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Signs: Tears, Death, and Resurrection

John 11:17-45

Photo by Jens Johnsson:

There’s a modern-day parable about signs from God where a man is waiting at his house while a flood is about to engulf the city. Everyone is evacuating as he stands outside watching the rain begin. Someone drives by and invites the man into the car. But the man says, “Oh no thank you, God’ll protect me.” Hours later the man’s entire first floor is underwater. He’s on the second floor and looks out the window and sees a boat. The boat driver tells him to get in, but the man says, “Oh no thank you, God’ll protect me.” The rain continues and the flood rises. The man is eventually on the roof of his house, with everything else covered in water. Luckily, a helicopter flies by and tells him to get in. But the man says, “Oh no thank you, God’ll protect me.”

Well…the man drowned. And when he got to heaven, he said “I’ve got a bone to pick God.” He confronted God and said, “Lord why didn’t you protect me?!” God said, “What do you mean? I sent you a car, I sent you a boat, and I sent you a helicopter! What more do you want?!”

I’ve always liked that story. It teaches us to pay attention to the signs God puts in puts in front of us. Signs we may not expect, but if we’re open and paying attention we can see them, and they reveal God’s message to us.

The Gospel of John describes seven “signs” of Jesus. They’re not called miracles in John. They’re “signs” because they reveal truths to the reader. And if we’re paying attention, they will teach us and guide us. While the other Gospels report numerous miracles, John selects only seven to report but goes into a lot of detail about them. The Gospel of John been called the most theological of the Gospels. It’s different from the other three. It has some different stories and includes much longer dialogue and conversations. There are other miracles reported in the other Gospels, many more healings for example. But in John, each sign was selected with a purpose because each one reveals something to the reader about who Jesus is. Some new truth John is trying to share.

John also includes seven famous “I AM” statements of Jesus. These are included for a purpose too: to reveal to the reader who Jesus is. And in the passage we read this morning, we encounter both the final sign—the raising of Lazarus—and one of Jesus’ I AM statements: “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” On this last Sunday before Holy Week, this final sign of John’s Gospel reveals to us that Jesus is the one who raises the dead. And the I AM statement reveals the same point: Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life.

The raising of Lazarus is a dramatic account of how Jesus raised his friend Lazarus from the dead. It is a sign which foreshadows his own Resurrection. And as we read this passage, other things are revealed about Jesus too. Like how Jesus interacted with Lazarus’ sisters Mary and Martha. I am especially drawn to one tiny but important detail. Verse 35 is the shortest verse in the entire Bible, but it’s full of significance. That is, “Jesus wept.” John’s Gospel tells us that in addition to Jesus being the Resurrection and the Life, the one who raised Lazarus from the grave, this Jesus also wept over Lazarus’ death.

The verse “Jesus wept” becomes more and more powerful the more you think about it. Jesus wept even though he knew Lazarus was safely in God’s care. Jesus wept even though he knew that he was about raise Lazarus back to life. Jesus wept even though he knew everything would be ok in the end. Jesus wept even though he is the Resurrection and the Life.

The fact that Jesus wept reveals something essential to us about who Jesus is and therefore about who God is. Even though Jesus knew all would be well, still he mourned and grieved over the loss of his friend. Still he was moved with compassion and cried with Mary and Martha. His divine power to raise the dead did not insulate him from human sadness. Jesus felt it all. God is affected by our sadness, by the suffering of this world, just as much as we are. God chooses to join us in our weeping, to join us in our suffering, to join us in experiencing the brokenness of this world.

John reports this detail that Jesus wept, not only because it happened, but because of what it reveals to us about Jesus. Jesus wept because he was human. Jesus wept because he was genuinely affected by sorrow and grief. Jesus wept because he loved Lazarus and Mary and Martha. Jesus wept with them and Jesus weeps with us.

Jesus is present in our grief and sadness too. God does not spare us from sorrow. Clearly, suffering and sadness are an integral part of the human experience. But God does not leave us to experience it alone. God is with us in our trials. God is with us in our grieving. God is with us in our suffering. God is with us in the most terrible moments of our lives. And if Jesus weeping does not demonstrate that clearly enough, wait 12 days to see the ultimate revealing of who Jesus is when we see him lifted onto the cross. That is another clear sign of who God is. Of how God relates to this world. Of how God enters into this world of sin and suffering and death, and literally draws the consequences of sin and evil to himself in order to save this suffering world. God does not just sit on the sidelines while we suffer; God enters the fray, abords the chaos, and takes up the cross.

And we know that the cross is not the end. The empty tomb awaits. The glory of the Resurrection. As Jesus told Martha, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” Suffering and death do not have the last word. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. And Jesus himself rose again. And this is a sign to us all of the gift of eternal life. Because Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. And we know that because he lives, we shall live also.

That doesn’t mean we won’t encounter suffering in our lives. It doesn’t mean we will never weep or have moments of grief and sorrow. But it does mean that we can know with certainty that even in those most terrible moments, Jesus is with us, weeping with us, and moving us from death to resurrection. That doesn’t take away our pain, but it can allow us to move through it, to not be destroyed by it, and to have the courage to journey through death to resurrection.

As we enter into the magnitude of Holy Week, which begins next Sunday, let us remember the signs from this passage. The signs that demonstrate who Jesus is. That he is the one who weeps with us, dies for us, and raises us to eternal life.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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