(I am being led to start sharing some of my sermons through this blog. This one is from our Ash Wednesday Service. Honest appraisals and critiques are always welcomed!)
John 11:6-16 (NLT)
6 He stayed where he was for the next two days. 7 Finally, he said to his disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.”
8 But his disciples objected. “Rabbi,” they said, “only a few days ago the people in Judea were trying to stone you. Are you going there again?”
9 Jesus replied, “There are twelve hours of daylight every day. During the day people can walk safely. They can see because they have the light of this world. 10 But at night there is danger of stumbling because they have no light.” 11 Then he said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but now I will go and wake him up.”
12 The disciples said, “Lord, if he is sleeping, he will soon get better!” 13 They thought Jesus meant Lazarus was simply sleeping, but Jesus meant Lazarus had died. 14 So he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 And for your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there, for now you will really believe. Come, let’s go see him.”
16 Thomas, nicknamed the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let’s go, too—and die with Jesus.”
If you can remember only one thing from this message it needs to be this: The Ultimate Temptation We Face Today Is To Follow After An Easy, Safe And Convenient Jesus.
What you decide tonight will greatly impact and shape your life tomorrow—next week—next month—next year—for the rest of your life—even into eternity. Understand this: Every moment of Every Day, God is offering you choices and those choices shape and influence you until and unless you make a different choice. We call it consequences. Consequences are the effect, result, or outcome of something that happened at some earlier point. They may happen quickly after that choice, or it may happen much later. Those consequences can even be, and usually are unanticipated. The consequences of our choices will catch up with us at some point. There is no escape from the consequences of our choices.
Let’s look at tonight’s passage. The key character is Jesus, of course, but there’s another person we need to look at: Thomas, good old Doubting Thomas. But wait! Look at what Thomas said: “Let’s go, too—and die with Jesus!” Be honest, does that sound like the words of a doubter? I admit that I was one of those who gave Thomas a bad image as being The Doubter.
But back in 2000 I was invited to take part in a living last supper drama when serving in Scottsboro. No, I wasn’t Thomas, but one year I was Thomas. It’s a powerful drama built around the Last Supper and the moment right after Jesus said, “One of you will betray me.” Each disciple shared something about their life with Jesus and I remember Ron Crawford who played the part of Thomas say with conviction: “It was I who said ‘Let us go with Him that we may die with Him.’” I had to let that sink in. Did Thomas really say that? Well, I found out he did and it changed how I saw Thomas. And tonight he is the focus of what choice you will make.
Let’s step into the scene. Jesus knows the reason for his coming is now closer than ever—just a couple of weeks later He will be hanging on that Cross. These Disciples sense something ominous in the air. They know the Sanhedrin is out to get rid of Jesus. He’s humiliated them and proven them wrong on every occasion. They know that the Sanhedrin’s power over the people is threatened and their only way to get back control over the people and rise back to their deserved place of Religious Police is to kill Jesus.
Sure, there have been other times they wanted to get rid of Jesus, but this time is different. Each trip to Jerusalem intensifies their desire to put an end to Jesus. They sense that their next trip will probably be their last. Then Jesus gets word that one of his best friends Lazarus is extremely sick and Martha and Mary are calling for Jesus to come heal Lazarus. They lived in Bethany, less than 2 miles from Jerusalem, and I’m sure these disciples were worried that if Jesus went to Bethany that the Sanhedrin would find out; and they would have found out.
At first, it seems Jesus isn’t moved by Martha and Mary’s request, but He has a greater plan. 2 days later Jesus announces it’s time to go to Bethany because Lazarus is “asleep”. They think, “Oh, good, he’s resting and will get better and we won’t have to go.” But Jesus quickly corrects them that it’s the sleep of death and they need to go. They believe it’s a bad idea to go there because of the threat of death by the Sanhedrin. There’s a sound of both desperation and resignation in their words. Desperate that Jesus avoid going there, resigned that this time He would die there.
That’s their view, except for good old “Doubting” Thomas. Thomas has a different view, a different desire from the other 11. Thomas is willing to follow Jesus even to the point of dying with and for Jesus. Thomas faced the most important decision of his life up to that point. As important as was his decision to become a follower of Jesus, this decision becomes even more important—because it speaks about commitment.
We observe Lent because we need to have a reality check on the level of our commitment to Jesus because…
In Mark 10 we see the story of that rich young ruler coming to Jesus with the question of every heart: “Where do I find lasting and meaningful life?” Jesus gave the map to finding that life—let go of everything and take hold of God. It’s not easy giving up control, giving up the things we want and love. Jesus doesn’t like it when we share our affections and priorities on anything other than Him. Jesus comes to confront us and challenge us on every thing, every issue of life. We observe Lent because we need a reality check on the level of our commitment to Jesus because…
Remember the story in Matthew 14. Jesus came to the disciples being tossed about it the middle of that storm. When Jesus arrives, He invites Peter to join Him in a walk on the stormy sea. That’s not safe. Jesus calls us to get out of our comfort zones because He knows as long as we stay where we are comfortable, we will never risk or dare great things. It may mean that we have to give up on a promotion because to get the promotion we would have to violate the values of The Kingdom. To follow Jesus means we have to be willing to risk rejection and ridicule. We observe Lent because we need a reality check on the level of our commitment to Jesus because…
Jesus never asks us to fit Him into our schedules. He demands that HE becomes the schedule. When we have our plans and our schedules and our agendas, truth is it is not convenient to invite Jesus to become the core and center of our lives. Jesus marched right into the midst and middle of the brokenness of his culture and the people. And so must we. As Jesus died for the broken and messed up people, which includes us by the way, so must we. He calls, no, He DEMANDS that we live the way He died. To put to death every bit of selfishness that is always trying to take control again. To die to our own concepts of what our life should be like and what we think the church should be like, look like, act like. Following Jesus Requires Our Death.
The Ultimate Temptation We Face Today Is To Follow After An Easy, Safe And Convenient Jesus. The easy Jesus never existed. The safe Jesus is an illusion. The convenient Jesus will never be found.
We want power without painful rejection. We want risk with no danger. We want victory with limited commitment. Lent is a great time to choose our level of commitment to Jesus. Will you be like Thomas, willing to die with and for Jesus? Or will you follow the Easy, Safe and Convenient Jesus, who is just another false Messiah?