First Lesson: Acts 5: 27-32
Responsive Reading: Psalm 118: 14-29
Second Lesson: Revelation 1: 4-8
Gospel Lesson: John 20: 19-31
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Bethany Hamilton was thirteen years old. Bethany lived in Hawaii and was one of the country’s best young surfers. Bethany went out for her routine morning surf with a friend, her father, and her brother. Bethany, like she had done hundreds of time before, had her left arm dangling in the water with no more menacing a threat than harmless turtles in the area. Only on this morning, a tiger shark attacked severing her left arm just below her shoulder.
She was rushed back to shore with her life in grave danger. Bethany would lose sixty percent of her blood and spent the next three months of her life in a hospital. She was thought to be finished as a competitive surfer with only one good arm. Bethany before this incident was an active member of her church’s youth group. She initially struggled with doubting God’s ways in the loss of her arm.
Everyone who has ever seen their dreams crushed like Bethany Hamilton can understand her doubt. Now Today’s Gospel lesson tells us a similar story.
Mary Magdalene had just returned from Jesus’ tomb proclaiming: “I have seen the (Risen) Lord.” The Disciples couldn’t at first believe such a foolish sounding thing.
They had seen Jesus arrested by the Romans; they knew he was sentenced to be crucified by the Romans; they knew the Romans never failed to kill an intended victim properly. The Disciples initial reaction upon hearing Mary Magdalene’s claims of resurrection probably would mirror many of ours: “They rolled their eyes, they smirked.” The Disciples didn’t go looking for Jesus; they instead stayed home thinking there was something better to do with their Sunday evening.
The Disciples remained so afraid of the Romans in the wake of Jesus’ death; they locked the door to the room in which they were staying. The Disciples had seen plots by both Romans and their fellow countrymen in the last week against both Jesus and Lazarus. They weren’t going to take any chances.
But when the Disciples least expected to see Jesus, he was standing in the room alongside them.
“Peace be with you.” He showed the Disciples his hands and his sides and they all begin to celebrate.
Jesus then proclaims: “If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven.” Everyone seems ready to go home happy, everyone except for the lone disciple Thomas.
Thomas was gone when Jesus appeared. Where was Thomas? My old preaching professor David Lose theorizes that Thomas after the crucifixion did whatever fans do when your team loses the big game. Thomas planned to get on with his life. Thomas was planning to travel home. Thomas’ dreams were crushed, so Thomas sought to get out of Jerusalem to save his life.
So now Thomas hears Jesus is risen, Thomas is skeptical. Thomas knew the Romans always used spears to pierce victim’s sides. Whereas the Disciples had told Thomas, Christ rose from the dead, Thomas wasn’t there to see it, and Thomas hadn’t seen Jesus since.
So Thomas declares boldly before his fellow disciples: “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
Thomas of all characters in the Bible gets a bad rap. He is forever known as Doubting Thomas though he merely requests the same amount of proof that Mary Magdalene and the other Disciples had already received.
The Bible besides Thomas includes many stories of doubters. Gideon lived in Israel shortly after the people returned from Egypt. Israel was on the verge of collapsing into the hands of the mighty Midianite army. God begins to speak to Gideon, instructing him that he would be the man through which God would save the nation. Gideon doubted. Gideon had never been a recipient of good fortune in life before this. He was the guy that always got caught in unexpected rainfall. Gideon had no physical attributes that inspired great confidence. One could say that Gideon lacked self-esteem. No way God could use Gideon to save the nation. So Gideon demanded signs. He tested God twice before the hard shell surrounding his doubt began to crumble. God’s promises though led Gideon to an eventual victory.
Job doubted as God let him lose his wife, his kids, his possessions, and finally his health. Jeremiah doubted as he saw the wicked Babylonians conquer his nation’s capital. While King David is known for the 23rd Psalm declaring: “The Lord is My Shepherd.”, the 22nd Psalm where he cries out: “My God, My God why have you forsaken me” is often forgotten.”
Many similar arguments can be found in the pages of scripture regarding doubting God out of disappointment made by those who struggle with their faith today.
