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Affluent Christian Investor | December 8, 2023

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Video: Jesus, Lazarus, and Plague

Jesus’ ascension to heaven depicted by John Singleton Copley, 1775.

Below is an unedited verbatim transcript of the Sermon.

Even Jesus couldn’t seem to stop a friend from dying from an infectious disease. I mean, that’s the trade-off here. Jesus had work to do from the father and he had that work to do in Galilee. It was not time for him to go to Judea going to Judea was triggered all sorts of dangers and risks for Jesus because they wanted to kill him. When he said it’s time to go to Judea, his disciples said wait you want to go to Judea? They’re trying to kill you. So Jesus had good reasons to not be in Judea, but he had a good reason to be in Judea because his friend Lazarus – Eleazar, he who God helps – his friend Lazarus and Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha who are also Jesus friends live in Bethany. And Bethany is in Judea quite near to Jerusalem, as the text tells us. And remember we talked about out this so many times here at Saint Peter’s, don’t skip over the geographical details. The Holy Spirit didn’t waste his breath and John didn’t waste valuable Papyrus telling us this happened in Bethany, and that is only a couple of miles from Jerusalem. That all matters matters very much.

And Jesus knew that Lazarus had a sickness Lazarus didn’t die from a sword wound. He wasn’t executed. Didn’t fall from the top of a house. He had a disease. He had an infectious disease. They were very common. They were very common in Galilee Jesus set up his headquarters in Capernaum.

Capernaum was a center of plague, Capernaum was lowlands. It was near the Sea of Galilee. We call it a sea, it’s a lake, it’s standing water. There was a serious malaria problem in that region that malaria that we have from archaeological evidence. We’ve looked at lots of Bones we can see that that you would have outbreaks of malaria fairly commonly – roughly 1 in 7 people who got the malaria died of the malaria.

I mean some of us are really worked up about 1% death rates, and life is precious. So we should be worked up about 0.001 death rates, there is no good death rate, but to put things in perspective. Jesus went to a place where there were malarial issues and was in a household, Peter’s household, and what was going on in Peter’s household with Peter’s mother-in-law? She was down with a fever. So anytime anyone on these Coastal fishing villages in Capernaum had a fever, this was “oh Lord help us is this that disease that takes so many of us away?”

So Jesus can walk into the midst of the storm doesn’t walk away from it. I’m not saying anything about the Prudence of social distancing. I’m just I’m just going to give you a Biblical worldview and then we’re all balance all of our risks accordingly. So I’m just kind of giving you a sense of the world in which Jesus lived. I’m not saying you necessarily go to a plague zone. He has his own calling way of her own colleagues, but I just want to put this in the context that Jesus didn’t necessarily lived in the stained-glass world that we think of Jesus in where everything’s just fine and everything’s always peaceful and Jesus is just sort of Zen all the time because Jesus had an opinion on death by infection.

The opinion was he hated it. I didn’t get a chance. I’m a little ill prepared because I work in markets and markets have been doing this and doing this and doing this. So every day I’m out there working that. So I didn’t have a chance to go through this text carefully. I’m sorry for that. I think this is the passage where Jesus is deeply troubled right? So his guts we’re twisted up at the idea of the death of Lazarus.

And I want to mention that because for a long time mockers of the Christian faith have been throwing in our face the problem they call of natural evil. What is that problem? All right bad things happen in the world and people who denied the existence of God, I don’t really think that’s what’s happening, I think they affirm the existence of God deep in their hearts and they’re angry at him.

But they’re trying to deny the existence of God and they’re saying “what kind of good God would allow the earthquake in Lisbon? Which was basically really the beginning of modern atheism. All these people were in church and there’s an earthquake and the cathedral falls down and all these people died. What kind of God would do that? What kind of God would allow that if he’s all-powerful and he’s all wise and he’s all good. How can these things happen?

