Sermon Outlines

JOHN 11: 1 – 44 I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE. Next week Clocks go forward..

I wonder if you believe me when I say to you that our God is the God of perfect timing? That the things which happen in our lives have to happen in a certain order so that God can do something for us. Think back over the past year, perhaps even further, and recall some of the major incidents. There could be sadnesses, the loss of loved ones, unemployment, illness; or there could be joys, a new friendship, the birth of children, a new job.

Whether or not God sent these things good or bad into your life is debateable, what is not up for debate is that good or bad God would want to invest these things into your life so that you might discover Him for the first time, or if you're already a Christian so that you might grow in your faith.

God is never too late, nor too early, he is always on time. Sometimes he appears none too soon - when we are almost at the end of our limits. But he always comes when we need Him the most. Having said that you may think it strange that I want to speak to you from a passage when it seems that God, in the form of Jesus Christ, who was God in the flesh, came too late. Martha complains in John 11:21 "Lord, if you'd been here, my brother would not have died."

Jesus had only been a few miles away, but even when he had heard that Lazarus was sick he stayed away. Why - because he didn't care? Well there are those who would like us to think that God doesn't care, there are times when we may feel that God doesn't care, but that doesn't make it true. No - Jesus knew that God had a greater plan for Lazarus and his sisters than simply healing a sick man, so for a time he stayed away. Jesus deliberately stayed away so that a greater thing could happen.

Perhaps this is the way that God is working in your life right now. You may be in the middle of a whole series of traumatic events, you may be wanting to become a Christian but feel that you're not getting close to God. You may be a Christian and you're wondering why certain things are happening in your life. Well, I just wonder if you really believe in God, a God who is sovereign and is in control, and a God who just might be planning something big in your life. Now I don't want to mislead you, or to present you with a false hope, but I do want you to be open to this possibility, that the reason why things are not going the way that you want them now, is so that they can go God's way later. Now that possibility is truly exciting, and it is this kind of possibility that we find in the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead.

Is there a way that you can know that God might be preparing your life for something big? Well, I think that there are some signs to look out for, and we find them in this story in John 11. Listen to them; all of them, some of them, because one of them might be true for your life:

1. There might be an urgent need in your life: Mary, Martha and especially Lazarus had an urgent need "Lord, the one you love is sick." (v.3). They had a crisis, here it was illness, for you it may be different. It might be a financial crisis, a marriage or family crisis, problems at work. Something that you had taken for granted has crumbled away before your eyes. It has happened suddenly, and your need is now. God may or may not be the cause of this, whichever, he would want to use it positively to build up your life again. God cares, and wants to help, if there is an urgent need.

2. Perhaps you are seeking the Lord: Mary and Martha when they had an urgent need sought out the Lord, again in v.3 we read; "so the sisters sent word to Jesus." They called on his name, they started to pray. Often before you become a Christian you start to pray. You start to talk to God about things you once kept to yourself, or talked to others about, including ministers. There is however nothing like an urgent need to make a person cry out to God. If you've started to pray it's a real sign that God is working in your life.

3. Perhaps you've had an initial encouragement from God: Jesus told them in v.4 "this sickness will not end in death. No it is for God's glory so that God's son may be glorified through it." The sisters didn't know what it meant, but they felt encouraged. Perhaps there have been tokens of God's blessing upon your life, words from the scriptures which have lept from the page and spoken to you, Christian friends, meaningful church services. Little touches of God's grace which like the first buds of spring promise something greater on the way.

4. Perhaps God has seemingly stayed out of your life:  After the initial encouragement comes v.6 "he stayed where he was two more days." Why doesn't God do something now we scream when we are in difficulty. Why is it that just when we think that we're getting somewhere, we suddenly find that we are getting nowhere. Why does a problem that we want rid of remain - even though we have prayed, and have received some kind of a reassurance from the Lord? Why?

Because God is looking ahead as only God can do. You may not have become a Christian the last time that God spoke to you, because perhaps this is the time. You may not have seen friends converted because this is not the time. God is the God of perfect timing - he sees ahead, when it seems that God is doing nothing now it's not because he doesn't care - it's because he's waiting for the perfect moment to do something big!