In seeking to understand Thomas further, I came across the words of Henry Drummond who distinguished between a “doubter” and an “unbeliever.” A doubter is searching for God, whereas an unbeliever is searching for the temptations of this world. A doubter is a person who may have a thousand questions for God about the universe, whereas the unbeliever doesn’t care. A doubter struggles to find God’s purposes, whereas unbeliever merely struggles with the challenges of everyday life.
So Thomas shouldn’t be singled out for his doubt; in fact, God seems rather doubt tolerant. Thomas had a tough last week seeing one of the closest people in the world to him die brutally via crucifixion. Thomas doubted because he was skeptical of being burned again by “false” hope.
So what ends up happening to Thomas? One week after Thomas had given his speech about how he will not believe. Jesus appears before Thomas in a locked room. Jesus declares: “Peace be with you!” “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Thomas upon hearing these words calls out to Christ for eternal salvation. Thomas’ life would forever change after encountering the Resurrected Lord. Thomas would switch his plans to return home, instead traveling to India to be the first believer to spread the hope of Resurrection within this foreign land.
Thomas came to realize that God’s plans for Thomas were bigger than even Thomas’ doubts.
What happened to Bethany Hamilton, the surfer who suffered a shark attack? She doubted God, eventually returned to youth group, and started surfing again on a custom made surfboard. Bethany would win an ESPN Espy award for Best Comeback Athlete when she returned to being a nationally completive surfer.
Twelve years after Bethany Hamilton’s accident, she would declare: “12 years ago I lost my arm, but since then I have gained so much! I'm so thankful for my life...just as it is! If not for my faith in God, I can't say I would think the same thing. God is good."
Thomas would witness an arrest and attack of Jesus at the hands of the Romans. Thomas doubted that he would ever see Jesus alive again. Thomas’ doubt though would soon turn to belief before his very eyes. Thomas’ life would never be the same ever again.
What do these stories of Bethany Hamilton, Gideon, and Thomas mean for us?
Let me close with one final tale, Field of Dreams tells the story of a struggling Iowa farmer named Ray Kinsella. Kinsella one night hears a foolish voice crying out: “If you build it, he will come.” Kinsella interprets the voice to mean that he needed to build a Baseball field in the middle of his corn crop to hopefully bring about reunion with his long-dead father.
The most skeptical person around Ray is his brother in law Mark. Mark continually demands that Ray use his good judgment and sell the farm. Mark fears what would happen to his sister Annie and niece Karin if Ray persists in his foolish beliefs. Ray claims to be watching long-dead baseball players, whereas Mark merely sees empty bases.
Mark eventually gets so heated at Ray that they scuffle. Ray’s young daughter Karin is knocked to the ground unconscious. Ray’s foolishness seems destined to cost Karin her life. Mark the doubter appears to soon be proven right.
Then a miracle happens that leaves everyone speechless. To Mark the Doubter, what appeared to be an invisible baseball player leaves the field, to save Karin from choking to death.
Mark’s doubt is turned to belief. Mark begins to beg Ray not to sell his farm. Mark had witnessed a supernatural event like no natural event he had ever known, so he would never understand life in the same way, ever again. The greatest skeptic about Ray’s baseball field had become the greatest believer!
The Resurrection of Jesus does the same thing to us. It speaks to our doubts, our fragility, and our failures. In the moments of our greatest desperation, Christ appears before us speaking the words to Thomas from earlier in John’s Gospel: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?” Amen
 “Bethany Hamilton.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 11.Apr.2019. Web. Apr.11.2019.
 “Soul Surfer.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 29.Dec.2018. Web. Apr.11.2019.
 John 20:19-31
 John 20:19.
 John 20:23.
 Lose, David. “Blessed Doubt.” In the Meantime (David Lose.net). 29.Mar.2016. Web. Apr.11.2019.
 Chris. “Three Bible Heroes Who Doubted.” Bible Gateway. 9.Aug.2012. Web. Apr.11.2019.
