Now perhaps we could turn in our Bibles to our reading for this evening, John chapter 11 is the portion of scripture that we would like to turn to, John chapter 11. Here we have the account of the sickness, and the subsequent death of Lazarus - who was a friend of the Lord Jesus, along with his two sisters Mary and Martha. This is a very, very poignant passage of scripture, detailing many of the problems that we face in life that cause us great pain - but thank God, the passage also gives us the answer in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let's begin by reading verse 1, and we'll read right through the whole of this narrative story: "Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. (It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.) Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick. When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby. Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was. Then after that saith he to his disciples, Let us go into Judaea again. His disciples say unto him, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou thither again? Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world. But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him. These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him. Then said Thomas, which is called Didymus, unto his fellowdisciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him. Then when Jesus came, he found that he had lain in the grave four days already. Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off: And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother. Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat still in the house. Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee. Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world. And when she had so said, she went her way, and called Mary her sister secretly, saying, The Master is come, and calleth for thee. As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly, and came unto him. Now Jesus was not yet come into the town, but was in that place where Martha met him. The Jews then which were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up hastily and went out, followed her, saying, She goeth unto the grave to weep there. Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled. And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see. Jesus wept. Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him! And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died? Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it. Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days. Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God? Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go. Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him. But some of them went their ways to the Pharisees, and told them what things Jesus had done". Amen.
We read in John 11 and verse 28: "And when she had so said, she went her way, and called Mary her sister secretly, saying, The Master is come, and calleth for thee". Sometimes I hear folk saying: 'God has never spoken to me'. Maybe they hear Christian testimonies, or perhaps they're in a conversation with a Christian and they hear the Christian talking about 'Well, God said this, God said that, and God guided me here, there and everywhere' - and they think to themselves: 'What is this guidance? Is it a red telephone straight to heaven?'. People perceive in their minds, I think at least, that if God is going to speak to them it will be in an audible voice, they will hear from heaven actual words, thundering words of God Almighty. Or perhaps they think that some evening, whilst they're asleep, they will see a vision and God will communicate to them very definitely through that. Perhaps they think, or maybe even claim to have had an out of body experience, whether on the operating table or having taken some intoxicating substances or something or other, they think that they have seen themselves in another light, and God has given them some kind of revelation about themselves or about their future.
They feel that they have to have some kind of sensual experience, whether it's through hearing or through seeing or through feeling, and unless they have that they feel that God has not communicated with them. Now, whilst God has spoken in some of these ways in the past, scripture nowhere in Old or New Testament indicates to us that these are how God always speaks to men - indeed, nowhere is it indicated that we should expect God to speak to us in these veins. In fact, here's what the Bible teaches regarding how God communicates to this world. The first thing we see God communicating to us through is the medium of creation. Now God is not in creation, in the sense of God being in the animals, and in the vegetation, and in the planet earth as some people believe - but Psalm 19 tells us very clearly that the heavens, the sky, the solar system declares the glory of God, and the earth shows forth His handiwork. 'Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge', in other words: as we look around us as witnesses to creation, we can see God's handiwork, and intelligently - without any other revelation - we can come to the rational and reasonable conclusion that there is a creative intelligence behind all that we see around us. You only need to look at the night sky to see the wonder of all of God's universe. It is a language in itself that testifies to our Creator.
God speaks in His creation, He also speaks through conscience. In the book of Romans we read in chapter 1 and chapter 2 that God has written upon the hearts of all men His law, His law being the ten commandments - some of which you're very familiar with: not to steal, not to kill, not to commit adultery, not to covet, not to bear false witness and so on and so forth. You might not realise this, you may not even have any evidence of it in your own particular heart, but God has written on all men's hearts His law. Now I'll grant it to you that men suppress that knowledge, they dilute it, and they even suffocate it, and Romans tells us that some have even seared their conscience to such an extent that God has given them up. Yet nevertheless, when you were born into this world, God had His law written on your heart so that you ought to have known what is right or wrong - which path you choose is your own decision, and it will finally dictate how much of that law will be left on your heart at the end of your life. But nevertheless, it is an undeniable fact that God's law is there.
