Description – The fifth sermon of a 2006 Lenten Series
Dramatic Introduction: ‘The Bethany Road’ written by Arden and Peter Mead and published by Creative Communications for the Parish, © 2004
(1) Sermon titles are a challenge for a pastor. There is an art to selecting a suitable title but it can be quite difficult to do so. Some pastors have simply done away with sermon titles and in their bulletins they simply say, ‘Sermon.’
Others, like Rick Warren, believe that a good sermon title is very important and necessary to catch the audience’s attention. In some ways, I am glad that this particular sermon already has a title, namely “The Bethany Road.” (Now while I am using the suggested title, what you are about to hear are (hopefully) Holy Spirit-inspired thoughts.)
(2) However, several titles did run through my mind for this particular passage…
(2A) One is ‘A Sweet Sacrifice’ which would have us highlight what our dramatic dialogue and main text has already noted, Mary’s sacrifice of costly perfume used for burial to wash Jesus’ feet. We could compare and contrast Mary’s actions with those of the women who came to the tomb with burial spices to bury Jesus adequately since He had not been due to the pressure to bury Him before sundown at the start of the Sabbath.
(2B) A second title is ‘Back from the Dead.’ Here we would focus on Jesus’ miraculous act of raising Lazarus from the dead that was recorded in chapter 11 plus what happened after as recorded in this chapter.
(2C) A third title is ‘The Agony of Defeat.’ This title would allow us to look at the response of the Pharisees in verse 19 to what had happened after Lazarus’ resurrection as well as their reactions to Lazarus’ experience in chapter 11. We could then look at these passages against the prophetic statements of Isaiah and others in the Old Testament and ponder how jealousy and envy worked in the minds of those who plotted Christ’s death.
(3) Today we walk ‘The Bethany Road.’ Moreover, as we have in the last few weeks, we begin today by asking the question, ‘What kind of a road is this road?’
(4) In the sermon aids for this week I read, “The Bethany Road begins with a trip to the cemetery, and ends with a parade.” Here then are a couple of clues as to the kind of road this road is.
(5) It is a road of mourning. Now the mourning starts in chapter 11 with Lazarus’ death and burial and Jesus is nowhere to be seen. In fact, we read in verses 5 through 7 of chapter 11, “Although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, he stayed where he was for the next two days and did not go to them. Finally, after two days, he said to his disciples, “Let’s go to Judea again.”
The trip to Bethany would be a risk for Jesus because as we read in verse 8 there had already been one attempt on His life and the disciples were concerned that there would be another as evidence by Thomas’ comment, ‘Let’s go too, and die with Jesus.’ (How would you describe Thomas’ tone of voice? When I read it again this week, I thought, “Did he say it sarcastically?” “Was it with a strong hint of resignation in it?” or “Did he say it with resoluteness ready to die with Jesus?”) Therefore, four days pass before Jesus goes to Bethany knowing Lazarus has already died and two grieving sisters ready to confront him.
We are familiar with the grief of funerals. From personal experience, there are moments during funeral preparation and funeral services that I also deal with grief and mourning and that I weep too, often in private.
When one of my uncles died a few years ago, I did pretty well during the service and even during the preparation for it as I talked with my aunt and cousins. But, after I finished my remarks, concluded the service, and walked away from the funeral room before the final respects were paid, I mourned the passing of my uncle as well.
We have walked with one another as a friend or loved one has passed through the valley of death. And we also know that mourning and grief continues after the initial shock has passed. But, as we read so often during the Lenten season, we know that Jesus “was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with bitterest grief.” Jesus had seen death and people near death.
In Matthew 9, we read of the death of a little girl whose hand Jesus takes and, in spite of the mockery He encounters when He says, “ the girl isn’t dead; she’s only asleep” brings her back to life! Then over in Luke 7 we read of the widow’s son who is raised to life again by Jesus’ command to “Get up!”
But these two individuals had not been dead four days in addition to being in a tomb. They had been dead for only a brief period.
With Lazarus however, it was entirely different. He had been dead for four days, wrapped in grave linens, and then placed in a tomb that had been covered by a large stone. He was good and dead. The possibility that he still had life left in him was zero. His body had begun to decompose.
As we read the rest of chapter 11, we notice that Jesus is moved to tears and is deeply troubled. Why?
The primary reason is the lack of faith in Him. No one entertains the possibility that He can raise Lazarus from the dead. We hear this spoken by some as recorded in John 11:37, “This man healed a blind man. Why couldn’t he keep Lazarus from dying?”
