Sunday Morning Greek Blog

May 6, 2023

Assurance, Hope, and Power: The Disciples’ Resurrection Rebound (John 20:19–31)

Click the Play button below to hear the recording of the message.

My message from 4/16/23, the week after Easter, at Mt. View Presbyterian Church in Omaha.

I learned a fancy new ten-dollar word this week. “Denouement” (day new MA). If you’re into literature or are a member of book club, perhaps you already knew the term before today. It’s a French word that’s made its way into English that refers to what happens in a story after the climax or high point of the action has occurred. The meaning of denouement is “untying of the knot.” An English equivalent, at least in the context of literature, might be “resolution.” How does the story “resolve” or work itself out after the climax.

Why am I starting my message this morning with a vocabulary lesson? (Don’t worry, no quiz at the end!) Well, you may have already guessed where I’m going with this. The crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Christ is the climax of the Gospel story in the New Testament. Like the Gospels, the Christian liturgical calendar begins with the “prequel” of the Advent, the birth of Christ, beginning the Sunday after Thanksgiving; passes through several “seasons” in which we see the nature and work of our servant-savior; and leads up to the crucifixion and resurrection.

We’ve now entered the “denouement” of the liturgical seasons, the time between the Resurrection, celebrated on Easter Sunday, and Pentecost, 50 days following. After that, aside from the first Sunday after Pentecost being “Trinity Sunday” and the last Sunday of the liturgical year being “Christ the King,” the rest of the liturgical calendar is officially “proper,” or the nth Sunday after Pentecost. That’s doesn’t sound near as exciting as all the stuff at the beginning of the liturgical year.

Of course, the Gospel is a compelling and engaging story regardless of the season, month, or day in our liturgical or regular calendars. It is made so, in part, by the way you and I live out our faith in the places we find ourselves in this world. As disciples of Christ, we have been charged with being light and salt in an increasingly dark and bland world. But it’s hard to do that if we’re not convinced and assured that the resurrection of Christ has secured that hope for us.

That is where we find ourselves in the early stages of this denouement: Jesus had appeared to the women who came to the tomb, and even to two unnamed disciples on the road to the Emmaus, but the 11 remaining apostles had not yet seen him and, according to the longer ending of Mark’s Gospel, they didn’t believe either of those reports from earlier in the day. But on the evening of that same day Jesus was resurrected, Jesus literally drops in on them in the house where they were staying; the door was locked.

All the apostles (“the Twelve”) except Thomas (and of course Judas) were there for the first visit. It’s likely that others were there as well, but the text is silent on that detail. Jesus shows his disciples his pierced hands and side and even asks his disciples to put their fingers in the holes. The disciples are not only convinced, but the text says they are overjoyed as well. Something else happens here that I think gets overlooked in the Gospel story. Jesus essentially commissions the disciples—we don’t know if this meant only those of the Twelve who were present or everyone—by giving them the Holy Spirit in advance of the day of Pentecost. He also gives them authority to forgive sins or not forgive sins. Jesus was granting them a portion of divine authority here, collectively, so that he could have an official complement of representatives to prepare the world for the coming of the Holy Spirit to believers and birth of the Church on the day of Pentecost.

This is important for a couple reasons. First, just as plant seedlings are often nurtured in the controlled environment of a greenhouse or a baby is born in sterile conditions in the hospital, so too did the church need a perfect or near-perfect spiritual environment to get started and to grow. I believe the authority Jesus gives them, again collectively, included the knowledge of the perfect, untainted Gospel on which Jesus wanted to found the church. Their proclamations were considered authoritative, and as a group, they could hold each other accountable for that perfect doctrine, instead of having all of the authority for the church rest in one person. Eight days later, Thomas would be added to that group when he finally got to see Jesus and had every doubt erased. He would be able to proclaim, “My Lord and my God!” after seeing Jesus for himself.

On the other hand, having a group of leaders thus empowered and commission would also help with the stability of the local, usually house, churches that would begin to form after the day of Pentecost. With so many hearing the Gospel in their own language that day, it would be important that someone with that kind of authority could be sort of a regional overseer for the fledgling churches and communicate officially on behalf of the apostles whenever questions arose. We see some hints of that in the middle chapters of the book of Acts. I think it’s safe to say the apostles didn’t want 3,000 new converts going back to their respective homelands without some kind of help from those who had first-hand experience with Jesus and the apostles.