You see creation, God speaks to you through it - have you heard His voice? You have a conscience, whatever state it may be in matters not, you've got one and surely you know some things that are clearly right and wrong? Thirdly God also speaks through circumstances. The Bible teaches of a sovereign God, it tells us that God is revealed as the one who, even when the dice is cast, knows and determines the falling of that dice. That is not fatalism, but it simply shows that as Proverbs 16 and verse 9 tells us: 'A man devises plans in his heart, but it is the Lord God of heaven who directs his steps'. It's not as if God takes free will away from us, makes us robots, but we believe we are making our own choices, and we are in human sense, but there is a God of heaven who is reigning over all these things - working them together for His purposes.
It was once illustrated to me like this: it's like a deep sea liner that's crossing, say, the Atlantic, and it's going in one particular direction, but people on the boat are milling to and fro and doing all sorts of things. Some are sleeping, some are dancing, some are drinking, some are eating, some are going north, some are going south, east and west - but ultimately all of them are being taken in one direction. That is how God guides our circumstances, even if we are ignorant to it. He also speaks to us, the Bible says, through Christians. Paul, on one occasion, said to the Corinthians that they were epistles, letters written on their hearts to other men. In other words, they were walking Bibles - not everybody in this world has a Bible, let alone that they may not read it - and so Christians are meant to be witnesses to others in their lives and in their character. As the little quip says: 'You are writing a gospel, a chapter each day, by the things that you do and the words that you say'. Christians are meant to speak to others of the love of God.
Then added to creation, conscience, circumstances and Christians, there is the canon of Scripture. 'Canon' simply means 'the rule', 'the standard' that God has given us - that is found in the Scriptures, the Bible, Old and New Testament. It is God's word, therefore self-defined, it is the way God speaks to us, it's how He communicates to us: through His word. Then sixthly, Christ Himself as God's final and fullest revelation. He is the way God has chosen, chiefly and uniquely, to communicate to humanity. John 1:1 says He is the Word, who was with God, and who was God; that Word became flesh and dwelt among us. In John 1:18, we read: 'No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him'.
I quoted in my prayer Hebrews chapter 1 and verse 2, that: 'God has chosen in these last days, to communicate to us through His Son'. Now that is the way that God communicated to Mary of Bethany, through the Lord Jesus in this verse 28: 'The Master is come, and calleth for thee'. Before I expound that verse to you, can I ask the question: do you not hear God? Don't ever say that God has never communicated to you! He communicates every day in the wonder of creation - and what a night this evening is to prove that, the glory of the sunshine! He communicates through your conscience, through your circumstances, through Christians witnessing around you, through the word of God if you've been privy to it in any shape or form, and chiefly He has communicated to you through the Lord Jesus Christ what He wants you to do, what He wants you to be, what He wants you to have.
Do you hear Him calling to you through His word? The Bible says that God has spoken to all men through His Son. The chief message that He has given is found in Romans 5 and verse 8: 'For God commendeth', demonstrates, shows, 'his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us'. In this particular age in which we live, the chief message that God wants people to know is the call and invitation of the cross. God has communicated to men by saying: 'I have sent My Son to die for your sin, to take your place, to be punished with my wrath instead of you, so that you might have eternal life. That is my message to you, and I want you to respond to that message in repentance and faith to my revelation'.
So the message we find in scripture is: God now commandeth all men to repent. The call of the gospel in the New Testament is: 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved'. Have you heard this call? That's God message to you this evening, His specific personal message. There's few ever really hear it - do you hear it? The book of Job tells us 'God speaks once, yea twice, yet man perceiveth it not'. God is speaking in so many ways to men, yet so many of them passively sit in denial, and say: 'God never came to me, God never spoke to me, God never approached or came near to me'. Yet God has spoken volumes to men - but man still seems not to hear!
