Resolve: To Overcome
Pastor Anne Stoothoff
January 3, 2010
Last week I came home from church and got out the leftovers from dinner the night before [Green Curry and Rice from Tea Garden- yum!]. I settled back into my recliner and wistfully turned on the TV. It’s almost the end of football season. Then what’ll we do? Some folks turn to basketball; others just watch old movies until spring thaws out the garden. The Seahawks were playing Green Bay.
I usually love to watch both teams play. My grand dad snuck off to Wisconsin from his Independence, Mo home, to play pro football after college with the Packers. It wasn’t a gentleman’s game at that time, so he had to play under an assumed name- that’s the family story, anyway. So even when the Packers beat the Seahawks, I am usually ok with that- as long as the Hawks play respectably well. I know! I know! Where’s my loyalty????
For about 5 minutes, I was able to maintain that equilibrium until Hasselbeck had been sacked for the 2nd or 3rd time---in 5 minutes. It was a rout. The score was outrageous- 41-3 at that point, I think, with the Packers defensive linemen strutting around like they were great war-heroes, pounding their chests, while the Seahawks offensive line caved in again and again. It was awful. I felt humiliated. I felt angry. And I was just watching on TV a random afternoon game.
Why is it that the Seahawks brutal loss affected me so deeply? I think it has something to do with the way I identify with them. They really are MY team. They play for MY state, for Seattle, in MY backyard. They represent me. When they lose, it’s personal.
You and I were created to win! Not like the Packer’s brutal strutting rout, but a clean, sweet triumph over a powerful and dangerous enemy- Satan; over a subtle and insidious culture he has designed to degrade us; over our sinful and self-centered human nature. Belonging to Jesus Christ is belonging to the ultimate winning team. We were created in His image to follow in the footsteps of His triumph! A win in Him is a win for all we influence, as well.
This first Sunday of the New Year, we take a look backward to the year before, take a look around us where we are right now, and look forward to the months ahead, the Lord willing. It’s a time to make some decisions. We call these choices; these decisions; resolutions.
Our series this month is called iResolve. I know many of you have sworn off of New Year’s Resolutions. Maybe you’ve made a few only to find yourself like the Seahawks did last Sunday- defeated and road weary. These are the kind you and I make and try to fulfill by the strength of our own will or by our own wishful thinking. Ouch!
But we all make decisions, though, right? A resolution is just a conscious choice: we resolve, or decide, to do or to be something. It comes from the root word resolute. Here’s a working definition of the word:
Resolute: characterized by firmness and determination, as the temper, spirit, actions; firm, steadfast, fixed.
Years ago now, Eric and I both made a decision about who would be in charge of our lives, of our marriage, of our family. We made this conscious choice in the presence of the Lord and His people. We said, “Our lives will be for Christ, and for His mission on earth.” Our lives every day reflect that decision, not made on the strength of our own promises, but on the power of the Living Lord working his will in and through us.
So this month, through communal agreement (there’s power in numbers) let’s resolve that 2010 will not pass by and leave us with regret over lost opportunities for physical, intellectual, spiritual, and relational growth. We’re about to take an intentional step forward in faith, and resolve to see Christ formed in us this year.
We’re going to take a long look each week at four areas in which Christ has created us to win in this life. Don’t miss the next few weeks’ messages! They’ll set the tone for our spiritual growth in the coming year.
Today I have the joy of laying the foundation for our team’s biggest win: iResolve to Overcome.
The text today is from John’s gospel, the apostle John, the beloved disciples’ account of the life of Jesus. John 11:1-44
While you’re turning there, I want you to know what took me several years to discover. The Bible is not like any other book. In our western mind, the rational, analytical, systematic way of viewing reality, we would have written a Bible that moved along in chronological order, for starters. The Bible seems to jump from frame to frame with much less attention to time than we are used to. Then, we would make an outline, starting with the general and moving to the specific. We would make check-lists, take apart specific words and thoughts and place them in categorical pigeon-holes. We would write a “to-do” list. How many of you like to read “How To” books? But God didn’t. God sent us the Story- a narrative account- of his relationship with mankind. It’s not a pretty story. It isn’t tidy. Then, because we needed, not only a story, but a Person, He sent His Son to fully reveal to us His Truth; His Way; the Life that is knowing Him. Jesus lived His life as a human being on earth-entered into our story- and then, returned to Heaven and sent His Spirit- luminous, holy, and pure to guide us home to God.
So I’m going to read you a story. The story is about overcoming- don’t forget that. The story shows us, not tells us, what it means to overcome; how some friends of Jesus’ did it against great odds. I want you to think about some specific things as we read. Go ahead and write them down. Here they are:
Who is chosen to suffer and to overcome?
How does each of the characters respond?
What is significant about these events? So what?
John 11:1-44 (New Living Translation)
The Raising of Lazarus
(To the people living this story out, there were no titles letting them know how it all turned out. It’s the same in your story and mine, isn’t it.)