Getting back to Jesus’s first appearances to the disciples, they had assurance of what we read in our passage from Psalm 16 this morning. Here’s verses 9–11 from the New International Version:

9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;

my body also will rest secure,

10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,

nor will you let your faithful one see decay.

11 You make known to me the path of life;

you will fill me with joy in your presence,

with eternal pleasures at your right hand.[1]

The apostles realized that Jesus was the “faithful one” who did not see decay, and by implication, those faithful ones who had died before had also been safe from that decay. Paul tells us in Ephesians that Christ, upon his resurrection, led an army of captives out of the “lower earthly regions” into the heavenly realms. Peter would use this passage from Psalm 16 in his powerful sermon on the day of Pentecost because he had realized and experienced its truth for himself.

Peter would later write in one of his two letters about the living hope that comes through the resurrection of Jesus. He says this in the opening chapter of his first letter:

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. [2]

Thomas had the luxury of seeing Jesus on his second appearance to the group and finally believing he had risen, even though he refused to believe his closest friends after Jesus’s first appearance convinced them. You and I will probably not have that luxury of seeing Jesus while we dwell on earth, unless he comes again in the immediate future. We would fall, then, in the second category: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

As disciples of Christ, we have a wealth of resources available to us as we live and serve in God’s kingdom. We have a new birth, or as Jesus told Nicodemus, we’re “born again” of the Spirit. The old has gone; the new has come! The past no longer controls us. We have a living hope affirmed by the resurrection. The faithful in the Old Testament probably could not have even conceived of what the New Testament has revealed to us about eternal life in the heavenly kingdom. Our inheritance is permanent! No moth or rust can destroy it!

We’re shielded by God’s power (and his armor) through faith, and we have the hope of his second coming and the eternal salvation that will be ours to claim. We have this assurance even in the midst of the trials and griefs we suffer corporately and individually, for it is in standing firm through these trials that our faith is tested, purified, and proven true. Paul says in Ephesians that when we put on God’s armor, we can stand firm in the faith. We can know in part here on earth that joy we will fully know in heaven!

Even though Easter is the climax of our liturgical year, our denouement need not in any way diminish the joy and excitement of living for Christ in the hope of our resurrection and our salvation. Each and every day can be an adventure with Christ as we read his word, serve those who need an extra measure of his grace, and walk in faithful fellowship with one another. Those first few weeks after the resurrection, the believers had a lot of knots to untie to figure out their part in growing the early church. Of course, the Spirit was calling people, and that couldn’t be stopped. But they had to move quickly. For us today, we could use this season to think about how we do our own ministries. How can we use the excitement of celebrating Jesus’s resurrection to channel that energy into “untying the knots” that may be holding us back from doing more for God’s kingdom or for the local church or community? Are there others we could reach? Are there others we could invite? Are there others who need our help? Who could I talk to about my doubts and fears? These don’t have to be grandiose, but I do think the answers should be just big enough to require some faith in and reliance on God to get them done.

As we move through this season leading up to Pentecost, remember that Christ has given us assurance of his resurrection and our own, the hope of eternal life in an imperishable kingdom, and the power to minister in his name and encourage those who also need that assurance and hope. Peace to you! Amen.

[1] Psalm 16:9–11. The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] 1 Peter 1:3–9. The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

May 19, 2021

What Makes God Weep?

Filed under: Greek — Scott Stocking @ 6:00 am
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Sermon preached by Scott Stocking, Wheeler Grove Rural Church, January 17, 2021. All opinions are my own.


This past year has certainly been a challenging one for the world. Many of us know people affected by COVID, whether testing positive without any more symptoms than a few sniffles, to those who unfortunately lost loved ones or their own lives to the disease. My wife works in a skilled nursing facility in Omaha as an occupational therapist, and had to put on her “protective armor” to work with residents who tested positive for the disease.