Well, Mary heard Christ's call to her. Let me share with you a number of ways that she heard the Master's call. She heard it first of all in a familiar voice. If you look at verse 28, you will see: 'And when she had so said, she went her way, and called Mary' - that is Martha, her sister. Mary's sister was the first to receive this message from the Lord Jesus Christ. Now we're not told specifically what the message was, but like every true Christian: Martha couldn't keep the message to herself. She had good news, she wanted to share the good news with her sister Mary. She couldn't enjoy it herself on her own, Mary must hear it! So, one sister went to the other and called her to Jesus. Isn't that lovely? Do you know what the added beauty to this particular verse is? There's one point in Martha's life when she's trying to keep Mary away from Jesus, but what a change is in her life: she has allowed Christ to transform her to such an extent that she wants to bring the message afresh to Mary who is dejected, depressed and downcast over the death of her brother Lazarus.
Look at the verse again, it says that Martha came to Mary secretly with this message. I feel that there could be an indication here that sometimes, when public preaching doesn't affect a sinner and bring them nearer to God, and they don't want to hear the message any more in a church vicinity or through the medium of the preached word, a secret, quiet, holy example of a family member can be what really makes the difference. That's what made the difference here. I don't know who you are, maybe you're sick of all this preaching stuff and gospel meetings, and you really can't take it any more, and it doesn't affect you - well, I pity you, because it's the entrance of God's word that brings life. But could I encourage you, perhaps, to look around your family - maybe they're deceased, but maybe you can remember a father who told you as a boy or a girl the stories of Jesus - a godly example that you looked up to. Maybe it's your mother at whose knee you learned the Lord's prayer, or the ten commandments. I know that many children are turned off Christianity, maybe by the bad witness of a parent or a family member, or a loud-mouthed, Bible-quoting father who beats them into submission, or a mother who is so pious that she's distant and cold, and starves her children of affection and love - and those examples are travesties of true biblical Christianity.
What I'm saying to you this evening is that we must never underestimate the influence of a quiet, holy, godly life that is lived before family and friends. I wonder is there someone here this evening and a relative has spoken to you about Christ? Or maybe that relative hasn't spoken to you about Christ, but their unspoken witness has spoken volumes to your heart. You can't pinpoint it or put your finger on it, but they've impressed you, they've maybe really rattled you. I think the other reason why Martha came to Mary with this invitation secretly was because of the Jews who were mourning the loss of Lazarus, and these Jews were particularly opposed to the Lord Jesus Christ. Perhaps you do not have encouragement towards Christ from those around you, but the opposite: discouragement. The thing that keeps you from Christ is the fact that you know the opposition that you will receive if you take that step of faith. Well, the message is the same to you and it's this: Christ will vindicate your confession of Him, just like He did with Mary and Martha. He rose their brother from the dead before everyone, and if you listen to the secret call of Christ - though others do not understand in their hearts what you're doing, or what you're confessing - Christ will prove Himself to you if you obey Him. Are you hearing God's voice in a familiar voice? A mother, a father, a son, a daughter, a husband, a wife, a grandparent, an aunt or an uncle?
Secondly, she heard the call of the Master in a trial of life. Her brother had died. First of all he had fallen sick, and the request went forth that Jesus would come, the Great Physician, and heal - but He didn't come. He stayed away, Lazarus died, and what a trial this was in the life of Mary and Martha. Let's face it: who in this building tonight doesn't have any? The book of Job tells us: 'Man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward' - but the big question is: what do you attribute your problems to? People say: 'Ach, bad luck if that happens to you, bad fortune'. It's fashionable now today to use Eastern mysticism, and say: 'Oh, it's your bad karma, you must have done something in a previous life to earn this, or you must have done something even in this life'. But our lives are not determined by blind fate or chance, the message of the Bible is that God is sovereign, God is the one who is leading our human path, guiding our way. If the goodness of God in our lives - which all of us have, even to a small extent if we can't see it or admit it - if that does not lead us to repentance, often God will send trials to bring us to His side. God often is communicating to man in his problems, through his pain. It was C. S. Lewis who said: 'Pain is God's megaphone'. After all, many of the problems that we have are because we do not have God in our lives, and we won't let Him take control of our present and our future.
