Well, thanks very much for the welcome, and it is good to be back with you again at Scrabo over these weeks - I do count it a privilege. We're turning in the New Testament to the portion allocated for this morning, which is John chapter 11 - and I hope, God willing, to be in this portion of Scripture this week and next Sunday morning, John chapter 11.
We begin reading at verse 1, John 11 verse 1 and I'm reading from the New King James Version: "Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. Therefore the sisters sent to Him, saying, 'Lord, behold, he whom You love 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 may be glorified through it'. Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was". Down to verse 11, please: "These things He said, and after that He said to them, 'Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up'. Then His disciples said, 'Lord, if he sleeps he will get well'. However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus said to them plainly, 'Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him'. Then Thomas, who is called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, 'Let us also go, that we may die with Him'. So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles away. And many of the Jews had joined the women around 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 was sitting in the house. Then Martha said to Jesus, 'Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You'. Jesus said to her, 'Your brother will rise again'. Martha said to Him, 'I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day'. Jesus said to her, '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. Do you believe this?'. She said to Him, 'Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world'. And when she had said these things, she went her way and secretly called Mary her sister, saying, 'The Teacher has come and is calling for you'. As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly and came to Him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the town, but was in the place where Martha met Him. Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and comforting her, when they saw that Mary rose up quickly and went out, followed her, saying, 'She is going to the tomb to weep there'. Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, 'Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died'. Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled. And He said, 'Where have you laid him?'. They said to Him, 'Lord, come and see'. Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, 'See how He loved him!'. And some of them said, 'Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?'. Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, 'Take away the stone'. Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, 'Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days'. Jesus said to her, 'Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?'. Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, 'Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me'. Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, 'Lazarus, come forth!'. And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, 'Loose him, and let him go'. Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him. But some of them went away to the Pharisees and told them the things Jesus did".
Let us pray briefly for a moment. If you do know and love the Lord, I'd ask you to pray with me now that God may speak by His Spirit to some who are gathered here this morning without Christ, or who are estranged from Him. Let us pray: Father, we thank You for Your word, we thank You for these stories of the Lord Jesus Christ, how He walked among us, the great works and miracles that He performed - this being one of the greatest, the reviving of Lazarus from the dead. Lord, we pray that this morning everyone here will spiritually have that resurrection in their spirit. We pray that they will be brought back from the dead, the dead trespasses and sins, the tomb that they find themselves captivated within. We pray, Lord, this morning, that You will send forth that beam of power and light from Your presence that will quicken them, that Thine eye would diffuse the quickening ray, that they may awake, the dungeon flamed with light, may their chains fall off, their heart be free, may they rise and go forth and follow Thee. All of us Lord, perhaps some of us who have had tragedy enter our lives, and perhaps have allowed ourselves to become estranged with the Lord Jesus - we pray that You will speak, Lord, whatever our needs might be now, we pray that You would minister by the Holy Spirit. We ask these things in the all-victorious name of the Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.
I want to speak to you this morning - I'll take a more conventional look at this passage next Sunday morning, but I want to speak to you under the heading 'A Tested Friendship'. Now friendship is a true blessing. A dictionary definition of 'friendship' reads thus: 'a person with whom one enjoys mutual affection and regard, a sympathiser, helper, or patron'. The Bible bears this out in Proverbs 17: 'A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity'. You've heard the saying: 'Blood is thicker than water', yet at times we can't choose our relatives, as the saying goes, but we can choose our friends. Often we go to our friends before we go to our family in a crisis. It's certainly the case that you go to a neighbour, perhaps, before you go to family, because they are nearer to you when tragedy strikes or some kind of crisis. But even the best of friends can let us down, isn't that right?
I want to introduce you this morning to a Friend, One who far excels and exceeds the most ideal earthly friendship that you could conceive of. Just imagine for a moment for me the values of the best friend, and imagine those values and characteristics to an infinite extent - yes, even to perfection. Well, that's the Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, He not only has all the attributes that you could imagine being in a good friend to infinite perfection, but He has many more attributes that you will never find in an earthly friend, that an earthly friend could never possess, and He has them. A parent can pity a child, and yet that parent, with all the pity, can watch that child perish with no power to help them. Friends can be liable to change, they can be like a broken reed - you can't trust them or lean on them. You might find the wisest and most learned individual in the world who can inform you greatly regarding your particular predicament, but they might be, in their hearts, too superior to sympathise with you or help you. Whereas, in the Lord Jesus Christ you've got the ideal and the perfect friend - because not only does Jesus look at you, wherever you are and whatever you're going through, and He pities you; not only does He want to help you like any good friend would or could, but He actually can help you! He can do something about your condition. Unlike many friends, He will never fail you, He will never change. In fact, though He knows all things because He is God's Son, He is omnipotent, all-knowing, omniscient, all-seeing, He will always accommodate you irrespective of how lowly you are, how simple.
