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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
I don’t know about you, but if you would have asked me when I was ten years old, twelve years old, fourteen, fifteen, maybe close to sixteen even, “Do you believe in the resurrection?” “Yes.” “Do you believe in Jesus?” “Yes. I’m an American, are you kidding?”
But it was a fact that I intellectually marked off as that must be true, not because I reasoned it, not because I have experienced anything, just because that’s what I was told.
And I think Martha was farther along than that, but Jesus is going to do something for her that He wants to do in you and He wants to do in me.
And He wants to do it whether you have walked with Him for thirty years so that you grasp it with power and reality like never before. And He wants to do it if you happen to be here because your mom or your grandmother or a friend or a co-worker said, “Why don’t you come to church for Easter?” And you’re thinking, They’re nice people. It’ll probably be an hour, an hour and fifteen minutes. How bad can it be? Right?
But I want you to ponder the story. She is hurt and she wonders, her cheeks are swollen from crying. She really wonders: Will Jesus come through? She has all the right information in her head and what Jesus is about to say is going to change a fact to a face.
He is going to talk about just, instead of your personal belief system, it’s going to move to a life changing reality in a person.
Follow along as I read. “Jesus said to her,” and I believe piercing into her eyes, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die.” And I think coming out of His lips right now, it went into her eyes and into her brain and down into her heart and there was emotional connection that took concepts and all of a sudden she realized: This isn’t about believing a set of truths. This is about a personal, living relationship.
The Jewish leaders had tried to pin Him down, “Are You the Messiah?” People questioned over and over. And now just very few days before He’d go to the cross, He says to this woman directly, “I am,” not just the resurrection, “I am the life.” I want to give you more than fix your problems. I want to do more than just make your life and your agenda and your expectations and what has gone on with you a little bit better. I want to get behind and under all that. And I want to give you a brand-new life. I want to forgive all your sins. I want to live inside of you. I want intimate relationship with you. And I don’t always promise to take you out of it.
But I will be with you and I will take you through and I will give you hope in the midst of the darkest, darkest things you ever go through.
And then He looks at her and He says, “Do you believe that, Martha?” And in a moment of faith she says, “‘Lord, I do. I believe that You are the Christos, the Son of God, the One who is to come into the world.’ And after she said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. ‘The Teacher is here, and He is asking for you.’ And when Mary heard this, she got up quickly and she went to Him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met Him. And when the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn. And when Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw Him,” picture this, “she fell at His feet and said, ‘Lord, if You had been here, would not my brother have died?’”
Same question. “Where were You when I needed You?” Martha is the pragmatist and she intellectually deals with the issues. Mary is the emotive one and she just is weeping and the word weeping here, it’s wailing. This isn’t an [softly cries]. This is a wailing. And she is at His feet. The same place she was at one time when she poured perfume and wiped it with her hair.
And her heart is bleeding and she is crying. And look at the next line. The Jews that are with her, they are crying. It’s an emotional moment and Jesus sees her crying and He sees the Jews crying and it says He is deeply troubled in His spirit and disturbed. Two very interesting words.
There was an emotion that was visceral. This word in the ancient language, it’s literally used of a horse when it snorts, when something is happening. It’s a picture of emotion welling up in Jesus and there is this compassion and His heart goes out to her.
And look at the next line. He asked, “Where have you laid him?” And then Jesus begins to weep. This isn’t some God who is far away that doesn’t care. This isn’t some God who is angry that you’ve got to pray to so many times a day. This isn’t some invisible force that you can somehow get to higher levels of consciousness and hope that your next time around you come up and come back a little bit better than you were.
This is the personal God who said, “I created all that there is and I am going to prove it in just a minute, and I care about you.” And He is angry at death and He is angry at what sin does. And His heart goes out to this woman that He loves.
And then He begins to get on the solution side. But there’s always a couple responses to what Jesus does. “Some of the Jews who watched this said, ‘Oh, how He loved them.” He loved Lazarus. “But there were some who said, ‘Well, could He who opened the eyes of the blind, couldn’t He have kept this man from dying?’”
See, no matter what God does, we can come up with solutions to reframe it and say, “He should have cared more.” This is the third time in one passage where: does God really care? Does Jesus really love me? – come up.
Have you ever felt that way? Anybody feel that right now? Does God really care? This is that catalytic moment of a category of religion; I believe in God, intellectually; I believe there’s a resurrection. Some people need this and some people…to: what about you when He looks into your eyes and says, on this day, I brought you in this room because I want you to know something. I know you’ve got problems in your finances and I know you’ve got problems in relationships and it’s a fallen world. And I know some of you have health problems and some of you have job problems and some have pressure with your kids and some may have struggles in your marriage. And I know that, really, a lot prayers or a lot of people say, Oh, God, help me. Oh, God, help me. Oh, God, oh please fix this, please fix that, please fix that.
