3.26.23 homily on Psalm 130 and John 11:1-45 by Pastor Galen
Out of the Depths
Psalm 130 begins with the words “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice!” (Psalm 130:1 NRSV). Or, as the Message paraphrase of the Bible puts it, “Help, God—the bottom has fallen out of my life!” (Psalm 130:1 MSG)
“The bottom has fallen out of my life.” Have you ever felt like the bottom has fallen out of your life? You were trying to hold everything together, but it felt like the bottom had fallen out — like when you put too many things in a box and the bottom of the box breaks, and everything goes everywhere.
Maybe it was the loss of a loved one. Maybe it was news of a terminal illness or disease. Maybe it was losing a friend, breaking up with a lover, or losing a job.
Several years ago my wife and I felt like the bottom had fallen out of our lives. Eboni had just given birth to our daughter Galena, and all seemed well, but then Eboni started experiencing terrible headaches. My wife does not get headaches very frequently, but I have had migraines before, so at first, I thought she was having a migraine. I suggested she take some Tylenol and rest, but she was having such intense, throbbing pain that eventually we went to the emergency room. It turned out that she was experiencing extremely high blood pressure as a result of postpartum preeclampsia – something I had never even heard of before. And then, after running some more tests, the doctors discovered it had a subdural hemorrhage – bleeding on the brain. Eboni was taken into the NeuroICU, and it truly felt like everything was falling apart.
Our friends and family were very helpful, but it was hard to keep it all together – especially with a newborn and two young children. And then there was the waiting. Waiting for the test results, and having no idea what they would be. Waiting to speak to the doctor, waiting for some word of assurance that Eboni was going to be ok. Waiting to finally go home.
Praise God, Eboni was eventually cleared to go home. The doctors told us that the bleeding resolved itself, and she has had no lasting side effects from that experience. We give God praise every day for healing her body. But during that season, it truly did feel like the bottom had fallen out of our lives.
Martha and Mary
In John 11, Lazarus’s sisters Mary and Martha were trying to hold it all together, but it felt like things were on the verge of falling apart. Their brother Lazarus was sick, and they knew that Jesus could heal him, but they just didn’t know where Jesus was. They sent word to him, but Jesus didn’t come. The waiting must have been insufferable, while they watched their brother gradually begin to slip away. And then the unthinkable happened. Their brother Lazarus died, and his body was placed in a tomb. It must have felt like the bottom had fallen out of their lives.
And then, finally, Jesus showed up, but by then it was too late to heal their brother. Lazarus was dead. Martha rushed out to meet Jesus, saying “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21).
Now hold on – let’s just pause right there for a second. Do you hear the faith in that statement? Martha fully believes that Jesus had the power to heal her brother! She was completely and utterly convinced that Jesus could have prevented her brother from dying. That’s an incredible amount of faith! And then she goes on to say, “But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him” (John 11:21-22). Do you hear the profound faith in that statement? Even at her lowest point, even from the depths, she had faith that God could still do something. That’s faith!
This is Martha – the sister we always criticize because she asked Jesus to tell her sister Mary to help her in the kitchen when Jesus was at their house. Mary not only believes that Jesus could have prevented her brother from dying, but she also believes that even here and now, Jesus could still do something! She knew that death was not the end, and even when it seemed like the bottom had fallen out of her life, she still believed that Jesus could do something.
Jesus tells her that her brother will rise again (John 11:23), and Martha says, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” And then Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” And he asks Martha, “Do you believe this?” (11:24-26).
And then Martha says, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world” (John 11:27). Wow?!? Did you catch that? Martha recognized that Jesus was the Messiah, the Anointed One — the Son of God!. This was a truth that even the religious leaders of her day failed to recognize, or flat-out denied. Martha’s declaration that Jesus was and is the Messiah is a revelation on par with Peter’s confession of faith in the synoptic Gospel accounts when Jesus asked his disciples “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:13-16, Mark 8:27-29, and Luke 9:18-20). Martha knew who Jesus was, and why he had come, and she believed. Even when it seemed that all hope was lost, still she trusted in God. Still, she had faith that Jesus could heal and restore.
And then Martha went and got her sister Mary. Now, I don’t know why Mary didn’t go to Jesus in the first place. Perhaps she was angry at Jesus – and justifiably so. She too believed that Jesus could have healed her brother – but perhaps she feels like there is nothing that can be done now, and so there’s no point going to Jesus. She was hurt and angry and grieving.