 Weldy, Brandon. “Gideon the Great Doubter.” Medium. 28.May.2018. Web. Apr.11.2019.
 Yancey, Phillip. “Faith and Doubt.” Philip Yancey.com. 2009. Web. Apr.11.2019.
 Yancey, Phillip. “Faith and Doubt.” Philip Yancey.com.
 Markquardt, Edward. “Thomas the Doubter.” Sermons from Seattle. Web. Apr.11.2019.
 Markquardt, Edward. “Thomas the Doubter.” Sermons from Seattle.
 Yancey, Phillip. “Faith and Doubt.” Philip Yancey.com.
 Bethany Hamilton.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation
 Ong, Czarina. Bethany Hamilton: I lost an arm to a shark but gained so much faith in God in return “Christian Today. 6.Feb.2017. Web. Apr.11.2019.
 The following analogy comes from Text Week under movie scenes for the week of Easter 2C under seeing/not seeing.
 “Field of Dreams.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 2nd April.2019. Web. April.11.2019.
 Field of Dreams.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation
 John 14:1-2.
Acts 10: 34-43
Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24
1 Corinthians 15: 19-26
John 20: 1-8
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
“Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”-John 11:25-26.
I want to begin by telling you the story of a young girl named Mary Ann Bird. Mary Ann was born with a cleft palate and disfigured lip. Mary Ann was also deaf in one ear. Children growing up were cruel to Mary Ann. They would continually make fun of her very obvious physical ailments. “What happened to your lip Mary Ann?” They shouted mockingly in her direction.
The worst day every year for Mary Ann was the day of the annual hearing test. The test was given in the days when teachers administered the test in front of the classroom. Mary Ann dreaded further mockery from failing in front of all her classmates. Mary Ann would secretly try to cup her good ear, so somehow some way she would pass.
This year, Mary Ann’s teacher was Miss Leonard. Miss Leonard was the most popular teacher in the school. Miss Leonard was a short and stout woman, but everyone was drawn to Miss Leonard’s kindness. Every student yearned to be Miss Leonard’s teacher’s pet.
Then came the day of the dreaded hearing test. For most students the lines were straightforward: “The sky is blue.” Or “You have new shoes.”
Mary Ann was next, Miss Leonard began to whisper into her ear seven words that would forever change Mary Ann Bird’s life.
Miss Leonard whispered into Mary Ann’s ear: “I wish you were my little girl.” I imagine tears came to Mary Ann’s eyes as she heard for the first time in her life such powerful words of grace.
Mary Ann would be forever changed from this day forward. She would believe that she was lovable and find it a long, happy marriage living to see the birth of her great grand- children. She was known to those around her for her sense of care. She was a devout Christian, who led Bible study, and attended church until her death.
Now this morning, I want to tell you a similar story. This woman’s name was Mary Magdalene. Mary Magadalene’s ailment was not physical, but spiritual. Mary Magdalene was possessed by a demon. Her life is forever changed when she encounters Jesus earlier in his ministry as he drives seven demons out of her. Mary Magdalene then becomes one of Jesus’ closest followers. She was a witness to his crucifixion, his burial, and now this Sunday morning she journeys to visit his tomb.
She immediately notices the stone guarding his tomb is no longer there. She goes to find the Disciples Peter and John to investigate what she thought had been a grave-robbing. They see strips of Jesus’ burial linen and cloth lying on the ground. The Disciples finding no sign of Jesus’ body then return home. Mary Magdalene stays behind to weep at the cruelty of Jesus’ death and grave-robbing.
Mary Magdalene looks towards the tomb sees two figures sitting there in white asking: Woman, why are you crying “
Mary replied: “They have taken my Lord away and I don’t know where they have put him.”
Mary Magdalene then turns around is startled as she sees a man standing there who she wasn’t expecting to see. She didn’t instantly recognize him. “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Said the unidentified man.
Mary thinks this was the man who worked the gardens outside the tomb. Mary’s probably getting angry by this point at all these questions from strangers before declaring: “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Earlier I told you the story of Mary Ann Bird having her life changed by seven words. “I wish you were my little girl.” Mary Magdalene’s life was changed by one word; hearing her name “Mary.”
