ROAD SIGNS TO THE CROSS
by Pastor Martha-Jean Fitch
March 31, 2019
TEXT: John 11:17-44
Today we continue our series on “Road Signs to the Cross”. We’ve seen how all sorts of signs already: U-turns, Speed Bumps, Stop Signs. And last week, Greg said that he always gets the signs no one likes. How many of you remembered Greg’s sign from last week, when you saw that detour sign? Remember how he said to think of it as “de-tour” – remembering that those detours in life can bring a spiritual adventure that can change your life – and someone else’s as well!
Well, as we begin today, I thought I’d show you some interesting signs I found on-line…not sure where these signs are posted but they sure give you a mixed message that is hard to understand. Like this one: No Pets Allowed – All Pets Must Be on a Leash. Or how about this; this sign points to Beach Access, but also adds that there is no water! And this one says: Entrance Only. But then adds “Do Not Enter”. Another one says: Keep Right; but the arrow is pointing left! How about this one: “Lodging, Next Right – (and then a sign that says) State Prison.” Or how about: “Fire Exit – Use Only if on fire!” and then this strange one: “Caution - Slow Kids on Road - with No Shoulders - Dead End”. But here are some of my favorites – and Greg and I have actually seen some of these: “Dead End” and they are posted near a cemetery!
It seems to me that is the sign that really fits our story for today about Lazarus, found in John 11. Indeed, you could say that someone put a “Dead-end” sign up by a tomb in Bethany where Lazarus is buried; but Jesus definitely took the sign down – and as Lazarus walked out of the tomb – there was a sign of a new beginning!
Turn with me in your Bibles to John 11, and let’s re-familiarize ourselves with this story. It is a well- known story – that many of us have studied over the years. You will remember that Jesus and Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha, were all very good friends. Jesus was often in their home. When Lazarus grew quite ill, one day, Mary and Martha sent for Jesus. Surely, Jesus could heal him – like he healed the little daughter of Jairus – and the son of the widow of Nain – and all the others. Or maybe – couldn’t Jesus just say the word - like He did when He healed the servant of the centurion. All He would have to do is say the word, wherever He was, and He could heal Lazarus. So, Mary and Martha waited – and hoped for Jesus to perform a miracle for this, His very good friend, Lazarus.
But that miracle didn’t come. Lazarus died. And by the time Jesus arrived, it seemed like it was ALL over – all hope was gone. They were at a dead end…literally. Lazarus was buried in the tomb and Mary and Martha were distraught with grief. Both Martha and Mary say to Jesus: “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
How many times have we been there in the shoes of Mary and Martha? Standing at that dark road that says: “Dead End”? Maybe it was at a time of grief – standing in a cemetery, totally in shock that you were burying a dear loved one. Or maybe, there were other dead ends. Like the times you heard the words: cancer or divorce…unemployment or bankruptcy or infertility. Or maybe, it is times when the word “never” just creeps into our vocabulary. We lose all hope and say things like: “I’m never going to get married…never going to graduate…never going to get out of debt…never get well…never going to see this situation change.” Lord, if only you had been here, things would be different. But now we are at a dead end … and things will never change. Have you been there? Have you walked in those shoes of Mary and Martha? “Lord, if only had been there!” God doesn’t show up when you think He should, and it just doesn’t make sense. You feel abandoned and alone…like all hope is gone.
What do you do when you are at that place of a dead end? First and foremost, you have to believe in who He is and what He has promised! Let’s read some verses out of John 11 and what I want you to notice, is how many times the word “believe” is mentioned. Beginning at verse 25: 25 Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. 26 Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?” 27 “Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.”
And then skip down to verse 39. Jesus goes out to the tomb where the stone was rolled across the entrance. And says:
39 “Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them. But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.” 40 Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” 41 So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” 43 Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!”
None of this story made sense. Jesus not coming when his dear friends needed Him. Lazarus dying. And now Jesus wanting to open up a grave of someone who had died 4 days ago! None of this made sense, at least as we understand it with our minds. With our minds – everything just looks impossible. Closed doors and dead ends. But it is what we understand and believe with our hearts that makes all the difference. When we remember that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life – and that He promised that we would see God’s glory, if only we believe.
