Guest Speaker Alex Costanzo reminds us that true hope is based on the certainty of God’s Word, and not on our wishes or circumstances.
Shalom, Cornerstone family, hope you’re having a wonderful Independence Day weekend celebration. It seems like it’s become a bit of a tradition here at Cornerstone that I’m up on the 4th of July weekend. Here we are, and it’s an honor for me to be with you. I just can’t wait for the time when we’re all back together. It reminds me of that Jackson song, We’re Always Better When We’re Together. We’re better when we’re together. In fact, I was thinking about a couple of times when I brought groups from Cornerstone to Israel. One of our favorite spots is right at the beginning of the via Dolorosa at the pool of Bethesda. Right next to the pool, there is this beautiful church, St Anne’s Church. When you walk in, you can tell that it’s got lovely acoustics. But the times we’ve been there as we’ve sat down in the pews and joined our voices to sing Amazing Grace or one of the other songs we sing here at Cornerstone, just the beautiful sound of being together and our voices in beautiful melody and harmony.
It just is a metaphor for what we’re missing right now and what I’m looking forward to having again when we’re back together. We’re better when we’re together. But right now, of course, we’re separate. It’s a time of a pandemic. It’s a time of sadness. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been struggling with just sadness. Sadness over the sickness and death around us. Sadness over the economic loss. Sadness over the civil unrest and all that means for so many different people in our community. You just get to the point where you say, “Jesus, when are You going to show up?” Of course, that’s a perfect question to ask in light of the series that we’re in here about engaging. How do we engage our faith in a time of sorrow?
How do we engage our faith and engage others with our faith in the season of sorrow? Jesus is our great example in that. There’s a beautiful story in the gospel of John chapter 11. A story of Jesus engaging with Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. Now, of course, Pastor Terry spent several weeks telling us about another story, but this is the story that I want to focus on, a different story found in John chapter 11. We don’t have the time to read the whole thing, but I’ve got three vignettes from this story about how Jesus engaged in a season of sorrow with these three people whom he loved and how we can learn from him to engage our faith and engage others in this season. We’re going to begin reading in John 11 verses one through seven.
“Now a certain man was ill Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister, Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to Him saying, ‘Lord, he whom You love is ill.’ But when Jesus heard it, He said, ‘This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God so that the son of God may be glorified through it.’ Now Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus. So when He heard that Lazarus was ill, He stayed two days longer in the place where He was. Then after this, He said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.'”
Jesus was baptizing people in the Jordan River, about 20 miles from Bethany. When this urgent message arrived, Lazarus is seriously ill. The scriptures emphasize that Jesus loved Lazarus and he loved his sisters, Mary and Martha. When He heard the news, He stayed two days longer in the same place. Doesn’t that sound a bit of a bizarre contradiction to you? I mean, why wouldn’t Jesus, if He really loved these people come right away at the news of Lazarus’s illness? It’s a strange thought that the Lord’s love sometimes means that answers are delayed to the most urgent of requests. That was certainly the experience of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. It’s a common experience for us who follow Jesus today. We have to be careful not to assume that any seeming delay on the Lord’s part to our requests, to our need is a lack of care, a lack of love. God’s delays don’t feel loving though, do they oftentimes? We want answers to our prayers on our timescale. It’s hard for us to look at life from the perspective of the one whom the scriptures say, “A day is as a thousand years and a thousand years like a day.” Love does not always give a reason for a delay.
At least, God doesn’t give that reason oftentimes in this life and at this season. He tells his disciples in these verses that this delay is for the glory of God. Think about Mary and Martha. They’re not concerned about the glory of God. Think about Lazarus, who is near death. He’s not thinking about the glory of God. Jesus’ decision to delay his departure to Bethany, has got to be hugely disappointing. I just wonder how many harbor those kinds of disappointments in our hearts right now for ourselves, for loved ones. We don’t understand. Why Lord? The Lord engages us as he engaged Mary and Martha, as we’ll see, with deep love, unconditional love, not necessarily love that provided the answers that we want, but nevertheless, love that gives what’s best for the loved one.
Here’s what we really need to bear in mind here. What was important for Mary, Martha, and eventually Lazarus to understand is not the journey that Jesus needed to make from the Jordan River to Bethany. Rather, it was the one that he had already made from heaven to earth. You see Jesus engaged this world with his incarnational love. It is his incarnational love that brought him down to earth in the first place, that caused him to become a human like us, to enter into our world in order to bring us God’s grace and His salvation. That is the greatest act of love. That’s the greatest miracle in all of human history. Because of that supreme act of love, we can learn to trust the Lord in all situations. Even when we don’t understand the reasons for what He is doing. We can trust Him, not only can we have faith in Him and His incarnational love, but we can love incarnationally as well.
