Don’t Be Denied 5th Lent
Psalm 126 Philippians 3:4b-14 John 12:1-8
Hello. My name is Lazarus. You probably remember me because Jesus brought me back from the dead. Now, that was pretty spectacular, but I want to share with you the tremendous impact that Jesus had on my whole family—especially my sisters, Mary and Martha.
I guess I ought to start with Mary, because she’s the one who introduced us to Jesus in the first place. I’m not exactly sure what happened to Mary—how she started going wrong—but she ended up way up north in Galilee, in a little town called Nain (not too far from Capernaum). The people in that village knew that she was living a sinful life, but everything changed when Jesus came there!
It all happened when he was invited to have dinner with one of the Pharisees that lived there. Mary had heard Jesus teaching, and had sensed God calling her back from her sinful life. When she found out that Jesus was eating dinner in the house of the Pharisee, she grabbed her most prized possession (an alabaster jar of fragrant ointment) and she boldly went into the Pharisee’s house. While Jesus was reclining at the table, Mary knelt down and wept at his feet—she cried so much, her tears got all over his feet!—and then she wiped them dry with her long hair. Then she kissed his feet and poured the ointment on them.
Mary just focused on Jesus, and ignored the other people who didn’t want her there. The Pharisee, Simon, knew that she was a sinner, and that Jesus was taking a risk letting her touch his feet like that. In fact, the Pharisee was saying to himself, “IF this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”
Jesus must have guessed his thoughts, because he said, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, Teacher,” he said.
Then Jesus told him a little parable. “Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other, fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of them both! Now, which of them will love him more?”
Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”
And Jesus said, “You have judged correctly.” Then, while looking at my sister Mary, he said, “Simon, do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she has loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”
Then Jesus said to Mary, “Your sins are forgiven.” Your sins are forgiven! The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?!” But Jesus said to Mary, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Your faith has saved you; go in peace! Mary left Nain right away, and came back to our family, back to her village—and she never stopped talking about Jesus. She was obviously a changed person, so Martha and I were excited to hear him ourselves! When he and his disciples came through Bethany, Martha opened our home to them and started preparing a wonderful meal to show them the highest hospitality. Mary sat at the feet of Jesus, soaking up his words (instead of helping Martha get ready for the meal.) Martha got fed up, and appealed to Jesus as a higher authority: “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” (Meanwhile, I was staying out of it!) Jesus told her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Well, no one had EVER talked to Martha that way—firmly but gently—and she took his words to heart. Jesus was continuing to have a wonderful impact on my family!
Some time later, I got very sick, and my sisters sent word to Jesus: “Lord, the one you love is sick.” We all had faith that Jesus could heal me, and that he would want to heal me—but he had other plans. We found out later that he told his disciples, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Now, we knew that Jesus loved us, but he stayed where he was for two more days. (Talk about God answering prayer in God’s own time, rather than ours!) Finally, he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.” His disciples tried to talk him out of it, because danger was waiting for him in Jerusalem and the surrounding area (which is where we lived). Then Jesus told them, “Our friend, Lazarus, has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” They thought he meant natural sleep, so they said, “Lord, he needs his sleep in order to get better.” So he told them straight out, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” The disciples were afraid to return to the dangers and threats of Judea, but Thomas said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
By the time they arrived, I had already been in the tomb four days. Martha went out to meet Jesus, but Mary—sweet child—Mary was too distraught to leave the house. Here’s how I know that Martha had really grown in her faith. She told Jesus, “Lord, if you had been there, my brother would not have died…but I know that, even now, God will give you whatever you ask.” Isn’t that amazing?! She didn’t get the answer she had wanted, but she was willing to keep on trusting for God’s best!
Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha thought he was talking about the eventual resurrection of God’s children at the last day. So he told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
And Martha confessed her faith, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” Then she went inside to Mary and told her that the Teacher was looking for her—and Mary rushed out to him and fell weeping at his feet, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Everyone could see that Jesus was moved to tears.
Then he came to my tomb, saw the stone rolled across the entrance, and ordered, “Take away the stone.” Martha tried to warn him that there would be a bad smell, but Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone, and Jesus prayed an unusual prayer, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew 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.” (That they may believe that you sent me!)
Then Jesus said, in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” I couldn’t resist that voice, and I came out of the tomb with strips of cloth wrapped around me—I must have looked like a mummy!—and Jesus said, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
Now, of course, everyone was amazed by this—they had never seen or heard of anything like it. But Mary had a quiet little smile on her face, as if she knew something we didn’t. Later, when I had a chance to ask her about it, she told me about what had happened up in Nain when Jesus first got there. As he and the disciples came to the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother—and she was a widow. The whole procession was weeping, and Jesus went up to the mother and said, “Don’t cry.” Then he went up and touched the coffin and said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.
As you can well imagine, they were all filled with awe and praised God—no wonder Mary felt the Presence of God, and let Jesus turn her life around! And no wonder she didn’t let anyone or anything deny her when she wanted to wash the feet of Jesus, and anoint them!
Sometimes, when something seems totally impossible—God makes a way, and Jesus wanted us to know this before he went to the cross.
Well, that brings us to the Scripture you heard read today. Just a week before his crucifixion, Jesus came through Bethany again and had dinner with us. Martha was being Martha, and she served the dinner. Then Mary re-enacted the scene when she washed Jesus’ feet at the house of the Pharisee in Nain. She anointed his feet with pure nard, and the whole house was full of that fragrance. When Judas complained that this expense was being wasted, Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.” When he said this, we all looked pretty somber. None of us wanted to face the fact that Jesus was on his way to the cross. I hope it gave the disciples some encouragement to see me sitting at the table—to remember that God has resurrection power—and to see Martha, full of joy in her serving and her faith in Jesus, the Messiah.
A lot of years have passed since that memorable day, and we are still learning about what it means to be a follower of the Messiah, the Christ. Saul of Tarsus was a Pharisee, but he found out that his own personal righteousness was just a bunch of filthy rags, just like Isaiah had said hundreds of years earlier. What was it he wrote to the Christians in Philippi? “I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.” Saul—Paul knew that our own goodness could not save us AND that our own sin—no matter how bad—cannot deny us access to Christ’s forgiveness. Friends, if there is anything stopping you from asking for God’s grace, get past it! My own family is proof that God can reach past any barrier and restore wholeness again. Don’t be denied!