When He does and if He does, in the way that you want, often the way it happens is, Thank You, thank You, thank You, and three months later we kind of forget it, right? Do you remember what He said? He said to the disciples, “I am glad that I wasn’t there.” You ought to scratch your head and say, “What do you mean You’re glad You weren’t there? You chose not to be there.” It’s purposeful.
He let it get to a point, not where it was hard, not where it’s difficult. He let it get to a point where it was impossible, so that what He would do would be bigger and more beyond anything. He wasn’t going to fix Mary and Martha’s problem. He was going to demonstrate who He really was – the Messiah, the Savior of the world – and He was going to do it in a way that would be unmistakable, that He is not one option on the salad bar of religions. He speaks by His word and a man is going to come back to life.
“He once more, again, deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across it. ‘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 in there for four days.’ Then Jesus said, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?’”
Could you circle the words if you believe? There’s a theme developing. It has been developing, but now it’s coming to a climax. “So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked up,” and now He’s going to pray a prayer, not for His sake but so people can get a real snapshot of who He really is and what He is really about. “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I know that You have always heard Me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that You sent Me.” Could you circle may believe?
“When He said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, His hands and feet wrapped with strips of linin, and a cloth around his face. And Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go.’”
Now, don’t you think if when they sent the messenger, if Jesus would have gone back and healed Lazarus, that would have been at least a B, maybe even a B plus, right? Wow, that’s great! Thank You! Or He could have done a long-distance miracle. He could have said, “Tell Mary and Martha that at this very hour, Lazarus will be well.” And He goes back, yeah, it was noon, it was noon. Yep! That would be a good B. Someone is critically ill, they are totally restored.
Jesus didn’t want to give them a B. He wanted to give them an A-triple-plus. See, He didn’t want to help them. He didn’t want to solve a problem. He didn’t want to fix what was going on where they felt pressure. He wanted them to have a gift of Himself and life that, no matter what they faced for the rest of their life, they would know He comes through. And He is going to come through not only in this life, but forever and ever and ever.
And when He walked up and said, “Lazarus,” and I like what some commentators say. He had to use his name lest everybody come back to life. Think of that.
Jesus was a very narrow person. “I am the way, the truth, the life. No man comes to the Father except by Me.” This is the Second Person of the Trinity, the Godhead, who takes on flesh in the womb of a teenage girl. Fully man; fully God. Lives an absolutely perfect life for thirty years, does a three-year ministry, and then is rejected by His own people. And He will hang upon a cross in about a day or two from this event.
And He will take on Your sin and my sin and the sins of all people. And the just wrath of God, because God hates sin, it makes Him angry just like it makes you angry. When someone gets betrayed, you get angry. When kids get abused, you get angry. When over in places in Africa right now, where little nine and ten-year-old boys are given guns and they are put in their hands and they said, “You join this army and kill these people or we kill your parents.” And they say, “Oh, we can’t,” and they kill their parents in front of them, often in grotesque manners.
If that doesn’t enrage you, if the sex trade doesn’t enrage you, if pollution is destroying our planet doesn't enrage you, something is wrong with you. Sin is evil. And it’s a fallen world. And there’s a byproduct of evil that hits all of us.
Jesus declares, “I am going to address the core – sin. And the result of sin is death. Lazarus, come forth.” But all that was was the prequel. All that was was to tell the people He loved the most, I am going to come through for you here, but I am going to come through for everybody in about a day or two. And then He paid the price for your sin and mine for all time.
The word is atoned, or He covered for it. It’s like if there was a huge bank account of sin that had to be paid for, His blood covered it all and it’s called “paid in full.” And then He says, Whosoever would accept this gift of “paid in full,” you need to write a check. You need to appropriate and say, “I want this grace for my life,” and you fill in your name. “By faith, I receive that personally, not as an intellectual construct, but I want relationship with the living God through the work of His Son. And then He rose from the dead to prove that it’s true.”
And then, how did He heal Lazarus? Exactly the same way that He created the earth and the universe. Hebrews 11 says, “He spoke the universe into existence. He didn’t touch him, there wasn’t a formula, He didn’t get a dream, there’s not some little thing that you do to earn your favor or appease some angry God. This is God coming to His people, “I am the resurrection. Me! The Person. I am Your life. I want to give you a bigger gift than fix your problems.”
And there are always two response, again, when God enters in and provides truth powerfully and demonstrates it.