To love incarnationally is to love unconditionally. We have to enter in to share in the life, the sorrow, the difficulties of those we love. No question right now, that is a challenge as we are all told during this pandemic to shelter in place. But when we are at times kept apart from loved ones, it can be difficult because we’re kept apart from them in joy as well as in sorrow, in their lives, and even in their death. Yet we can still love incarnationally just like Jesus.
You see, even though He stayed away, He still was able to show that love and so can we, even though we’re kept away sometimes. We can still look to find ways to show that love, to enter into the sorrow, to do it in tangible ways like PT talked about not too long ago in a rise and shine. We have to do it now and we need to do it in tangible ways. We need to be Jesus to people around us who are going through times of sorrow like this, whether it be making a phone call, bringing over a meal, helping out with the Cornerstone community. There are ways to do that here. We can be Jesus in flesh and blood to those who are going through sorrow as well to engage incarnationally is what God is calling us to do as we receive faith in his incarnational love for us. May God give us creative ways to show that kind of love, even in this difficult season.
So let’s pick back up with our story. Jesus, after having that Delay at last sets off for Bethany. As I told you, that was about 20 miles from the Jordan to Bethany. That’s about one day’s travel. By the time Jesus actually arrives, Lazarus has already died. In fact, verse 17 of Chapter 11 tells us he was in the tomb already four days. The chronology works if you figure it out. Because of that, what was swirling around in Bethany already was this elaborate first-century seven-day mourning ceremony known even to this day in the Jewish community as sitting Shivah, that is sitting seven full days to mourn with those who mourn. In the middle Eastern culture, this is not a quiet affair. In fact, oftentimes families would hire professional mourners to come. There’s a cacophony of sound and the entire community is now gathered around. Jesus’ arrival in Bethany did not go unnoticed and especially was not unnoticed by Martha who comes to Him.
We read verse 21, “Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me though, he die yet shall he live. Everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord. I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.'”
Jesus as soon as he arrives in Bethany is met by a distraught and questioning Martha. What Martha needed most to hear from the Lord at that moment was the truth. It’s often the honest truth that helps us most in times of sorrow and truth is what sister Martha needed. She needed to understand, “Lord, if you’d been here, my brother would not have died. I want answers. Why, why did this happen?” The Lord wanted Martha, and he wants us as well to understand what’s at stake here. There is far more at stake than the sustaining of one individual life for a small measure of extended days on this broken planet. There is an eternal truth that goes far beyond the number of days, weeks, months, or years that we or our loved ones occupy this temporal existence. Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Do you believe this?” And Martha said, “Yes, Lord.” What an extraordinary exchange. This was a moment when saving faith leapt into Martha’s heart and all of us at this time need to hear the voice of the Lord in this time of sorrow, “I am the resurrection and the life. Do you believe this?”
As we engage our faith, may God, by His Holy Spirit, give us the power and the faith to answer as Martha did, “Yes. Yes, I believe.” Jesus engaged Martha and He engages us with His everlasting truth. By pointing exclusively to Himself. You see, this present life is just a foretaste of the great things to come for those of us who love God, and we need His truth. We need His truth in His person to give us their perspective that we need now in this season, in the midst of a time of sorrow. Notice that Jesus is not only saying that He has power over death, though that is true. He is saying that He is the resurrection. He is the life. To believe in Jesus is to be alive for Jesus is life. Life, not just as existence, but in its fullness, the fullness of life for which we were created. The fullness of life entered into us when we first began to follow Jesus.
When that moment happens, we continue to live in the fullness of that life and we also must die in that fullness of life. But as Jesus encouraged the apostle Paul to write, “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” So in that sense, eternal life begins not when we die, but when we become followers of Jesus. Even when that life eternal is interrupted by painful, horrible suffering and the realities of our own physical death, that life continues and extends forever. We need to understand. We need to engage with that reality and allow it to give us a perspective in this time of sorrow. So often we falter and fail because we minimize the eternal truth of who Jesus is and what Jesus gives. We need to find a way to acknowledge that the fullness of life that begins when we embrace our Messiah is only the beginning of something that goes on forever. That can be minimized. Many of my own Jewish friends tend to have what others might consider being a favorable view of Jesus. Rabbis will teach that He was a great man. He was a wise teacher, an amazing rabbi. But friends, this is not enough truth about Jesus for my people or for anyone for that matter.
CS Lewis said it best, and I quote, “I am trying here to prevent anyone from saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him, ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic on the level of the man who says he’s a poached egg or else. He would be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was and is the son of God or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool. You can spit at him and kill him as a demon, or you can fall at his feet and call Him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” Unquote.
