Live By The Comma

Death is inevitable.  I hate to be morbid for a second but I want to share a fact.  Death will happen for all of us!  The only exception to that would be if you are still alive when Jesus comes back.  But beyond that, death is as much a part of life as the breath you are breathing right now.  I heard about a mortician in Florida who rather than signing his letters with “Sincerely Yours” he always signs his letters with “Eventually Yours.”

In thermodynamics the second law is what is called entropy.  It basically says that if left to its own devices, everything in the universe moves toward disorder and decay.  Examples would be  . . . cars rust . . . food rots . . . humans grow old and die.  The only way to prevent the law of entropy is to introduce an outside energy source to counteract it.  Your refrigerator is a perfect example.  As long as it is plugged in and has electricity it produces cold air to keep food from rotting.  But if the power goes out or it gets unplugged entropy will take over.   

Not only is entropy in the physical realm but it is in the spiritual realm as well.  Spiritually it has been a major player ever since it was introduced in the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve’s original sin.  While they didn’t die immediately their disobedience introduced the process of decay that leads to physical and spiritual death.  Sin is a slow acting poison.  The immediate effects are many times indiscernible, but the aftereffects are far more devastating than what we realize at the time.  Sin is much more than a moral dividing line between right and wrong.  It is a matter of life and death.  Jesus didn’t die on the cross just to make bad people good.  He died to bring dead people to life!

Think for a minute about the last funeral you attended. You probably went to the funeral to do several things.  You wanted to show support for the family and friends.  You wanted to let them know you loved them and pay respects to the person who had died.  You wanted to honor the person who had died.  How many of you went to the funeral and expected the person who had died to rise up out of the casket?  Did you walk through the receiving line to look in the casket and say, “He looks so good” and expect the person to sit up and say, “Thank you very much.”  During the service you probably weren’t expecting to hear a knock from inside the casket and the person say, “Hey, get me out of here!”    

I heard about one woman who died.  After the funeral service in church, the pallbearers grab her casket and were walking her out toward the hearse.  One of the pallbearers stumbled and they bumped they casket into a wall.  When they did they heard a faint moan from inside the coffin.  They opened up the casket to find the woman was alive and that she lived ten more years.  Well, eventually she did die and they had the funeral again.  This time the funeral was held in the same same church with the same pallbearers.  As they were walking the casket out after the service when they were coming close to that wall, her husband yelled out and said, “Watch out for that wall!”

Nobody goes to a funeral with the expectation of seeing the person come back to life.  Nobody goes to a cemetery expecting to see people coming out of the graves.  If there is one thing we know it is that when death comes it is a done deal.  27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment . . .” (Hebrews 9:27).  Death is a done deal and death is irreversible . . . until Jesus shows up!  Jesus makes the impossible possible!  Jesus is the Grave Robber!

Have you ever felt as if life was over?  You were at the very bottom and it felt as if all hope was lost.  If you have been on the receiving end of divorce you know what that feels like.  If you have received a frantic phone call in the middle of the night you know what that feels like.  If you have gotten lab results from your doctor that confirms your worst fears, you know that feeling as well. 

There are always things we would like to undo or redo.  In certain moments and certain situations we all would like to be able to get in the Delorean time machine with Doc Brown and Marty McFly and go “back in time.”  There are moments that happen where we would like to escape reality because it feels as if life is over.  In John 11, Mary and Martha felt this way.  Their brother Lazarus died and was gone for good.  They felt as if life as they knew it was over.  But it’s not over until God says it’s over!  As we work through this story the main thing for today is . . . Never Put a Period Where God Puts A Comma.  If there was ever such a thing as “Jesus’ Greatest Hits”, the resurrection of Lazarus would be the number one hit!

In the middle of desperate times Never Doubt God’s Love. Even in the midst of all the “why” questions, always know God is acting in love.  3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’ 4 But when Jesus heard it he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.” (John 11:5-6).  When you read this you are probably like me and you ask, “How is that love?”  Jesus knew Lazarus was sick and was going to die but yet He stayed.  Rather than leave immediately to be by his friend’s side and be there for his sisters, he stays and allows him to die. 

Jesus had been there and done that.  Jesus had already displayed His healing power and now it was time to unveil His resurrection power. If Jesus had simply healed Lazarus, it would have reinforced the faith they already had.  Jesus wanted to stretch their faith and to do that sometimes things have to go from bad to worse before they get better.  One thing about a resurrection is you can’t resurrect what hasn’t died!  Jesus waited a little longer so He could grow their faith even more and reveal His resurrection power.    

Often we can feel like we are in the middle of a holding pattern and nothing is making sense.  You are wondering, “Where is God and why is He not coming to save the day?”  It might be because God is doing something even more miraculous than you have ever experienced before.  Oswald Chambers said, “Sometimes it looks like God is missing the mark because we are too short-sighted to see what He’s aiming for.”        

Knowing that God loves you in the midst of desperate times allows you to Display Your Faith.  Martha makes one of the greatest statements of faith in the middle of her grief.  21 Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.’ 23 Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ 24 Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ 25 Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ 27 She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.’” (John 11:21-27)

The phrase I love the most in all of this is where she says, “But even now.” (John 11:22).  Martha was speaking out of her faith.  Faith often looks as if it is out of touch with reality. But that is only because it’s in touch with a reality that is more real than anything you can see or hear or taste or touch or smell with your five senses.  “Even now” (John 11:22) says, “Even when it looks like God is four days late, it is too soon.”  Even when your dream seems like it is dead and buried, don’t put a period there.  Never Put a Period Where God Puts A Comma.  You refuse to put a period at the end of your disappointments because God can make the impossible possible. 

