Sermon 10-31-2021: “That the Son May Be Glorified”

Scripture: John 11:1-6, 17-44

Today’s scripture includes the shortest verse in all of the Bible. Verse 35: “Jesus wept.” I first learned that this was the shortest verse many years ago, when I was eleven or twelve. I learned this because my friends down the street, Wes and Tim Drake, invited me to attend their church’s Vacation Bible School. I did not know Jesus as my Savior and Lord at the time, and as I now see, inviting me to their VBS was their well-intentioned effort to get me saved! So they really wanted me to go to VBS. And they were describing how much fun I would have… how much I would like it… if only I would go.

It was going to be fun, but they did warn me that there was just a tiny bit of Bible stuff… just a short Bible story, it won’t take long… And then they also warned me that their church makes kids memorize a Bible verse every day, but even that isn’t so bad. Tim said, “You can just memorize John 11:35, ‘Jesus wept.’ Just two words. And they’ll give you credit. That’s nothing!”

My parents wouldn’t let me go with them to what my parents perceived to be their “weird” and “fanatical” church… But Wes and Tim’s message to me about Vacation Bible School was something like this: “I know it seems like this might be pretty awful, but it’s really, really good… I promise.” 

And in so many words, the message of today’s scripture, John chapter 11, isn’t entirely different from that.

In the face of grief, in the face of sickness, suffering, and death, in the face of disappointment and heartbreak—I know it seems really bad—but it’s going to turn out really, really good… Jesus promises!

To say the least, Jesus disappoints a lot of people in today’s scripture. We’re told in verse 3 that the two sisters, Mary and Martha, sent messengers to Jesus saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” They were referring to their brother, Lazarus. Jesus was good friends of this family; he loved them. Their expectation, no doubt, was that Jesus would make the two days’ journey to their home in Bethany, a couple of miles from Jerusalem, in order to heal their brother. That’s what good friends do… After all, as John reassures us in verse 5: “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.”

Jesus loved them, but notice what he says in verse 6: “So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.”

Do you get the picture? I need you to feel the force of that little word “so” in verse 6. It means, “Therefore…” “As a result of…” “As a consequence of…” In other words, John is saying, “Jesus really loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus… therefore… as a result of this love, as a consequence of this great love that Jesus had for this family—as surprising as it seems—he stayed right where he was… for two full days before making the long journey to see the family.” 

Despite what they were expecting, Jesus did not immediately come to see them.

So Lazarus died, and the sisters are disappointed… heartbroken… crushed. Verse 21, Martha says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” And then, several verses later, in verse 32, her sister Mary says the exact same thing. And then… not only did Jesus disappoint the two sisters, listen to the words of the townspeople who were mourning Lazarus’s death, in verse 37: “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”

As I said earlier about VBS, despite the way things appear, it’s going to be really good, Jesus promises!

So everything Jesus does here, he does out of love… But what’s the ultimate purpose for what Jesus does? Look at verse 4: Jesus says that the ultimate purpose of Lazarus’s illness and Jesus’ delay is “for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

In other words, Jesus says that God loves us so much that he’s going to use this illness, and all the events described in chapter 11, to show us both his Father’s glory, and Christ’s own glory. And in case you doubt that this is God’s ultimate purpose in these events, see what Jesus says to Martha in verse 40: “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”

Everything that happens in John 11 is for God’s glory!

At which point, I wouldn’t blame the grieving sisters if they said something like this: “I’d rather not see God’s glory, if that would mean that  my brother wouldn’t have to die, and we wouldn’t have to suffer all this grief and pain. God’s glory isn’t worth it… is it?”

And maybe some of us feel that way, too. But listen… Every time we say the Lord’s Prayer—the very prayer Jesus gave us as a model to follow—we are saying that we want God’s glory more than we want anything else. The very first petition of the prayer is, “Hallowed be thy name,” which sounds archaic, which sounds old-fashioned, but what it means is, “Father, we want you to manifest your glory… to show the world your glory… to display your glory… to demonstrate your glory, so that all your creatures may see it.” 

And Jesus teaches us to pray this way because we’re supposed to believe that God’s glory is the greatest thing of all!

