“The Point of No Return”

March 26, 2023

John 11:1-45

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

Rush United Methodist Church


| Centering Prayer |

Few life events are more painful

than the death of a loved one;

a husband, a wife,

a mother or father,

brother or sister,

a family member,

or a friend.

John’s Gospel narrative today

is 37 verses of Jesus getting ready to raise Lazarus from the dead

and six verse of Jesus actually lifting Lazarus out of the grave,

giving him life.

Prior to our passage

Jesus and his disciples had fled the Temple

after the Jews questioned him,

picked up stones,

and threaten to kill him.

Ever looked down the barrel of a gun?

Yeah, Jesus needed to get away

To have a panic attack!

Today, Jesus is found

“across the Jordan

to the place where John had been baptizing earlier,

and he remained there.” (10:40)

This was at least 18 miles away,

as the crow flies

and 3,300 feet straight downhill.

The road between the Jordan River and Jerusalem

snakes back and forth to compensate for the steep slope.

The road today, built on the same path

Jesus would have traversed

is about 33 miles.

What takes 45 minutes by car today,

Took about 2 days to walk

in the time of Jesus.

This is important

because word of Lazarus’ illness

would have made its way to Jesus

two days after Mary and Martha’s brother became mortally sick.

Mary and Martha,

sent their message

“Lord, he whom you love is ill.”


Jesus’ friend, Lazarus,

the brother of Mary and Martha,

must have died two days after his sisters sent notice to Jesus of his illness.

Jesus lingered for two days after receiving the news,

then traveled an additional two days to Bethany,

a near suburb of Jerusalem,

only to find that Lazarus

had been four days dead and buried in a cave,

where his corpse stinketh greatly!

As certain as a spear penetrating Jesus’ side,

this is not a resuscitation attempt

we’re talking about here.

Lazarus, brother of Mary and Martha,

all dear friends of Jesus,

has died.

Few life events are more painful

than the death of a loved one;

a husband, a wife,

a mother or father,

brother or sister,

a family member,

or a friend.

We live in a death averse culture.

Intellectually, we all know we are going to die.

Emotionally, we are a train wreck of denial, delusion, and delay.

We say people “passed”

when in fact, they died.

People say “we lost them,”

as if they lost their way home from the market.

We hope to die without struggle;

to “die in our sleep.”

Yet, we know death comes to many

with a lot of pain and suffering.

We send the corpse of our beloved to undertakers

to delay the decay,

clean them up and present them to family and friends

looking like they aren’t even dead;

“oh, he (or she) looks so natural.”

The higher the profile of the person;

the greater the outpour of public sentiment, grief, and nutty conspiracy theories:

– perhaps Elvis isn’t dead!

– shadows in bushes on the grassy knoll proves a second shooter!

Even, low these 40 days of Lent,

this liturgical season is a constant grind

of anticipatory death and grief

that accumulates

and is plowed

into the deepest recesses of our spiritual identity.

We side with Jesus’ humanity

and want the Father to take away his cup,

because, with hindsight,

we know what lies ahead during Holy Week.

Jesus’ weighted keel

gives stability to the narrative of him raising Lazarus from the dead:

“This illness does not lead to death;

rather it is for God’s glory,”

Jesus calms his disciples,

“so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”


Illness and suffering are some of the means

through which God can work.

Resurrection is for God’s glory.

Illness and suffering are tools

through which God works.

When biology and physical fail us

due to age, illness, or trauma,

in my experience,

this is the most important time

to listen for

to watch for

the hand of God

guiding our path;

the whisper of His will

in our ear;

the love of God

wrapping us in His arms.

This six-week period of recovery from my knee replacement

Has been a painful, personal reminder

To watch and wait for God to act,

To weave grace and healing into my life

And into the lives of others.

My pain made me crazy, near suicidal,

Yet, I had to remind myself,

It was “so that the Son of God may be glorified.”

It is through those times of

many dangers, toils and snares

that faith is deepened and broadened,

and as resurrection people

we are invited in

to a closer walk with Thee.

There is no doubt:

suffering is terrible.

Few life events are more painful

than death,

the death of one you love

or one who loved you.

Lazarus lingered with a mortal illness for days.

Jesus was scorned, whipped, stripped, and spit on from arrest to his traumatic death.

No one wants to suffer;

yet, when we do,

it becomes for us an opportunity to

taste and see

the presence of God in our midst;

because suffering is for

God’s greater glory.


In the Gospel of John

this raising of Lazarus story

is the last of the signs

that point to who Jesus is and why Jesus has come,

and begins the pivot to the second half of John,

often referred to The Book of Glory,

which is

Christ’s Passion, death, and resurrection.

These signs include

stories of Jesus teaching,

healing and casting out demons,

and beginning to draw large crowds

which captured the attention of Jewish authorities and Rome.

Crowds can incite riots, insurrection, even revolution.

Last week we heard about Jesus giving sight to a man born blind;

more than mere miracle,

but the complete creation of a visual / neural network right before their eyes.

The interrogation by the religious authorities confirms

they are getting nervous about Jesus

winning over the crowds

and converting people away from Judaism

to become his disciples.

But today,


Jesus crosses the point of no return.

More than mere magic,

raising Lazarus from the dead,

in front of such a large crowd of followers,

so publicly

and so rapidly communicated throughout the Passover pilgrims,

demonstrates the fact

that Jesus has authority

even over death itself.

The authority of organized religion would be

forever relegated

to cellars and backwaters,

to cults and delusional movements,

headed for nowhere.

The authority of the Chief Priests, scribes, and leaders of the Temple

surpassed Jesus’ flesh and humanity.

Yet, it is the Divinity of Christ …

… today in full view for all to see …

with the raising of Lazarus

that exceeds earthly authority.

This Divine authority has no limits or end.

It is eternal.

In the mind of the Chief Priest,

Jesus, the man, must die.

We are resurrection people!

We cannot be people of the flesh,

as Saint Paul so eloquently writes in his letter to the church in Rome,

“To set the mind on the flesh is death.”

(Romans 8:6)

The story of Lazarus is the story of resurrection!

He lives another day to later dine with Jesus

while Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with perfume.

The story of Jesus is the story of resurrection!

Less we get too bogged down in the suffering of Lent and Holy Week,

we know from hindsight

we are resurrection people

as soon as Christ steps out of the empty tomb.

Resurrection is all around us!

Our resurrected life

Begins in our mortal living.

In baptism, we are claimed by the God who created us,

and we become a resurrected disciple in the here and now.

In our future death, we are given victory over the grave,

and welcomed home with resurrection into eternal life.

We are even resurrection people

at the consummation of all history,

when time comes to an end,

and we are joined with the Alpha and the Omega.

Resurrection is all around us!

Our Gospel narrative from John

begs us to open our eyes,

to experience

the resurrection taking place in our midst

that the glory of God may be seen.

Old enemies reconcile,

Sometimes to our surprise,

Sometimes in spite of us;

that’s resurrection!

Health is restored,

Pain is relieved,

Cancer goes into remission;

that’s resurrection!

God’s love envelops a grieving family

A casserole goes into the refrigerator,

A note is sent,

Or a plant is left on the doorstep;

that’s resurrection!

… and every resurrection

is for God’s greater glory!

Ask yourself this:

where am I witnessing resurrection this week?

Where are dry bones being knit together and

the breath of the Holy Spirit is breathing life into lifeless bodies?

May your awareness

lead people to Christ and his authority.

May your awareness

be for the glory of God.


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