And these terrible things in the world the Holocaust and we you know Christians have answered. Well people have free will so we do evil things because gods made us free. And then the Challenger says but what about natural evil? What about the Hurricanes? What about the earthquakes? What about the plagues? What about those? How do you explain that? Well, we can talk about how to explain that. I’m not really that interested in explaining that right now. I’m interested in what the Bible is saying about these things, which is that, how do I put this? We Christians have gotten ourselves in the defensive position of having to explain natural evil or evil in the world. And in some sense defend it, that will God has a plan and it’s a good plan. So we suffer but you know these things happen and we don’t always understand it et cetera. And I’m not saying that those aren’t don’t have some validity but the Arc of the Bible the Arc of the gospels and I think the Arc of church history should not be to explainit, but to end it.

What is God’s response to evil? I got a plan. It’s all right, or I know that there’s suffering in the world, but that’s okay with me because I’m infinitely wise and you know, this this up, you know Peter’s mother may be having malaria, Lazarus dying of an infectious disease, all these terrible things that happened in the world that God is there saying well, I’m God. I am all-powerful. I’m all-wise. No problem.

But that’s not what the Bible says. God looks at that and he says big problem, I’m going to do something about it. I’m going to become a human being I’m going to go into it and I’m going to fight it and I’m going to form a people in the world who will fight it because the point of evil isn’t to use it as a weapon against God’s existence, it’s not to use it as some description of, to enter into some kind of metaphysical issue about why it exists, if evil exists at all. Ss Jesus said in the reading last week, why is this man blind? This man is blind so we can end his blindness. Stop all that stuff, stop all that pointless debating, theoretically sitting in our drawing rooms about why there’s evil in the world. End it and then we can end the debate.

I’m not saying that all evil can be added, even Jesus. I’m going to say Jesus can’t well, he’s Divine. Yeah, but he’s Divine and human nature. He’s in a spot in the world. There are limits, God shrunk himself down in some sense the fit within the confines of a human skin – a penetrable human skin, penetrable by nails, penetrable by a spear.

That Jesus even says it’s good for you that I go, because if I go I’ll extend the Holy Spirit the Holy Spirit can go everywhere. So Jesus is in one spot. He’s there. He’s there for Israel. He’s there to help the children of Israel. He’s not there to help the whole world. I mean Downstream of his mission, he’s there to reconstitute Israel. So that Israel can help the whole world and Israel doesn’t want to be reconstituted. So he reconstitutes a little Israel within Israel, the 12 Jewish disciples, and Israel within Israel, then they go out and help the whole world. Jesus helps them. They help everybody else.

And so Jesus was in a spot. He was in a physical geographical place. It doesn’t tell us where he was, just tells us he wasn’t in Judea, because it’s not important where he was. The Bible tells us where Jesus was a lot as I preached here. We’ve looked at those places where he is and it matters. So just think about this, if it says Jesus is someplace but it doesn’t tell us why or where exactly he was, that means all the other times that the Bible tells us where Jesus is, it is important where he is. The Bible’s breaking a pattern. So Jesus, here’s point, he’s not in Judea. He’s not in Judea because evil men are keeping him out of Judea.

He’s not in Judea because Jerusalem is the center of evil, Bethany’s the center of poverty. That’s where Mary and Martha and Lazarus lived. Jerusalem is the center of evil, Jerusalem wants to kill Jesus from the very beginning. Jerusalem was worried on the rumor of the birth of Jesus, remember “Herod and all Jerusalem with him were troubled when they heard the news of the Messiah.” There is a power conflict here between the Jerusalem ruling class and basically Jesus who is the true king and his disciples the true Governors, servant governors in waiting for Jerusalem.

So he can’t save his friend from dying. He can’t prevent his death. But he can cure his death. And he goes there. I’m not going to prove all this out. I’ll stick to standard or near standard Episcopal sermon-like guidelines here. So there’s a whole thing going on with Lazarus and a story that Jesus tells elsewhere. Maybe you can call it a parable if you want, a parable or story about Lazarus and the rich man. The rich man, I’ve given a lot of detail I’ve written articles about this, I have a chapter in an upcoming book. The rich man is the high priest, Lazarus is actually Lazarus. The poor man who’s put in Bethany on the porch of the of the high priest’s Temple who is not cared for. So there’s this whole thing going on with classes and political Intrigue. I’m not going to detail it all out, but there’s a sophisticated almost a kind of revolutionary political spy story kind of thing going on here that we won’t get into a lot except to say the text goes out of its way to say that Bethany was near Jerusalem.

