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  • Writer's pictureLou Hernández

17-09-23 - IF ONLY YOU HAD BEEN HERE - John 9: 17-27, 32-44 -NTV translation



If ever there were 2 words that have power to immediately plunge us into regret – these would be it - IF ONLY.

IF ONLY I had bought that house, invested in that stock, opened that business.

IF ONLY I had decided to call the plumber, listened to the counsellor, gone to the doctors.

IF ONLY I hadn’t made that choice, taken that risk, been with that person.

IF ONLY are a type of ‘time traveler’ words – where we wish we could travel into the future to see events that would unfold and then come back and make the necessary adjustments to write a different future.

More often than not, IF ONLY is thought of with regret, looking back as we think of opportunities not taken and relationships not valued. Sometimes it involves actions wrongly done and almost always, vision not properly seen.

This morning’s IF ONLY is a big one - more accusation than question, behind it the undeniable questions we often ask at some time or another – God, where in the world were you? God, where in the world are you?

Asked as questions, our IF ONLY’s – are commonly personal, framed in hurt, ‘Why weren’t you there when I needed you to be? Why didn’t you act as I needed you to act?

And so it is that both Mary and Martha make a statement to Jesus, the essence of which we are all inclined to make when life comes off the rails, “IF only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Where WERE you? What took you? Read John 11:17-27, 32-44.

Their brother, Lazarus was dead and Jesus, the only one who had the power to change the outcome hadn’t come through – Jesus, nowhere to be seen. In so many ways, Mary and Martha’s statement was understandable. Jesus and death were never intended to co-exist. In fact, it’s impossible for them to co-exist. Jesus authors life, He doesn’t take it. And when in time, He re-writes His creation, we can take comfort that there will never again be death for those He calls, His children.

But until then, the doorway to death has been flung wide open by sin and as the Bible teaches, sin destroys and sin kills.

The good news is, as we looked at a number of weeks back, the Bible teaches that in a day soon to come, sin and death will be no more. In its place there will be a time of massive unemployment where: medical practitioners will be put out on the street; where judges and lawyers will be unemployed; where fitness instructors and naturopaths will have no market for their services and where graveyards will have massive vacancy problems.

Now contrary to what some of you like to think, I DIDN’T say there won’t be any lawyers in heaven. Just the ones there, will be unemployed in regards to any services needing repairing, renewing or rebuilding.

Why? Because the dead in Christ will be raised incorruptible, meaning a life of no sin, no pain, no tears, no sickness, no deformity – no death. A time when as Jesus makes it clear – death will not have final word. Actually, it never has had final word although looking around at events like Morocco and Libyan calamities, Maui and Okanagan wildfires, Ukraine & Burkina Faso wars, Nigeria and Pakistan persecutions, it sure feels like destruction and death rule the day. But Scripture tells us differently that for the Christian, there is forever LIFE with Christ. And that, forever life with Christ, is GREAT news.

If I could, I would love to close the discussion with that but that would be dishonest. Because death not having final word also means something else - that those who believe in Christ are not the only ones who will live forever. So too, will those who have rejected Jesus. You know the ones - those who have inflicted harm, who have killed and destroyed, who’ve stolen and abused, who’ve exploited and wreaked havoc.

Finally!! – just payment for what’s deserved. No defence lawyers with technicalities or ‘look the other way’ jurists who fail to deliver the necessary sentence. No – death will not spare the Hitlers, the Stalin’s, the Amin’s from eternally paying in full measure for the evil they have done.

Uh, but along with these ones, are also those whose lives aren’t marked by that magnitude of evil. These are those hoping their ‘goodness’ will carry the day. That their chosen routes to heaven, different from choosing Jesus, will be sufficient.

And yet, the Bible tells us that they too will be eternally separated from God. And despite what some pleasing, ‘all will be well’ false teachers want us to believe, that means everlasting existence in Hell. Because God has made it clear, our ONLY hope of salvation is in Jesus. To allow any other means of pleasing God would be to render Christ’s death meaningless. If our goodness were sufficient to satisfy God’s demands, why would He have allowed the scourge and the thorns? Why would He have allowed the nails? Why would He have allowed the Cross? Why would He have allowed the tomb?

Were there any other way than Jesus, God could never be described as good. Rather He would be an inconsistent, unpredictable, vengeful God. Those descriptors might fit the gods of Greek and Roman mythology but they are a far cry from the Bible’s revelation of God.

But for now, our reality still is pain, destruction and death.

That is the scenario we are presented with here in our Scripture this morning, death has won and in that context we are given a snapshot of God’s reaction to a corrupted world. :33 - 35 tell us, “Jesus was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled” and, “He wept”.

Our translation “deeply moved in spirit and was troubled” doesn’t come close to capturing Jesus’ reaction. The word used for “deeply moved” - enebrimesato isn’t a word of compassion rather it is a word of rebuke or warning. And the other word “troubled” (etarazen)” signifies outrage. This tells us some things.