You see, as Pastor Howard John Wesley says, “In those seasons when you don’t understand and God doesn’t do what you want Him to do” –when you are at that dead end and nothing makes sense – “you have to hang on to what you believe – so that you can get through it. Don’t let what you don’t understand about God cause you to doubt that God still loves you and cares. Even if the worse should happen, still believe that all things work together for the good of those who love the Lord.”1
Yes – bad things are going to happen to us. In this world, we are going to have trouble and doors will be closed. We may find ourselves in dead-end jobs and dead-end relationships. We may feel like there is just no hope at all. But we can never let what we see with our eyes – destroy the truth of who God is and the truth of what He promised. God is faithful and has promised that NOTHING – no trouble or calamity or anything, not even death itself, will be able to separate us from His love. (Romans 8:35-39) God will always be there and can bring new life our of those dead ends!
I truly believe, when we are struggling with those closed doors and dead ends, we have to keep fixing our eyes on Jesus and not on the troubles and problems. As we look to Jesus, He will give us the strength we need to get through those difficult times. I read this past week – “for every 1 look within – take 10 looks at Christ”. Think about that. If we just keep our eyes on our struggles, our troubles, our closed doors and dead ends – we will be depressed, distressed, hopeless and helpless. But if you keep your eyes on Jesus, who is our rock and our refuge, our strength and our salvation – we will know His power and hope and help – even in the midst of difficulty.
And we have to keep expecting that God will deliver us – in some way – at some time. We may have to wait for it to happen. Mary and Martha waited 4 days for Jesus to come. But when He came, they saw the glory of the Lord through the resurrection of their brother Lazarus. Others in Scripture waited for years for the deliverance of God…and some did not know the deliverance of God until they reached their heavenly home. And I really believe that is true for us.
Psalm 50:15 says “Call on me in the day of trouble. I will deliver you and you will give me glory!” God is our rock and refuge and He will deliver us through:
Circumstances. Sometimes God will change the circumstances in your life. Perhaps you can look back and see God’s hand at work as one door of your life closes and another one opens up. Scripture tells us that God opens doors and He closes them, and we can trust His leading. For example, I asked on my Facebook page: when did you see a dead end in your life and then a new beginning? Some people talked about relationships ending, such as in a divorce – and then new relationships beginning. Others talked of being laid off from a job and God sending them a new job that they loved. God can open the right doors and close the wrong ones to lead us down the path He has for us.
God can bring new life out of our dead ends. He can open doors that have been closed. But we have to trust His timing and His plan. Alexander Graham Bell once said, “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”2
We have to keep our eyes on our Deliverer and hope in God for those open doors!
At other times, God delivers us personally. The circumstances may not change– but God changes you! God gives you a new attitude and a new perspective. God may deliver you by giving you the strength to endure and a joy and peace that goes beyond all understanding. Oftentimes, God shines the brightest in our lives during our darkest times! And when God is at work in our lives – even when we are facing dead ends – people will see God’s strength and power in us and give Him glory! By God working in us – He can give others hope, knowing that God’s grace is sufficient – and His power is made perfect in our weakness.
I know that I am truly inspired by people who are living with dead-ends and closed doors in their life – and yet have so much joy and peace. As I’ve shared with y’all before – one person who always comes to mind is Joni Eareckson Tada. She has had so many closed doors and dead ends – her paralysis when she was 17 and now with her breast cancer. But she still has so much joy and peace in her life. God has changed her personally and she is a such a great witness to all of us of how God can work in our lives, especially during those difficult, dead-end times.
God delivers us through circumstances – and personally. And finally, God will deliver us ultimately to heaven. God has not promised that He will deliver us from all our trials and suffering here on earth, but He has promised that one day, in heaven, there will be no more suffering and pain, no tears nor sorrow. As Rick Warren says, “Jesus can take our hopeless end and turn it into an endless hope.”3 Our dead ends will one day turn into new beginnings in our eternal home of heaven.
Just a few days after Lazarus was raised from the dead – Jesus would be buried – and He would rise again on Easter. And now this is the sign that is written at the tomb of Jesus: He is not here, for He is risen!
And that’s the good news for you and for me – as we believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life – we too will rise again!
As Romans 8:11 says, “The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, He will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.”
There is great hope for you and me! You see, there really is no such a thing as a dead-end street with Jesus. He is the way out of every dead end, the way that leads from the cross, through the door of an empty tomb, into forgiveness and eternal life! T
Thanks be to God!
1Pastor Howard- John Wesley, “When God Doesn’t Make Sense”
2Alexander Graham Bell Quote – Brainy Quote.
3Rick Warren, “From Dead End to Deliverance, Part 2, God’s dream for Your Life”,
http://youtu.be/Wkto4PGGEuo. Rick Warren also inspired my thoughts about how God delivers us through circumstances, personally and ultimately in heaven.