“Therefore, many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in Him.” Here’s the opposite response, “But some of them went to the Pharisees and they told them what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin, ‘What are we accomplishing?’ they said. ‘Here is this Man performing many signs. If we let Him go on like this, everyone will believe in Him, and then the Romans will come and they will take away our temple,’” literally, the word is our place, “and our nation.” Put a box around "temple" and put a box around "nation." Here's what you need to understand.
Now, do the math on this. This isn’t out there. This is our story. We are there. We are with Mary and Martha. We are close friends. There’s this itinerant preacher who makes these outrageous claims. He feeds these people, He has raised a couple people from the dead, He says strange things, He is messing with our spiritual leaders that, as little children we grew up and we revered the Sadducees and the Pharisees and He basically says, “The most religious people in the world are the farthest from God. They have missed God’s heart. They are religious; they have no relationship. They are hypocrites.
I don’t know about you, but I grew up in a church just like that. I had no idea you could have a relationship with God through Christ. And, now, He raises this man from the death to demonstrate it’s true. And, literally, a portion say, “We believe.” And biblical believing isn’t like, “I now intellectually agree with that.” Biblical believing, faith is in trusting and saying, “I now receive the gift of salvation and I believe to the point that I am going to obey what He says because when He speaks the universe comes into existence.”
When He speaks, Lazarus comes from the grave. When He speaks to me, He says, I want you to follow Me. I want you to walk in the light as I am in the light. And when you do, I will do things in you that you couldn’t imagine that solve some of those issues in your marriage and with your kids and with your future. I want you to do finances My way, I want you to have your dreams My way, I want to give you exceedingly, abundantly beyond what you could ever ask or think. But it starts with relationship. And it doesn’t mean there won’t be challenges and hurts and pains and difficulties in a fallen world, but I’ll be with you and I will never leave you and I will never forsake you. I didn’t come just to fix your problem. I came to give you a new life.
And, basically, one group said, “We want it,” and the other group said, “Now, wait a second. If everyone believes in Him,” remember what He said to Martha? “Martha, do you believe this?” You might circle that. “Anyone who believes in Me will not die.” He said to the disciples, “It’s good that I wasn’t there in order that you may believe.”
It’s not real hard. There’s an honest question, a powerful story, and the amazing answer is so that you may believe. Sometimes God lets your problems go from bad to impossible so that you may believe. Not intellectually agree with – actually believe.
Like when you believe in a surgeon, you don’t say, “I believe you can do those operations on other people and have been very successful. That’s intellectually agreeing. You believe when you say, “I believe that you are the best surgeon for this very delicate operation and next Monday morning at six o’clock I’ll be there at pre-op and I believe to the point that I’m going to let you cut me right through here – that’s belief. And that’s really what He wants to do for you and me.
And there are really two things He wants you to believe. He wants you to believe the extent of His love. In my journey through all that time and that new job, God took me through something and I think down deep in my heart there was something like, I love Jesus, and I had been a pastor about twenty-five years at the time, and I really want to follow You and have my wife happy. And I want to follow You and be involved in a great ministry. I want to follow You and all my kids doing well. And intellectually I knew that wasn’t really biblical but then God said, Okay, you know this stuff you have been preaching to everybody else? Why don’t you try it on for four or five years? How about just Me is enough?
And I have to tell you that at a new level, I experienced Jesus as my life and my resurrection. And I got to where, You know what? Lord, it’s a fallen world. I can’t control things. By faith, I believe that You love me. And here’s what I want You to know: I think I made the right decision. But here’s, Father, I still remember one early morning saying, Lord, even if all these circumstances reveal that maybe I didn’t make a very wise decision or I didn’t make it in the right way, I will just do whatever You show me.
And an amazing thing happened where He did something in me and then after that, I watched Him turn those things around. And sometimes the way God shows His love to those of you that He loves the most and you have walked with Him for years and years, is He lets things go from bad to impossible that you could have a level of understanding of His love for you. And, secondly, that you could grasp how available His power is.
Because it often takes more power to endure difficulty and pain and struggle and persevere than it does to just see Him deliver in some miraculous way. And, so, I would say to you, whether you have been walking with God for thirty years or you just visited and in your mind you’re thinking, I think I get what it means to believe and I think it’s God’s will for me to find hope today by placing my faith in Christ with all the implications.
Because they didn’t believe because of the place, their position and their nation, their control. And people don’t believe today because we don’t want to lose our position and we don’t want to lose our control. And position and control have to do with pride. I’ll run my life my way, thank you. And to people who choose to do that, God says, “Thy will be done.” And to those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” He says, “Enter in to a new relationship with Me.”