Apr 10, 2011(Fifth Sunday in Lent) John 11:9~11 (Rev. Hyunchoul Shin)
I started working at the church on February 4th, 1996. At the time I was in charge of children from grade 1 to 3. As I had not previously imagined myself working in this area, nor like children, I was very overwhelmed. As a result, I thought about giving up on this path several times.
The students never paid attention during sermons and when I thought about it my sermons were not very interesting. As a result, whenever I stood in front of the children telling them the words of God, they’d be playing rock paper scissors or other simple games. I tried to draw pictures, and use dolls and etc to try and grab their attention, but to no avail. All in all, it was a very difficult time for me.
However, there was one incident that made this period even more challenging. About two months after I had become the youth pastor, I received a call from one of the members at the church asking whether I remembered a certain kid. As I had only recently started, and because there were about 100 kids, I hadn’t memorized all their names. When I looked her up in the attendance list, she was a third grader whose face I couldn’t quite recognize. The caller asked me to meet her at the hospital and thinking that perhaps she was in a car incident, I went there right away. When I arrived, she led me to the morgue telling me that the little girl had committed suicide. Seeing the expression on my face, she told me not to worry as she was a girl who hadn’t attended church very often and since I had only recently arrived, this wasn’t my fault. I kept on telling myself, she’s right, this isn’t my fault but the more I tried to forget, the more I remembered. I scorned myself saying “how could you not even know the girl’s name or recognize her face or even tried to hear her problems to prevent this? How can you call yourself a pastor who’s supposed to spread words of life and wisdom?” Guilt consumed me and to this day, I feel responsible for what had happened to the girl.
I went to the Philippines in 2001 for a short-term mission. When I was there, I almost died on my way to Mindoro, an island in the Philippines, as we met a severe storm and I remember when I had to carry around equipment all day in the jungle on our way to meet some of the natives.
When we were visiting various houses teaching the Four Spiritual Laws, one of the missionaries led me to a cottage-looking house with the roof made of banana leaves. He said that he have to pray for those who are in there. When I went in, there was one woman sitting in a space that could accommodate about 3 to 4 people. There was a little wooden box near her with a pretty little baby doll. The missionary told me that that doll is not a figure but the corpse of a real baby. The baby had died very soon after his birth and the box was his coffin. The sad this is that when the Korean medical missionary team was there two weeks ago, the baby was fine and although the disease was completely curable, he couldn’t be treated as he became sick after the team had left. Thus, the mother used preservation methods to keep the child and has been living with him ever since.
At the moment, I wasn’t sure how to pray and my heart just ached. Had we arrived there a few days ago, we could have treated the child with the simple medication we had. Sadness and regret overcame me and I reflected on whether I should go to a medical school for a while after that. Thus, I remember telling the students in my youth group to be doctors as if each person were to go on a missionary trip and save one person, collectively they could save a lot of people.
Just a few days earlier…
Even in today’s scripture we see such a lamentable situation. In line 21 we see Martha saying “Lord," Martha said to Jesus, ‘if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’” Despite the fact that “the sisters sent word to Jesus, ‘Lord, the one you love is sick’” in line 3, Jesus had not come earlier. Thus line 21 shows Martha’s sadness in the late arrival of Jesus.
The town that Lazarus was living in, Bethany, was only 3km away from Jerusalem and according to chapter 10 line 40, “Then Jesus went back across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing in the early days. Here he stayed” the trip would have only taken, at most, a day. Thus Martha is expressing her grievances for him not making the trip before.
Furthermore, in line 2 we can see a special relationship between Lazarus’s family as “This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.” This shows Martha’s devotion to Christ and thereby illustrates the relationship between her family, including her brother Lazarus, and Jesus.
Additionally, in line 11, Jesus is calling Lazarus his “friend” and in line 3 as “the one [he] loves” and in line 33, “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” Then “Jesus wept” (11:35).
If Lazarus and Jesus were this close and had this special of a relationship why did he stay “Where he was two more days” (11:6) and “On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days” (11:17)? Why was he late?
The answer is that people’s definition of ‘on time’ and Jesus’ definition of ‘on time’ are different. People believed that Jesus arriving and healing Lazarus before his death as ‘on time.’ As a result, were grieving at the fact that he had not arrived earlier and those who had seen him give the sight back to the blind man back in chapter 9 were asking “But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’” (11:37).
