April 1, 2018
Pastor Jeff Struecker
Today we are going to look at Easter through a very unlikely character. The Bible calls him Lazarus. Let me give you a little bit of background information about Lazarus. Lazarus was a follower of Jesus. Lazarus and really, as much as we can tell, most of his family believed in Jesus. One day, while Jesus was on the road, Lazarus got sick. His sisters called for Jesus because they know Jesus has the power to heal people. So, they called for Jesus, but Jesus dragged his feet.
Lazarus went from bad to worse. And he not only got sick, but this sickness ultimately killed him. For four days Jesus delayed coming to see Lazarus. And then the Bible describes the scene. When Jesus finally shows up on the scene, Lazarus has already been dead for four days and in John 11:35, you have this super short verse in the Bible that Jesus sees what’s going on around Him, and I think Jesus is brokenhearted because this is not the world that He created. The Bible tells us that Jesus wept.
I think that there are a couple of reasons why Jesus wept in John 11:35. He wept because his friends who He loved deeply, they were hurting because of the death of Lazarus. He probably wept, I am convinced, because Jesus knows Heaven; Jesus knows what Heaven is like, and Jesus knows he’s about to call Lazarus back from Heaven to Earth. He’s about to call that dead man out of the grave. And Jesus knows how much Lazarus is going to give up in order to come back. But I think there’s perhaps a third reason why Jesus is weeping when He tells them to roll the stone away and commands Lazarus, this dead man, to come back to life and to come back out of the grave. This is found for us in John 12, just a couple of verses after the funeral, and here’s what the Bible describes about life for Lazarus after his death, and after he came back to life. John 12 starting in verse 9:
Then a large crowd of the Jews learned he was there. They came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, the one he had raised from the dead. 10 But the chief priests had decided to kill Lazarus also, 11 because he was the reason many of the Jews were deserting them and believing in Jesus.
I want you to notice, Lazarus becomes public enemy #2, and #2 only to Jesus. Notice the word “also”. They have already decided in their mind, “We’ve got to kill this radical by the name of Jesus. We’ve got to get Him out of the equation because the message that He’s teaching is causing many people to abandon us and to go follow Him.” Lazarus became an outlaw. And Lazarus not only becomes a living example of the power of Jesus, Lazarus becomes a prelude to what’s about to happen on Easter Sunday morning for the first time ever 2000 years ago. But Lazarus also becomes a prelude to what happens to any man or any woman who places genuine, sincere faith,who becomes born again and experiences new life in Jesus Christ. Here’s the truth: Lazarus demonstrates vividly what Easter is all about.
Here’s a shocker: Easter is not about a bunny that lays chocolate eggs. Easter’s not even about those perineal plants that have been sitting dormant in the ground all winter long that spring back up to life. Easter is about a human being that goes from death to life. That’s the message of Easter, and Lazarus is a great example of that message. So, if you are new to church, like if this is your first day ever walking into a church in your life, I want to explain for you, I want to unpack for you for just a few minutes today: “What does it mean to have new life? What does it mean to be born again?” And we’re going to try to look at that phrase through the eyes of a guy by the name of Lazarus who really did die and really did come back to life again. Lazarus is the miracle of all miracles- it is the proof that Jesus Christ really is the Son of God, the one who claimed that He had power over death.
I. Jesus offers abundant life
This born again, new life, that Jesus is describing, what we’re going to read about, is that Lazarus is radically changed. Now, picture this for just a second: You’ve been given the opportunity to go interview Lazarus after he comes back up out of the grave. And you’re going to ask Lazarus the questions that everybody is burning to know: “Hey Lazarus, did you see the light? Lazarus, did you go to Heaven? Lazarus, what was it like?” You’re going to want to know the answers to all of those questions because all of us want to know the answers to those questions. But you also should ask Lazarus the question that matters most to us today: “Lazarus, you were dead. Now that you’re alive again, what’s different? Is your life different today than it was before this incident?” And I’m convinced Lazarus is going to tell you, “I had a pretty good life before, but this is radically different.” Lazarus is going to say, “I’m now living this abundant, this full, this complete life.” Jesus describes it this way:
A thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance
The thief that Jesus is referring to here is the original tempter, Satan, the serpent back in the Garden of Eden who tempted Adam and Eve, and he still does the exact same thing today. And here’s how the thief steals and kills and destroys. He places something in front of you that’s very tangible, and he asks you to follow after that thing instead of following after Jesus. So, for some of us he’s going to place a pay raise or a promotion. For others of us it may be a relationship that you’ve been pursuing. Perhaps it’s a new car or new clothes or a new house. And he’s going to try to tempt you to live for that thing.