As soon as she heard her name, the gates of heaven were open, Mary Magdalene became the First Christian, the first believer in the Resurrection, the first person to see sin’s power crumble before her very eyes.
Mary Magdalene gets so excited that she runs from the tomb, to tell the other Disciples. Mary Magdalene would spend the remaining days of her life telling everyone who would now listen that she had seen the Risen Lord! The Grave had now been conquered.
The Apostle Paul would describe the Resurrection witnessed by Mary Magdalene impact for all believers quite well a generation later when he declared:
“Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”-1st Corinthians 15:12-14.
Christ’s Resurrection to Jesus’ earliest followers meant a chance for all who believe to rewrite their obituary from death to life permanently.
Let me close this morning with one final story to illustrate what exactly took place for Mary Magdalene when she heard her name called out by the Risen Lord.
The year was 1867. A 34-year-old scientist named Alfred Nobel invented dynamite. Dynamite was immediately quite popular in both construction and warfare. It was especially widely used within the mining industry in this country. Alfred Nobel soon became very, very rich. He eventually becomes the owner of 100 factories that made explosives within more than twenty different countries. Alfred Nobel’s life was going great until one day in 1888 when Nobel’s brother Ludvig died of a heart attack.
A newspaper in France heard that a Nobel had died and assumed it to be Alfred. The paper proceeded to write the nastiest obituary they could in the wake of what they thought to be Alfred Nobel’s death. They called him a “merchant of death,” they attribute his fortune to finding new ways to “mutilate and kill.” Alfred Nobel was distraught upon reading this nasty obituary. Alfred Nobel vowed to become known for something else.
The year was 1895. Alfred Nobel signed his last will in Paris at the Swedish-Norwegian Club. Nobel was going to give his entire fortune worth nearly 300 million dollars (today) to establish prizes for those who have given the greatest benefit for humankind in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and ultimately peace. The Nobel Peace Prize which sought to preserve life was ultimately born out of death.
Alfred Nobel died in 1896. Now when people hear his name, he is no longer known as the inventor of “dynamite,” he is rather known for his efforts at bringing forth peace. All this happened because his obituary was ultimately wrong.
Easter Sunday is a celebration of another obituary being wrong that Mary Magdalene believed had already been permanently written. Jesus was no longer dead; he was now risen! Mary Magdalene would no longer be defined by her fear over what lied ahead. She would no longer be defeated by guilt over her past sins. Mary Magdalene instead hears on this day: “My body was given and shed for you.” “I have claimed your salvation.” “Life does not end in death for Mary Ann Bird, Alfred Nobel, or Mary Magdalene; the tomb is indeed now empty. Our Savior is now calling out our name! Amen
 Charette, Brian. “On Compassion: The Whisper Test.” Leader Helps. 6.Feb.2017. Web. Mar.28.2019.
 Robb-Dover, Kristina. ““The Whisper Test” Belief Net. Web. Mar.28.2019.
 Hoezee, Scott. “John 20:1-18.” Center for Excellence in Preaching. Calvin Seminary. Grand Rapids, MI. 21.Mar.2016. Web. Mar.28.2019.
 Hoezee, Scott. “John 20:1-18.” Center for Excellence in Preaching.
 Charette, Brian. “On Compassion: The Whisper Test.” Leader Helps
 Luke 8:2.
 John 20:13.
 John 20:13.
 John 20:16.
 Andrews, Evan. “Did a Premature Obituary Inspire the Nobel Prize?” History Channel. 9.Feb.2016. Web. Mar.28.2019.
 Unknown. “Alfred Nobel Obituary.” Sermon Illustrations. Web. Mar.28.2019.
 Andrews, Evan. “Did a Premature Obituary Inspire the Nobel Prize?” History Channel.
 Unknown. “Alfred Nobel Obituary.” Sermon Illustrations.
 “Alfred Nobel.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 5.Feb.2019. Web. Mar.28.2019.