Now Bethany is near Jerusalem. That’s known, right? We can already know from the Bible other places Bethany’s near Jerusalem. He’s telling us that Bethany is near Jerusalem because this is a Bethany versus Jerusalem story. Bethany, let’s say Bethany is Jesus’ station, you know countries have stations or countries have spies have stations or maybe Embassy. Bethany is Jesus’ Embassy in Judea. Capernaum is Jesus headquarters in Galilee. Bethany is Jesus headquarters in Judea, it could have been Jericho. He’s got his friend Zacchaeus in Jericho, but it isn’t. Jericho’s a rich priest town, could be Jerusalem. I mean that’s what the wise men thought, that Jesus is the coming Messiah is going to be in Jerusalem, but it isn’t Jerusalem. He doesn’t set up an office in Washington. He’s just did not have an office in Washington, his office in the South was in Bethany – Beth ‘Ani, House of the Poor. That’s what Yosebius says, that the translation of Bethany is Poorhouse, and who am I to question the great 4th century historian?

So, he sets up his house among the poor, and Jerusalem knows about it. And the reason that the gospel account is mentioning Jerusalem is not just “hey, here’s a tour guide in case you ever decide to go to Israel. You’ll know that Bethany’s near Jerusalem.” It’s they’re physically close, but they’re spiritually distant and they are in rivalry with one another. And how do I how do we know that? Well, there’s a part in this story that is after the story. And I often quarrel with the choice of you know, what to put in the lectionary readings and this one stops at John 11:45. And obviously it’s a great reading it’s the scriptures, and I can tell you if I’m looking at my new American Standard here, death of Lazarus. Jesus the resurrection and the life. Jesus weeps. These are the headings member. That’s how Jesus responds to evil. Not with a well God has a plan and I can explain through human through the human Free Will metaphysics or maybe Fallen Angels. That’s not Jesus Karl. Marx said philosophers tried to explain the world. But the point is to change it. Now marks changed it in the wrong direction. He changed it and made itin comparably worse, but I’m going to say the theologians want to defend the legitimacy of the existence of evil, to reconcile it with the existence of God. The theologians want to explain natural Evil. Jesus wants to end it. Jesus is really bothered by this death.

He weeps, but Jesus doesn’t do a lot of weeping. I think this is this the only weeping? Maybe one or two. I think he weeps over Jerusalem, another impending death, the death of a city and the death of a friend. Those are the things that move him to weeping. He’s pretty tough. He was a Galilean Pharisee, you know, so weeping wasn’t part of like normal life. He was he was tough. We understand that right? He’s a working class Carpenter from Galilee, frontier. This is a frontier town. You know this, there’s a bit of the cowboy. Or let’s say the village backs blacksmith in a cowboy town, in Jesus’ life. Tough guy, but he hates this death and he weeps and then the next one is Jesus raises Lazarus to life. He couldn’t prevent it and there was a lot of suffering on the way to death. I mean, most of us some of us are worried about dying, the death rates seem to be pretty low, but also worried about suffering you get a high fever and everything. It’s not an easy way to go, right. So there’s a lot of suffering Jesus would have liked to have prevented that suffering, but he couldn’t because the ruling class wouldn’t let him for various reasons about the death and everything else and what he had to do some place else. He faces trade-offs in life just like we did.

But here’s the death and then you can’t see it from here Jesus raises Lazarus to life and then the plot to kill Jesus. Now, these are different readings and we break them up in paragraphs. And so we lose track of the flow. So Jesus is out of Judea probably because they want to kill him, his disciples tried to stop him from going to Judea because they want to kill him. The twin, Didymus the twin.

Thomas the twin, whose twin I don’t know. I think he’s kind of Jesus’s twin in a sense that he’s like followed wherever Jesus wants to go Didymus wants to go, you know, take that or leave it we can talk about it online if you like why I think that might be that he’s likes the shadow of Jesus it wherever Jesus goes he goes. And so we so they say don’t go but eventually he does go and it’s too late and then Jesus is dealing with, he hates the evil. He’s sad, he’s splagchnizomai. His guts are roiling. You lose a loved one, gets sick to your stomach. Right? So Jesus is sick to his stomach at this loss. I think it matters that it happens in Bethany. Look in the human race. We have a 100% death rate. Okay. Well 99.999. Well, you can Jesus died, but he comes back. All right, we have a 100% death rate in the human race.

