Lessons From A Cemetery

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Below you will find the manuscript for the sermon preached at the Patterson Avenue Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia on March 29, 2015.  The sermon is based on John 11 which is the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.

We FINALLY fixed the audio bugs preventing us from getting a good, clean, easy to watch and hear video for the site…and the disc in the camera went buggy.  I think we (that’s me) forgot to remove some previous files.  So, you’ll not be able to watch the video or listen to the MP3, but the manuscript reads pretty well.  Please feel free to make comments after reading.

The sermon is titled:  “Lesson From The Cemetery”

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I want to talk with you this morning about the cemetery. 


I know this is a sore subject for many of us.   Over the last few years, most of us have been to the cemetery on more than one occasion.  We’ve gone there to bury a friend,  spouse, sibling, a parent, grand-parent, or child.  There is a sense of personal grief that f us are carrying with us on a daily basis.  It’s a consistent ache in the pit of our stomach.


As a congregation we’ve been to the cemetery many times in the last couple of years, burying about 50% of our active members.  It’s painful to see empty pews where dear friends were seated just a couple of years ago.


I understand the need to tread lightly.  Our emotions around this subject are real and raw.  So, I want to talk with you today about the cemetery and I want to ask:  Where do we find hope when we are in the cemetery?

The eleventh chapter of John’s gospel tells about an experience Jesus and his disciples had in a cemetery.  It’s happens near the end of Jesus’ public ministry and sets the stage for his passion.


John 11 tells us the story of Lazarus, on e of Jesus very close friends, whom we discover had become very ill.  He was so sick, in fact, that his sisters Martha and Mary send word asking for Jesus to join them


“Come quickly,” they said.  “Lazarus is fading fast.  Come quickly.  Touch him.  Heal him.”


The text indicates that Jesus lingered two days.  He was already two days out from Lazarus home in Bethany, so by time Jesus left, it was a four day turn around.


“Let’s go to the region of Judea—to the town of Bethany,” Jesus says.  Bethany is near Jerusalem.  The disciples know the religious elite in Jerusalem are plotting ways to kill Jesus.


“Lazarus is asleep,” Jesus says.  “I must go and wake him!”


The disciples are confused.  They challenge Jesus.


“When somebody is ill, isn’t it  best to let them rest?  Let him sleep.”


“If Lazarus is sleeping, why wake him?  He probably needs the rest!”


When Jesus said, “Lazarus is sleeping,” he was speaking metaphorically.  The disciple’s did not catch that.  So Jesus speaks plainly to them!


“Lazarus is dead!”


“Lazarus is dead?!” they say.  With that tidbit of information, the disciples believe that a trip to Bethany is both unwise and unwarranted.


“Why go now?  What difference will it make?  He’s dead!”


Jesus says, “I’m going to glorify God.”

The disciples haven’t a clue what Jesus is talking about.  But they hush up, get up, and follow him.


They arrive and sure enough, Lazarus is dead.  In fact, he’s been dead a full four days.  That’s about as dead as dead can get!  A large crowd had gathered at the cemetery for Lazarus’ funeral.  There are plenty of tears and lots of sorrow.


First Jesus encounters Martha.


“If only you could have got here sooner.  Lazarus would still be alive!”


Jesus replied:  “He will rise again!”


“I know he will live again in the resurrection.”


Jesus:  “You don’t understand.  I am the resurrection  I am the life.  Those who believe in me, even if they die, et they shall live.  And whoever lives and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this?”


“Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”


Jesus continues toward the tomb.  He passes all those who have gathered to share in the family’s sorrow. It is not just their personal grief.  It is also their mortal fear.  We cannot stand near a casket without thinking about the reality of our own mortality.  One day we will all be laid out in a pine box.


Next Jesus encounters Mary.   She collapses at his feet in tears. 


“If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”


Jesus wept.


There were some in the crowd who saw Jesus display of emotion and said:  “See how he loved him.”


There were also some scoffers in the crowd who said: “…he gives sight to the blind, why not heal friend?”


Jesus simply wept.  No explanation given.


Next Jesus does something that makes no sense.  He does something that flies in the face of the fear of death.  He refuses to let the graveyard defeat him, control him, or hold him back.  He marches right up to the tomb and says:  “Roll away the stone!”


Martha protests: “Lord, he has been dead for four days.  By now there will be a terrible odor.”


Jesus says, “Believe and see the power of God.”


Then he says it again, “Roll away the stone!”


Martha agrees and tells the men to do as Jesus has instructed.  The stench is strong.  People step back in disgust.  Then, after a brief prayer, Jesus cries out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!”


Then it happens.  Lazarus steps out of the tomb!


Where do we find hope when we a standing in the cemetery?


The cemetery is a place of endings, conclusions, and finales.  There are lots of places that remind us of the cemetery.


Maybe it’s the attorney’s office when we sign the papers ending a marriage.


Maybe it’s the banker’s office when you are withdrawing your last few dollars.


Maybe it’s the unemployment office after your job has been terminated due to corporate down-sizing.