Responsive Reading: Psalm 118: 1-2, 19-29
Gospel Lesson: Luke 19: 28-40
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
When I was a student at Luther Seminary, I would have the chance to attend a lot of Minnesota Twins games. I lived about four miles from the Metrodome and on Student Night could get tickets for $3.
My first year at Luther was 2003. The Twins had a slow start to the season but ended the year strong winning the division and advancing to the playoffs. The Twins were considered to be the little, plucky engine that could. The Twins nearly folded as a team one year earlier, due to what they claimed to be a lack of money playing in the Metrodome. The Twins only survived due to a judge’s injunction.
So in the playoffs in 2003 the opponent was going to be none other than the New York Yankees. The Yankees were the wealthiest team in Baseball. Their players’ salaries were over a 180,000,000. They spent three times as much money on their team as the Twins and over 50% more than any other team in Baseball. The Yankees had won four of the last seven World Series. There was seemingly no bigger villain at the time then the really, big city New York Yankees. The Yankees were blamed by many Twins fans for us nearly losing our team.
The two teams were playing a best of five series. The Twins won the first game in New York but lost the second. They were now going to play in the same Metrodome where the Twins had never lost a World Series game. Optimism among Twins fans was high.
On the Friday before the Weekend games, there was going to be a rally in Downtown Minneapolis. I was going to go. I brought the one bit of Twins gear that I had in my room which was an over-sized plastic sundae Twins batting Helmet to wear upon my head.
The first speaker on this day was the Governor of Minnesota at the time, Tim Pawlenty. Pawlenty was celebrating a particularly good fall with both the Vikings and Gophers football undefeated into October when the Governor declared they might have to rename the state: “Winnesota.”
I would eat up every act designed to whip the crowd into a frenzy. The batting helmet kept sliding off my head in my cheering. There could be no greater victory for my native, Minnesota than beating the bigger, bad arch-rival New York Yankees.
My enthusiasm was such at the rally that in a crowd of thousands, I was interviewed and featured by the Star Tribune for a next days’ story on passionate Twins fans.
What ended up happening with the Twins and Yankees, we’ll get back to that story in just a little bit.
A similar scene of sorts takes place within our Gospel for Today. People were excited. Word of Jesus’ latest and greatest miracle the Resurrection of Lazarus had spread.
Jerusalem was already one of the bigger cities in the ancient world. Now with the festival of the Passover ready to begin, its population would increase seven-fold. Everyone would have heard about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead in nearby Bethany mere miles away.
The great enemy for the people gathered in Jerusalem on this day was the Romans. The Roman Empire was dominant during Jesus’ life. They controlled the World from the British Channel to the Deserts of North Africa. Their empire stretched from the Atlantic Ocean to the heart of the Middle East. The World was at relative peace in Jesus’ day because no one dared challenge Roman Rule.
Roman Rule though was despised among the people of Judea. Riots against the Romans were commonplace. The Romans were hated for the taxes they charged to subjects of the Empire. The Romans were hated for disrespecting the Jewish Religion by seeking to elevate their emperors to equality with God.
Like the Twins and the Yankees, the good guys and the bad guys were truly set up heading into Palm Sunday among the crowd who would soon gather.
On one side was the mighty Romans who dominated the world and its subjects. On the other side was the great hope coming from the rumors that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. If Jesus had done this, there was no telling what he might do next, especially if he confronted the Romans.
The week ahead was seemingly going to be the best chance to take down the Romans since they seized the land nearly ninety years prior.
Emotions were going to run especially high as the Roman soldiers were going to be on prominent display to try to stop further violence from breaking out during Holy Week.
So with this background in mind let’s look towards Luke’s Gospel from which our reading comes. Here’s what stands out from Our Gospel reading.
Jesus comes riding into Jerusalem upon a young colt, people through their coats on the ground as an act of reverence.
The exchange that ends the passage stands out.
As Jesus is coming down the road, the Disciples are excited!