What would all die in the same rate and at the same age and people in Poor Town die a lot faster than people in Rich Town? I mean we’ve looked at the archaeological records of the number of baby bones and cemeteries down in Judea versus up there in Galilee, you know, there’s a lot more death in Poor Towns a lot more premature death because there’s a lot more hunger and famine and hunger and disease go together, right, you’re and you’re malnourished and you don’t have a good immune system. All right, so a lot of death in Bethany a lot of death in poor town, but things are gonna be a lot worse than the shantytowns.

In our country, then they’re going to be in other places. So they’re already on the margin and this really bothers Jesus and he decides not to give a philosophical essay about the necessity of evil in the world. But to actually undo the death and then the response, by the way, this text says Jews while Father Jay and I have talked about this extensively I’ve written about this. I don’t think that’s the accurate translation. Honestly. I’m not trying to be politically correct, but I think that Judaios ought to be pronounced as Judean, because it doesn’t apply to all Jews. There’s Jews and Galilee. There’s a whole bunch of Jews in Baghdad at this time. There’s Jews in Rome. This Jews all over the world didn’t have anything to do with any of this. They’re Jews, but not Judeans. It’s the Judeans who had a problem with Jesus, the ruling Elite around Jerusalem.

And boy how much pointless death could have been avoided if this translation was done better in the in the in the Middle Ages, how many pogroms against Jews could have ended if it’s like it Judeans, not Jews. Your Jewish neighbor who lives among Gentiles. They said they have nothing to do with this their predecessors have nothing to do with this. “Many of the Jews therefore who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did believed in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what he had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council..” and let’s be clear, the chief priests and the Pharisees are political enemies. So the Republicans and Democrats called a meeting of the council. It’s not so far. I mean, those are the political parties that they were the opposite sides of the political parties for the most part. So the two political groups who are at odds with one another came together called a council and said “what are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we go on like this everyone will believe in him and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place in our nation, but one of them Caiaphas who was priest that year..” Lazarus and the rich man is talking about him, don’t believe me write me and I’ll send you more Greek than you know and historical material then you’ll have time to read why Caiaphas is the Lazarus in the Rich Man story, “…you know, nothing at all. You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.”

So they decide to kill Jesus. And I want you to think about what that means. Jesus is the true king of Israel. He is a Jew, Herod wasn’t a Jew he faked it. Caesar said that it is safer to be Herod’s sow than his son. The pun works in Greek too, because he would’ve made a great show of not eating pork, but he would kill sons who were getting too powerful. But he wasn’t actually a Jew. That’s why these genealogies are so subversive, Herod didn’t want a lot of genealogies around because they show that he was actually an Idumean – more like an Arab. So Jesus was a Jew, that helps. He was a son of David. He had the proper lineage. He was born in the right place. He did the right things. He fulfilled the prophecies to any person who is interested in the truth. Jesus was clearly the proper heir to the kingdom. I don’t just mean to the kingdom of God. That wasn’t so clear then that he was going to be the king of the universe. That becomes clearer later when he goes into death itself and defeats that, it’s like, oh wait not just king of Jerusalem, King of Everything, king of being itself. But at this point it’s perfectly clear that he’s the proper king of Jerusalem.

And he is showing what a king should be. All right and the fake king of Jerusalem and his hangers-on see what Jesus is doing, understand that Jesus has just conquered death, understand what Jesus can do and so shown what kind of King he would be if he were honored as king.