Instead of pursing Jesus, you start to pursue other things; you start to pursue stuff. And what Jesus is saying here in John 10:10 is that stuff, it can’t fill you up. It won’t complete you. Every one of us has had this experience: You had this shiny toy that you were wanting when you were a child, and you longed for this shining toy. And then when you finally got it at Christmas or on your birthday, 6 weeks or 6 months later all of a sudden that shiny toy lost its luster. All of a sudden that shiny toy wasn’t nearly as fulfilling for you after having it, as you thought it was going to be before you get it. Here’s what I think Lazarus would tell you: Ask any CEO of a corporation; ask anybody who has won the state championship; who’s put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into that thing; and when I finally got it, it didn’t fill me up. It didn’t fill me up like I thought it would, and it certainly didn’t fill me up as long as I thought it would fill me up. Yeah, it was great for a while, but after a while it left me wanting more.
The word “abundant” or “abundance” literally means “totally full, absolutely complete.” What Jesus is saying is, if you listen to the thief, if you follow after anything else, if you chase something else, even if you get it, it’s still going to leave you wanting more. But the new life, the born-again life I’m offering you, it’s never going to let you down. It’s never going to leave you unsatisfied. It will fill you up and keep filling you up. Not just for the rest of your life here on earth, it will keep you full for eternity. Lazarus, what’s different about your life today? He would say, “I had a good life before this incident, but I am living the abundant life now. I am living a full and a complete life now.
Therefore, you can’t tempt me with stuff. No amount of stuff can tempt me to give up this abundant life that Jesus has given me. But I think Lazarus would also say, “It’s bigger than that. It’s more than just filling me up on the inside and keeping me full. This new life that I have, it’s limitless. There’s no limit. There’s nothing holding me back anymore. What was holding me back, is not holding me back anymore.”
II. The new life is limitless
Now, Lazarus has some friendships, Lazarus has some relationships, and after this incident, all of those things have become placed in their proper perspective. Jesus has become first, which makes all other human relationships second place. And here’s how the Bible describes this:
Truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains by itself. But if it dies, it produces much fruit. 25 The one who loves his life will lose it, and the one who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
Here’s what Jesus is saying today: He is describing putting everything else into perspective. When you start to live for Jesus, everything else starts to become second place. Can we just be honest? Life got hard for Lazarus after he came back out of the grave. In fact, now he is a wanted man. And we don’t have this story from the Bible, but I tend to think that people started to criticize him, that they started to try to discredit him. Maybe even people he loved started to try to run him down and to try to minimize this thing. “Oh, he really didn’t die.” Or, “Maybe it wasn’t really coming back out of the grave.”
And in whatever case, Lazarus’s relationships have changed. His relationships with his family, his relationships with his friends. I am convinced Lazarus would say, “I would give all of those things up gladly for my one relationship with Jesus.” Because here’s the truth: Every human relationship- even if following Jesus costs you every human relationship- they are temporary. They only last as long as you’re on earth. But the relationship with Jesus, that relationship goes on way past the grave. In fact, that relationship has no limit. And now Lazarus has become an incredibly powerful voice for Jesus.
III. The new life starts immediately
It doesn’t happen after you die, and they lay you in the ground. This thing starts right now while you’re here on planet earth. I’m going to share with you a couple of verses from John chapter 3, but here’s the background:
A religious leader comes to Jesus at night, and he’s got a question, and he has a sincere question; he’s looking for a sincere answer. He says, “Hey Jesus, we know that you’re from God, but I need some help understanding your teachings,” and Jesus just stops him in the middle of the sentence (a guy by the name of Nicodemus), and he says this, “Nicodemus, [John chapter 3, verse 3] you must be born again.” He just blew Nicodemus’s mind when he said this, because Nicodemus is a religious leader, but he doesn’t understand the phrase born again. “Jesus, what do you mean? Can a person go back into their mother’s womb a second time? How can you be born again?”