Well, Martha came to Mary in one of the greatest, if not the greatest, trials of her life and said: 'The Master is come, and calleth for thee'. Martha calls the Lord Jesus Christ 'Master'. I think this must have been a personal name that they used for Him in Bethany, but the original Greek literally means 'Teacher': 'The Teacher is come, and calleth for thee'. Here's a great lesson: this Teacher from Nazareth was attempting to teach Mary something, and she needed to learn through her trial that Christ was in control - even when He seemed not to be. The thing that He was trying to teach them was that we cannot survive without Him.
My friend, are you hearing this? Becoming a Christian will not mean that you're without problems, far from it, they may even get more numerous and be multiplied. It will mean that in our problems we will have the presence of Christ, and we will be able to understand a little more of His purpose in our lives - as Jesus said that this particular trial in her life was there for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified. But if we are without Christ, we will despair - like Mary as she came and said: 'Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died'. The message that Christ is trying to teach Mary and Martha is that without Him we will not survive in time, and without Christ we cannot survive in eternity.
Have you learnt that lesson? The voice of God came in a familiar voice to Mary, it spoke in the trial of her life, and thirdly: it spoke in the torment of her doubt. She had questions, and she had good reason to have them. Perhaps they went like this: why did the Saviour delay two days before He came to help us? Maybe that question led rationally to the question: does He really care for us as we think He does? Of course, if you look at verse 3: 'Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick'. Were they starting to doubt this? Let's face it: what was she to think when Lazarus is now dead? What hope is there now? He's gone! The life has gone from his body. Perhaps the circumstances that you find yourself in tonight, the only conclusion that you can come to is that God either doesn't care about you, or God just isn't there at all!
What brought Mary out of her temptation to doubt? Very simple: the personal call of the Master. 'The Master is come, and calleth for thee' - and we read in verse 29 that: 'As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly, and came unto him'. The reason she rises and comes so quickly is because she doesn't hear just that He has come, but that He has come and called personally for her - that's what sets wings to her feet, 'He has called for me! His heart is towards me! He has had compassion on me!'. The Gospel writer John assures us of His love towards them in verse 5: 'Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus' - praise God, the same gospel writer assures us of Christ's love for all. What does John 3:16 say? 'For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life'. I love that story about Richard Baxter, the puritan, I think it was him at least, who said concerning John 3:16 and that word 'whosoever', he says: 'I'm glad it doesn't say Richard Baxter, because I know that this Richard Baxter is so great a sinner, that I might think that there was another better Richard Baxter - but it just says 'whosoever believeth in him should not perish''.
The Master spoke to her in the torment of her doubt, and then He spoke to her fourthly in the tragedy of death. We aren't told what this message was that Martha needed to bring to Mary, but I feel very strongly that it's verse 25 and 26: 'Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?'. This is what Mary needed to hear, and Martha knew that. That's why, when she heard it, Mary rose so quickly: because this was Lazarus' only hope, and Mary's only hope to dispel the darkness. I don't know if you have had a recent bereavement of late - has God been speaking to you through the reality of eternity, through the necessity of being prepared for heaven, rather than entering into hell? Can I ask you: do you not hear the Lord Jesus Christ giving you hope in these verses, as if a voice from beyond eternity is speaking and saying: 'I am the resurrection and the life, and even though you die physically, you will never die spiritually because you are in me'. The only hope for eternity is Jesus, the only hope for Lazarus was Jesus, and it is your only hope!
