The Gift of Purpose

  Posted on   by   No comments

Reading John 4: 27-38
Listen to Miles’ Sermon – Morning service.

Summary

Do Christians have a universal purpose and not just a specific purpose?
All of us have the same purpose in Christ.

1. Every Christian has to accept that they are loved.
It is a purpose for us to accept God’s love.

2. To respond to God’s love in his world.
For instance Rosa Parks was a Christian; a member of the the African Methodist Episcopal Church, was an activist in the American civil rights movement and best known for her pivotal role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The United States Congress has called her “the first lady of civil rights”. She highlighted to the world the evils of colour segregation through peaceful protest.

If we are only Christians on a Sunday then we are not Christians.
How are we going to take God’s love into the world?
It could be on the bus, team meeting, whilst having a cup of tea, or even teaching Year 11.

3. Introducing others to Jesus.
If your job does not allow you to speak the name of “Jesus”, you can still talk about Faith, Hope and Purpose – there are ways to talk about Jesus.
However, if the Holy Spirit leads, then talk about Jesus. He’s the only ace in our pack.
The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu told his bishops to “Go, Go, Go in the name of Jesus”.
We should do likewise.

Read Andy’s Sermon – Evening service

Theme: The Gift of Purpose

John 11: 32-44 (Lazarus is raised from the dead)

Here we have a very well known passage from John; one that is familiar to many outside the church or the Christian faith. One that has drawn criticism for its account of supernatural and “impossible” deeds as much as it has drawn immense support in its portrayal of the power of God through Jesus to overcome even death itself.

The theme for today’s services is “the gift of purpose”, and we might want to ask “where is purpose in this event?” or “what purpose was served by John reporting this crowning miracle of Jesus’ live shortly before his final Passover festival and the end of His life when the other three Gospels remain silent”.

That’s right, Matthew Mark and Luke do not report the raising of Lazarus or even hint at it.

Why did they not mention it? They all report other miracles about people raised from the dead although these occur very soon after death so at least the sceptics are satisfied that the person “may not actually have been dead”. BUT Lazarus has been dead for 4 days and the body is already decaying (or at least expected to be)- (John 11:39) .

Another reason for at least Mark and Luke not reporting this is that they very much based their writings on the witness of Peter, who was not with Jesus when he raised Lazarus; plus the fact that they all place Jesus in Galilee at this time.

One interesting thing about this passage is that it is very much about showing the power of God to a large and possibly affluent audience.

We can be pretty certain of this due to a couple of hints:

  1. Where Mary Martha and Lazarus lived is known as “Martha’s House”. 1900 years before women get the vote, in the middle of a patriarchal society where women don’t have a voice or property and are defined by their father, brother or husband’s status and shouldn’t be seen even talking to men outside the family, Lazarus is seen as someone merely living in “Martha’s House”. He is not the main man of the house. She must have influence and wealth to be considered a separate and superior figure to her brother
  2. Another clue is the tomb- only well-off people actually owned a tomb/cave with a big rock to roll across the entrance.
  3. And finally look at the people attending the funeral of Lazarus. This was Bethany, just a few miles from Jerusalem and we are told earlier in the chapter that people travelled from Jerusalem to attend and to “console Martha and Mary in their loss” (John 11:18). One can only assume that they had friends in high places, and plenty of them.

Jesus was aware of all this and by displaying God’s power over death to these very people, He could be sure that there would be 2 major outcomes:

  1. Many Jews well placed in society will start to believe and may occupy positions of influence from which they might spread the word
  2. Others equally well placed who refuse to believe will report back to their friends the Pharisees that Jesus is a powerful threat to their positions and the status quo. After all can they really maintain their important positions with somebody running around raising the dead, having power over death itself? (whether they believe it or not)

So then, did Jesus also consider that this might hasten the day of his death at the hands of the authorities?

I am sure He did!

But again,

Did it happen? It is purely symbolic?

…all questions which have been levelled at many parts of the Bible and have kept countless scholars awake and undecided for centuries.

In many ways these arguments are missing the point.

Real/Unreal. Symbolic/Fictional?

You might also want to wonder why this event is reported if it was indeed total fiction? Why threaten the integrity and validity of John’s Gospel for the sake of a miracle that goes unnoticed by the others? This just cannot have been created out of thin air by the early church without some basis in fact.

BUT I am asking you all to put aside these thought for a while and return to the theme “the gift of purpose”.

The purpose we are looking at here that Jesus does, can and will bring life out of death.

This is a main theme in John’s Gospel- that Jesus has come to bring life.

How can this be when Jesus lets a man- a close friend- die?

Mary says to Jesus if only He had come earlier He could have saved him. But of course He could! We know that. He gave life to Jairus’ dead daughter, he cured incurable lepers, He made lame people walk and helped the blind to see so saving Lazarus would have been a piece of cake. But He didn’t. He delayed. Lazarus died. Why?

So, let’s re-trace our steps a little to the time a few days earlier when Jesus heard of Lazarus’ illness. In verse 4 of this chapter Jesus said that his (Lazarus’) illness will not end in death; it “happened for the glory of God”. As we know He delayed going to see Mary Martha & Lazarus during which time Lazarus died. The subsequent raising of Lazarus was in order to demonstrate Jesus’/God’s power over death.