Though deeply grieved, I don’t think Jesus is weeping primarily because of Lazarus’ death, or Mary and Martha’s sorrow. He knows Lazarus’ time in grave clothes is going to be short. He knows the surprise party He’s got waiting around the corner. It will be celebration time. So, tears of grief simply for this family, miss the point; His tears extend far beyond – they are tears of anger for a Creation gone wrong. He weeps because a parent has lost a child. He weeps because a diagnosis overwhelms with debilitating fear. He weeps because a madman opens up weaponry on people whose momentary wrong is being in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

He weeps because humanity was NEVER created for these things. He weeps because of man’s pain ever since Adam and Eve were deceived and ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. And He weeps because His creation who, up to this point, has only experienced good - who walked with God, talked with God, and celebrated in God, paid more attention to a voice that deceived than to the Voice that loved.

They, listening to the lies and buying into the whispers, There’s knowledge you do not have; experiences you have not tasted; pleasures you’ve been denied. And with these lies, they chose evil as if it were something good; painting evil as good and good as evil. And opening up to that evil, death was released and allowed to run free.

At our core, we know the world we’ve chosen is not supposed to be this way. But in response a finger points in a direction opposite from where it should be pointed.

How could an all-powerful, all loving God allow suffering? How could a loving God stand back when the innocent are exploited and abused? How could good and evil appear on the same canvas? Good questions. Hard questions. With no easy answers.

But what’s overlooked? That the canvas God gave us was never painted that way. It was we who marred the canvas. But that’s not a place we choose to look so we accuse and demand – ‘Give us back the canvas as it was meant to be’ – unblemished – ‘heavenly’ if you like, but give it back on our terms so we can paint in whatever way we choose, with whatever color we like.

The sad truth is, saying “Yes” to our way and “No” to God’s, means suffering. It just does and we as Christians are not immune to that reality.

That’s the scenario Jesus walks into. He’s late. 4 days late. And as we learn, deliberately late. The funeral He’s come to has more or less, been packed away. The intensity of the wailing has subsided but make no mistake, the tears are a long way from done. Confusion is rampant and so are the accusatory, IF ONLY’s.

Understandably - this was a family Jesus loved. Deeply. So why had it taken Him so long to come? Days before, conversations were filled with hope, “Just wait until Jesus comes”. As if when He appeared, there would be no grave, no wails, no mourning. Heaven on earth.

But He hadn’t come. So the outcome hadn’t changed. And to them, that didn’t make sense. If we are honest, it makes no more sense to us. Because we aren’t made for a world like this.

But no-one escapes the realities of our broken world. Jesus made it clear that under hostile foreign ownership, The rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous and in this world you will have trouble, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world Mtt 5:45, Jn 16:33. Their problem, and ours, is that we don’t ever think the trouble will come so close. Somewhere but not here.

And in what this has given us, there will be times, when what Jesus does or more accurately, what Jesus does NOT do, won’t make sense. When He doesn’t prevent. When He doesn’t stop. When He doesn’t overturn. When He allows the pain and suffering instead of waving it away.

When He doesn’t put a stop to Satan and everything he stands for. Satan, the devourer, destroyer, slanderer, murderer. But what we do have is hope because of the promise that what is experienced now, is not the end. Death will end. Evil will be destroyed.

A day of victory is ahead where Jesus will have a head on, victorious battle with Satan, as He disarms one of the chief weapons of that enemy, death. When He will say to us, as He said to the grief stricken people gathered around Lazarus’ tomb, “Take away the stone.” It’s over!

But until then our IF Only’s are loud, like Martha’s IF when she meets Jesus, “Lord, if only You had been here, my brother would not have died. Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

“I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Significantly, Jesus doesn’t respond to what Martha states. He doesn’t explain. He doesn’t justify. He gives no answer to her IF. Instead He makes a declaration about who He is. It’s a declaration, that if we believe it and live in it :26 changes everything. That He is the I AM.

Beginning with,I AM the Resurrection and the Life.” In this, making it clear, He is Life who doesn’t just start life; He takes things that have lost life and breathes them into existence. Only God, the I AM can do that. His earlier miracles are pointing to this when He surges energy into dead limbs; when He creates neural pathways for optic networks never wired; and when He stands on top of the sea rather than being submerged into it. All demonstrations that He alone is God.

Only resurrection can speak life into things declared dead. For us, this means that there is no such thing that we are too far lost. That there is no such thing that we have strayed too far, been involved in too much, been spiritually dead for too long, been buried under our hidden too deep. Do you understand that you and I were dead in sin before we came to Christ but when we put our trust in Him, He gave us new LIFE – everlasting life. The power to live. Resurrection power that was given us by the One who came to Martha and said, I AM the Resurrection and the Life. Do you understand what that means? It’s His resurrection power in you when you feel you can’t take another step. It’s His power in you when the things of life get too hard. It’s His power in you that will hold you in the storm. Resurrection power when death seems to be getting the final word. His Resurrection promise that beyond the pain and confusion, beyond the heartbreak is life unlike anything we have ever known.

