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About this series
Easter - Hope for the Hopeless
Chip asks the question: Where is God when you hurt? When you’ve lost heart? Lost courage? Lost hope? If you’re struggling, and it feels like God is a million miles away, you don’t want to miss this message. You’re not alone, God is VERY present, and you can have hope because He is good, and He never fails.More from this series
So often when we think of Easter we think of hope and resurrection and we have sung those great songs about Jesus rising from the dead and sort of a great moment, but what about, how does that work in everyday life?
And so what I am going to do is take you on a journey with me and I have a question to ask, I have a story that I want to ponder with you – not just read or tell. I really want to ponder it. And then there’s an answer for you and me and the struggles that we have.
So there are some notes, why don’t you open those up. And here’s the question. The question I have, it’s an honest question is: where is God when you hurt? Or maybe someone really close to you. When you have lost courage, you have lost hope, you have lost heart, maybe you have lost a mate, maybe you have lost your home as so many have, maybe you have lost your job, maybe you have even lost a child.
Where is God when your boyfriend betrays you or you find out your boss used you. Or you have been one of those people that you have really sought to break some kind of an addiction and you have prayed and cried and tried and then you keep falling back into the same hopeless situation or maybe that describes your son or your daughter or your mate or a roommate. And you’re saying, God, please help! But experientially He just feels silent and distant.
In fact, there’s some rare times, despite how God so often lovingly, lovingly intervenes and provides dramatic answers to prayer and helps us. There are some times, even among those that He loves and cherishes the most, and instead of when we come with our hard, difficult, hopeless situation, it doesn’t go from bad to worse. It goes from bad to impossible.
And we are going to ponder a story of two women who find themselves in a situation where their experience with Jesus is: “I know He loves us. At least I thought so.” And their situation goes not from bad to worse but from bad to impossible.
Let’s ponder the story together. And when I say, “ponder,” as much as your imagination, go there with me. Feel what they feel. Jump into the life of this story. These are real people in a real situation. It’s just a few days before Jesus is going to be nailed to a cross.
“Now, a man named Lazarus was sick. And he was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped His feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, ‘Lord, the one You love is sick.’”
And, so, there’s a problem. And I don’t know about you, but I didn’t grow up as a Christian but I did go to Sunday school some. And I was taught at Sunday school: if you have a a problem, you should take it to Jesus, right?
And so here are these two people and if you have a little background, they are personal friends. These aren’t just people out there. These are, this is where Jesus went for R&R. It was a little suburb outside or Jerusalem and you watch Jesus’ ministry and He does all this teaching and then there’s some people, He just needs to let His hair down and hang out with.
And Lazarus was a personal friend. Martha, often, would fix meals for Him and Mary just had that really close relationship with Him that she wanted to listen and to learn and to grow and so He’s off doing ministry and we will learn a little bit later that He’s doing it in a way where He is getting near the end of His life and the religious leaders have decided, “This guy has got to go,” so there’s a contract out on Him. They want to kill Him.
And their brother is critically ill. This is a very serious illness. And, so, they send a messenger to Jesus to say, “Hey, the one that You love is sick. Obviously, You care, You love, You’re going to take care of this.”
Well, let’s find out what happens, not to people who are bad, not to people that in any way could be punished or that God doesn’t care about. How does Jesus respond, on occasion, to some people that He loves the most?
Jesus responds, “When He heard this, Jesus said, ‘This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.’” And then a little piece of commentary. “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So,” would you circle the word so? So He loves them. He gets word from a messenger and He says the purpose of this will not end in death, but this is so the Son will be glorified. Put a little box around the word glorified, because the Hebrew word, it’s origin has to do with weight. It means to enhance their reputation. It will give weight to who Jesus is. It will give weight to His identity. It’s going to reveal with power and clarity exactly why He came and what He is going to do. So this isn’t going to end in death but it’s going to help people see something about who Jesus is like never before.
And, so, then the author says, “I want you to know that everything that’s going to happen is motivated out of a deep concern and love.”
So, here’s how He expresses this deep concern and love. “When He heard that Lazarus was sick, He stayed where He was two more days.” I don’t know about you, but if I called 9-1-1 and a friend had come to my house and had a heart attack and I called 9-1-1,
If the person on the other end of the line said, “You know, I just really want you to know, we here at 9-1-1 really love you, and we’ll be there in a couple days.” That would not exactly warm my heart.