1 A man named Lazarus was sick. He lived in Bethany with his sisters, Mary and Martha. 2 This is the Mary who later poured the expensive perfume on the Lord’s feet and wiped them with her hair.[a] Her brother, Lazarus, was sick. 3 So the two sisters sent a message to Jesus telling him, “Lord, your dear friend is very sick.”
4 But when Jesus heard about it he said, “Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.” 5 So although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, 6 he stayed where he was for the next two days. 7 Finally, he said to his disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.”
Who is chosen to suffer and to overcome?
His dearest friends
Have you thought you’d be given a “pass” on the difficulties of life because you love Him so much? Because you have given so much of yourself for Him and His cause? Because you are a good person? Because you deserve a good life? Have you watched dreams die, loved ones suffer, your children experience immeasurable loss? In other words, have you felt betrayed while you watched down the road for Jesus to rescue you, and he waits?
8 But his disciples objected. “Rabbi,” they said, “only a few days ago the people in Judea were trying to stone you. Are you going there again?”
9 Jesus replied, “There are twelve hours of daylight every day. During the day people can walk safely. They can see because they have the light of this world. 10 But at night there is danger of stumbling because they have no light.”
Jesus is saying, in effect, it isn’t dangerous to follow Me into what the Father and I are doing. I’m still with you. I am the light, the direction you need to go in is the one I illuminate for you. Dangerous times are still ahead, but this isn’t one of them.
11 Then he said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but now I will go and wake him up.” 12 The disciples said, “Lord, if he is sleeping, he will soon get better!” 13 They thought Jesus meant Lazarus was simply sleeping, but Jesus meant Lazarus had died.
They seem so thick-headed to us sitting here, smugly reading this nice story, neatly titled, The Raising of Lazarus”. But I assure you, I’d be scared out of my socks, and I’d be very confused, if I were them, and so would you!
14 So he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 And for your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there, for now you will really believe. Come, let’s go see him.”
16 Thomas, nicknamed the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let’s go, too—and die with Jesus.”
I hope I’d be so brave- thick-headed, yes, but courageous. That’s faith, for you.
17 When Jesus arrived at Bethany, he was told that Lazarus had already been in his grave for four days. 18 Bethany was only a few miles down the road from Jerusalem, 19 and many of the people had come to console Martha and Mary in their loss. 20 When Martha got word that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him. But Mary stayed in the house.
Don’t miss the significance of this short sentence. It really defines the state of mind of these two women.
21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”
23 Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 “Yes,” Martha said, “he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day.”
Here’s the thing. Martha does believe. Martha has faith in the resurrection of the dead, in the power of God, the promises of God. And Jesus still allows her this difficult and painful experience. Why? She comes to this point in her life and the faith she has seems to be stretched to the furthest possible point without breaking down entirely.
“Even now…I know Who You Are.” From here, from this utter extreme of believing, Jesus expands and strengthens her faith, because it is on this faith He will found a movement that will propel humanity out of blackest death and darkness, into power and victory over even the worst enemy of all- physical and spiritual death.
It is significant to note that when death entered our world, it came first through the woman, Eve, to the man and through them to all humanity. When Jesus comes to bring the biggest win of all, He brings the news of it, the faith to believe in it, through these women who are His friends, and to their brother. Interestingly, he is really the silent character throughout these events- being dead, and all.
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?”
In this pivotal passage we find a purpose, a treasure Jesus unearths from her broken, human heart.
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.” 28 Then she returned to Mary. She called Mary aside from the mourners and told her, “The Teacher is here and wants to see you.” 29 So Mary immediately went to him.
So this is what it means to be Messiah! You are God! You are the Lord and Life-giver. When Martha’s faith is brought to this full maturity, then is able to restore her shattered sister. Why does Mary have the courage NOW to go out to Jesus? She can see the powerful influence of hope that is starting to transform Martha before her eyes.
Here the story turns from the character of Martha, who is at least hanging on to a shred of hope, and for whom Jesus coming means perhaps there is yet something good to come from this pain, to Mary, who has come undone. Jesus can handle human despair, too. He doesn’t flinch or tell her to just “get a grip”…listen.
30 Jesus had stayed outside the village, at the place where Martha met him. 31 When the people who were at the house consoling Mary saw her leave so hastily, they assumed she was going to Lazarus’s grave to weep. So they followed her there. 32 When Mary arrived and saw Jesus, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
She comes out to Jesus. He didn’t rush in and wail, like the rest of the mourners. He asked this much of Mary. She has this much faith in Him. She is overcome with the cruel irony of being best friends with the Savior and watching helplessly while he allowed her brother to die. No, “even now” with Mary. She is shattered, broken, despairing.
33 When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled. 34 “Where have you put him?” he asked them.
They told him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Then Jesus wept.
It is this passage that gives me the most hope in the story so far. Do you think it was easy for Jesus who was present when God wove Lazarus together in his mother’s womb, for the Creator Christ, who formed every man, woman and child on earth, to watch and wait while the horror of decay destroyed the friend he loved? Do you think it is easy for Him to watch today as the people he loves are consumed by greed and others by despairing poverty? The death of every human being is a degradation to the beauty of their God.