It's remarkable, that's why He was known in the gospels as 'the Friend of sinners', the Friend of the ordinary people, the Friend of the poor and the humble - and to poor, smelly fishermen, He said: 'I have not called you servants, but I have called you friends, for I have told you My heart'. Isn't that remarkable? Indeed, He said to the little children, 'Let them come to Me, and do not forbid them' - but are you aware today that Jesus wants to befriend you? He wants to be a true friend to you, like none other - and maybe that's exactly what you're in need of today.
Now I want you to see first of all in this chapter that this was a friendship begun in the heart. You've heard the saying: 'Home is where the heart is', and Lazarus, and Mary and Martha his two sisters, lived in a place called Bethany which was on the east slope of the Mount of Olives, about a mile and a half east of Jerusalem. Now we know from the gospels that the Lord Jesus didn't have a home to call His own when He went into His ministry, indeed He said: 'The foxes of the ground have holes to live in, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head'. But if there was any place that Jesus would have counted as His home, it was Mary, Martha and Lazarus' house in Bethany - He loved that little family, and He often rested beneath their roof. Now, use your imagination and try to conceive of the sweet moments that Mary, Martha, Lazarus and Jesus would have spent together. These three siblings, spending time beside their hearth with the Son of God! Time spent in intimate conversation, I would love to have been a fly on the wall then!
People today, I was thinking about this, they would pay billions to experience this. It might surprise you, I think there are some from the States here this morning, but do you know what the going rate is to meet President Bill Clinton? 750 dollars, just to meet and greet him, and then get a photograph taken with him, and also purchase a ticket to be in the first four rows of an auditorium where he is giving a speech - 750 dollars! I'll never forget as a boy watching a BBC news report about Her Majesty the Queen popping into a pensioner's house in high-rise flats, and sitting down to a cup of tea - it was in china of course - a nice cup of tea in china with this poor old lady in her flat - I was just gobsmacked at this, flabbergasted that Her Majesty could condescend to come in some afternoon and share a cup of tea with someone who was insignificant, as far as the whole general scene of things in our nation is concerned. But can you imagine, if that is a big jump for you and for me, can you imagine what it would have been to share a meal with the Lord Jesus in the privacy of your own home? What would people pay for that today?
Maybe you're sitting here, and you're thinking: 'Yea! Boy that would be great! How I would love to welcome Jesus into my home! How I would love to prepare for Jesus a meal with my hands!'. Well, let me tease that out for a moment: could you really entertain the Lord Jesus in your home? Or, to put it another way: do you think the Lord Jesus could be at home in your house the way He was in Mary, Martha and Lazarus' house? I heard a story once of a preacher who was having hospitality with some folk out of the church, and coming through the door, as you often do, they threw out the quip: 'Make yourself at home'. Immediately he kicked off his shoes and he put his feet up on the coffee table in the lounge. They looked at him, their eyes popping out, 'What are you doing?'. 'You said, 'Make yourself at home', that's all I'm doing!'. We say things that we don't really mean. You might say here this morning: 'How great it would be for Jesus to be in my house', but be honest - what would Jesus see if He came into your house? Could you give Him the keys to every room in your house, every locked cupboard in your house, and say 'Go ahead, Lord Jesus, look wherever You like!'? Could He make Himself at home?
What would He find in the drinks cabinet? In the magazine rack? What DVDs would be stacked up? Would He witness the odd row or cold moment or, perhaps more drastic, bad language, violence, various types of abuse? I want to say to you this morning, better than the Lord Jesus coming into your home: the Lord, rather than being entertained in your home, desires to be entertained in your heart. He wants to come in and live in you. We were preaching last Sunday morning on John 10, how He is the Good Shepherd, and His sheep hear His voice, and they follow Him; how He is the door of a new sheepfold, leading them out of an old sheepfold where they are in danger and prey to predators and to hirelings, hired hands, and to thieves, robbers and murderers - false shepherds - but He is the door into new life, life to the full, life overflowing. That's what Jesus wants to do for you, but He wants to come into your heart. He is the Door, but He wants to enter into you also. I know it's to Christians, but Revelation 3 verse 20 is a wonderful illustration of this, He says: 'Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and sup with him, and he with Me'. He doesn't just want to save you, He wants to change your life, He wants to come in and transform you from the inside out. Just as the sheep were able to go in and out and find pasture, He wants to come in and out of your heart to sup with you, and you with Him, to commune with you, fellowship with you.