And Jesus uses a couple of stories from the Bible, a couple of modern examples/illustrations to demonstrate what it looks like to be born again, and then Jesus makes this famous verse. You’ve seen it in the end-zone of a football stadium. You’ve seen it on March Madness behind the hoop. -some crazy man holding up a sign that says “John 3:16”. Here’s that verse:
For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Anyone who believes in him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God.
IV. The new life gives you victory over fear
Many people hold a sign up with “John 3:16”, because they believe this one verse perfectly demonstrates what it means to be born again. What does new life look like? But, please, don’t ever divorce verse 16 with what the Bible says next in verses 17 and 18. I want you to pay close attention to Jesus’s description of when this happens.
Here’s the truth: If you’ve got this idea that God is some cosmic deity who’s just sitting in Heaven, waiting for you to mess up so that he can shoot lightning bolts out of his fingertips, that’s not who God is. In fact, his original motivation for sending Jesus, Jesus’s whole mission on Earth in the first place, was motivated out of love. But I want you to pay very close attention to the verb tenses in verse 18. Look at what it says.
Do you see what the Bible just did? It said it’s not when you die; eternal life starts right now, and it is effective immediately for everyone, and it boils down to what the Bible says here. It boils down to belief in Jesus, and my fear is that you’re thinking to yourself, Well Jeff, I believe the Bible. I believe that there’s a guy by the name of Jesus who lived a long time ago. I even believe that he really did die, and I believe that he came back up out of the tomb again, so I’m good, right?
The truth is, if that’s it, then maybe you’re not good. You see, for some people, belief for you is no different than believing what the history books say about Abraham Lincoln. -believing that because his face is on the currency of the United States, that a guy by the name of Abraham Lincoln really did live a long time ago, but you’ve never met him, and he’s made no difference in your life. The belief that the Bible is describing here is radical, life-changing belief. It’s born-again belief. It’s new-life belief. It’s not, “I believe that a guy did live like this.” -intellectually. It’s “I know that man personally. I know him personally, because he’s met me, and he’s radically and totally changed me.”
And what the Bible is saying for us today is, “That right there separates all people on the planet. -either condemned already because you do not believe, “I heard it, but I don’t need it. I’m good, Jeff. I’m fine on my own,” or “I’ve had a radical, life-altering, born-again, new-life experience with Jesus Christ,” and it starts immediately.
I want to ask you, is it just intellectual for you, or have you met a man who lived a long time ago, who’s radically and totally changed you? Do you have that kind of belief? You see, Lazarus would tell you that new life, it started for him a long time before he died, and it began the moment he really believed in Jesus. Here’s what Lazarus would also tell you:
1 Corinthians 15:54-57
When this corruptible body is clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal body is clothed with immortality, then the saying that is written will take place: Death has been swallowed up in victory. 55 Where, death, is your victory? Where, death, is your sting? 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!
V. Jesus offers the exchanged life
The guy who’s writing this says, “I know I can’t keep the law. I try to keep the law, and can’t do it. As hard as I try, I’ve broken half of the Ten Commandments, if not most of them. And the reason why I keep breaking those commandments is because of sin that’s inside of me, and I needed somebody who would come and perfectly fulfill the law. I needed somebody who’s never sinned to some and to settle once and for all my guilt against the law.” That man’s name is Jesus, the only human being who’s ever lived who was tempted in every way, yet without sin. -the only perfect person, the only one who perfectly kept the law. And then Jesus paid this brutal death, and they crucified that man, and when they crucified him, they took him off of a cross, and they laid him in a tomb, and for 3 days, his body remained in the grave.
But, you know, Jesus made this bold declaration: “Death has no power on me. My life is my own. I will lay it down, and I will take it back up again. I have power over death.”
So, if that man really did come out of the tomb 2000 years ago, if he really did come back out of the tomb alive, then where is the power that death has over us anymore? Where is the sting that death can inflict on people? In fact, it ain’t over when it’s over. Death is just a door that you walk through, and for those who have been born again, those who have new life, Jesus is waiting for you on the other side of death.
Imagine you’re driving through a graveyard today. You’re going to lay a wreath of flowers on the grave of a family member you love deeply, and as you’re going to the tomb, you see that there’s a tomb in the cemetery, and there are 4 guards stationed at that tomb, and there’s a seal over that tomb that says, “Do not break this seal”. It’s a tamper-proof seal. As you’re driving by to go to your family or friend, you’re going to say, “There’s something radically different about the person in that grave.”