They start shouting out: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
Among the witnesses to this scene were the Pharisees. The Pharisees couldn’t believe that Jesus’ disciples would get so excited at his presence like they did. They ask Jesus to rebuke the Disciples for their enthusiasm. Tell them to stop making so much noise. The Pharisees would be mad if Jesus’ Disciples got so excited that their head coverings fell off.
You see this exchange sets the stage for Holy Week. The Pharisees would reappear later during Holy Week.
John 18:3-4: “So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons.” Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?”
As for the Disciples, Judas betrays him, and right before his trial.
Matthew 26:56: “Then all the disciples deserted him (Jesus) and fled.”
Holy Week had started pretty good for the Disciples. They witnessed Jesus march into town on a donkey to a cheering crowd; they then watched him stroll into the Temple and overturn the money-changer's tables. They sat down for what they never imagined to be their Last Supper. They saw Jesus arrested and the hope from earlier in the week was crushed before their very eyes.
Back to the Twins and Yankees. What happened in the day after I went to the exciting rally nearly losing my batting helmet? The Yankees won the next two days. The Twins season was over.
Fast forward to 2004; The Twins are playing the Yankees once again. The Twins win the first game in New York, lose the second in extra innings. Back in Minnesota, this time My Dad and I have tickets to the games. We watch the Yankees drill the Twins in Game 3. Game 4 was the Day of My 25th Birthday; victory seemed inevitable. The Twins were going to turn it around winning 5-1 heading into the 8th Inning. Yankees tie the game in the 8th Inning. The Yankees win the game in the 11th Inning.
50,000 Twins fans leave the stadium in silence as the mighty Yankees had triumphed yet again. The players go clean their lockers out. A long, cold winter comes to Minnesota.
The Disciples probably had a similar response when they heard the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate had put Jesus to death.
Crucifixion was previously undefeated as a death sentence. The Disciples probably imagined they were going to be returning to their lives as mostly ordinary fishermen in Galilee. When people ask if they knew “Jesus” put to death by the Romans. They like Peter would try to distance themselves. They would be hesitant to admit that they were ever as enthusiastic as they were on Palm Sunday.
Seeing Jesus march into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the Disciples could never imagine the turn of events that the week ahead might bring: potential victory, inevitable defeat, and finally Resurrection from the grave itself! The Disciples could never imagine what they were about to witness was soon to send them to every corner of the globe only now they would shout out: “He is Risen, He is Risen, Indeed.”
Palm Sunday reminds that no matter how mighty an opponent might appear to be within your life whether it be the New York Yankees, the Romans, or sin and death. Jesus is marching onward into Jerusalem towards victory. Amen
 Markquardt, Edward. “Riots of Pilate.” Sermons from Seattle. Web. March.19.2019.
 Taylor, Rev.Dr. Nancy. “Players and Protagonists in the Kingdom of God.” Day 1. 20.March.2016. Web. March.21.2019.
 Luke 19:28-40.
 Luke 19:36.
 Luke 19:38.
 Baseball Reference. “2004 American League Divison Series (Game 4).” Minneapolis. 9.Oct.2004. Web. Mar.21.2019.
First Lesson: Isaiah 43: 16-21
Responsive Reading: Psalm 126
Second Lesson: Philippians 3: 4b-14
Gospel Lesson: John 12: 1-8
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
The year was 1914. The place was Sarajevo. A plot was organized consisting of five Serbians and one Bosnian to kill Archduke Franz Ferdinand heir to the royal throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The plotters were mad about Austria-Hungary’s rule over not only their ethnic groups but also their native Balkan states. The plot was a success. Both the Archduke and his wife were killed.
Austria-Hungary blamed the recently independent nation of Serbia for the attacks. Many of the assassins were believed to be tied to a secret group within the Serbian army.
One month after the shootings, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Russia would quickly align with Serbia. Imperial Germany would support Austria-Hungary. Germany’s actions against Belgium would soon draw the entry of France and England.
Fighting between these and many other nations would ensue for years in the First World War. The war would be a standstill for three years until America declared war on Germany for sinking a supply ship headed to Europe.