That's a different thing, isn't it? It would be one thing to try and keep up appearances and entertain the Lord Jesus for a half an hour in the afternoon around a cup of tea, but coming into your heart - whatever is in your home is only a reflection of what is in your heart, for out of the heart, Jesus said, proceeds drunkenness, fornication, lies, and all sorts of wickedness. Are you rude enough to say to the Lord Jesus: 'Well now, no thanks, not today' - like He was a vacuum salesman or something, or going round the doors selling encyclopaedias, He's not even the Jehovah's Witnesses, that you want to slam the door in their face - no! This is the Lord of glory, and a minute ago perhaps you were considering what it would be like to entertain Him in your house, but the thought of Him entering your heart - you can't stick that, because your heart is in a worse state.
Maybe your problem is with intimacy. What am I talking about? Well, many people have a problem with intimacy, they don't want anyone getting too close to them, in on them. The reason is: they have had bad hurts in their life. So, like 'hedgehog syndrome' we call it, they curl up, and the prickles go out, and everybody has to stand away from them because they don't want to be hurt again. At some time they have opened their heart to another, and that person stuck a dagger in it. I've heard a lot of people who once had pets, and their pet dies, and maybe they're even living alone, and a friend will say to them, 'Why don't you get another wee dog, or another cat?' - and they say, 'No, no! I don't want to get attached again, to have to lose it when it dies'. Now, if that's the way we are with pets, how are we with people? How are we with loved ones who let us down, and friends who betray us? Or maybe you, as a child, had no affection or intimacy from your father or your mother, or maybe you're here this very morning and there's a lack of love in your marriage or in your relationship, and a spouse or a partner is not showing you affection but aggression? You have developed a hard shell, and it's just to protect yourself - but here's the problem: when Christ comes along and He offers you true friendship, true deliverance, true salvation, real love, unconditional grace, He can't get in on you! You won't let Him in, but this hard shell is a mask that is covering a multitude of secret sorrows, pain, and even sins, and you feel that no one understands.
Now listen, I believe this is a message from God to someone in the gathering this morning: I urge you to unfold your heart to Jesus. I urge you to know that He understands. I grant you, no one else may, but He understands! I invite you today to go to Jesus, and open your heart to Him, because He wants your entire confidence. He wants you to feel comfortable to go in and out and find pasture, sustenance, and satisfaction. He wants to sup with you, and you with Him. He wants you to be in a friendship whereby you need withhold nothing from Him, you can just bare your soul - and the Bible says that if you will do that, He will withhold no good thing from you. If you make your secrets known to Him, the secret of the Lord will be with you. It's a two-way relationship! I want to say to you today: there is nothing that you cannot bring to Him.
There was a man in my house the other day who is involved in evangelism. He was up at the North West 200 giving out leaflets and talking to folk. He said he met a young man there, and that young man said, 'God could never save me'. He said, 'Why's that? Why you?'. I know this is quite graphic, but we need to waken up to these facts, there are people who feel that they are beyond the pale of God's salvation, that Jesus wouldn't want anything to do with them. This young man said: 'I am a rent boy, and God would have nothing to do with me'. That man had the privilege of showing that young man the Gospel, but that young man couldn't grasp it, because he couldn't get over his hurts, he couldn't get over his pain. He had been abused, and now he was in this cycle that the devil had him in, and he couldn't conceive that anyone could love him the way he was. Listen to me this morning, and you need to hear this: there's nothing you cannot bring to the Lord Jesus Christ. Just imagine now, I know it's hard perhaps, but imagine the Lord Jesus came through those doors, imagine He walked down the aisle where you are and He came directly to your seat. He sat down beside you, and He took you by the hand, and He looked into your eyes and He said: 'Now child, tell me all about it' - that's what He wants to do.