Jesus is troubled. Jesus is angry. He knows what He is going to do. But the others, perhaps understandably blinded by grief, think that any hope of a resurrection is… well a miracle. Yet Jesus tells the twelve in 11:14 and 15, “Lazarus is dead. And for your sake, I am glad I wasn’t there, because this will give you another opportunity to believe in me. Come, let’s go see him.”
Then, when He arrives in Bethany, He says to Martha, “Your brother will rise again.” “Yes,” Martha said, “when everyone else rises, on resurrection day.” Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die like everyone else, will live again. They are given eternal life for believing in me and will never perish. Do you believe this, Martha?”
Then, much to everyone’s overwhelming surprise, Jesus orders the stone rolled away and orders Lazarus to come out of the grave!
The reverberations of this miracle are almost immediate. The Pharisees, Jesus’ main opponents, are made immediately aware of what has happened and a plot is hatched. John 11:53 and 54 says, “So from that time on the Jewish leaders began to plot Jesus’ death. As a result, Jesus stopped his public ministry among the people and left Jerusalem. He went to a place near the wilderness, to the village of Ephraim, and stayed there with his disciples.”
We don’t know how much time passes between the end of chapter 11 and the beginning of chapter 12. It could have been a couple of weeks, or less than a week. But, we do know that Jesus returns from Ephraim to Bethany in preparation for His death and goes to someone’s home for a meal prepared in His honor. (The gospels give conflicting accounts for the identity of the home.)
I wonder how much time it took for news of Jesus’ arrival to get around to both His supporters and His enemies, who as we read in the last verse of chapter 11, had asked for knowledge of his whereabouts so that He could be arrested. And Jesus was much honored and in the news because of Lazarus’ resurrection.
And from what follows in our main text, we see that the tension and pressure is starting to build in Judas, impatient to be sure, and close to betrayal as he snaps at Mary. ‘How could you do such a thing?’ ‘That is a terrible waste of money!’
But, Jesus knows what is coming… (John 12:7 and 8) “Leave her alone. She did it in preparation for my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but I will not be here with you much longer.” The Bethany Road now becomes (5A) a road of celebration and it begins not with the Triumphal Entry but here at dinner with a man who was raised back to life sitting beside him and his sister whose faith in Christ was expressed in a costly and prophetic way. (Ever stop to think that the ointment that Mary poured on Jesus’ feet might have been for her brother?)
It is this act of resurrecting Lazarus that calls attention to Jesus and crates His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Here is a man, (a man to his enemies and one that was considered demon possessed) that has raised someone from the dead! He has got to be the Messiah! (He was and is!) He has got to be the Anointed One! (He was and is!)
The next day, the news that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem swept through the city. A huge crowd of Passover visitors took palm branches and went down the road to meet him. They shouted, “Praise God Bless the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hail to the King of Israel!” Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, fulfilling the prophecy that said: “Don’t be afraid, people of Israel. Look, your King is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt.”
His disciples didn’t realize at the time that this was a fulfillment of prophecy. But after Jesus entered into his glory, they remembered that these Scriptures had come true before their eyes. Those in the crowd who had seen Jesus call Lazarus back to life were telling others all about it. That was the main reason so many went out to meet him—because they had heard about this mighty miracle.
What a great celebration! Here is our true King! We are going to be free!
Not so fast…
The plot thickens… those in power say, “We have got to get rid of Him! We do it NOW!” Then there are the people who, John says, “despite all the miraculous signs he had done, … did not believe in him.”
This road now becomes a (6A) road of plotting and fickleness. The leaders plot His death and the people are fickle in their faith. Some believe and some don’t. Some are short-term believers and others give lip service to honoring Jesus.
What does all this mean? How does this affect us right now? So what, Jim?
(7A) Jesus weeps with us during difficult moments in our lives. While He was troubled with and angry at the lack of faith in those who were with Him at Lazarus’ tomb, He also wept with Mary. The God, who was to hang on the cross for our spiritual pain and sin, is a God who cares for us. He is with us in our sorrows as well as our joys. Believe it and remember it during those difficult moments.
(7B) Faith is costly. Mary’s actions cost her something of value. But she thought that it was worth it. Her faith was demonstrated in her using an expensive ointment to do a mundane task – washing the feet of a visitor to her home.
What has your faith cost you lately? What have you recently sacrificed for your faith? What is the Lord calling you to give up for Him?
The road for Jesus now becomes harder and more difficult and this week we need to remember, we must remember, what took place this week. Why? Because this week and what took place on this week still affects human history whether or not people still choose to believe it or not.
On Thursday at 7 PM we will continue to walk this Lenten road with a walk on the Road to Gethsemane and next Sunday we will conclude our walk with a walk on the Emmaus Road.
Let us continue our walk toward Jerusalem… Amen.