Look, even Jesus’s enemies heard this one very clearly, and after he died, they stationed guards at the tomb and put a seal on it so that nobody could tamper with it, because they knew, “That man claimed that he would come back up out of the tomb again. We’ve got to make sure that nobody breaks in, and we’ve got to make sure that nobody breaks out of that tomb.”
And the Bible is teaching, Jesus has already won the victory over death. Jesus gives that victory away to the people who have become born again, new-life followers of Jesus. It’s like this: If you’re uncle who lives in New Jersey just won last night a $520 million Powerball lottery, and you’re the only living relative he has. He puts all of that money in a bank account, and then he adds your name to the bank account. He says, “You do whatever you want. Spend as much as you want on whatever you want, but don’t forget this: It’s my money, and I’m allowing you to have some of it. I’m allowing you to spend it.”
This victory that we have, it was won by Jesus, and he’s giving 100% of it over to you, and he’s making all of it available to you if you will completely, totally surrender to him, if you will follow him radically, and that means I don’t have to worry about a Chinese space station falling out of the sky and hitting me on the head tomorrow when I go to work. I know exactly where I’m going to spend eternity. I have no fear of death.
For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
“I tried to live it out, but I couldn’t. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t, because I’m a sinner, and as hard as I tried, my sin eventually caused me to break the law, to violate the commandments of God.” In verse 20, the Great Exchange is vividly described for you.
The word exchange means a contract. It’s a deal that happens between 2 parties, and here’s the deal: I died to my old self. I died to my old life. Therefore, now Jesus lives inside of me. Jesus took my death on the cross so that I would no longer have to pay the penalty for sin. Do you see this exchange that’s taken place? -and now billions of people since this verse would say the same thing.
I died a long time ago when I bowed my knees, and I surrendered everything to Jesus. I surrendered my hopes and my dreams. I surrendered my future. I surrendered everything to Jesus, and I asked him to radically change me. And because of that, I don’t live anymore. Now Jesus lives. He lives inside of me, and now I have the power of the Holy Spirit available to me, and that same power is available to you, any one of you who has experienced what Lazarus experienced, anybody who’s experienced this born-again, new-life relationship with Jesus that the Bible describes.
Here’s what I’m trying to say: Do you want to know what Easter 2000 years ago in Palestine, how that can possibly make a difference in my life tomorrow when I go to school or to work? The way it makes a difference is this: I can’t be tempted with stuff anymore, because I have been made so full and so complete in Jesus that the stuff you might offer me, it doesn’t appeal to me anymore.
Lazarus would tell you that “I am now living this limitless life, and I would give up every relationship if Jesus asked me to. I hope he doesn’t, but if he did, I would give up every relationship for that man.” Lazarus would say, “I have this new life; it started immediately after following Jesus. I don’t fear death. I don’t fear what the future holds. I know exactly where I’m going to spend eternity. Lazarus would say, “I have victory over fear, and nothing can hold me back anymore. He would say, “That is because Jesus exchanged his life for my life, and in the process, he asked me to lay my life down and find what it means to be really alive, truly alive for the first time.”
I don’t even need to know who you are. I know this: If you’ve never radically, totally surrendered to Jesus Christ, you don’t know what it means to live. But, if you have totally, radically surrendered to Jesus, you know what it means to be fully alive. Here’s this entire sermon in one sentence:
Easter makes you fully alive for the first time.
And until you’ve experienced the miracle of miracles, until you’ve had your own personal Easter experience and gone from death to life in Jesus, you don’t know what it means to be fully alive.
• I need to become fully ALIVE. Today, I asked Jesus to give me new life for the first time.
– It’s been a long time since I’ve experienced the abundant life that Jesus once gave me. Today, I’m returning to Jesus all over again.
+ I will live the exchanged life this week.
- Do you believe the accounts of people who have had near-death experiences? Explain why or why not.
- If people who follow Jesus are supposed to have died to self, why do we still struggle with temptation so often?
- Read Luke 12:22-25. The full life lacks nothing. If Jesus gives all things to his people, why do we still worry so easily?
- What is one example of how Jesus was living his life through you last week?
- If eternal life starts immediately after faith in Jesus, why do Christians let this mortal life have so much control over them?
- What is an area of your life in which you need God to give you victory right now?
- Pray for Jesus to give you victory in this area this week.