Have you ever had a situation like that where you, maybe it’s right now, and you feel like you cry out to God and as far as you know, there’s no big issue, no big problem, and you love Him and you have asked for help but it feels like He must be doing other things. Jesus, out of His love, is going to stay a couple more days.
I remember the first time this passage, I have obviously read it a few times in the last many years as a Christian. But in terms of real personal, when this spoke to me, I was asked to lead this organization on the other side of America. And so it meant leaving a church I loved and being uprooted and my wife wasn’t really happy about it. And as soon as I said yes, a month later, her mother died. And my youngest son was ready to get married and he wanted to do it where we used to live.
And if you’re a mom and that changes, and then as soon as we landed there she needed oral surgery and she was in pain all the time, but the oral surgery didn’t work. And so we put everything that we owned in a truck and the truck slid on ice and so the car on the truck, it was damaged. And then the organization that I joined, remember 2001, beginning of 2002? The bottom drops out.
So people had made millions and millions of dollars of commitments to help these people all around the world and I start getting calls and letters going, “I would love to help you, but all the money I had now is gone.”
And I remember sitting in my basement and you how the phrases in the psalms, “Cry out to God”? I wasn’t crying out to God. I was just crying. Have you ever been there?
And I, literally, I was reading this and I thought, literally, because here’s the issue. The little messenger that comes back, Mary and Martha are thinking, Jesus, we have watched Him feed four thousand, feed five thousand. We have seen Him raise someone from the dead. He’ll either come back and heal our brother or He’ll do one of those long-distance miracles. Remember the one with the centurion?
He says, “I’m not worthy for You even to come into my house.” And He says, “Great, he’ll be healed.” But what you’re going to find is Jesus doesn’t respond. See, this message isn’t for people that are wondering where they’re at with God. This message is for people that, on occasion, how Jesus responds to people that He loves the most, that haven’t done anything wrong, that find themselves in a situation they don’t understand.
Now, it applies to all of us. But I remember saying, God, if You really love me, I obeyed You, I did what You wanted me to do, and I sort of had that unconscious formula that if you do what God wants you to do, everything will turn out right and easy. And I know that’s not true, but it’s so deeply in me. And the first two or three years there, it was horrendous.
God doesn’t always show up on your timing, with your expectations, to fulfill your agenda or mine the way we think. So let’s find out what He does and why He does it. How does He give hope to the hopeless? Because these two ladies feel pretty hopeless right now.
The messenger came back and I just have to believe Mary and Martha said, “What did the Lord say? What did He say? What did He say?” And I think the guy said, “Not coming.” “What?!” “He’s not coming.” “Well, is He going to do something? We don’t know. He’s just not coming.”
And Mary and Martha, we’ll learn in just a minute, will bury their brother. And not only will they have the sorrow of losing their brother, but they are going to scratch their head and say, “Was I wrong about Jesus? Does He even care? Does God care?”
Have you ever thought that? Have you ever had something happen in your life that is so devastating or hard or maybe you have lost your home or you don’t have a job or you’ve got cancer and you say, Hey, God, what’s…? Let’s find out how Jesus operates.
Verse 7, “Then He said to His disciples, ‘Let’s go back to Judea.’ ‘But Rabbi,’ they said, ‘a short while ago the Jews tried to stone You, and yet You’re going to go back there?’ And Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours of daylight? A man who walks by day will not stumble, for he sees by this world’s light. If he walks when it’s night, he stumbles, for he has no light.’ And after He said this, He went on to tell them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going to wake him up.’
“His disciples replied, ‘Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.’” Translation: We don’t have to go. He’ll wake up on his own. “Jesus had been speaking of his death, but the disciples thought He meant natural sleep. So He told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’ Then Thomas called Didymus said to the rest of the disciples, ‘Let us all go, that we may die with Him.’”
So, now, all of a sudden, this is where there is a mystery and it doesn’t seem to make sense. And these two people that He really loves, He doesn’t respond to them initially, He waits a couple more days. We are going learn in just a minute that He was far enough away that Lazarus has died, He has now been dead four days.
And He says to the disciples, Okay, guys, we are heading back to Judea. And they raise their hand and I like what they called Him: Rabbi. Term of endearment, it’s: You’re the teacher; You’re the wise one.
By this time, they have confessed that He is the Christ. They believe He is really the Son of God. And so, You’re wise, You’re all knowing, You’re smart. This is not a smart move. You’re going to go back there, there’s a contract out on You. They want to kill You; You go there, we go there, You die, we die. Not a good plan!