5. Perhaps things are going from bad to worse: The sisters had this great need, they sought the Lord, they received an assurance, but then things went bad - Jesus stayed away, then they got worse than bad - Lazarus died.

What kind of a God is this then? Well if the story ended there he would be not be a God worth loving or following at all. But God knows the future, and sometimes the only way to come up again is to hit rock bottom, and to let God lift us up.

God doesn't let these things happen to crush us, or demoralise us, although Satan would want that. Instead he brings us to the point where God and God alone can help us. God often leads us to that point where it is too late for human help, so that he can prove once more that nothing is impossible for him (Luke 1:37).

6. Perhaps you have been broken: "When Jesus saw her weeping" (v.33). Sometimes God postpones things because we are hard and cold, bitter and twisted. Sometimes we need to be mellowed and refined so that God can gently restore us. "Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy." (Ps 126:5).

7. Perhaps you need to see that God does care after all: In what is often regarded as the shortest verse in the bible, we find these words in v.35 "Jesus wept." Then the Jews said "see how much he loved him."

This is the turning point that we all need to reach. That God, Jesus Christ, does care, and that he's been there all along. That he knows our feelings, that he loves us and cares for us so much, that ultimately when we deserved to die because of our sins, he died for us. As long as we think that God doesn't care then the Devil walks all over us and leaves us moaning helplessly. But God does care - Jesus wept.

Seven signs then that you need to look out for in order to understand that God has a plan, and may be working out things in your life now so that he can do something big. Speaking to you through an urgent need, you speaking to him because of that same need, touches of encouragement, God seemingly doing nothing, things getting worse, being broken, and then realising that Jesus does care after all.

When this point is reached, then there are three things that you ought to do:

1. You should listen to what he says: What Jesus said to Martha in v.39 was "take away the stone." This in actual fact was quite a small stone, and quite a small act. This small stone stood in the way of God doing something big.

What stone is it that God may be asking you to take away. "Take away the stone!" What stupid barrier is there between you and God that Jesus has spoken to you about? A barrier of pride? A fear, perhaps fear of conversion? Fear of water in baptism? A petty and pet sin that you would prefer to hold on to rather than get cleansed? God brings us through our lives to the point when there is nothing between you and him and this one thing. "Take away the stone!"

2. You should do what he says: v.41: "so they took away the stone." Unless we do the small things, we will never do the big ones, unless we do the small things we will never enjoy the big blessings that God would want us to have.

But here's a point worth noting - that God often won't do the big thing that only he can do, unless we have shown readiness and willingness to so the small thing that we CAN do.

Are you waiting for God to do something which you yourself can do? That you ought to do? You can say "surely God can do it for me?" Yes he can. He could have rolled that stone away by his power with no effort whatsoever.

But that is not what he wanted. He wanted Martha to do it, and wouldn't proceed until she had. What is it that God has asked you to do? To give your life to him? To be baptised? To serve him in one way? To right some wrong? To offer forgiveness? You will never receive the blessing that He wants to give you until you do it.

3. You need to let the Lord take over completely: Once you have done what you can, you need to stand back and let the Lord in. Martha and Mary reached a point when they could go no further. They had asked Jesus to come, and now he had. They had rolled away the stone. But they couldn't get Lazarus back from the dead. They had to hand over to Jesus.

And when they do - what is the first thing that he does - he prays, he intercedes for them, (42) "Father, I thank you have you have heard me. I know that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me." Here is a unique glimpse at something that we don't normally see - Jesus praying for us. Did you know that Jesus prays for you all the time?" Hebrews 7:25 says of Jesus "he is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because he always lives to intercede for them."

What a God Jesus is! Not only does he care, but he spends all his time praying for us. He is praying even now that if you're not saved that you're confess your sins and ask him to forgive you. If you are saved then he's praying that you'll live a worthy Christian life? Do you believe that Jesus' prayers get answered? I do!

That's why I'm confident that He and He alone can do something wonderful in your life. I'm not saying that you'll have an easy life, what I am saying is that even when things are tough that he'll be praying for the something greater that these tough times will bring - that you will know and enjoy eternal life.

Yet note when Jesus interceded for Martha and Mary - after they had done what he had told them to do. I'm not saying that Jesus wasn't praying before they obeyed, for he intercedes and prays all the time, but the picture that the Holy Spirit gives us here is that the Lord prays and takes over once we have done what He asked us to do.