Your application is denied . . . Your adoption falls through . . . Your business goes bankrupt . . . etc.  Sometimes in your discernment you feel like God is saying it’s not meant to be and to let it go.  But if you have been fervently praying and you know God is saying keep pressing on even through the most difficult moments you can believe, “Even now.” (John 11:22).

In the midst of desperate times know for certain that Jesus Feels Your Pain.  32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ 35 Jesus wept.” (John 11:32-35).  The shortest verse and most powerful statement in all the Bible is right there in John 11:35 when it says, “Jesus wept.”  For most people when you see other people you love upset, it upsets you.  Jesus enters into your pain and your sorrow.   

In ancient Israel the custom was to bury someone on the day they died.  After their death there were seven days of deep mourning and thirty days of light mourning.  Jesus has shown up in the middle of their deepest mourning.  But you look at this and you know that Jesus knows it’s not over.  In about ten minutes or so Lazarus will live again because He is the one who will raise Him from the grave.  So why was He crying?

There are two words used here for crying.  The Greek word used for their weeping is a word that means “to wail.”  The Greek word for when Jesus weeps is a word that is used nowhere else in the New Testament.  It means “to silently weep or burst out quietly in tears.” They are wailing and as Jesus is standing there tears begin filling His eyes and running down His cheeks.  Just before Jesus cries it says He “was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.” (John 11:33).  Then it says again in John 11:38, “Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb.”  The word used for deeply moved means “indignant.”  It is a Greek word that literally means “the snorting of a horse” and when it is used with humans it means “outrage, anger and indignation.”  The word for “greatly troubled” (John 11:38) means “agitated and stirred up.” 

So Jesus is agitated, stirred up and indignant.  In the middle of his crying why would he stand before the tomb and be agitated and indignant? Jesus doesn’t just get sad.  Jesus gets mad! Jesus is mad at death itself and more importantly at the sin that has caused death.  In this tomb is a friend He loves who has died.  He knew this was not God’s original plan and things shouldn’t be like this.  This was not part of God’s plan in the beginning when He created man on the earth. 

That’s why your first emotion when someone dies is denial.  When somebody you love dies that is why you often say, “This is wrong.”  You feel like you have been ripped off and robbed.  Jesus shares that sentiment and that anger.  That is why He came to fix that and why He came to give life.  In the middle of your grief you need a friend and a person who can do something about it and Jesus is both! 

Death is as much a part of life as life itself.  Jesus is the only one that can bring death to life and life to death.  39 Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.’ 40 Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?’ 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.’ 43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out.’ 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’” (John 11:39-44)

Back then they didn’t embalm people.  They wrapped them in pieces of cloth and put spices in the folds of the wrapping.  They buried them in a tomb that was usually a natural cave used as a tomb or a little room they carved out of  the pure rock  in the hillside.  The tomb was a room about eight feet by ten feet with shelves on the sides to accommodate up to eight bodies so a family could be buried together. 

Once a person died and was put into the tomb there was a round stone they would roll in  a groove over the entrance to keep out animals, grave robbers and the stench.  After a year, they would re-enter the tomb.  By this time the flesh had eroded off the bones.  They would collect the bones in a very small box called an ossuary or “bone box” and put them in one of the shelves.  That was normally what would take place, but this was no ordinary day.  Jesus was there!   

We suffer from what is called “hindsight bias.”  We can read and know how the story ends.  But just for a moment try to forget how the story ends.  Put yourself actually in the scene standing where you can hear Jesus when He says, “Lazarus, come out.” (John 11:44).  Jesus is standing before the tomb of a guy who has been dead for four days and you can’t believe what you are hearing.  You are probably thinking, “Who talks to dead people?  Does He actually believe Lazarus will hear Him and come out?” 

But all of a sudden there he is.  Lazarus looked like a mummy.  His feet would have been bound at the ankles and his arms would have been tied to his body with linen strips.  Then he would have been wrapped in approximately one hundred pounds of grave clothes to preserve and protect the body.  So more than likely, he didn’t come walking out; he came hopping out!  Jesus set him free when he said, “Unbind him, and let him go.’” (John 11:44)

This miracle foreshadows Jesus’ own resurrection from the grave later.  It also foreshadows what Jesus wants to do for you.  We are powerless to redeem ourselves, save ourselves and keep ourselves from the grave. Sin is the curse that causes all this powerlessness.  But where we are powerless, God is powerful!  What we all earn by our sin is death but God gives us a gift of eternal life through Jesus’ death and victory over the grave.  23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23).

When you sin, it’s like the enemy wraps you up in grave clothes. Sin has a way of stealing, killing and destroying you.  Sin buries you alive and tends to make a mummy out of you.  And if you keep on sinning, it will weigh you down like a hundred pounds of grave clothes.  But Jesus is calling you out of the tomb!  Instead of hearing Jesus calling Lazarus out, hear Him calling you out.  Hear Him saying, “Mike (insert other people’s names here), come out!”  He’s calling you out of sin.  He’s calling you out of death.  He’s calling you out of the tomb. 

About Mike Chandler

Follower of Jesus Christ, Husband, Father, Pastor of Summit Community Church in Morganton, NC View all posts by Mike Chandler

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