And what is their response? I mean you think about the trade off, the choice here, get your get into their evil head for a second just understand that. It’s not just oh boy. He’s getting powerful Jesus as shown , I talked about this before when we met during the Christmas season. When I looked at the prophecy about the Messiah being born in Bethlehem, it didn’t just say the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. It said he would make the nation great. He would bring peace. He would bring Prosperity. They knew that prophecy. They knew what the Messiah would do. Not just that coming in Bethlehem meant that, you know, not just that the Messiah would come in Bethlehem, but that the Messiah would come out of Bethlehem and make Israel great again, that’s what the prophecy is, and make things peaceful, and make things prosperous, and make the nation’s be at peace with one another, and with Israel, and that sounds like a pretty good deal. A good king, even if he’s a fake good king would say, okay better I stepped down and let this Messiah come. The world will be better if I step aside and let this Messiah come and rule the world. In fact, my life will be better iff I let this Messiah come and rule the world. It stunk as a job to be the king of Israel though assassinations. Why is he killing his sons? Because everyone’s killing everybody all the time. It was a dangerous job. It stinks to be a bad King in a dangerous time. Herod wasn’t happy.

He was miserable, the first Herod, Herod the Great, knew how much he was hated that he put out an instruction is his deathbed. Wish just get your head around this. I know I’m a 26 minutes of past Episcopal standing. I’m going to go a little further just get yourself into the headspace of this think about what your deathbed wish might be.

You know, I love you honey. I’m going to go be with Jesus. I’m going to wait for you. Make sure to do, you owe money to someone, some people do that on their deathbed. Sometimes there’s a sister you don’t know about go help her, right? It’s like I want to do a little bit of good in the world before I check out and meet and meet God, you know what Herod’s dying wish was? Gathered together the Nobles of Israel into a courtyard and cut their throats at the moment of my death so that there will be wailing and moaning in Israel on the day of my death, I want it to be a sad day because no one is going to wail and moan. Remember that scene when Ebenezer Scrooge dies in the musical, “thank you very much.” What happened? Oh, somebody died, Scrooge died, everyone’s happy, right, Herod knew that everyone would be happy when he died. So he was like, okay, I’ve got to engineer this being a sad day, cut the throats of a few hundred people in the courtyard while I’m dying. I mean this is this is a deeply broken and evil man and thank God the soldiers. Yeah laughter. Yes. Yes. Yes, you’re less your lordship. Yes. Yes. Yes and many die. And it’s like we’re not gonna do that. We’re not gonna do that last order and they didn’t. I mean they did plenty bad, but they didn’t do that. It would have been better for Herod to step aside when the Messiah was coming in Bethlehem. And at this point there’s no prophecy-ness left to it. Jesus has demonstrated that he can raise people from the dead. If I’m choosing a president and we’ve got a president who gets down and washes hands, and people are slobbering over his feet, and he blesses them and when his friends get sick, he heals them, and if he can’t heal them he raises him from the dead. I would like a president like that. I will vote for a president. If there’s prophecies that say the nation will be great and there will be a lot of prosperity and there’ll be peace on planet earth, I would vote for a president like that. Any good president would resign for a president like that. I’m gonna appoint him vice president and then I’m going to resign I mean, you don’t have to be good. You have to be just like halfway decently human to want to do that.

And so here’s the choice: Herod can be a ruler and pilot all the rest of them and the high priest Caiaphas can be a ruler over a kingdom of death, a kingdom where they’re hated, a kingdom where there’s a big poor city just outside the center of prosperity, a kingdom where there’s trouble, a kingdom where there’s violence rising when they’re just a teetering on the edge of being destroyed by the Romans. A really rotten world with a lot of natural evil in the form of malaria and whatever disease Lazarus had, and a lot of human evil in the world, and that can end and I can go into retirement and I can be fine and we can have a king who can deal with all of that. And instead Caiaphas and his crowd say, well, we better kill him.

Because he’s a rival to us. And the thing about the Romans was bunk because the Romans didn’t see Jesus as a threat until the ruling Elite whipped up the Romans into seeing Jesus as a threat. The Romans would not have destroyed a Jerusalem ruled by Jesus. It’s the Herods they had a problem with, they didn’t like the high priest and they didn’t like herod, they didn’t respect them. Jesus would have brought peace. But they didn’t want peace. They would rather, famous line from Milton, they would “rather rule in hell than serve in heaven.”

So here’s my point. We can talk about natural evil. We can talk about it some other time. It’s a complicated question. People are asking it now, but let’s get focused on the main question. The main question isn’t disease mainly, the main problem isn’t that, the main problem is us, because here’s someone who could cure disease and we killed him.