World War I would conclude in 1918 with over eight million dead. The War was so deeply unpopular in Russia for bankrupting the country; it forced the Russian Tsar out of power and brought the Communists into power.
Germany was broke and resentful over the conditions imposed on them by victorious powers at the Treaty of Versailles. The most prominent critic of all these things within Germany Adolf Hitler would rise to power himself.
In a little over twenty years, World War I would give birth to World War II which would give birth to the Cold War to the Korean War to the Vietnam War. All this happened because a deeply unpopular young ruler in Archduke Ferdinand was killed.
Today’s Gospel lesson tells a similar story about how one man’s death would have all sorts of unforeseen consequences. Consequences affecting people way after this seemingly ordinary man had left the Earth.
Today’s Gospel lesson comes to us from John 12. The scene is Jesus has just performed his greatest miracle in raising Lazarus from the dead. In John 11, many people had witnessed these mightiest of deeds and came to believe in Jesus as Messiah.
Not everyone who witnessed Lazarus’ resurrection was thrilled. Hostile witnesses went straight to the religious authorities of the Chief Priest and Pharisees worried about what this all meant.
Jesus’ fame was spreading! An emergency meeting of the religious ruling council, the Sanhedrin was called.
To everyone gathered at the Sanhedrin on this day, it became clear that Jesus needed to be stopped:
John 11:48: “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.”
The Sanhedrin’s great fear was that if Jesus grew too popular, they would lose influence and ultimately control over the people of Jerusalem. If the Romans found out, they would take away the Sanhedrin’s power by overwhelming force.
So in response to all this, the High Priest Caiaphas had a solution.
John 11:50: “You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”
The Sanhedrin put Jesus to death as they feared his popularity would be too great after Lazarus’ raising. They made this decision because like the plot to kill the Archduke they feared further violence within their homeland.
So this background brings us to Our Lesson for Today from John 12. In this scene, Lazarus, his sisters Mary and Martha, the Disciples and Jesus are gathering for a celebration dinner over Lazarus being brought back to life.
Here’s the interesting thing about Lazarus, even though he had been dead four days earlier in the week, Lazarus is described within our lesson as casually having a relaxing dinner. Lazarus started the week being buried, ended the week on Saturday drinking wine.
Lazarus would not be mentioned for several verses. The key thing that happens at the start of this passage concerns Lazarus’ sister Mary. Mary as a way to thank Jesus for what he had done, goes and buys a really, expensive bottle of perfume as a gift. Judas was outraged. He understood the cost of the perfume to be nearly a year’s wages. Picture a $ 50,000 bottle of perfume being applied with Mary’s hair over Jesus’ probably dirty feet. Now it’s evident later that Judas had ulterior motives for being outraged at Mary’s extravagance, but at the time he made a reasonable point.
Jesus though knew his death was coming soon. The dinner at Mary, Martha, and Lazarus’ house probably takes place on the Saturday before Palm Sunday. In fact some churches Today, celebrate Lazarus Saturday as the day before Palm Sunday.
So Jesus knowing what the week ahead would bring declares to Judas:
“Leave her (Mary) alone. It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you,[c] but you will not always have me.”
Jesus makes his one final prediction to everyone gathered of the week ahead for him: arrest, death, and eventually Resurrection.
But something else is happening within our text a little beyond the end of our lesson. It is decided Lazarus also needed to be put to death, again.
“Meanwhile a large crowd… found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well” John 12:9-10
The Chief Priests wanted to kill Lazarus to minimize the spread of Jesus’ popularity. Lazarus was the most powerful of walking miracles. There was no greater testimony to the power of Jesus than Lazarus’ resurrection. Lazarus’ resurrection was the biggest news story in years; everyone was talking about it. Lazarus along with Jesus needed to be put to death, because of this.
So that raises the question for Today, what ended up happening to Lazarus?
In 1988, the film The Last Temptation of Christ had a scene where a religious zealot pulls a sneak attack on Lazarus with a knife causing Lazarus to fall to his death for a second time in a little over a week. While such a description doesn’t appear within the scriptures, they leave open such a possibility.
