Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 32:20 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“The glory of God is a living man.” That’s what St. Irenaeus said in the second century. “The glory of God is a living man.” Why did God create people at all? It’s not like God is lacking anything, or that He is incomplete and so needs to have some creatures around. God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is complete and perfect and holy, and without need of anything. But God is perfect Love and perfect Life. So out of love, God created life. The glory of God is a living man. So God made Adam out of the dust of the earth, and He breathed into him and he became a living creature, and then He made Eve from the side of Adam. This is the glory of God.
But Adam and Eve grabbed for what was not given to them. They tried to cross the barrier, the limit, dividing the creature from the Creator. They tried to grab life, but they ate death. Then, instead of having more, they got less. They were afraid. They were ashamed. They fled from and tried to hide from their Creator. And if they had eaten from the Tree of Life at that point, they would have lived forever, but in name only. It would have been death, because it was not the life of God. It would have been life lived against God forever.
But the glory of God is a living man, and He refuses to allow His entire creation to simply die. He speaks through Ezekiel that He intends to give that eternal life back to His people, back to His creation. “I will put My Spirit in you, and you will live.” He will breathe His divine life into us again, because He is Life and He is Love. He sends His Love and Life into the world in the flesh of His dying creatures, appearing as one of us. He sends life in the likeness of death, and holiness in the likeness of sinners. He sends the Son as the Living Man. And He appears to remake all of us dying people as living people. That is the glory of God.
So He shows up in Bethany after Lazarus has been dead four days. Jesus waited two more days after He heard that Lazarus was sick. But He doesn’t wait because He doesn’t care about Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. In fact, John wants to make sure that we know that He loved all of them. And because He loves them, He waits. He waits so that they will not have any misconceptions about who He is and what He brings. “This sickness is not unto death. It is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” So Jesus, the Son of God, goes to the tomb of the dead man and tells them to remove the stone.
But Martha is not so sure. She has not yet come to the point where she realizes that Life, Resurrection, and Jesus all go together. In spite of her confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God who is coming into the world, she still has a problem with opening the tombs of the dead. Jesus may have been able to do something before Lazarus died, but what can He do now? And some of the Jews who are there say, “Couldn’t the one who gave sight to the blind man have done something to keep this man from dying?” Sure, Martha says, Lazarus will rise again on the last day, but that last day is still a long way off—she thinks. He has been dead four days! He will be stinking by now. They don’t have coolers in which to keep the dead. They don’t embalm. Decomposition has begun. Lazarus is certainly dead.
Didn’t I tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God? The glory of God is a living man. Lazarus, come out! And Lazarus hears the voice of Jesus, and He comes out. Death grabbed hold of Lazarus, but the grip of death is weak. It is nothing, when the Living Man speaks His Living Word. The hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live (John 5:25). So the voice of Jesus resounds, and Lazarus hears, and Lazarus lives.
Jesus has life from the Father, life in Himself, and so He gives life. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come out (John 5:26-29a). What happens to Lazarus will happen to all the dead, and all who believe in the one who speaks will live. The glory of God is a living man, but we are stuck here in death. So in this world, Jesus, the Living Man, will be glorified as the dead man. He hates death. He hates it more than you do. When He hears Mary and the other mourners, He is stirred up; “deeply moved,” our translation says. But it’s more than that: there is anger here. He is aggravated. Death has corrupted His good and living creation, and it kills off all people, because all people sin. So Jesus is aggravated; He is provoked. He weeps. He weeps with Mary. He weeps with you. In your sin and under your burdens, and in your guilt, shame, and fear, He weeps with you. He comes looking for you, and He knows what you are hiding from other people, and maybe even from yourself. But He doesn’t come only to sympathize, or even empathize, with you. That is fine as far as it goes, and it is about all we can do for each other. But the Living Man, confronted with death in all His creation, He weeps for you, on your behalf. He isn’t just moved by death; He has appeared to do something about it.
So the Living Man becomes the dead man, pierced, beaten, crowned, crucified. That is the place of His glory, where He is enthroned, lifted up, to draw all people to Himself. This is the hour for which He has appeared. This is the moment of His glory, when the man who has life in Himself lays down His life for His friends. This is, in fact, the only glory we can see in this creation. It is not a different glory than the resurrection glory of the ascended Jesus, it is simply the other side of that glory, shining in this world. Sir, we wish to see Jesus. Then look at the crucified one. That is where you will find Him. That is the place to which He goes to prepare a place for you in life. Let us go to Judea, where they are threatening to kill Jesus. Let us go to die with Him. Let Lazarus go to His death in the life of Christ. After the Passover, Jesus says, “Rise, let us go from here” to the place of His arrest, His crucifixion, His death. The Living Man dies in order to give you again His life. And when He rises from the dead, He delivers it to you. And He does it not only on the last day, when the dead will all be raised, but here and now, today. Martha says, Yes, I know he will rise on the last day. But Jesus says, I AM the resurrection and the life. There is no separation between Jesus and resurrection, between Jesus and life. He is, in His own flesh, the Life of God. So whoever eats His flesh and drinks His blood will never die, and He will raise you up on the last day. This sickness, whatever it is, is not unto death. It is for the glory of God, which is a living man, not a dead one.
I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie The Revenant, which means someone who has come back from the dead. But it’s a fictionalized account of a real man named Hugh Glass, who lived in the early 19th century. He was an explorer and a fur trapper, and he was mauled very badly by a grizzly bear. The legend has it that two people who were supposed to wait with him and then bury him when he died, abandoned him and took his gun and knife, which he would normally need to survive. But he didn’t die. He lived and he was propelled forward by his desire for revenge. Finally, Hugh Glass made it to a fort, where he recovered and gained strength. In the movie, a soldier at the fort says that he can’t allow Hugh to go out there again looking for the man who left him and—in the movie—who killed his son. But Hugh says, “I ain’t afraid to die anymore. I done it already.”
Jesus hates death. It is the last enemy to be destroyed. But Jesus comes into the wilderness of this death-filled world to destroy it. And He does it by dying Himself. And once Jesus has died, He cannot die anymore, because He did it once already. He has authority to lay down His life, and to take it back up again. So He does. And Lazarus has nothing to fear from death anymore; he did it already. And you, you have nothing to fear from death anymore, because you’ve done it already. When you were baptized, you were buried by baptism into death with Jesus, so that just as Jesus has been raised from the dead, you now walk around in that new life. You have already died; now you have nothing to fear as you wait for Christ, your life, to appear, and then you will also appear with Him in glory. The glory of God is a living man, and that is what you are in Christ. You will know that I am your God, and you are My people when I open your graves, and when I raise you from your graves, My people. I will put My Spirit in you and you will live. The hour is coming when you will be in your graves, but you will hear the sound of the voice of the Son of God, and you will come out. Because you have already heard His voice, and believed Him. On that day, we will all be Lazarus. Wherever you will be, wherever your grave, wherever your body and bones have been turned to dust, Jesus will find you, and you will hear His voice: Lazarus! Come out! And you will.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 3/24/23