Do we believe that? Do I?

If you could eavesdrop on my own prayer life, you might wonder. After all, many of my prayers amount to something like this: “Dear Lord, please do something so that I’ll end up looking good in this situation!” “Please keep me from falling flat on my face.” “Please keep me from failing!” I’m very interested in having God protect and preserve my own glory—and I often don’t give a thought to God’s glory!

How about you?

But if we struggle to believe that God’s glory is all that great, consider a couple of things that are happening at this very moment in the sports world in Georgia. As I speak these words, our Atlanta Braves are in the World Series for the first time in 22 years, and they have a shot at capturing the World Series title for the first time in 26 years. If they do, that will be glorious! I remember back in 1996 when the Braves took the first two games of the Series, against the mighty New York Yankees, in New York, and flew home to play in Atlanta. I, along with thousands of others, met them at the airport when they came into the gate… in the middle of the night… as they walked into the terminal… You should have heard the cheering, the screaming! It was glorious!

Maybe I jinxed them…? If you know what happened next in that Series… but we won’t talk about that. Because unlike back then, the Braves are now up three games to one.

I happen to know that there even a few Bulldog fans around here, and it’s been 41 years since the University of Georgia has won a championship. But… they are number one, and everyone agrees that this is their best shot to win it this year. And at least for Georgia fans, that will be about the most glorious thing imaginable. And I’ll have to live with you people! Right, Keith?

But don’t think Yellow Jackets like me don’t know glory! Just last week, Facebook reminded me of an event known as the “Miracle on Techwood Drive.” A few of you know what I’m talking about. Google it. It’s glorious. Georgia Tech was tied with an undefeated, Top-Ten Florida State team that hadn’t lost a conference game in three years. Six seconds left in the game. Score is tied at 16. FSU is lined up to kick the game winning field goal with the nation’s number one kicker. We block the kick and run it back 80 yards for a touchdown. Game over. We win. Glorious!

And my son Townshend and I were in the upper deck of the stadium watching this unfold. We were holding on to one another as our defender was running the ball back. “Is this really happening?” I’m not exaggerating when I say that this was among a handful of the most intensely happy moments of my life! It brings tears to my eyes! Townshend and I joined thousands of others on the field. It was unbelievable. No… it was… glorious. And it was nearly the best thing ever!

And I’m “only” talking here about earthly glory. But even earthly glory is about the greatest thing we can experience as human beings, yet at it’s best, it’s the tiniest foretaste of the glory of God! 

Don’t you want that? Of course you do!

The Bible says eternal life is going to be more like that—experiencing glory like that—than playing golf for eternity; or laying out on the beach for eternity; or singing in a choir with angels’ wings and harps for eternity—or whatever our popular imagination says heaven will be like. 

Can you imagine something so good… something that never ends… something that never gets boring? Words can’t do it justice, but if God’s glory is like what Townshend and I experienced for about 20 short minutes six years ago—except infinitely greater and it lasts forever… If that’s what heaven is like, then isn’t it worth everything to get it… even temporary pain and disappointment and heartbreak… And if you’re Lazarus, isn’t it even worth getting sick and dying? The apostle Paul writes, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”1

So once Lazarus died and tasted this glory, do you supposed he was thinking, “I wish you would have just kept this glory for yourself, Lord. I’d rather have not gotten sick and died… I’d rather have just have lived my normal life—uninterrupted, business as usual—for the next twenty or thirty years, rather than tasting this glory when you didn’t show up for those two days and allowed me to die of that illness”? 

Is that what he was thinking? No way!

He was thinking, “I want more of your glory, Lord! Give me more of your glory!” “And in twenty or thirty years, God willing, when my earthly life ends, I don’t have to be afraid. Because when I die again, I’m going to be with Jesus, and I’m going to be basking in his glory. And it’s worth whatever I have to go through in order to get that!”

Or I should say, “It’s worth whatever I have to go through… in order to get… him”—in order to get Jesus… in all of his fullness!

Because when Jesus says, in verse 4, that the events of today’s scripture are “for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it,” the first thing he means by glory is this: “I’m going to show you who I really am.” We experience glory when Jesus shows us who he truly is. And that’s what he does in today’s scripture.