Jill and I also have two friends who went to death’s door with the disease, but have or are making what seems to be full recovery. One friend’s wife had actually gone to talk to the funeral home before he rebounded. Another friend, just in that last few weeks, had been on a ventilator. Those who go on a ventilator have a 10% chance of survival. He eventually got off the ventilator and beat the odds, and at last report, he was doing quite well in rehab, just having his trach removed and talking up a storm with his family members.

It’s been an eye-opening experience for me, as I’ve never had two friends in one year come this close to death, and it reminds me both of how fragile life can be, and also how precious life is. In Jesus’s day, life was considered cheap. The philosopher Aristotle said, in so many words, you were born to either be an elite-class ruler or part of the masses of the lower-class ruled. There really wasn’t much of what we call the “middle class” in that day and age, socially or economically.

In the passage we’re looking at today, we see Jesus’s countercultural attitude toward life, at least countercultural in his day and age. Jesus did not think life was cheap. He valued the individual, regardless of their rank in life, and even regardless of the type of life they led. We will also see perhaps the most intense display of Jesus’s humanity as well as glimpses into his divine nature.

What Makes God Weep?

As we come to the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead in John 11, we will see the full range of Jesus’s human and divine natures. Even though “all the fullness of the Deity dwells within him,” he is still fully human as well, so much so that the Gospel writers record Jesus using the title “Son of Man” for himself.

The story starts at the beginning of chapter 11 when Jesus learns that Lazarus, perhaps his best friend outside of the circle of the apostles, is sick. Jesus doesn’t seem concerned however, and like the good friend he is, he intentionally delays going to see Lazarus. Wait, wha? [Pause for effect, pretend to be confused and reread that sentence.] The apostles don’t under Jesus’s delay, but only because he knows “this sickness will not end in death,” but “is for God’s glory.” He eventually says cryptically a few verses later that “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep,” but the apostles don’t pick up on the subtle reference. Jesus must tell them plainly a few verses later that “Lazarus is dead.”

Now it should not surprise us that Type A Martha, the control freak of the two sisters, is the one to go out and meet Jesus at the gate. Since it took Jesus four days from the time he got the news (at least from a human source) to go the two miles from Jerusalem to Bethany, Martha had plenty of time to think about what she’d say. Martha is chomping at the bit to make sure Jesus knows that because he wasn’t there, it’s all his fault that Lazarus died. Pretty harsh, right? In fact, Martha is so focused on getting these first few words out, that we get no indication in the story that she’s in mourning. I think most of us know that feeling: we get our adrenaline going about something peripheral such that we forget how we’re supposed to feel or what we’re supposed to say about whatever the core issue is that is truly impacting us emotionally.

But either Martha knows she’s stuck her foot in her mouth after that first statement, or she really has been thinking about what her second statement would be: “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” Does that statement represent genuine concern, or is it more like a backhanded control freak statement? “I’ve waited four days for you to get here, Jesus, so you owe me big time!”

But Martha does prove to have a heart of gold, a heart full of faith, and a desire for great theological conversation when she goes on to say, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” If there were other people within earshot of that statement, I’m sure it would have turned heads, especially if any of the crowd were Sadducees. This is exactly the reasoning Abraham used, according to the author of Hebrews, to not hesitate to obey God’s command to him to (almost-) sacrifice Isaac. As such, Martha is the personal recipient of one of Jesus’s seven “I am” statements in the Gospel of John: “I am the resurrection and the life.”

So to this point in the story, what do we see of Jesus’s divine and human natures? Someone brings him the message that Lazarus is dying, but Jesus is most likely already aware of this given what he says to his disciples about it. He doesn’t seem to be concerned about Lazarus dying, which, from a human perspective, might make him appear cold, matter-of-fact, and uncaring. If this were you or I, we’d want to make every effort to go see the friend on their deathbed. But his divine nature knows the end of the story. Jesus implicitly trusts in his heavenly Father that the end result will be for his glory.