As we engage our faith and others in this season of sorrow, let’s engage with God’s eternal truth in Jesus. Let’s be sure to give the full Jesus to the people that we engage. Jesus in all of His greatness. Jesus in the full power as the one who died and rose again, who is Himself the resurrection and the life. When we do, there will be some who hear our words and turn away, there will. There will be others who will have their eyes lifted up to see above their fears, above their circumstances, and to see the resurrection and the life, to see his eternal truth. To see Jesus.
My dad was raised in an Orthodox Jewish home in Mobile, Alabama. They say, “Shalom y’all,” down there. My father was only 18 years old when he first heard the message of Jesus and he believed almost right away. Then he had the opportunity to go from there in the next coming weeks to help his brother to receive Jesus and his mother, and then finally, in the hospital on death bed, he prayed with my grandfather, Nathan, to receive the Lord. My father tells me the story of the graveside service that occurred after my grandpa’s death. His mother, his grandmother, my great-grandmother, was at the graveside with the others. She was crying. She was wailing loudly in Yiddish, which is the language of East European Jewry. She cried out, “Oh my Nathan, my Nathan, he’s in the ground. He’s in the ground.”
My dad tells me that his mom just weeks old and her faith in Jesus reached her arm out and put it around her mother-in-law’s shoulders and said, “No, Mama, he’s not in the ground. He’s in heaven with the Lord and that makes all the difference in the world, don’t you think?” To see Jesus, to really understand the truth about who he is and what he gives, makes all the difference in the world now for us. That’s what Martha needed and that’s what we need.
Then there’s Mary. So let’s read our final vignette from John 11, beginning in verse 32, “Now, when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw Him, she fell at his feet saying to him, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jewish people who had come with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in His spirit and greatly troubled. And Jesus wept.” He engaged them with genuine empathy. That ability to enter in which came about as a result of his incarnational love. Jesus, now a man of sorrows, knowing pain, knowing loss, knowing grief enters in and experiences, with empathy, that loss that Mary is feeling as she falls at His feet. You see, an eternal perspective on life is never intended to inoculate us from the real and present pains of life, and sickness and death. We experience God’s genuine empathy because he entered in and so we can go to Him, a man of sorrows, who experienced all that we have experienced and yet without sin. As this grief, this wave of grief, washes over people, washes over Mary, washes over us, we mourn and we grieve and that’s right and proper, a most human response.
Mary has come to Jesus just as her sister, Martha, but Martha asks a question about truth. Mary falls at his feet and weeps. She needs a very different response from the Lord. She says, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, Jesus wept. Sometimes words are just inadequate and not at all what is needed. The point is that Jesus felt deeply. He felt empathetic. He entered in and whatever it means to be human, it does not mean an absence of sorrow, an absence of feeling. Jesus wept with Mary. The apostle Paul in Romans 12:15 tells us we also must weep with those who weep. In the past few weeks, my dear friend and colleague, Susan, called me one day out of the blue on the phone and told me, “Could you please come over right away?”
I could hear that in her voice, something was wrong. So I got up and left and went to her home. As she opened the door, she just was dissolving in tears and struggled out the words, “My mom just died.” Now you need to know that, obviously Susan loved her mom, but she was aged and she had fallen at the very beginning of this pandemic. She had broken her arm and had, from that point, been confined to a rehabilitation center where Susan was not allowed to go and see her. Now she was getting better. She seemed like she was going to recover. They were making plans for her to be transferred elsewhere. But no matter how long someone lives and how prepared you might be that they might die, their death is a horrible brokenness that happens. And so it was with Susan. So what could I say? What words could I use to comfort her? There were none. I wept.
Of course, there was more. I could go on to help her, to help with the graveside service, to bring a meal to be with her as she sat Shivah. But as Jesus did with Mary, sometimes the best that we can do to answer those unanswerable questions is to extend our comfort, to weep. Ultimately, the deepest and most satisfying answer to the questions of sorrow, sickness, and death comes to us with hope. The hope of the resurrection. That’s actually how this story in John Chapter 11 ends. Jesus actually goes on to raise Lazarus from the dead, an amazing foreshadowing of his own resurrection from the dead. Perhaps that’s exactly what Jesus meant when He said at the very beginning to His disciples, “This is not a sickness unto death, but for the glory of God and for the Son of God to be glorified.” It was glorified through this amazing miracle.
It says that Jesus called out to Lazarus in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” The great preacher, Charles Spurgeon, said that Jesus called in a loud voice, not for benefit of Lazarus, but for the people around him so they could hear. He used Lazarus’s name so that perhaps others who were dead and could hear his voice might not respond.