So we are the main source of evil in the world, and me, I have no reason to believe that I would not have been part of the mob killing Jesus. I’ve there’s nothing in my life that’s shown me that I’m brave enough and good enough that I would have gotten between Jesus and that mob so I’m just going to tell you, I didn’t literally kill him, but I probably would have, and probably so with us, so would we have. Why, because that is a pretty good random sampling of humanity that was there that day, and they pretty much all agreed. He’s got to be killed because we’d rather rule in hell than serve in heaven.

Except, Jesus was killed and he rose from the dead and that changed everything. And then there are people who believe in that and they’re not really afraid of death. We’re a little afraid of death. I don’t want to get covid-19 and die. I don’t want to die from a disease, but there’s a level of like risk and boy, I sure don’t want that fever and there’s and then there’s fear. We’re Christians. The real deep fear is off the table. Whether we die in a week or whether we die in fifty years. It’s still a quadrillionth of our time, quadrillionth of a quadrillionth of a quadrillionth. Really. I mean, we live forever after that. So it’s a rather small thing in the great scheme of things. Does that mean it doesn’t matter? No, it mattered to Jesus. Jesus knew he was going to live forever, but it still mattered that his friend suffered and died. So getting rid of that deep fear of death because the sting of death is sin and Jesus has set aside our sin.

That frees us up to be wise and calm to be load-bearing structures emotionally in people’s lives, financially, spiritually we can be calm in the midst of this because bad stuff came, a lot of bad stuff came. They got a much worse plague. John warns in the Book of Revelation that there’ll be a pale white horse on it – pestilence would come to this city. Because the hate grew and grew and grew and the politics got worse and worse and the greedy got greedier and they ripped the poor to shreds and there was no middle class left and there was no love left, love grew cold and they revolted against Rome, the very thing Caiaphas warns them against they eventually did, and there was starvation, and where their starvation there was plague.

And they didn’t have Jesus as their King, the one who can cure plague, the one who was a peacemaker, the one who could have avoided all this, the one who could have given them a healthy Nation spiritually that wouldn’t have called down all these terrible judgments on itself by provoking the Romans out of hate, a wise Jesus who could have gotten them through tough times. No, they have the wrong rulers and the death got worse and the thing they feared most actually happened, partly because of what they did to avoid the thing they feared most, but he launched a movement into the world and that movement is you and me. And we don’t lose our heads, and we know that there’s a resurrection, but we also know that there’s a splagchnizomai when there’s death now. So let me end on this, it feels weird because I’m talking to a camera. There was almost nobody here in the congregation. So this is so it’s tempting to think of you as an audience who I’m screaming to. But you’re not an audience. You’re an army.

And you’re doing something that is hard for an army to do right now. You are doing nothing because sometimes in a quarantine love of neighbor is doing nothing, but don’t do nothing as though you’re going to be doing nothing forever. At some point by the grace of God we’ll bend that curve, we’ll get within some kind of reasonable ability for medical services to handle what’s going on and then we take up the task of Jesus. Then we go out to places where the plague is already been and we rebuild because this is going to leave things different, people are going to be shaken, the things that cannot be shaken will remain it, says in Hebrews, but a lot is going to be shaken and a lot is going to crash and there are going to be bad things, and there are going to be beautiful acts of Christian love, and it’s in your hands and my hands what the balance between those things is.

Knowing that our sins are forgiven, knowing that Jesus can and has conquered death, knowing that the big thing is taken care of while you wait, wait and pray and think sometimes an Army’s job is to wait, your job now is to wait, and do what small things you can, and then think and pray. I’m not going to tell you what you’re supposed to do when we’re out and about again. I don’t know. That’s the beauty Jesus went to heaven and he sent a Holy Spirit, and then the Holy spirit’s in each of your hearts – the holy spirit will guide you as to know what to do. My job was just to do a little leg work here and maybe put some aspects of this passage that maybe got skimmed over before how do you be like Jesus. Well, you had to wait, didn’t he? For whatever reason he had to wait while a plague ran in his friends body, but he didn’t wait forever.

Let us imitate Christ the Son who imitates perfectly his father. Amen.


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