In That Number
(John 11: 32-44)
We all have those persons that we miss dearly and long to see again one day. They’ve died and gone on to heaven and we dream of the day where we will be reunited with them in eternity, never to be parted again. For me, one of the first people I want to see is my grandfather Rosekrans. He had a profound impact on my life and was a great influence on my formative years. I remember the last time I saw him. I lived in Upstate New York and was preparing to drive all the way to Texas to go to college. Before I left, I wanted to see him. It wasn’t like it was when he lived in the same small town. He lived an hour away, so I made a special trip with my best friend to go see him and my grandmother. Somehow, in the back of my mind, I knew it might be the last time we’d see one another. That was in January of 1973. He passed away in February before my 21st birthday. I saw my best friend a couple of months ago when we were vacationing in New York and he brought up that visit. He told me my grandfather was really worried about me going to Texas. One day, when I’m reunited with him, I’ll regale him with fascinating stories about the wild west and how I survived my 35 years in the Great State of Texas and about my wife, my kids and his great-great grandchildren.
Seeing our loved ones once again is one of the lessons we get from our scripture reading for this morning. Like us, Jesus had some very close friends. Among them was Mary, Martha and Lazarus who were brother and sisters. Mary was the one who previously anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped his feet with her hair. Lazarus had fallen gravely ill, so they sent for Jesus to come and do something. When Jesus heard this, he said, this illness isn’t fatal. It’s for the glory of God so that God’s Son can be glorified through it. Jesus, we are told, loved Martha, Mary and Lazarus but, when he got the news, he didn’t depart for their home right away. And, as we know from this story, Jesus arrived well after Lazarus had died and his body was already placed in a tomb. Jesus arrived and was met by the grief-stricken sisters who lamented that if he had only gotten there sooner, their brother would still be alive. Jesus had them take him to the tomb and roll the stone away. Martha was concerned because Lazarus had been dead for four days and the smell would be overpowering. Jesus replied, didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you will see God’s glory? At that point, Jesus called for Lazarus to come out of the tomb, much to the amazement of the crowd that had gathered to witness this spectacle. The immediate takeaway from this is that we will lose the ones we love, but if we truly have faith and believe in God, we will be reunited with them in a better world.
After Jesus ascended to heaven most of the followers believed that when Jesus said he would return they interpreted that to mean it would be very soon, something they would live to see. As time went by, they began to get concerned about those who had already died or might die before Jesus’ return. They wondered if these persons would rise and see Christ and would they too, be reunited with their loved ones. Again, that’s one of the points of our scripture reading for today. Jesus assured them it was okay to mourn their departed loved ones, but when the time was right, he would raise them from the dead and we will all be reunited in eternity. We’ll just have to take Jesus at his word.
So, what do we do in the meantime? Well, we honor the memories of our departed loved ones by continuing their work and doing God’s will as best we can with what we have. We’re all looking forward to the Second Coming, but we should be less concerned with knowing the exact date of his coming and more concerned with being prepared, living God’s way consistently so that no matter when Jesus comes in glory, he will claim us as his own. Christ’s return at an unexpected time is not a trap, a trick by which God hopes to catch us off guard. In fact, God is delaying his return so more people will have the opportunity to follow him. Before Christ’s return, we have time to live out our beliefs and to reflect Jesus’ love as we relate to others. Jesus taught that every person is responsible for his or her own spiritual condition. We must use well what God has entrusted to us, and to serve others in need.
So, what does such a person look like? People who are ready for their Lord’s return are; 1) not hypocritical, but sincere, 2) not fearful, but ready to witness, 3) not worried, but trusting, 4) not greedy, but generous, and 5) not lazy, but diligent.
In 1 Corinthians 1: 7-9, the Apostle Paul tells the members of the church in Corinth that as a result of their great faith, they aren’t missing any spiritual gift while they wait for their Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. They will be confirmed in their testimony about Christ until the end so that they will be blameless on the day of their Lord Jesus Christ. He says, God is faithful, and you were called by him to partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Paul is telling the Corinthian believers that God would consider them blameless when Christ returns. This guarantee was not because of their great gifts or their shining performances, but because of what Jesus Christ accomplished for them through his death and resurrection. Quite simply, all who believe in the Lord Jesus will be considered blameless when Christ returns.
The Apostle Peter tells us in 2 Peter 3: 10-14, that the day of the Lord will come like a thief. On that day the heavens will pass away with a dreadful noise, the elements will be consumed by fire, and the earth and all the works done on it will be exposed. He asks, since everything will be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you be? You must live holy and godly lives, waiting for and hastening the coming day of God. Because of that day, the heavens will be destroyed by fire and the elements will melt away in the flames. But according to his promise we are waiting for a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness is at home. Peter then says, therefore, dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found by him in peace, pure and faultless. Peter is telling us that Christ’s coming will be a sudden and terrible happening for those who do not believe in him. But if we are morally clean and spiritually alert, it won’t come as a surprise.
So, while we’re waiting to be reunited with our loved ones, we should not become lazy and complacent because Christ has not yet returned. Instead, we should live in eager expectation of his coming. Ask yourself, what would you like to be doing when Christ returns? If God would approve, then that’s how you should be living each day.
We have hope for a new world where God’s righteousness is fully at home that motivates ways of believing and behaving appropriate to that new world. I pray that your lives be more like Christ’s so that when he comes, you will be ready to greet him joyfully.
So, if you want to be in that number, that number that marches in when Christ returns, you know what to do.
Please pray with me.
Most gracious and loving God, how we long to be with you and those so dear to us that have gone on before us, the saints already living in your glory and your rest. We don’t know the date or the time of your Son’s return so help us to live each day like it’s our last, in eager anticipation of being in your holy presence. Move us to spend our time here on earth wisely in your service doing your work and your will to meet the needs of your people and do all we can to bring as many of your lost children to you as we can. As your Son, Jesus Christ, has been a blessing to us, create in us a loving heart where we can be a blessing to others. In the name of your loving son, our brother, we pray, Amen.