I like that. The power of the resurrection in the very words and voice of the one we love of Jesus and what a miracle, right? We tend to think that that’s the point of this whole story, this resurrection of Lazarus from the dead. But I have to wonder about that. A mighty miracle? Yes. But think about this, Lazarus eventually died again. He had to face that same fate and that same accompanying anxiety that comes with it, not once, but twice in his life. People who loved him, who loved Lazarus had to mourn his loss, not once, but twice. Far greater than the fleeting and temporal resurrection of Lazarus was the reality that he is now more alive than ever before because he is in the presence of the eternal One, of the Lord Jesus in heaven right now and so will all of us be who love Him.
DL Moody, the famous preacher from the first part of the 20th century, acknowledged this great reality. When he said, “Someday, you will read in the papers that DL Moody of East Northfield, Massachusetts is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. At that moment, I shall be more alive than I am now. I shall have gone up higher, that is all out of this old clay tenement into a house that is immortal, a body that death cannot touch, that sin cannot taint. A body fashioned like unto his glorious body.” May that faith and confidence that Moody had, be engaged in our hearts as well, spoken by us and over us as well, because we love Jesus and because we believe that even at a time of sorrow, that He is the resurrection and the life.
May we, like Jesus, even in the face of all, that’s surrounding us now in our broken world, engage others with this wonderful incarnational love with which he loved us. This eternal truth found in Jesus, which we embrace, and with that genuine empathy that He showed in this wonderful story. May we do that for ourselves and for all the Lord brings across our path.
We’re going to have our usual time of giving. Obviously, most of us who give now are giving online and that’s the best opportunity for us to show our love for the One who is the resurrection and the life.
I think the stone’s getting ready to roll. I feel a faith that is starting to rise. I see a world on the edge of revival. I think it’s only a matter of time. Do what only You can do. Move what only You can move. Even the impossible is possible for You.
I see a grave that is hollow with power. I see a battle that’s already won. I see a church on the verge of revival. I see Your kingdom has already come. Do what only You can do. Move what only You can move. Even the impossible is possible for You. You can make the chains come loose. You can tell the mountains move. Even the impossible is possible for You. Even the impossible is possible for You.
You said it. I see it. You still do miracles. There’s power in Jesus’ name. All darkness defeated. There’s nothing stopping you, my God. There’s nothing stopping You. You said it. I see it. You still do miracles. There’s power in Jesus’ name. All darkness defeated. There’s nothing stopping You, my God. There’s nothing stopping You, Lord.
Do what only You can do. Move what only You can move. Even the impossible is possible for You. You can make the chains come loose. You can tell the mountains move. Even the impossible is possible for You. Even the impossible is possible for You.
You said it. I see it. You still do miracles. There’s power in Jesus’ name. All darkness defeated. There’s nothing stopping You, my God. There’s nothing stopping You. You said it. I see it. You still do miracles. There’s power in Jesus’ name. All darkness defeated. There’s nothing stopping You, my God. There’s nothing stopping You. There’s nothing stopping You.
How wonderful it has been to be able to share this time together. I just want to reiterate one more thing very quickly, before I close this out. I want to thank all of you, who’ve been so faithful in your giving during this time. I do need to say this. Some of you have been just exceptional and you’ve allowed us to be consistent and to be prepared even in the midst of the uncertainty. So I thank you. Whether it’s been in small ways or big ways. Who can always know my encouragement to all of you is continue. Continue to hear and listen to the voice of the Lord as He directs you because your generosity is not in vain. We want to continue to proclaim the way of Jesus at this critical time. We want to continue to be a source of light and encouragement and hope as we focus on the main thing, the way of the Lord, and His love for everyone, all of us.
The other thing that I was thinking about was that the Lord wants to remind us to be a hopeful people. I think we’ve heard that these last two weeks. We certainly heard it as well in this message, how the Lord truly does want us to be a people who live with an eternal assurance that the living Jesus is not only someone who has secured a future hope but also the living Jesus wants to live in us today. He wants to provide us with strength for today that the power of the resurrected Christ would dwell in your life so that we might increasingly be a people who are declaring how good the Lord is, that we may even remember how good He is. He’s so good. He’s so God. May we in turn be so good and so God, that we may see him affecting others through our lives.
That’s my prayer. My prayer for you is that no matter what happens, no matter what is thrown our way, that we would never forget that the Lord is with us. Don’t ever forget God’s faithfulness. Even when we fail Him, He abides with us. Even when He delays, we will find that He will not disappoint. May His love be yours. May His grace be yours. May His peace fill you in your spirit, in your soul, and in your body. That is my prayer for you, and for me too, in Jesus’ name. Have a blessed day, have a blessed week. Stay connected, stay engaged, many ways to do it. You are loved, greatly loved, in Jesus’ name.
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