Order of Service
God’s call and blessing
- Call to worship:
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. Fear the Lord, you his holy people, for those who fear him lack nothing. (Psalm 34:7–9, NIV)
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Galatians 1:3–5, NIV)
The congregation responds
- Prayer: Adoration and thanksgiving
- Hymn: “God has called us in his Name”
- Prayer: Forgiveness of sins
- Assurance of grace in Christ Jesus:
The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; He delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:17–18, NIV)
The congregation responds
- Hymn 1209: “My heart is filled with thankfulness” (words provided)
- Prayer: Dedication of offering
- Prayer: Intercession
- Bible Reading: John 11:17-37
The Congregation responds
- Hymn 831: “God has spoken”
- Prayer: That the Holy Spirit open our eyes
God nurtures and admonishes
Sermon: “The perfect Saviour who saves from death to life”
- Perfect in knowledge
- Perfect in timing
- Perfect in love
- Perfect in substitution
My dear friends in the Lord Jesus Christ, they say social media has brought to the surface something which has been always part of man’s nature: we want to be acknowledged, or taken notice of. Some people have hundreds of Facebook “friends”, which they do not know, but it helps when life becomes lonely. Post something on social media and one constantly goes back to find out if people “Liked” your post. The result is that the younger generation, and maybe some others too, have become addicted to the smartphone, not in the first instance for its usefulness, but for its instant gratification.
The old adage still stands, “Call we whatever you like, but just call me!”
This outlook has carried into the church too. People church-shop, looking for a church where they can share the spotlight of attention. The expectation is that what the congregation offers in programs must address the need of those who attend. It can easily become “me” centred. Some modern songs sound like love songs where it centres around “me” and “I” and “my” feelings.
But, is it about us in worship? Is it about what I can get out of church life? Or is it about the Triune God, the Word of the Son, and the work of the Holy Spirit. Does God need to become part of my life drama, or is it about his saving grace which makes me part of his grand plan of salvation and restoration of a fallen world?
Perfect in knowledge
When Lazarus fell and his sisters needed help from our Lord, they immediately called for Him. He, after all, is the Son of God, and on top of that the Bible tells us the Lord loved them. There was this special relationship between them. But the amazing thing happened: Jesus did not respond to their request – not immediately. He stayed where He was for two more days.
The perspective of Jesus Christ was different from Mary and Martha. Listen what He said:
“This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” (John 11:4, NIV)
Jesus knew their anxiety and their needs, but at that critical point of his ministry He had a perfect knowledge of the unfolding plan of God’s glory. From a human point of view He could have left everything behind and rushed to his friends home to be there in their time of need. But his will was first and foremost the will of his Father.
Let’s put ourselves in the two sisters’ position. Their brother died in the meantime, and their best friend, deliberately did not show. Surely, we have been in such a situation. We needed Him to save us from severe illness, to hear our prayers for a dying parent or child, we need Him to answer when we find ourselves in financial strife, or when it seems that our marriage relationship is falling apart; we need Him to listen when we cry out for a child who has lost its Christian moorings, falling into the traps of this evil world. We cry out with sincerity – and when we don’t have an immediate answer we may doubt his care and love. Some even turn their backs of the Lord when things don’t work out the way they saw it for themselves.
“Lord, if only you were here, all of this would not happen!”
But, although with the faith of a child I pray with expectation, I must always understand that God’s perspective is not mine, and I cannot bind God by what I think He should do.
Verse 42 of chapter 10 give us a glimpse of God’s plan:
And in that place many believed in Jesus. (John 10:42, NIV)
Our Lord had been doing the work of his Father. While Martha and Mary was anxious about their immediate need, others came to a saving faith in Christ. The two sisters would only be able to see God’s plan when they themselves eventually went to be with God and met those who need to hear Christ’s call when they thought they needed it most.
After two days Jesus announced that He is going back to Judea. According to the disciples this was a bad idea and bad timing.
“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?” (John 11:8, NIV)
Yes, He knew that, but God’s timing is perfect. After all, although God’s plan included Martha and Mary – and Lazarus being raised from the dead – God’s agenda determined that his Son must go to Jerusalem: Lazarus would live, but Christ would be killed.
It was still daylight: Christ was still with them, and while He was their Guide the light was shining. No one would be able to put out the light – that’s what we learned in the first chapter – “The darkness has not overcome the light”. God’s timing is perfect: the mission of Christ was to bring life through his death – and all of this would be on display in Bethany.