If you’ll recall, this isn’t the first time in the gospels that we’ve met Martha and her sister Mary. In chapter 10 of Luke’s gospel, Luke describes a time when Jesus and his disciples were having dinner at the sisters’ house. Martha is very stressed out, the way many of us get stressed out when we throw a big dinner party—and she’s busy providing hospitality to Jesus and the disciples, cooking, cleaning, trying to get dinner on the table. Meanwhile, her sister Mary isn’t helping her—at all. Instead, Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus alongside the other disciples, listening to him teach. 

Finally, Martha is fed up. She says, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”2 And Jesus tells her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion”—by which Jesus means that Mary has chosen the very best thing of all, the greatest treasure, the most essential thing anyone can do in life. She’s “chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”3

And what has Mary chosen? She has chosen to let Jesus show her who he is. She is getting to know Jesus… and that is glorious… Elsewhere in John’s gospel, Jesus defines eternal life for us, and it’s not “eternal life” the way we normally think of it. In John 17:3, Jesus prays to his Father as follows: “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” 

Eternal life, in other words, is knowing God the Father and knowing God the Son… and that is glorious. 

Let me briefly show you how glorious this is… In 2 Corinthians 11, the apostle Paul gives us what is essentially a “greatest hits” of the many ways in which he had suffered as a result of being a Christian and obeying the Lord. Paul said that he experienced

far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned.4

He goes on to say that he was in “danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city… danger from false brothers.” And of course, we know from history that Paul was later beheaded by the Romans because of his faithfulness to Christ. 

Paul likely suffered as much as anyone has ever suffered, besides Jesus. Yet, he says something almost unbelievable in Philippians 3:8. In talking about his life before Christ—when he was prosperous, comfortable, well-liked, respectable—he says, “I count it all as loss—all these things I valued before if knew Jesus, Paul says, they are garbage—in comparison… to knowing Christ. Which means that knowing Christ is completely worth all of Paul’s suffering… it’s worth everything… Paul says, “I’ll take knowing Christ, and all the suffering that comes with it, put it on a scale next to all earthly treasure… and there’s no comparison!”

Knowing Christ is infinitely better! It’s worth everything!

Knowing Christ is glorious!

Listen, it’s no secret that I kinda like Dabo Swinney, the head football coach for Clemson. No… I definitely like him, even though my Yellow Jackets have to play Clemson every year, and we haven’t had a lot of success against them in several years. But I like Dabo because… I tend to like people who love Jesus, and Dabo loves Jesus… He is my brother in Christ. And for many years, his football program has been at or near the top of the college football world… until this year. As many of you know, Clemson has been struggling…

But listen to what Dabo told a Clemson beat writer last week: “God’s good when you’re 15-0, and God’s good when you’re 4-3. That’s just the way it is.”

Do you hear what he’s saying? He’s saying, “I don’t need the earthly glory that comes from championship rings. I’ve got Jesus. I know Jesus. And the treasure that I find in knowing him is better than anything. It doesn’t depend on whether I’m winning or losing… or even going 4-3, which is pretty bad by Clemson’s standards.”

One of my favorite scriptures—these are theme verses of my life—are the two short parables that Jesus tells in Matthew 13:44-46:

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.5

Paul found that treasure for himself. And he affirms the truth of these parables that it is the greatest thing of all. And it was glorious. 

And in today’s scripture, Jesus wants Martha to discover that treasure for herself… the treasure that comes from knowing Christ. She knows him a little… But she needs to know him as her greatest treasure! She needs to know his glory! And that’s why Jesus has this remarkable conversation with her in verses 22 to 27.

Jesus reveals to Martha this truth about himself; she comes to know Jesus better; and she experiences glory! And that glory of knowing Christ will more than make up for any amount of suffering, pain, or loss that she experienced in this world!

But you know what? In addition to experiencing this glorious treasure of knowing Christ, the two sisters also experienced a healing miracle!

And I didn’t… and you didn’t… when your loved one died. Right?