So here we have Jesus, quite stoically handling the news of Lazarus’s death and just matter-of-factly stating that he is the resurrection and the life. That last claim, by itself and at face value, would have been absolutely astonishing to his listeners. Most 30-year-olds in Jesus’s day were typically closer to their death than their birth, and the cultures around the Jewish people had little regard for the sanctity of life, as my opening illustration revealed. So keep that and Jesus’s initial response in mind as we look at vv. 32–39 here. We pick up the story after Martha has gone to bring Mary back to see Jesus.

Read John 11:32–33a.

Notice that Mary’s first response to Jesus is identical to Martha’s, except that Mary is making no pretense about her sorrow. She’s bawling, and everyone with her is bawling. The text doesn’t say, but I’m pretty sure Martha is standing there trying to be the strong one: “I’m not going to cry in front of Jesus! I’m not going to cry in front of Jesus.” Truly there is great sorrow here, and this is one of the few times in the Gospels where we see Jesus come face to face with not just mourners, but mourners who are most likely among his closest friends outside his inner circle. In the next few verses, we get a profound insight into the depths of Jesus’s human nature. Back to vs. 33:

Read John 11:33-35

There it is: “Jesus wept.” The shortest verse in our English Bibles. Nine letters. Six consonants and three vowels in three syllables. Yet nothing is more poignant, nothing more revealing of the depth of human sorrow than weeping. And this isn’t some Hollywood zoom-in shot of Jesus’s face where he sheds one dramatic tear. Oh no! Jesus is in full-on weeping mode with his friends. And even though the story doesn’t say it, I think it’s safe to say that, to the extent Martha was trying to be the “strong one,” Martha’s floodgates open up here; she can’t hold it in any longer, and she begins to weep as well, perhaps precisely because Jesus wept. How profound it is when we see first hand that Savior of the world feels AND shows the same emotions that you and I feel at the death of a loved one. How profound to know that our God does NOT turn a blind eye to our sorrow and pain.

Now Jesus’s weeping is not a sudden outburst that isn’t expected in the story. John, in fact, is building up the tension in the story to that climax. Look back at the end of vs. 33: John says Jesus is “deeply moved” and “troubled.” In the original language of the Scripture, that word is perhaps the strongest expression of “negative” emotion one could have. In Matthew 9:30, Jesus “sternly warned” the blind man not to say who healed him. That would have been akin to Jesus saying something like, “Don’t you dare, in a million years, tell anyone who did this to you.” At Jesus’s anointing in Bethany, where the prostitute broke an alabaster jar over Jesus’s head and let the perfume run down him, we’re told that those present (except for Jesus) “rebuked her sharply,” probably even to the extent of cursing her or reminding her in no uncertain terms about her profession.

Some commentators here go as far as suggesting that Jesus may have “snorted” (their word, not mine) here. On the one hand, he could have been choking back the tears in light of all the weeping. On the other hand, and perhaps more importantly, Jesus may also be on the verge of cursing death itself here. The one who is the resurrection and the life, the one who knew he himself must suffer horribly and die on the cross, and who knew God would thus give him ultimately victory over death, must face the death of a friend nonetheless. He shows himself to be the great high priest, as he’s called in Hebrews 4:15, who is not “unable to empathize with our weaknesses,” who has been tempted as we are, and yet was without sin.

Now I want to suggest something here that has probably never occurred to you: The main focus of John’s account of this story here is NOT that Jesus raises someone from the dead eventually. Jesus has already done several amazing miracles to this point, building up to the raising of Lazarus as the greatest of his miracles. Another miracle? I’m impressed of course, but not surprised. John has already hinted to us that that is going to happen in the story, with Jesus’s “I am” statement and Martha’s statement. Keep in mind that John, in his short epistles toward the end of the NT, is fighting against Gnosticism, a belief that nothing done in the body matters at all for eternal salvation. When John says, “Jesus wept,” he’s acknowledging that God considers human life precious and valuable; that the body does matter for our earthly existence. That’s why “Jesus wept” is at the center of this whole story. He intends this show of Jesus’s humanity as the highlight and climax of the story.

This is all pretty intense, right? So if we’ve hit the climax, where do we go from here? Well, there is “the rest of the story” as Paul Harvey used to say. There is, as literature professors would put it, the “anticlimax.” Note a further expression of Jesus’s humanity in vs. 36: “See how he loved him.” That word for love there typically implies a brotherly or familial love. It’s not the self-sacrificing agape love, and it’s certainly not any kind of romantic love. It reveals the deep friendship that Jesus had (and will have again) with Lazarus.