See, sometimes when you feel hopeless, God will very clearly say, This is what I want you to do and I want you to go to a place with Me, and we are afraid. Because it doesn’t seem to make logical sense.
And then we get what I call a “Jesus-ism.” These times in Scripture where you say, Lord, that doesn’t make sense. What are we going to do? And then can you imagine being those guys and thinking, your heart is beating fast, If we go there, we are going to get killed. We are going to get stoned. And here’s the answer: “Are there not yet twelve hours of light in the day? If you walk during the day, you will not stumble, but if you walk at night you will stumble. So let us walk while it’s light.”
I’m thinking Pete is going to John, “Do you have any idea what He’s talking about? I don’t have a clue!” Jesus speaks in these sort of: here’s a literal truth, but there’s a spiritual truth behind it. And, basically, He’ll say to them, Guys, when you go anywhere in life, and the sun is out and you can see, you don’t stumble or fall into a ditch or trip over a rock. But at night that happens. Have you guys forgotten? Chapter 8 I told you I’m the light of the world. When you feel hopeless and when you feel I haven’t come through at the right time in the right way to fulfill your agenda, here’s what you know: Draw close to Me; I’ve got a plan. If you will do what I ask you to do, whenever you’re with Me, I am the light and you’ll never get in trouble as you’re close to Me. So, guys, I am the light of the world. You stay with Me, you don’t have to be afraid.
Our response, when we don’t understand and feel hopeless is fear and we get paralyzed and we often don’t want to go or do exactly what God has told us to do. And the other is not fear, it’s fatalism.
This is Thomas. Some of you are a little more familiar with the New Testament and this is not the hero in terms of who has a lot of faith, this Thomas guy. This is the guy that, even after the resurrection, won’t believe unless he personally can stick his fingers into the holes in His hands and into where His side was pierced.
And I call this fatalism. It’s like, “Well, it’s really hard, it’s really difficult and this marriage is really a challenge but I know I’m a Christian and my son or daughter is having a big problem. And our house is upside down and I need a job but, you know, God is out there somewhere. Whatever will be, will be. “Let it roll out. I just go through the motions. I’ll just intellectually say I believe in God, I trust Him,” but in your heart of hearts, bam, you’re capped out.
I want to tell you that when you are hopeless, God says, I want you to trust Me. I don’t want you to be afraid, I don’t want you to go on autopilot and just whatever will be will be. That’s just not true.
And now what He’s going to do is something very powerful for these two ladies, but maybe more powerful for us today. Because, see, what I wanted God to do in my situation: Fix my life. Would You cause my wife’s health to get better? Would You get me a car that works? Because the one that go wrecked in the storm doesn’t work now. And gasoline poured all over it so it’s in the middle of winter in Atlanta and I have to drive with the windows down. It was crazy! But I couldn’t afford another car but this one is kind of ruined but I signed off on the papers.
And, by the way, you know all those people who committed all these millions of dollars before I got here? Could you bless them so I’ve got all these guys around the world and I’m supposed to pay their salary and, God! Where are You?
Answer: “I’m the light. Trust Me. There’s enough grace for today. Just take the next step. I will deliver you, not always out of it, but through it.” Sometimes God has a bigger gift than fixing your problem.
Sometimes He has a bigger gift than just snapping His fingers and causing your marriage to be more fulfilling or one of your kids to come around or getting a better report on your scan. And that’s what Jesus does with these two ladies.
Jesus’ gift to Martha and Mary is better. Verse 17, “On His arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet Him, but Mary stayed at home.”
And you need to just get a little picture. The Jewish form of mourning was very, very serious. For seven days, no food could be prepared, people would come from all over. You talk about a moral obligation. If you knew these people, out of respect, you would come.
And the women would go first and they would walk to the tomb and then they would walk to the house and people would line on both sides. And unlike us where we talk, “He has passed,” and people are very quiet and we don’t really want to look death in the face, they would mourn and they would wail. Sometimes they would hire professional mourners. The more mourning, it was thought, more honoring of the dead.
And, so, they are crying and they are weeping and there’s a sense of chaos and you’re hearing these people moan and, “Oh, God!” And the loss. And into that, Mary is there and Martha is there and as they are there, she gets word that Jesus is here. So she pops up and she goes over to Jesus.
Where would you be if you lost someone very close to you? Your mate, your mom, your dad, your brother.