However, Jesus waited until Lazarus had died. The ‘four days’ here means complete death and the Jews at the time believed, that a person’s spirit does not leave the body and thus were able to be revived in the four days. Thus the passing of four days would mean complete death and no chance for resurrection.
This then, was an optimal time for Jesus to show who holds the power of life. That “[he is] the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (11:25-26).
Therefore, it was when people thought that he was late that became Jesus’ definition of ‘on time.’ As this would be the time to bring out the faith and to show that the point of limitation for human beings was only the starting point for God.
The reason Jesus did not go see Nazarus immediately when he heard about his death is in John 11:4. When he heard this, Jesus said, "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 way we think of death is different from the way Jesus thinks of death. We think of deathly sickness as cancer or some incurable disease. Also, if we get injured from a car accident, we think this would lead to death. If we age, we believe we are dying. However, Jesus is saying that these are not causes of death.
Instead, he says that death is caused by something else. In fact, the entire Chapter of John is about this. In John Chapter 6, Jesus tells us that he is the bread of life and that whoever does believe in him will always go hungry. In Chapter 8, Jesus tells us that he is the light of the world and that whoever follows him will never walk in darkness, which is death. In Chapter 10, Jesus says that he is the gate for the sheep and that anyone who is not protected by him will die. IN Chapter 14, Jesus says he is the way and the truth and the life. Anyone who does not follow him will die. In Chapter 15, he says that he is the true vine and that we are the branches. If we don’t remain in him, we will not bear fruits and thus we will die. Finally, in Chapter 11:25, Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in him will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in him will never die.
So it is written in John 20:31: “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” So through Lazarus’ death and life, we realize what it truly means by death.
In John 11:11, Jesus says, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep but I am going there to wake him up.” This is similar when in Mark 5:39, the daughter of the synagogue ruler dies, Jesus says, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.”
Jesus was looking at the possibility that we may live. When we see people dying, we are caught by fear and doubts, but Jesus wakes up who is asleep like us.
This is a prayer by the missionary Horace H. Underwood when he first arrived in Korea:
Lord, nothing is visible at this moment. Lord, you have planted us on this barren and poor land, where not even a single tree can grow tall enough. It is such a miracle that we could come to this land across the wide wide Pacific Ocean. Nothing is visible, though, in this land on which we seem to have been dropped off by your hand. Only stubbornly stained darkness can be seen.
Only Korean people chained with poverty and superstition can be seen.
They don't even know why they are chained, what suffering is.
They just distrust us and express anger to us as we tell them how to take away their suffering, which is not suffering to them.
The thoughts of Korean men are not visible. The mind of this government is not visible.
We are afraid that we may not have any more opportunity to see the women commuting on Kamas(-a cart carried by men). And we do not see what to do.
Yet, Lord! We will obey. We believe that you begin your work as we humbly obey,
And that the day will come when our spiritual eyes will see your work, According to your Words, "Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see..."
Even the missionary Horace Underwood came to awaken Korea which was asleep at that time. So in that situation, he prayed that we would be able to see through our faith.
If you go to Denver, Colorado, southeast of the US and go about 125 miles, you will reach a place called Sand Creek, which was the place where there had previously been an Indian massacre. The 700-men force of Colorado militia attacked and destroyed a village of Cheyenne and Arapho Indians, killing and mutilating about 132 Indians, about two thirds of whom were women and children. This massacre was led by Colonel John Chivington, who had been a Methodist preacher.
“Damn any man who sympathizes with Indians! ... I have come to kill Indians, and believe it is right and honorable to use any means under God's heaven to kill Indians.” – Col. John Milton Chivington
So even today, all Cheyenne Indians grow up hearing this story, and the fact that the person who had led the massacre was a preacher. This is one of the reasons that many Indians who have a hard time accepting the church. They are like Lazarus and are asleep.
The name Lazarus has a meaning “God helps me” So Lazarus who was asleep needed help from God, and Jesus went to Lazarus to wake him up.
Reading this verse, let’s think whether there is a friend who is asleep, who needs the Lord’s help, and thus, who needs to be awakened.
Even today, we need to wake up so many people who are in a deep sleep. Let us ask God how we could wake these people up and pray that our friend Jesus will be with us to help us. (translated by Mika Choi and Soyeon Song)
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