Even some in the crowd in v. 37 echo Mary and Martha’s sentiment that Jesus could have kept him from dying. “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Read John 11:38–40

Once again, we see that word for “deeply moved” that we saw in v. 33. Jesus has still got some fire in him at this point. So when he asks for the stone to be taken away, I think he’s not just making a polite request here. I think he spoke it like I read it, with that “I’ve-had-enough-of-this” indignation. “Let’s get this over with; he’s been dead long enough.” Of course Martha, the rational one, has regained her composure in the time it took to walk over to the tomb, and isn’t too thrilled about consequences of removing the stone. That just stokes Jesus’s fire all the more. “I’m going to raise your brother and you’re worried it might stink a little bit?” I’m pretty sure that the “glory of God” at that point was not going to have any stink associated with it.

Read John 11:41–44

Now when I set out to write this sermon, I had intended to do the three shortest verses in the NT and tie them together in a neat little package. But the more I got into, the more the Spirit led me down the road I followed today, focusing on “Jesus wept.” One of the three shortest verses is “Pray continually,” or more literally, “pray without ceasing.” Jesus offers his prayer here. He doesn’t need to do this, because he knows God is always listening to him. But as he’s said all along in this story, his goal is to make sure God is glorified. He wants to leave no doubt in anyone’s mind that what is about to happen is not some magic trick or sleight of hand. This is God-power all the way, the “incomparably great [resurrection] power for us who believe,” as Paul tells the Ephesians.

In v. 43, Jesus’s fire is still going. Again, it’s not a polite request or, “Hey, Lazarus, ollie ollie ots and free.” Jesus booms with a loud, commanding voice, loud enough to literally wake the dead, “Lazarus, come out!” I think it’s interesting that the NIV here says “The dead man came out.” Umm, looks like he’s not dead any more. The more literal translation here is “the one who has been dead came out.” Can I get an “Amen”?

The third short verse precedes “pray continually” in 1 Thessalonians 5: “Rejoice always.” In the last part of v. 44, Jesus loses all the tension he’s been feeling to this point. I’m sure he’s got a huge smile across his face at this point, as do all those who’ve seen Lazarus rise from the dead and walk out of the grave. Jesus’s happiness, smile, and dare I say laughter are all additional profound insights into Jesus’s human side. The savior who weeps with us in our time of sorrow rejoices with us in our time of joy.

Conclusion/Call to Action

John 11 is a powerful story about Jesus’s love for a friend and his disgust with death and the seeming cheapness of life in the world around him. But how does that impact us today? What are steps that we can take as believers to promote the value of the individual, especially in this time when we’ve had to be isolated from ones we love?

In the ancient world, at and before the time of Christ, there were two practices that absolutely cheapened life. One of them was known as exposure. At that time, if you gave birth to a child you didn’t want, or the child was conceived in, shall we say, ill repute, it was legal, and in certain situation expected of you, to expose that infant to the elements and let the Fates decide what would become of the child. As Christianity took hold, Christians began to rescue these innocents. As Christianity grew and the concept that all life mattered began to take hold culturally, Constantine eventually outlawed the practice all together in the Roman empire.

The second practice was, in certain Greek democracies where they did not have the concept of freedom of speech, the casting of the ostraca. Ostraca were simply pieces of clay pots on which the voters (usually only “citizens”) wrote the name of a person whom they thought was not worthy of participating in their society any longer. The person receiving the most votes was “ostracized,” or banished from the city-state democracy. As you might imagine, the ancients had their share of folks on all sides who spread lies and misinformation about political enemies in order to influence who got voted off the island, so to speak.

In this day and age when our country is so divided on so many issues, it’s important that we learn how to not only respect our differences, but understand why each of us believes what we believe. Jesus’s disciples were a diverse group, from a hated tax collector to the lowly fishermen. My prayer is that we see the value in each and every individual and in what they bring to the table for the good of our Lord and our country. Peace to you all, and thank you for letting me share with you today.

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