This is a hard thing to fathom.

As an aside-

We don’t hear what Lazarus thought about all this. How must it feel (1) to be deserted by the one person who can save your life and who you love dearly then (2) be used in this way-brought back to life- just to prove a point? This is an important indication of the closeness that Mary Martha Lazarus and Jesus shared- He knew the absolute depth of their faith in Him and in God and although Mary berates Him for being late she doesn’t really go to town on blame. She trusts and loves Jesus deeply and you get the feeling that she already suspects an ulterior motive and because she knows Jesus and she must know that all His actions are for the good.

Put all this together and no, I don’t think Lazarus would have been unwilling participant in this awesome display of God’s power over death.

At the end of the passage (John 11:43-44), Jesus says “Lazarus come out” I wonder if He hadn’t called him by name, if all the dead in the cemetery might have risen?

Lazarus is called “the dead man” until Jesus tells the people to “unwrap him and let him go”- remember when Mary arrived at Jesus’ tomb, he had gone. He had “been let go”. Luke 24:12 reports that when Peter rushed to Jesus’ empty tomb and it was empty except for the “empty linen wrappings”

Lazarus is Jesus’ victory OVER death which symbolises and points to Jesus’ own victory THOUGH death.

Spiritually being “unwrapped and let go” is what happens to us when we are saved. Jesus said let him go, let him be free and live. And that’s what grace does to us. Grace takes the death clothes of sin and death and law. It unwraps us and lets us go free in Christ.

Jesus is saying that not only is death a releasing of our ties to a physical world but also a freedom from bondage, freedom from the oppression of tyrants, materialism and laws that deny God. This is something that the people of the day would identify with Roman occupation but which also should resound with us today.

Think- how much of the lives we live, the society we create and the world we inhabit are in line with God’s laws? How many times when faced with a dilemma or hard choice do we stop and ask “what would Jesus do/ or do I know best” or “am I doing the right thing by God/ or am I doing this just for me?” or “should I pray/ or take the easiest way out? If we don’t ask ourselves these questions, aren’t we just asking Jesus to wrap us back up in the grave clothes, put us back in the tomb? Are we asking Him to leave us alone, content to live under the bondage of a Godless world?

The couple of verses after this passage tell us that many of the Jews saw Lazarus’ resurrection and believed in Jesus BUT some went to the Pharisees, probably because they couldn’t accept what they had just experienced and needed the reassurance of “normality”- i.e. they were asking to be wrapped up again in the death clothes of bondage instead of accepting the freedom offered by Jesus.

Hmm-mm..

We have heard 2 readings

The reading from John’s gospel is, as I previously mentioned, one of those which is know well by Christians and also by non-Christians. It deals with an event which to some stretches the limits of credibility.

The other reading is from Revelation, a book probably avoided by many within the church as being hard to understand and full of unfamiliar and confusing imagery. The specific passage we heard (Rev 21:1-6A, A New Heaven and a New Earth) however is fairly straightforward and clear in its message.

Revelation is written in “Apocalyptic” form- this is Jewish literature that communicates hope by the use of symbolic imagery.

John describes an angel revealing to him a new heaven and a new earth-

  • He talks about “the water of life”- i.e. eternal life- remember Jesus offering this to the woman at the well in Samaria?
  • John’s vision is that there is no more evil or sin as sin has been forgiven through the blood of Jesus
  • Nothing accursed will be allowed to exist there
  • No more death
  • All our tears are wiped away- no more sorrow.

One thing that’s fairly radical about Revelation is that rather than describing the ascent of the faithful to be with God in heaven above, it talks about the descent of heaven to earth as the new Jerusalem comes down and God dwells with His people (Rev 21:2-4).

Both passages have this in common:

  1. Both written by John
  2. They are stories of hope
  3. They give an important message from God
  4. They describe the gift of God’s promise of a new world
  5. Revelation actually starts by saying that it is a vision from God designed “to show His servants what must soon take place” (Rev 1:1). Jesus raising Lazarus shows the same thing- this will also happen to Him (Jesus) and ultimately to all believers.
  6. Just as Jesus recreates the life of Lazarus on earth, so will there be a new kingdom of heaven for believers here on earth. Neither we nor Lazarus, have to go anywhere to be saved or enter the kingdom

and isn’t this the point of both these passages- this is all about being ready for the kingdom.

This new Kingdom, the New Jerusalem will contain none of the things we have in this world which distract or keep us away from God’s glory, none of the things which are barriers to belief and none of the material things we worship in place of a divine God.

Now here’s the challenge-

  1. when you have a moment just sit a while and list – either to yourself or with others- all the things you have which you have, or things that you do, or things that you say, or things that you think that would be out of place in God’s new world
  2. Ask yourself- if they’re not in God’s plan for our eternal life why do you need them now?
  3. If God is purpose for you is eternal life, can you promise Him to “unwrap your grave clothes” and free yourself from bondage to a material world? Don’t forget that Jesus asked Lazarus’ friends to do this for him, as being bound he was unable to do it for himself.

Perhaps this is where we most need our friends.

If this sounds difficult, consider how Lazarus might have felt when finally unwrapped and set free.