Maybe it’s the doctor’s office where they just can’t find a solution to deal with your chronic illness and pain.


Maybe it’s everywhere as you daily deal with depression, stress, and the feeling that life has run dry.


Or maybe, just maybe, your cemetery is actually a cemetery.  It’s the place where your loved one (your spouse, sibling, parent, child, or friend) has been laid to rest.


Where is the cemetery located in your life?


Where do you feel a little like Mary and Martha?


Where is the cemetery located in your life?

Where is that place where all hope seems lost?…where you feel broken and frustrated?…where transformation seems impossible?…where every tomorrow feels worse than today and every today is filled with difficulty, sadness, and sorrow?


I am not looking for us to engage in a corporate pity party.  I am just pointing out the obvious.  We all have those places of death, dissatisfaction, darkness, and despair.  But it’s more than just that grief and sorrow.  The cemetery makes us wonder and worry about ourselves and what might be wrong with us.


We have those moments…


…moments when life takes a serious wrong turn

…moments when we feel like a complete and utter failure

…moments when we feel less of a man…less of a woman

…moments when we feel like we are failing.

…moments when we sin too much and love God too little


In moment like these it feels like we are in cemetery and somebody is standing there saying, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust!”


We see it, hear it, and read about it daily.  The insecure, bitter, frustrated, oppressed, depressed, and all the rest.  Far too often its feels like we are standing in the same line.  Our hearts feel battered and abused.  There is a deep sense of sorrow and grief.  We wonder if transformation is really possible


You know what we say:  People don’t change. The leopard can’t change his spots; the tiger can’t change his stripes; and your can’t teach an old dog new tricks.


There’s that rhetorical question from scripture that God speaks to Ezekiel:  “Can these dead bones live again?”


That what Mary and Martha are feeling.


“If only you’d have come sooner, Jesus…you could’ve helped?”


“If only you’d have come sooner.”

“But, alas, Jesus…it’s too late!  Cry.  Weep.  Cover up the tomb?”


Put follows on the grave, sing a hymn, pronounce the benediction, and go home.  There is nothing more to see, nothing more to do.


THEN JESUS shows up. 


He shows up right in the middle of our pity party.  He shows right up in the dead places in our lives.  He shows up where somebody (maybe we ourselves) are declaring the “last rights.”  He shows up in the dark places of depression and despair. THEN JESUS speaks. 


“I am the resurrection and the life!” “The one who believe in me, though dead, will live” “The one who lives and believes in me will never die” THEN JESUS shouts


“Come forth!”
And the dead man comes out of the grave.


But this is MORE than an empty grave in the cemetery.


Jesus said:  “I am the resurrection and THE LIFE.”


“I AM the life.”


Jesus brings hope out of despair

Jesus brings light out of darkness.

Jesus brings possibility.


This is the one big lesson we need to learn in the cemetery.

“Jesus is the resurrection and the life!”
This adventure called life is not over as long as Jesus is alive and as long as he is calling us to fully live .


Did you notice in the text that  Lazarus had experienced resurrection, but did not have much in the way of life.  He was alive–but he was unable to live life to its fullest.  Listen to the text:


The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. – John 11:44


Lazarus was unable to experience an abundantly full life because he was still wrapped in the burial shroud of a Hebrew funeral.


We sometimes have a similar kind of experience.   N We are the people of God…a community of faith…people called forth from death to LIVE by the abiding life of Jesus Christ.


But here’s the deal:  We feel bound by spiritual grave clothes! 


SO we try to fabricate LIFE.  Our mindset is like the bumper sticker:  “Jesus is coming back soon…look busy!”
WHAT IF WE GAVE UP that mindset.  What if we gave up on the pretense of religion with all its rules, regulation, rituals, and requirement.  What if we simply focused on Jesus and making his grace known throughout the city of Richmond?  What if nothing else mattered?


Who were the people whom Jesus had the MOST trouble with during his ministry?


It was the RELIGIOUS PEOPLE.  They were always so preoccupied with their doctrine, dogmas, events, plans, programs, and policies.  They were so busy with that stuff that they actually missed the Messiah in their midst. Listen:  Jesus did not come to launch a religion.  He did not come for our buildings, budgets, and the number of butts we can bring to the pews.


What lessons should we learn in the cemetery?


We should learn that Jesus is the RESURRECTION AND LIFE.


As we move through this week we call HOLY and into next Sunday’s celebrations, we will have some occasions to reflect on the cemetery, both in reality and in metaphor.


What lessons are we going to learn in our reflections and experiences in the cemetery?


There is ONLY ONE lesson.
Jesus calls us DAILY to fully live that life he has given us.


We are the people of God.


We are called to new life by the voice of Jesus.




Jesus is here

His voice is calling

His voice is calling us to LIFE



Sunday to Sunday a Pictorial Journey Through the Passion Week
by: Charles R. Swindoll
publisher: IFL Insight for Living Publish, published: 2010
ASIN: 157972874X
EAN: 9781579728748
sales rank: 1052427
price: $26.30 (new), $0.01 (used)

Book by Charles R. Swindoll

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