He is here! I really wish we could believe this! He can do it for everyone. He's not walking down an aisle, and going to one person in particular. He is God who fills heaven and earth, and therefore, by His Spirit, He can deal with each of us as if we were the only person in the world! Will you let Him into your heart?
I've got to move on. It was a friendship begun in the heart, but see something else: it was a friendship interrupted by death. You see, Mary and Martha had let Jesus in, not only into their home, but into their heart - but they felt He had let them down. Is there someone here like that, and you trusted Christ in the past, but some tragedy has come into your experience and you feel the Lord has betrayed you, failed you? Look at verse 6: 'So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was'. 'Jesus, this friend of Yours in Bethany that You're always talking about and spending time with, he's sick and he's going to die. We know You love him, so You're bound to just have a sprint to Bethany now, go as fast as You can to help him' - but what does it say here? Jesus delays! Maybe you're here, and you need out, you need help, you need deliverance in a situation, and God has not come through for you? You can't understand it, you've let Jesus in, but He's let you down. You feel like He's forgotten you. Maybe you're what we call a backslider, and you have happy memories of Bethany, a Christian home perhaps, but where is God now in your crisis, in your tragedy?
'Bethany', do you know what it means? In the original language, 'House of Song'. Once there was a song in your heart. It's also the place where Jesus cursed the fig tree, it's a place of faith. Maybe you once had a song, and you once had bold faith? In the next chapter you are going to study, in the next sequence, this is the place where Mary anointed the Lord Jesus' feet with that precious ointment, it was a place of worship. Maybe you once knew what it was for the whole room to be filled with the fragrance of your worship? We're going to see that this was a place of victory and power, resurrection, He raises Lazarus from the dead. Maybe you once knew victory and power? But this house of song now has become a house of affliction, and their friendship has been interrupted in death - is it a death for you that has caused your friendship with Jesus to be interrupted? Is it a disease? A tragedy? A crisis? A broken relationship?
See the reaction of these two sisters: Martha doesn't understand, like we don't understand when any of these things happen. But here, note, Martha, though she didn't understand, she went out to Jesus. Yet Mary shows the reverse, she also didn't understand, but she did not go out. Now listen, there are things in life, no matter how spiritual and in touch with God we are, or intelligent, or how well we know this book, there are things in life that we will never understand! But what is your reaction to them? Do you blame God? Do you let them drive you into God's arms, or do you allow them to drive you away from Jesus?
Now, before we see the miracle, and I'm going to dwell more on that next week, but before we see the resurrection from the dead of Lazarus, I want you to see into the heart of this Friend of yours. Look at verse 35: 'Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, 'See how He loved him!''. Verse 38: 'Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it'. Can I tell you today: the Lord Jesus Christ looks down upon you now in this room, and His heart aches for you, for He loves you. You don't maybe realise it, but you have no greater Friend than He. He is the Saviour, and He sympathises with you even in death. If it's a bereavement that has interrupted your friendship with Him, and your fellowship, here He is standing at the grave of a loved one, and He can sympathise with you because He knows what it is to experience the death of a friend. We believe His father, His earthly guardian here on earth, Joseph, died when Jesus was very young. He knows what it is to grow up, potentially, grow up in a one parent family. He knows what it is to feel deserted, to feel betrayed, to feel friends let you down - because He took flesh and blood, and ultimately He went to the cross and He took our sins and our infirmities, and He died for you! That's why John could say: 'Greater love has no man than this, but that a man lay down his life for his friends' - there's no closer relationship than Jesus and what He did on the cross. The old hymn put it like this: 'In every pang that rends the heart the Man of Sorrows had a part'.
We see Him weeping here in John 11 over the wages of sin. Isn't that what the Bible says? 'The wages of sin is death'. I know the Lord was going to raise him again, and I know He knew He was going to raise him again - but He was weeping over what sin had done to humanity, the pain that it causes, the anguish, the wrench of two souls being parted through death. We see Him saying over Jerusalem: 'Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how I would have gathered you as a hen gathers her chicks, but you would not!', and He's weeping over the waywardness of God's people. Maybe you're here, and you've wandered away from God, and walked away, maybe you were never walking in His direction anyway - but do you know that the Saviour weeps over waywardness? We see Him weeping in Gethsemane as He's going to the cross. He's in the garden, and His soul is near to death, and He is weeping because of the weight of sin that He's going to take upon Himself at the cross - the wrath of God for you, He's going to be in your place and bear your judgement, and He's weeping at the contemplation of how His holy soul would take upon itself the wrath of God for our sins.