What we can say for sure is the same forces that plotted to arrest and kill Jesus had Lazarus as target 1B to Jesus’ 1A.
What ended up happening to Lazarus will forever remain a mystery of whether his murder plot succeeded? Lazarus did eventually die in some way, shape, or form. Lazarus though would ultimately be defined by something other than how exactly he died.
Here’s what we do know about Lazarus. Jesus called Lazarus to walk out of his tomb when he had already been dead four days. Jesus’ fame began to spread so fast because of this miracle. It was decided that Jesus needed to be put to death. The same people decided they needed to kill Lazarus also.
Whether Lazarus was a witness to Christ’s resurrection, we can’t say.
What we do know was that as Holy Week began Lazarus clung to the hope that what Jesus had done in his own life in the past, was nothing compared to what Jesus would do for many more in the future.
Whereas Archduke Ferdinand’s death would spark millions of deaths within not only World War I, but the 20th Century, Lazarus’ resurrection would set in motion not only the plot for Jesus death but his resurrection and millions of other resurrections throughout the world. Lazarus was the first to experience a hope that we can indeed cling to in the most difficult of our moments.
Let me close this day with one final story. The year was 1982. The place was Moscow. The long-time leader of the Soviet Union Leonid (Lay-O-Nid) Brezhnev (Brezh-nef) had just died.
In Brezhnev’s day, faith in the Soviet Union was nonexistent in public life. Religion was considered a weakness. Brezhnev had overseen the arrest of priests, believers, and even shutdown churches. Any faith left was very underground.
Attending the service as a representative of the United States government was Vice President George Bush. Bush recalled watching Brezhnev’s widow during the funeral service where not one word about God was spoken. On this day, Victoria Brezhnev stood by her husband’s coffin, watching soldiers close it for one final time, Victoria then leaned over and made the Sign of the Cross. This display shocked an on looking Vice President Bush.
Perhaps Victoria Brezhnev recognized the same thing that Lazarus recognized long ago. In those hours, we are seemingly most hopeless we turn to Jesus. In circumstances in which no good can seemingly come, we look towards the cross. As we gather on this day, awaiting Easter Sunday, we look forward not just to Christ’s resurrection, but the resurrections of our own loved ones and ultimately our own. Amen
 “Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 18.Mar.2019. Web. Mar.19.2019.
 Ghose, Tia. “8 Most Famous Assassinations in History.” Live Science. 21.Nov.2013. Web. Mar.19.2019.
 John 12:1-11.
 John 11:45.
 John 11:46.
 Hoezee, Scott. “John 12:1-8.” Center for Excellence in Preaching. Calvin Seminary. Grand Rapids, MI. 07.Mar.2016. Web. Mar.19.2019.
 Hoezee, Scott. “John 12:1-8.” Center for Excellence in Preaching.
 John 12:5
 John 12:6.
 Beshera, Sam. “Why Did They Want to Kill Lazarus? Father Anthony. 22.Apr.2016. Web. Mar.19.2019.
 John 12:7-8.
 Radkey, Tim. “Why Kill Lazarus?!” Razor’s Edge: Catechetical Musings. 19.Feb.2016. Web. Mar.19.2019.
 Hoezee, Scott. “John 12:1-8.” Center for Excellence in Preaching.
 Radkey, Tim. “Why Kill Lazarus?!” Razor’s Edge: Catechetical Musings.
 Joesrz, Dr. Joseph. C. “How Many Times Did Lazarus Die?” Lutheran Witness. Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. 1.Apr.2010. Web. Mar.19.2019.
 Bowman, Julie. “Mrs. Brezhnev and The Sign of The Cross.” Tiber Judy. Word Press. 11.Oct.2015. Web. Mar.19.2019.
 Thomas, Gary. “Bush and Brezhnev.” Christian Times. 3.Oct.1994. Web. Mar.19.2019 found on Sermon Illustrations under Resurrection.
 Bowman, Julie. “Mrs. Brezhnev and The Sign of The Cross.” Tiber Judy.