My friend, our Lord never arrives too late on the scene. Your prayers are not falling on deaf ears. But God’s timing is not our timing. God does not belong to us; He does not become part of my life drama. I cannot assign to Him some minor part in my show, giving Him the cue and the dialogue when He is supposed to say and do as I determine. It is the other way around: He makes me part of his Kingdom by saving me by grace in and through Jesus Christ, and from that moment on I’m not on the throne anymore, I’m not in control. But the wonderfull aspect of following Jesus and being included into his unfolding plan of redemption and restoration of this world, is that He never allows anything to happen to me which He does not know about. When you take up your cross to follow Jesus, that’s when things really start working out. It might be through trial and tribulation that He takes you, but the walk with Him is never a step in the dark; it’s always in the footsteps of Him who knows everything and as such is never too late or too early.
Perfect in love
We might find the words of our Lord strange:
So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” (John 11:14–15, NIV)
Two things stoke us in this verse: Jesus knew that something wonderful would come of the death of Lazarus, that’s why He was glad. Then, “Let’s go to him”. Our Lord did not say that He wanted to attend the funeral of his friend, or that He would want to support his sisters in their grieve; no, He was on his way to see Lazarus!
There was a hopelessness with the sisters: their brother was dead for four days, so if ever there was even a superstitious hope that he might still have a change to regain life, it was too late. That’s why both of them said:
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. (John 11:21, NIV)
But the attitude of the disciples was also almost that of desperation. If Christ is going to die, so will they. Looking back on Christ’s mission and work we understand that they actually could only live because He died! This even applied to Lazarus. Although he was raised on that day, he died another day – only to enter eternity with Christ who died for him. He had to teach them that He is the resurrection and the life! That they had to believe – and it also applies to us! Believe it!
We have the luxury of this history written down. The sisters thought our Lord had forgotten them. He didn’t! They were in his mind all the time – and all along He was working on his marvellous plan to do something which would bring glory to God – and once again more people would believe in Him!
There were other episodes in the ministry of Christ where people were miraculously healed without Him being with them. He could do it with Lazarus too.
What the sisters and even those who came to comfort them understood very well was that He loved them. When they cried, He cried. The people said, “See how He loved him.”
We need to take something for this along today. As we must never doubt the timing of Christ, so we must never doubt his love. Things do not in most cases work out the way we want it to, but when our life falls apart, the Lord’s love for us never does. He plan is not our plan, but his plan is always good and best. William Cowper writes in his hymn “God moves in mysterious ways”:
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense
But trust Him for His grace
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face
His purposes will ripen fast
Unfolding every hour
The bud may have a bitter taste
But sweet will be the flower
Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain
God is His own interpreter
And He will make it plain
That night, after He revealed the glory of the Father, they had Him with them around their table – the number was full again – but before that could happen, the Saviour had to show them the reason for his coming into the world: He perfectly saves from death to live!
Perfect in substitution
I can’t dwell too long on this but what is recorded in the Gospel as a sequence to the miracle of life from death, tells us about the Jewish council who knew they had lost control. Listen:
“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let Him go on like this, everyone will believe in Him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.” (John 11:47–48, NIV)
From our perspective we know that they did not arrest Christ, but He arrested them. Their dilemma was that He, for as long as He lived, was danger to them. On the other hand, if they killed Him, his death would mean life to millions upon millions. Caiaphas, the High Priest, prophesied about Christ that He must die. In their attempt to save the nation, they lost the nation. In their attempt to kill Christ, they found that even a regiment of soldiers could secure the stone on the third day when He rose victoriously. They shouted that they accepted responsibility for his death (“Let his blood be on us and our children!” [Matthew 27:25]) They disowned God as their King, (“We have no king but the Caesar” [John 19:15]) – and in 70 A.D. Jerusalem was wiped level with the ground and the Jews dispersed all over the world.
But John recorded this important piece of information about the life and ministry of Christ:
… Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. (John 11:51–52, NIV)
My dear friend, we worship a perfect Saviour, One who is perfect in timing, perfect in knowledge, perfect in love and perfect in substitution. It is grace to be part of his Kingdom and unfolding plan of salvation and restoration. Its not about us, its all about Him! Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done. Amen.
The congregation responds
- Prayer: Thanksgiving
- Hymn 203: “Hail Thou once despised Jesus”
God’s recommissions the congregation
- The charge:
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. (Revelation 2:7, NIV)
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14, NIV)
Hymn: “Now unto Him who is able to keep”
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 8 January 2017