This is all emotion, but it's the emotion of the Son of God for you! Have you ever felt the emotion of the Son of God for you? Picture the scene: Martha is looking for someone, and she's looking on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho that winds past her village of Bethany, the one that Jesus would be on as He was coming to heal her brother - but her earnest eye strains and strains over and over from dawn to twilight, and it's too late because her brother expires, he's dead! He is now dead four days, what a scene! Then eventually Jesus turns up - too little too late! Have you ever felt like that? Too little too late! Martha runs along the road, tears streaming, her lip quivering, half in reproach to Jesus and yet half in hope, she says: 'Lord, if You had been here my brother would not have died!'. She's so confused, she wants to believe, but she can see the stark reality of death before her! How can God turn this around?
Is that where you are? Jesus was waiting. Do you know what He was waiting for? Until all her hope was gone. Jesus was waiting for Lazarus to die, for He could only raise him from the dead if he was dead. This was for the glory of God. I feel I'm talking in the Spirit here: there are folk here, and you feel that your situation is beyond even God. You're at the end of your tether, and you ask the question, 'Why? Why did God not intervene before now?' - and here's the reason: God wants to bring great glory out of your deliverance. He wants to bring great glory out of your healing. He wants to bring a resurrection to your home, and perhaps even to your heart that has been wrecked with the death of sin.
We haven't got time to look any more, but this friendship that began in the heart and was interrupted by death was reunited in resurrection. Jesus called to the tomb: 'Lazarus, come forth!', and he came forth! It's a wonderful picture here in chapter 12, verses 1 and 2, just look at it: 'Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead. There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him' - dinner with a dead man! Eh? People would pay for that, wouldn't they? I wonder what they talked about?
Do you know this: I believe Lazarus would have been probably doing a lot of the talking, thanking and praising Jesus in gratitude for what He had done - because He was his Friend, and though it momentarily felt as if He had failed him and failed the family, He hadn't. He was waiting, as Isaiah says, waiting that He might bless them more abundantly - that's why God is willing to touch your life, to change your circumstances. I believe that if you could open your heart and embrace Jesus all the more in the midst of your tragedy, understand that it is God's will for this moment, your deliverance would be all the more accelerated - it would come quicker.
Maybe you're not a Christian here today. There are two very stark reactions. It says in verse 45: 'Many who had seen these things believed on Him', and then in verse 46, 'But some of them went away to the Pharisees and told them the things Jesus did'. If you look at chapter 12 and verse 10, the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also! Unbelief in their heart, they weren't content with just killing Jesus, they wanted to kill all the evidence of His supernatural power - they wanted to take Lazarus out. What is in your heart this morning?
Let us pray. Now it's imperative that you just take a moment, and all of us do, in prayer. Believers, please pray. Maybe your relationship with Christianity has been a tested one, maybe you have never believed and been saved and repented of your sins, changed your mind about your sins, and changed direction to Christ. You need to do that today, there is no no man's land - you're either for Him or against Him, you're either His friend or you're His enemy. Will you be His friend today? Will you say: 'Lord Jesus, I am a sinner, and I thank You that You died for my sin, and I repent of my sin. I confess and forsake it, and I turn to You in faith and ask You to be my Saviour, and come into my life and into my heart and change me'? Will you do that? Maybe you're a person who once believed and once confessed Christ, but your friendship has been interrupted by tragedy, misunderstanding and confusion. Will you come today, and rather than, like Mary, sitting in the house of your mourning with the door shut to Jesus, will you run out to meet Him? Yes, run out with your questions, run out with your heartache, but just open up to Him and He will do a miracle.
Father, we thank You through the stammering voice of man that the still, small voice of God can be heard in the Spirit. I pray that it will be heard by some hurting, hard soul that needs healed by the grace of the Lord Jesus, a heart that needs His friendship. Lord, I pray that You will minister by Your Spirit and draw souls to Jesus now; and indeed that all of us would revel and relish in our communion that we can have under our roof, or indeed anywhere that we are, in our hearts. Through Jesus Christ our Lord we pray, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at Scrabo Hall in Newtownards, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the fifth recording in his 'Portions From John' series, entitled "A Tested Friendship" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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