The Cost of (Not) Living
November 07, 2021*
(All Saints Day)
By Pastor John Partridge
(Note -Video of this service can be found here: https://youtu.be/z_RqQcgOK1c)
Isaiah 25:6-9 John 11:32-44 Revelation 21:1-6
How many of you would like to be younger? Or to retain all your knowledge and memories but return your body to the condition it was in when you were twenty years old?
That is the idea behind the mythical stories of the Fountain of Youth. Here in North America the story that is most familiar is the myth of Ponce de Leon and a “lost” fountain of youth somewhere in Florida, but stories about sacred or otherwise restorative bodies of water circulated long before the birth of Juan Ponce de León in 1474. There were stories about Alexander the Great discovering a healing “river of paradise” four centuries before the birth of Jesus, as well as similar legends in places like the Canary Islands, Japan, Polynesia, and England. During the Middle Ages, there were stories about a mythical king, Prester John, whose kingdom contained both a fountain of youth and a river of gold.
The myth of the Fountain of Youth is a Taino Indian legend about a spring that was said to exist on the island of Bimini in the Bahamas, as well as a river, in what became known as Florida that would restore youth to those who bathed in their waters. But nowhere is recorded history, or in any of the writing between Ponce de Leon and Europe, is he ever associated with any of those myths. at least, not until decades after his death.
But what if such a place was real? Can you imagine the lives that would have been lost trying to find it? Or the wars that would have been fought to control it? Or, in our modern era, at what cost would its corporate owners be willing to sell its miracles?
One of the inescapable rules of life, is that one way or another, death will find us all.
But maybe not. At least, maybe death isn’t what we think it is. Maybe death isn’t a permanent condition. Maybe our death is less of an end, and more of a transition from one sort of life to another. That sounds more hopeful than thinking that everything ends after sixty, seventy, eighty, or ninety years, or so. And it is that sort of hope, and that sort of promise, that we hear, repeatedly, in scripture. We begin this morning by reading from Isaiah 25:6-9, where we hear of a day in which God’s people will be reunited with one another and reunited with life itself. Isaiah says:
6 On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
the best of meats and the finest of wines.
7 On this mountain he will destroy
the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
8 he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken.
9 In that day they will say,
“Surely this is our God;
we trusted in him, and he saved us.
This is the Lord, we trusted in him;
let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”
Isaiah says that there will be a gigantic, and most fabulous feast, attended by people from the entire planet, on the day that God destroys death, the covering that darkens the door of every home and snuffs out the light of every life. On that day, every tear shed for the loss of a loved one will be wiped away and the embarrassment and disgrace of lost battles and sinful living will be erased.
And, more than saying that it will happen “one day” or “someday” in some distant future, in John 11:32-44, we see Jesus open the door to give us a glimpse of what that day might look like as he arrives, deliberately later than he could have, at the home of his friends, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.
32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
35 Jesus wept.
36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
Earlier in the story, Jesus was told about Lazarus’ illness but chose to remain where he was for several more days. And now he arrives four days after Lazarus’ death and burial. Some of the people who were there recognized how close Jesus and Lazarus had been but wonder aloud if Jesus could have healed him if he had only arrived earlier. But that seems to be exactly the point that Jesus was trying to make. Everyone knew that Jesus could heal the sick. But healing the sick and raising the dead are two entirely different propositions. Had Jesus arrived earlier, no one would have been surprised if he had healed his friend. They knew that he could. He had done it before. And, if we’re honest about history, there had been other people, prophets as well as secular healers, who had healed the sick and performed miracles. But now Lazarus was dead. Really and truly dead. And not just dead, but dead and buried. Even if someone tried to argue that Lazarus didn’t really die before his funeral, he had been sealed inside of a tomb for three or four days without food or water. So, if he was so sick that everyone thought that he was dead, then had a funeral, then was buried, and was inside of sealed stone chamber for more than seventy-two hours… he was most assuredly dead.
But Jesus arrives and asks the mourners and onlookers to roll the stone away from the entrance to the tomb and he reminds Martha that he had once told her that if she believed, she would see the glory of God. Everyone had read, or at least heard the words of, Isaiah. They knew the promises of God. They had heard that one day, someday, God would defeat death. But on this day Jesus wants them to see death overturned. But Jesus does not act alone. This is an audience participation event, and as the people trust Jesus, obey him, and move the stone away, Jesus calls out to Lazarus…
…and the dead man walks out of the grave.
This is more than healing the sick. This is conquering death. This is a foreshadowing, a preview, an illustration, and an example of what is to come. Death is overcome and overturned, and the dead are returned to life and walk among the living.
Others, before Jesus had healed the sick. But dead is dead. Death is permanent. No one can raise the dead.
Only God can defeat death.
But there stands Lazarus all the same.
And finally, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, John sees the final fulfillment of Isaiah’s promise in a vision and records Jesus’ last words on the subject in Revelation 21:1-6 where we hear these words:
21:1 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
6 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.
John begins by saying that, in his vision of the future, both heaven and earth had been remade into a new form and even things that seemed to be permanent, immovable, and unchangeable like the oceans themselves had passed away and were no more. And in this new, renewed, and changed world, John sees a new holy city, a new Jerusalem, a city no longer in ruins. John had heard of Jerusalem’s destruction. Much of the city had been leveled and the Temple pulled down, thrown into the valley below by the Roman Army. General Titus had even been said to plow the earth where the Temple once stood with a team of oxen. John’s present was full of destruction, violence, and sadness but that was not the future that he saw. The future in John’s vision saw a new Jerusalem that was more beautiful and glorious than any of the temples that had ever been built, and God himself would reside in the temple and live among his people. No longer would there be destruction, violence, sadness, mourning, weeping, pain, and death.
The work that Jesus had begun with Lazarus and at Easter would be completed. Death will be defeated forever and always. Jesus declares that these words are trustworthy and true because he is the beginning and the end. He is the creator of the universe. He is the righteous judge and is entrusted by God to rule over all of humanity. And Jesus says that he will provide all who are thirsty with water from the spring of life.
We all know that there is a cost of living, but there is also a cost of not living. For hundreds of years, on several continents, legends of a fountain of youth, or healing rivers persisted because life is hard and often far too short. All of us would like to have bodies that were as fit was we were in our twenties. But such legends were never more than myths and wishful thinking, though they were perhaps influenced by the writings of scripture. The water of life is real, but we will never find it in Florida, or the Bahamas, or anywhere else on this present creation. We will find it by placing our full faith and trust in Jesus Christ, the creator of the universe, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the redeemer and rescuer of humanity.
In him there is no longer destruction, violence, sadness, mourning, weeping, pain, and death.
It is in him that we find… hope.
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online). These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.