Listen… I know it’s All Saints Sunday. And it’s likely that I’m talking to some people who are grieving the loss of a loved one right now. And you still feel the pain of that loss. And maybe you’re thinking something like this: “Pastor Brent, I get what you’re saying: knowing Christ is our greatest treasure, and that treasure is glorious, and if we have that treasure we can deal with anything that life throws our way—anything that the devil throws our way. We can put up with any amount of suffering or pain or loss—including the loss of our loved ones.

“I get that, Pastor Brent… but Martha and Mary aren’t like me… because they got all of this good stuff that you’ve been preaching about, but guess what? They also got their loved one back from the dead. They got their miracle! Yes, by all means, they had to suffer for a couple of days, but they still got the miracle… they still got exactly what they asked for. I didn’t get that… they did. It doesn’t seem quite fair!”

Two thoughts… First, Lazarus was brought back from the dead, yes, but only to die again at some point in the future. So this healing miracle was strictly temporary. 

Second… what Martha, Mary, and Lazarus needed—and what we all need—is not a temporary miracle; we need for Jesus to do something permanent, something eternal, so that death can’t separate us from Jesus. 

Which is exactly why Jesus performs this miracle in the first place!

If you read to the end of the chapter, you’ll see that this miracle, the raising of Lazarus, is the tipping point… After Jesus performs this miracle, his fame spreads; more and more people start following him. And the political leaders in Jerusalem are afraid that Rome is going to think that Jesus is leading some kind of political insurrection against Rome. Which means that the Roman army will come in and destroy Israel.

Listen to what Caiaphas, the high priest, says in verse 50: “Don’t you understand that it’s better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish?” And he’s speaking with great irony; he doesn’t know how true his words are.

Jesus, in other words, will die a substitutionary death so that all of us who believe in Christ will find forgiveness of sin and eternal life in him! It’s not simply “better that one man should die”—it’s the greatest news in the world that God’s Son Jesus would die because only through his death can we be saved!

And the raising of Lazarus is the straw that broke the camel’s back: It’s event that sets into motion the chain of events that leads to Golgotha… and the cross.

And Jesus knew this would happen when he raised Lazarus from the dead… And he did it anyway. Why? Because of love!

What proves Jesus’ love for Lazarus—and every other sinner who’s ever lived—is that Jesus performed this miracle in part to set in motion the chain of events that would lead to Golgotha and the cross. 

Do you see that? Jesus knew that in order to raise Lazarus from the dead, he would have to sign his own death warrant. He knew that in order to rescue Lazarus from the tomb, he would very soon have to take Lazarus’s place in the tomb.

That’s love… And that’s another way, the most important way, in which God reveals his glory… when he shows us how much he loves us. God’s love is glorious.

One of the announcers during last night’s World Series broadcast, referred to this Instagram message from sports broadcaster Ernie Johnson Jr., in which Johnson announced that his adopted son died:

This guy we adopted from Romania in 1991 and diagnosed with duchenne muscular dystrophy lived a miraculous life of 33 years. We lost michael johnson today and we’re crushed. But we also know we’ll see him again…and that sustains us.

Ernie Johnson Jr. is an outspoken and dedicated Christian. I happen to know that he’s a member  of a Wesleyan church in the Atlanta area. But notice his words: “We’ll see him again.”

Johnson can say that with confidence, in part because of the chain of events that Christ set into motion in today’s scripture. And not only will he see his son again: The Bible says that to be away from our earthly body is to be at home with the Lord.6 It says that to depart from this world and be with Christ is “far better.”7 It says that nothing in the world, not even death itself, can separate us from Jesus Christ and his love.8

The Bible says that there is not a single moment, not a fraction of a millisecond, in which we Christians don’t possess or enjoy this eternal life that we have in Christ. That’s why the Bible says that death has lost its sting; in Christ, death is only a transition, from life to an even greater kind of life. Michael Johnson is enjoying this life right now… as are all of our brothers and sisters in Christ who have died.

  1. Romans 8:18 ESV
  2. Luke 10:40 ESV
  3. Luke 10:42 ESV
  4. See 2 Corinthians 12:23-33.
  5. Matthew 13:44-46
  6. 2 Corinthians 5:8
  7. Philippians 1:23
  8. Romans 8:38-39

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