But Martha goes to Mary and tells her that Jesus was there and that he was calling for her. Maybe Mary didn’t have faith to believe that anything could be done at this point, but Martha did, and so she drew Mary back to Jesus.
You see, this is why we need spiritual friends and companions – this is why we need to have close relationships with other believers – siblings in Christ who can draw us back to Jesus, even when we’re experiencing doubts and discouragements and when we’re at the lowest points of our lives – when we are in the pit of despair. We need spiritual friends who can reassure us that God loves us, and cares for us and that even when we can’t see any reason to have hope, that still we can place our faith and trust in Christ.
This is why we find ways to gather together with other believers – here in church on Sunday mornings, our Lenten Soup and Study, our men’s and women’s fellowship times, our youth Sunday school class, and young adult Bible study. It’s one reason why we’re looking to create new ministry opportunities like our prayer shawl ministry – ways we can gather together to support one another, to build those connections – so that when we’re going through our lowest places in life, we can have relationship and connections with other believers who can still draw us back and remind us that Jesus does indeed care for us and that there still is a reason to have hope.
It pains me to think of the many people who have been a part of our church community in the past who no longer come to church – perhaps because they are struggling to believe that God cares about them. Maybe they went through a rough patch in life, and like Mary, they just thought there was no point in continuing to come to church because they struggle to believe that God still loves them and that God still cares about them.
I believe God is calling us to be like Martha – to remind each other that Jesus is in fact calling for us – that Jesus wants us to bring him our worries and troubles and even our anger and pain and grief.
Martha tells Mary that Jesus is calling for her, and brings Mary to Jesus. Even when she was at her lowest point in life, still she was looking out for Mary. Oh that we would all have a Martha in our lives!
Many of us know the rest of the story. Mary came to Jesus and fell at his feet, she too proclaims her belief that if Jesus had been there, he could have healed her brother. Jesus saw her weeping, and then he too begins to weep. Now when I was a youngster, I used to love John 11:35, because in the King James version, it is the shortest verse in the whole Bible. “Jesus wept.” Two words, and I could say that I had done my Bible memorization for the day!
But little did I know the profound nature of those two words. In his humanity and in his Divinity, Jesus wept for his friend Lazarus who had died, and for his friends Martha and Mary who were grieving the loss of their brother. In that simple but profound phrase, we know with certainty that God sees us, even in the midst of our doubt and pain and anger and grief, and that God cares for us and loves us.
This is what the Bible is referring to when it says that Jesus is Emmanuel – “God with us.
Now, the word ‘wept” here does not mean that he shed a little tear. Rather, the word here is a word that describes the snorting of a war horse. It’s a guttural response – and it goes along with verse 33, where John tells us that “he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.”
Jesus in his divine knowledge Jesus knew that God would raise Lazarus from the dead, and yet Jesus experienced the grief and sorrow and anger that his friends were experiencing, and he was distraught that they had to experience loss and sorrow in the first place. As humans, we were made to live forever with God. Death is not natural. God created the world to be a place where we would live forever. But as humans, we chose to go our own way. We ate the forbidden fruit, and believed the serpent’s lie that if we chose to go our own way and do our own thing, we would be like God. And we continually choose what we think is best for us, at the expense of our relationship with God and others. And so Jesus wept for all the pain and grief that humans experience and for all the times when we are left to wonder what is happening and why and where is God.
Jesus: The Resurrection and The Life
This is indeed why Jesus came into the world – to restore all that was broken. To heal our broken relationships with God and one another, to give us eternal life with God. The raising of Lazarus from the dead was just a small taste of the resurrection that was to come. Because you see, Lazarus was raised back to a physical body, but he eventually died again, whereas Jesus, when he rose from the grave, was raised to an eternal body that will never pass away. And that is the resurrection that is to come for each and every person who puts their faith and trust in Christ. This is what Jesus was referring to when he told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though they die” (John 11:25).
And so this morning, know that no matter what you are going through, God sees, God knows, and God cares. Even death is not the end – there is hope and there is life beyond the grave.
Let us continually remind each other of that. Let us seek to emulate Martha, who reminded her sister Mary that Jesus was calling for her, that Jesus could do even what seemed impossible. Let’s surround ourselves with Marthas who can encourage us when we are down. And let us look to Jesus, who is the resurrection and the life – and let us put our faith and trust in Him.