If you want evidence, this story is it. Lazarus has been dead 4 days. 4 days is significant because Jewish superstition believed a person’s spirit hovered around the body for 3 days and then departed. Practical Martha didn’t need to rely on superstition. She was a bottom line realist – the stench of death – inevitable. But the problem with realism is that it operates in a ‘3D, always will be’ world. Finite. Impossible. Unchangeable. A world in which doesn’t God live.

Because of that, Jesus will allow a death to demonstrate He isn’t confined by the impossible or the finite. He isn’t ruled by the world He created. He rules over it. But right now, that world is broken. Irreparably broken. That’s why Jesus doesn’t whitewash over our suffering. It’s likely why Jesus didn’t spare Mary and Martha the heartbreak. He could have. But His purposes went far beyond this event. Had He come to them earlier, preventing Lazarus’ death, they soon would have returned to their old normal - the urgency of a broken world and broken people - patched, fixed and forgotten. He would be Jesus the healer but not Jesus the Saviour who conquers death.

And so it was that Jesus delayed so He could reveal so much more than euphoria over a man made well. And what was about to happen would take many from amazement to awe; from wonder to belief. All this taking place at a stone covered tomb with a body wrapped man. In that place, a revelation of the glory of the LORD, in this case, a hint of SO MUCH GREATER to come.

So, when Martha and later, Mary ask their, ‘Where were you? If only you had been here’ question, Jesus doesn’t answer and instead directs attention to Himself. In essence He is saying, you are asking about Lazarus when you need to be asking about ME. Though they could not see, His presence was with them all along, fulfilling purposes they did not know and could not see. But one day….

Martha, though you don’t understand it now, I am the answer to every Why? you will ever ask. “I am the One who has the keys to death and hell. Rev 1:18 I alone am the one who has the authority and final say over death. I AM the RESURRECTION and the LIFE.

Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live :25. Martha, that’s for Lazarus, who despite what you understand, is already taken care of. And “Everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” :26. Martha, that’s for you and us – to trust - living and believing in Me.

Martha’s answer though is still looking down the road, “I know that in the last days …”. ‘Jesus, I get it, some time, some place – when all is said and done. But what about today?’

“Everyone who lives (in me) and believes in me shall never die.”

Jesus’ response to Martha is clear – ‘Martha, you’re right. I am your hope for the future but I am also your hope for right now. Live in me, believe in Me even in the places you don’t understand

Right now, right where we are, even though we don’t have the evidence in hand in our now.

It’s impossible to blame Martha and Mary. Their questions are our questions. Where are you? Where were you? If ONLY you had been here….. It’s tough when God’s answers differ from our expectations and at times like these, it’s tempting to believe God didn’t come through, that He didn’t show up. Because just like Mary and Martha, we have no idea what is going to happen just around the corner. And in truth, this side of heaven, there will be times where we may never know.

But the God who said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life” is the same God who also said, “Lo, I am with you always – even to the end of the earth!” Mtt 28:20 Sometimes His presence is unannounced and unnoticed. Sometimes His presence with answers that amaze, sometimes His presence standing confusingly silent. But always His presence.

As it were, Jesus’ encounter with mourners at a burial site would determine their eternal destiny. In front of Lazarus’ tomb, where in moments Jesus would speak life into death, He was stepping into His own death that like Lazarus, would have an ending beyond anything imagined.

Look at the contrast of those looking on. :45 says “Many saw what Jesus did and believed” while in :46,53, “Some went their ways to the Pharisees, and told them what Jesus had done.” and, “From that day they determined they would put Him to death.”

This crossroad is where the miracles, John describes as signs, would lead. Revealing Himself:

To 5000 on a Hillside I AM the BREAD OF LIFE

To a blind man given sight I AM the LIGHT OF THE WORLD

To disciples who watched Him

Stand on the sea I AM GOD SUPREME OVER ALL

To a cripple, made to walk I AM the WORD OF LIFE And

To those held captive in



He says the same to us today, for those who choose to see:

• For those in need of hope – He is the Resurrection.

• For those smeared over by this thing called life. He is the Resurrection.

• For those trapped by the inescapable and defeated by the unbeatable. He is the Resurrection.

Because the greatest truth He revealed in the place death lived, is that resurrection has the last word. IN CHRIST. “If any person be in Christ, they are a new creation; old things are passed away; behold all things are become new.” 2 Cor 5:17

Jesus, IF ONLY you had been here. But the truth is – He has always been here. Waiting and Inviting. To everyone who believes. Martha, “Do you believe this?”

Harry, “Do you believe this?” Amanda, “Do you believe this?” Vic, “Do you believe this?”

Then “Lazarus – Come forth!”And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with grave-clothes, his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus said unto them, “Loose him, and let him go.”

This morning: IF ONLY regret?



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