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.