What was there left for Martha and Mary to do - nothing but wait.

What came next was worth waiting for. Jesus called out the words in v.43 "Lazarus, come out!" He called him by name, he called him to come out. He raised him from the dead.

What did Lazarus die of? We know he was ill. But the real cause of his death was sin. Lazarus died because of the cancer that we all carry inside of us - that of sin.

Romans 6:23 tells us that "the wages of sin is death." In other words because of sin we will all eventually be paid what we deserve - death. All of us are born spiritually dead because of our sin. Ephesians 2:1 puts it this way, "as for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins." Just as surely as Lazarus lay there dead, if we are not Christians then we are just as dead in our sins, and we have nothing to look forward to other than death.

The raising of Lazarus from the dead then is a picture of conversion. We can witness to the lost, pray for our loved ones, do everything we can in our own strength to see our friends saved, but unless Jesus steps in and calls people by name they have no hope of conversion. But there is hope. It is possible to find life from the dead, it is possible to be converted, because conversion is literally life from the dead. It is what God does for us. The resurrection proclaims that there is hope - because Jesus has died and has risen, we too can rise to new life when we believe in him.

If you don't know Jesus personally then I am 100% confident that this is the big thing that God wants to do in your life - and I am also confident that the time is now, otherwise you wouldn't be sitting here or watching our live stream and listening to a message such as this. God cares for you so much that he has made it possible for you to be here today, and to hear that it is possible for you to be saved through faith in Jesus Christ.

But you may say that you have faith. But what kind of faith is it? The kind of faith that I'm talking about here is the kind of faith that can proclaim that you are sure that your sins are forgiven and that when you die you will go to heaven. Is that your faith? Is it saving faith?

Belief that there is a God will not save you. The devil believes in God. Belief in a creed, or in a baptism, or even intellectual belief in the bible, none of these things will save. Turning to God in a crisis will not necessarily save you either. I have seen God help many people in a crisis, yet for these people not to be saved. Is your faith like that, you pray when you are unwell, when you are out of work, you ask God to look after your house when you leave it, to keep you safe when you're driving your car?

Saving faith is when you no longer trust in your own abilities to save yourself, but you trust only in Jesus. This is the kind of faith that Martha had when she said to Jesus in v.27, "Yes Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God who was to come into the world." If this is your faith, if you are sure of your salvation, then God bless you.

But there were others at that same scene, others who had witnessed what happened, but who had not yet personally been saved. They were impressed by how much Jesus loved Lazarus (v.36), but at that point they weren't believers like Martha. But later they saw what Jesus did, they saw Lazarus' conversion, and were challenged by it.

They were open to Jesus, and ready to receive him. Many of them came to put their faith in Jesus because of these events (v.45). Having seen and heard, are you now ready to receive Him? Have you heard his call, not Lazarus, but your own name, "Come Out!" "Rise from the deathliness of your sins, and rise to new life in me!"

But there was yet another group, a group who would remain hostile, and through their own decision would remain lost.

A group ready to blame Jesus for letting Lazarus die, rather than see the greater thing that Jesus did, v.37 "but some of them said, could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?"

What is worrying about this group is not so much how they talked about Jesus before he raised Lazarus, but what they said afterwards.

One would have thought that it would have been impossible not to have believed in Jesus having seen Lazarus rise from the dead, but for some it made no difference.

This group went and aroused the hostility of the Pharisees, obviously wanting them to get rid of Jesus (vv 46 - 57). Sadly some of you may be like that. You've heard and seen the good news today. You've heard the testimonies, witnessed the baptisms, sung the praise songs, you may even have listened to this message but you are determined to leave as hostile, or as indifferent as you were when you came in or watched our live stream.

The choice is yours, but it is a choice which puts you in danger. Let me ask you just to open up a little in these closing moments and to think again. "Lazarus come out!"

The dead man came out, the symbols of death all around him. "Take off his grave clothes and let him go." The sin which bound us, the problems of the past, those things which God wants us dead to, these grave clothes need to be taken off if we are to be free to lead the Christian life.

This is the call of the risen Lord today. The one who is the resurrection and the life. He calls you personally. He calls you by name! Lets Pray.

 Revd, David M Meikle