Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Bethany Bullet - April 8, 2014

Escaping the Inescapable
Text: Ezekiel 37 and John 11
The 5th Sunday in Lent

Movies have been made about it; legends were birthed from its desolate shores; stories have been spun; tales have been told and everyone who is around my age and older knows that escape from Alcatraz was something that was just impossible. 

The island of Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay housed law breakers starting in 1912 when it was a military prison.  It was acquired in 1933 by the United States Department of Justice and the island became a prison of the Federal Bureau of Prisons in August 1934. Given its high security and the location among the cold waters and strong currents of San Francisco Bay, the prison operators believed Alcatraz to be inescapable. 

In its 29 years of operation, there were 14 attempts to escape from Alcatraz involving 36 inmates. Officially, every escape attempt failed, and most participants were either killed or quickly re-captured. However, the participants in the 1937 and 1962 attempts, though presumed dead, disappeared without a trace and have been the subject of some well known movies. 

The Rock, as it was often called, housed severe troublemakers from other federal prisons and those who were thought to be a high risk for escape.  It was said that a sentence to Alcatraz was death.  You would either die in the prison or die trying to escape.  Most inmates said that from the moment they set foot on the island, their thoughts were consumed by how to get off that wretched rock. 

For prisoners in Alcatraz and the greater population, preoccupation with death can consume an individual.  In our culture we don’t like to talk about death.  If we ignore it, or turn our backs on it, it might just go away.  But there is no escaping death.

Many years ago death was not as taboo as it is today.  Churches and cathedrals around the world are filled with the bones of departed. Hanging on the hillsides of China you can even find the mummified remains of loved ones who could not escape death. 

In 1999 Jill and I, along with some family and friends, took a trip to Europe.  We visited many churches and from the Kremlin in Moscow to Westminster Abby in London, the churches were filled with the dead.  In Wittenberg Germany, we worshiped on a Saturday evening at an English language service in Castle Church.  I was asked to read the Gospel lesson for the day and the place I was to stand was right over the grave of Martin Luther himself inside the church. Death is inescapable.

While it is not our custom to fill our churches with the bones of the dead today, it is true that our churches are still filled with the dead.  Because of sin we are all spiritually dead.  You have heard the words from scripture. “For the wages of sin is death.” Death is inescapable.
We are all subject to death and we cannot escape.  Sin has made us prisoners on this rock called earth.  There is no hope of escape.  For many during our time on the third rock from the sun, our thoughts are consumed with how we can escape.

For us, the sentence is death.  Escape is impossible.

In Sunday’s worship we heard two passages from Scripture that remind us of the inescapable truth of death and the power of God.

In a vision, Ezekiel was taken to a valley filled with death.  A multitude of dry bones spread across the horizon, and an interesting question from the Lord, “Son of man, can these bones live?” (Ezekiel 37:3a)

The inescapable truth of death was before Ezekiel’s eyes. He knew from past experience that death is something that cannot be reversed, but in a moment of faith, his words give witness to the power of God, “Only you know Almighty LORD.” (Ezekiel 37:3b)

Ezekiel continued, “Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones. Tell them, ‘Dry bones; listen to the word of the Lord. This is what the Almighty Lord says to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you will live.  I will put ligaments on you, place muscles on you, and cover you with skin. I will put breath in you, and you will live. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’” (Ezekiel 37:4-6)

This is something so utterly unknown to nature and so contrary to its principles that we could have no thought of if but by the Word of the Lord. 

Only God who made man from the dust of the earth could make something living out of that valley full of bones.  And by the Word of the Lord life sprang up, and the inescapable effects of death were reversed.  Through a Word, the dead received life.

In our Gospel lesson from Sunday, we have a similar scene.  This time it is not a valley full of bones but the bones of a single person.  Lazarus, the close personal friend of Jesus is dead. 

Word came to Jesus and His disciples, “Lord, your close friend is sick.” (John 11:3)  Jesus, knowing what will happen says, “His sickness won’t result in death. Instead, this sickness will bring glory to God so that the Son of God will receive glory through it.” (John 11:4)

And then Jesus proceeds to stay two more days before leaving.  At first it seems perplexing. 

Jesus could have gone right away.  He could have healed His friend from afar like He had done to others before, but Jesus waits on God’s timetable and acts so that God’s glory and His power may be known.

Waking a sick man who is sleeping is easy.  Raising the dead is humanly impossible.

By not being there to prevent His friend’s death, Jesus set the scene to strengthen the disciple’s faith, and He would show them shortly by His own death that He had the power to raise the dead to life.

As Jesus tells Martha that her brother will come back to life she clings to the hope of the Resurrection on the last day, but Jesus had something more immediate in mind. 
Jesus says to her, “I am the one who brings people back to life, and I am life itself. Those who believe in me will live even if they die. Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26)

Like Martha we might cling to the hope of Resurrection.  It may feel like it is a long way off.  It may seem a lifetime away, but Jesus couldn’t be clearer. He has something more immediate in mind for you and for me. The hope of the Resurrection is not far off, it is not far away.  Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life!  And He is right here!!

Jesus words spoke to the eternal truth that has soothed many a troubled heart at a death-bed, during a funeral, at a grave site.  Whoever believes in Jesus—even though death makes its unwelcome earthly visit—will live.

Whoever lives by faith in Jesus will never die.  The life we have in Christ survives death and the grave.  Physical death does not separate us from God and His son.  We are alive with Him forever and will at the last be restored body and soul in eternity.

Jesus shed tears at the grave of His friend Lazarus, and He does the same for all of His beloved children for He is deeply moved at your sorrow.  The scene continues, “Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you for hearing me. I’ve known that you always hear me. However, I’ve said this so that the crowd standing around me will believe that you sent me.” After Jesus had said this, he shouted as loudly as he could, “Lazarus, come out!” (John 11:41-43) 

Jesus the Word, in whom is Life, gave life with a Word.

His Word comes to you anew today! That Life is yours, today!  With Jesus we have escaped the inescapable.  Death has been swallowed up by life.  This scene is just the prequel to what is to come.  As Jesus takes on death at the cross and defeats it forever He proves beyond a shadow of doubt that death has no power over us.  “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1

He is the Resurrection and the Life; all who believe in Him will never die.  With Him there is escape from the inescapable. 

-Pastor Seth Moorman


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