Have you heard people weep the agonizing, deep moaning the death of those they love brings on? Have you felt the power of that kind of pain. These are not the silent tears of simple sadness. This is the weeping of a mighty heart torn in two. He is weeping for me and for you.
36 The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much he loved him!” 37 But some said, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”
We’re confused, too. We wonder in our pain, what can the Lord be thinking? He promised overcoming victory, and yet, here is this reality. A grave. A bankruptcy. An illness. A divorce.
38 Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance. 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.
I think that was also a great act of faith. It was something like walking out to where Jesus was, to meet him. It was like some of you walking into this church today. You didn’t know what would happen, or whether it was even worth it. You’ve been in churches before, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience. In fact, it kind of stuck. Yet, you felt it was what He was asking you to do. You came here hoping He would do something, anything. What a risk you have taken. What a risk they too
I think Lazarus was already alive by then, trying to blink his tightly wrapped eyes open after being in the presence of another reality altogether. I wonder whether he wasn’t a bit confused and disappointed!
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 grave clothes, his face wrapped in a head cloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!”
I always wonder what happened next. Was he hungry? Thirsty? What was the walk home like? What was it like to unwrap the cloth (yards and yards of it) and uncover his smooth, healthy, plump skin, after 4 days in the grip of decay? What was it like to sit down to the funeral pot-luck dinner with the guest of honor, the former corpse? I’d like to hear that laughter. I’d like to see those joyful faces- overcomers all.
What is the significance of this story. So what?
First of all, I don’t want to over-spiritualize this passage and dilute the power Jesus proclaims over death. The first rule of Biblical interpretation is, “What does the Scripture say?” Take the first, logical meaning first. What did it mean to the people in the story? To the people who first read the story?
Believers will rise from the grave by His power- the actual grave. Our human bodies will rise again. We were created by God to live forever. This has been restored to us all, who trust Him. This is why it matters what you and I do in this body- it is His precious creation- made for eternal life.
We will see Kyle Kupp’s impish grin again! We will take the hand of a little 6 year old student of mine named Hannah, and dance up the hill for a story. Like every one who has believed and gone before us, we will live in Jesus.
Revelation 12:11 (New Living Translation)
11 And they have defeated him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die.
If death itself has no power over us, how can we NOT be resolute, how can we keep ourselves from following Him wholeheartedly into whatever future belongs to us?
We overcome by believing. Faith wins!
Have you been led by Jesus into dangerous territory? Are you willing to risk your security for His Kingdom? You will, like they did, watch people rise from their graves. Don’t miss it!!!
Like Mary, have you been betrayed? Have you found your feet bringing you, almost against your will, to the place where you will meet Jesus? Have you told Him your pain? Have you seen His heart break for you? Be restored by His deep compassion, and by His life-giving power over your pain.
Are you like Martha, with just enough faith to hang on, “even now”? Will you let Jesus stretch your faith so it is big enough to conquer the most powerful enemies of your soul?
What is it that is in a grave for you? A lost way of life that you depended on? The love of a husband or wife? Your expectation for the future? A ministry? If it is something that will bring great glory to God, you can be sure He will resurrect it!
Let us resolve together to overcome: financial hardships, relational conflict. How? Believe.
1 John 5:4 (New Living Translation)
4 For every child of God defeats this evil world, and we achieve this victory through our faith.
There is one last group of characters in the faith story of Lazarus’ family. Remember the onlookers? Maybe you are one of the people watching all this miraculous stuff happen to others. Did you know, Jesus did it all, while they were watching for their sake, too! It was no coincidence that they each were there for all that took place. This life and joy is for YOU, too! Let’s not forget that people all around us are watching.
Remember the Seahawks? I said, “When they lose, it’s personal.” Your life matters. When you and I lose, when we choose to stay in the grave of sinful, destructive thoughts and behaviors, when we let doubt, resentment, and unbelief win out over faith in His love and life-giving power, we all lose. When you lose, for those who love you, it’s personal. Even if you don’t resolve to believe for your own sake, believe for the ones who are watching you. For them, it’s personal.
But what a powerful win for all who love God when we overcome together!
The story of these friends of Jesus is our story, too. That’s the eastern way of learning- one enters into the life of another in order to gain understanding on far more than an intellectual level. Emotionally, relationally, spiritually, physically He enters into our story, too, if we give Him access to it. He who raises dead men is able to bring you to life again, too. Present tense. He is here, in this room, right now.
What will your story be?
What do you need to overcome this year? Financial stress? Health issues? Relational difficulties? Jesus' sacrifice plus your story (your testimony) equals victory over death and over the one who brought it into the human story. Jesus' sacrifice is complete, but our testimony is still unfolding.
Today is the day to resolve to make the 2010 chapter complete - to say 'yes' to Jesus for the first time, for the first time in a long time, or for the first time in an area of your life previously 'off-limits' to God.
Let’s resolve to believe, to give Jesus’ life-giving power room in every area of our lives.