served many people. And at the end of that ministry, He was rejected, people opposed Him, they beat Him and abused Him and eventually put Him on the cross where He died a very horrible death. After He died, He was taken down and put into a tomb. But on the third day, Jesus rose victoriously from the grave; and, through His death and burial and resurrection He provided a solution for our sin problem. Well, when we think about that solution, we know that it’s made available to all people everywhere, and yet we realize sometimes we don't receive that, we don't accept that. And instead of receiving what Jesus did for us on the cross, we sometimes try to cover up the sin in our own life. We might try to sweep it under the rug. We might try to hide our sin, because we know that it stinks. We know that it looks bad and it will be offensive to other people. We know that our sin might make us look bad and we might be embarrassed about it. On the other hand, we might even think we can handle that sin problem by ourselves, and we really don't need any help. And yet, when we do that, we realize God, indeed, cannot help us, for He has no other solution to our sin problem than what He has already given. He gave the greatest sacrifice He could ever have given, through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ. And so the solution to our sin problem really begins when we are willing to roll away the stone, and to expose our sin, to confess it and to lift it up to God and ask Him to forgive it. Well, God already knows the thoughts and the intentions of our heart. He knows the sin in our life and He is waiting for us to confess it, ourselves, and to turn to Him, to His Son, Jesus Christ, to receive the help that He so freely offers. You know, when I think about the story of Lazarus, I'm also very impressed about Mary and Martha and the faith they had in Jesus. They believed that everything would be OK if Jesus had just shown up. But even though He did not show up at the time they wanted Him to, they still knew that things would be OK because He was the Son of God. They had great faith in Jesus and they identified Him as the Son of God, the One who had come into the world. Oh, their faith impresses me. You know, I don't know about you, but sometimes my faith is not that strong. I encounter uncertainties and problems in my life, and I wish my faith could be like theirs. And when it is like Mary and Martha's faith, then we can trust God to get rid of that which stinks in our own life. You know, oftentimes we think we can solve our own problems, and that might be the case. Sometimes we can, and that's a good thing. But other times we cannot solve our problems. And when that is the case, we cannot rely upon our own resources and ideas and abilities. But rather, that is when we trust in Jesus, alone, that we allow Him to solve the sin problem in our life by receiving the free gift of salvation, which He extends to us. When I think about the story of Lazarus and compare it to our own spiritual life, I believe that this is important to remember: God cannot restore what we are not willing to roll away. When we have the courage to confront our problems, then, Jesus can bring us out of our tomb, spiritually. When we trust Jesus, like Martha did and Mary did, then there is nothing to fear. And then, when we obey Jesus, like Lazarus did, we can experience the new life He offers. Yes, when Lazarus heard the voice of Jesus, he immediately obeyed and he came out of the tomb. When I think about all of that, I'm reminded of a passage that’s found in the letter of Romans, written by the apostle Paul. He describes our spiritual condition this way, beginning in chapter 6 and verse 3. <Do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we will certainly also be united with Him in a resurrection like His. For we know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin, because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.> And then we find these words in verse 11. <In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.> When that happens in our life, we are released from that which keeps us dead spiritually, and we can begin to live a brand new life in Jesus Christ. Lazarus died and was raised. Jesus died and was raised. And so to, spiritually, we die to the sin in our life by being buried with Christ in baptism. And we come out of that water tomb and we embrace a new life that Jesus offers to us. I would encourage us all, today, to think about being set free from that which keeps us dead; to allow the amazing work of Jesus Christ to set us free from that sin, to be buried in baptism and then embrace the new life, the abundant life, that Jesus offers to us. Let us think about how we can go from being dead to being alive in Jesus Christ.
One of the greatest understatements I or anybody else could ever make is, we live in some very uncertain times. And that is true, isn't it? Whether we are talking about our own individual lives, or the nation in which we live, or perhaps even international affairs, life is uncertain. We don't know for sure what's going to happen from one day to the next. We're concerned about that, with all of the problems and issues surrounding us. We may at times even feel as if we're going to be swept away and taken under. I’m reminded of what happened with Peter when he walked out onto the Sea of Galilee. He took his eyes off of Jesus, and he immediately began to sink in the water. When we take our eyes off of Jesus, something like that might even happen to us, figuratively speaking, and we are swept away. I like the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. When He entered into the village, He met Mary and Martha before they went to the tomb; and Jesus told them, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Mary and Martha needed to hear that. They needed the hope that Jesus would make things better. And when Jesus is in our life, He makes things better, ultimately, because He is the resurrection and the life, for you and for me. No matter what happens to us in our world today, we can have the same hope Mary and Martha had. We can have the hope that if our life suddenly ends that things will happen, that it will be OK because Jesus is our life. And I hope that you can say that; that He is your life, today.
Perhaps the most important message in God's Word revolves around the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf. Because of His death, burial and resurrection, we have the opportunity to put our past behind us and to embrace a new life in Him. That is the Good News message of the Bible, and we saw that in the resurrection of Lazarus. If you would like to hear or view this message again, please go to our website, keytothekingdom.com. It, along with many other messages, is available at no cost and without any obligation. All of them can be downloaded in a variety of formats. A number of other lessons and information are on the website, as well. I trust you can find some that will be of interest. There are several other ways to find “Key to the Kingdom.” We have a dedicated channel on Roku® television, and a free phone app, which can be easily downloaded at no cost. One of the more popular ways to access this ministry is through Facebook®. Every week, one or two minute messages are uploaded. These mass media tools offer a variety of ways to receive an encouraging word on a weekly basis; and, hopefully you will find those which are most convenient. Our prayer is that you will be spiritually blessed and encouraged through this media effort. I invite you to join us again next week, at the same time, as we continue to study the Bible on “Key to the Kingdom.”