Last night I listened to a short message from Dr. Tom Long, author of The Witness of Preaching and Bandy Professor of Preaching, Emeritus at Emory University, entitled, “It’s About Time.” The message is based on John 11:1-44:
“Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.(This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.)So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”
Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light.It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”
After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”
His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.
So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead,and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
Then Thomas (also known as Didymus ) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother.When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die;and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him.When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.“Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance.“Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
You can watch Dr. Long below:
What I love about this little sermon is that Dr. Long masterfully weaves the story of Mary and Martha’s emotional reaction to Jesus’ intentional delay in saving Lazarus from death with personal and historical stories of how God shows up at just the right time, every time.
Long kept returning to two powerful thoughts over and over throughout his message.
First, Long brilliantly points out that our view of who is running out of time is skewed. It isn’t Life, Justice, or Hope that is out of time. Through His life, death, and resurrection Jesus proclaims that it is “Death… Injustice…Despair” that is running out of time. Isn’t this the promise of the Kingdom of God? God’s rule is breaking into the here and the now. While Death, Injustice, and Despair may be among the ruling class, their kingdoms are breaking apart from within. Their death certificates have already been printed and their time is truly running out!
The second phrase that Dr. Long uses to great effect is that while our culture may participate in and get bent out of shape because of what he calls “atheistic anxiety,” Jesus Christ is the Lord of Time itself. As I am learning in my own life, the fundamental theological truth of anxiety is that our fearfulness is misplaced and out of sorts with what we proclaim that we believe. Anxiety is rooted in the fear of man and what man can do to us. When we give into anxiety and fear concerning a human government, a tyrannical boss, a gossipy-busy body at church we are, in essence, proclaiming that these things are more powerful than Almighty God. We deny His power, His control, His love, and His care for us.
John 11 says to us all… Jesus, the Lord of Time, the Beginning and End, has enough power to raise someone from the dead. Surly, He strong enough to overcome any enemy that you are currently facing.
Dr. Long’s entire message is a great reminder that the Kingdom of God, established by Christ Jesus, is breaking in the here and now and we will experience it in full when Christ returns and there will be no more time.