On one occasion people started to leave the Lord because His sayings were so hard to fulfil. Jesus turned to Simon Peter and said: 'Will you also leave me, and flee and go away?'. Peter said: 'Lord, to whom shall we go, for thou hast the words of eternal life'. Heaven can only be had through the Lord Jesus.
The Master spoke to Mary in a familiar voice, in the trial of life, in the torment of her doubt, in the tragedy of death - and finally through the tenderness of Jesus. Jesus saw Mary weeping, saw the Jews weeping, and when He went and saw the tomb, Jesus wept. The people said: 'Behold how he loved him!'. The tenderness of Jesus spoke to Mary, because He was flesh of her flesh, bone of her bone, apart from sin. He was a man, and the reason why He partook of the same flesh and blood as we have, is that He might be touched with the feelings of our infirmities, and be our Saviour! Do you know that?
'There's not a friend like the lowly Jesus,
No not one, no not one.
None else could heal all our souls diseases,
No not one, no not one'.
My friend this evening, do you hear the call of the Master through the gospel this very evening? The message that Martha brought to Mary is the message of the church from the Bible to every generation: the character of Christ, the Master, He is the Lord. Though Mary, and Martha, and Lazarus had Him as a good friend, Martha did not say to Mary: 'Our good friend calls thee to come', she said 'The Master'. He is the Son of God, and He has come - His condescension is that message: that He came from the Father's right-hand into this world, and took upon Himself flesh. He went to the cross and humbled Himself, and bore your sin, and bled and died - that One, the Master, the Son of God, the Lord of heaven and earth, He is come, He has condescended, that's how God is speaking to you! Literally the Greek means: 'The Master is present, He is actually here and calls for you'. My friend this evening, Christ is here: He's in the gospel message, and He welcomes you to be blessed with eternal life.
His character is in the message, His condescension, and His call personally to you: 'He calleth for thee'. He calls you to be saved from sin and from the power of sin, from the consequences of sin. He calls you to service. He says: 'Go work in my vineyard, be my servant, do my bidding, fulfil my will'. What will you say? How will you respond? The Master is come, He's here tonight, He calleth for thee! Mary responded quickly, and we read in verse 32 that she fell at His feet and she confessed Him as Lord. Then the power of resurrection was manifest in her life, and Jesus went forth to the tomb, the stone was rolled away, and He cried: 'Lazarus, come forth!' - and he came forth! He said: 'Loose him of the grave clothes of the old way of life, loose him and let him go'. My friend, He will do the same for you if you fall at His feet tonight, and confess Him as Lord He will deliver you, He will emancipate you from sin and its darkest effects.
The Master has come tonight to this place, the Master has come to thee, and He calleth for thee - but I must warn you: Lot's wife was called, but she lingered, and because she lingered she was lost. But Mary arose, and Mary ran, and Mary experienced the resurrection, changing power of Christ.
Well, have you heard the call of the Master's voice tonight? He has come, He calls for thee. He says: 'Him that cometh unto me, I will never, never cast out'. Will you come in true faith and repentance, believing this gospel, receiving it? He will give you the power to repent if you will change your mind concerning sin. Oh, take the Saviour's offer tonight that He freely gives. Say: 'Lord, I am a sinner, and I confess my sin. I thank You that Jesus died for me. I take His gift of salvation freely offered. Save me now, make me Your child. Lord of my life, I crown Thee now'.
Father, give grace and help. We thank Thee, every child of God in this place tonight, for the wonderful Saviour that we have. Lord, we pray that we will grow to love Him more. We pray that if there are any without Him, that tonight they will hear His voice. We remind Thee of the words of our Saviour: 'My sheep hear my voice, and they follow me, and I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish'. Lord, hear our prayer and bring sheep, lost though they may be in their own way, back to the fold tonight - for Christ's sake we pray, Amen.
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This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording, titled "The Call Of The Master's Voice" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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