Sunday Service – Remove the stone

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We thank the Lord for giving us this opportunity to gather today. We greet God’s children here and across the world, wherever you are listening. It is grace that we may meet on a day like this. In South Africa it is a wonderful day outside. May the natural heat which God created through the sun outside, also create a warmth in our hearts. Welcome to everyone, feel at home. We are privileged to see you face to face. Thank you for the singing which warms the heart. It is precious to sing together. We are so thankful. It is a challenge for us Christians to take up God’s armour and fight the good fight. In the world and in our country, pressure is being put on the Christians. Slowly but surely, Christians are being forced into a corner. May each person realise what the time it is on God’s clock. Laws are being made which may be good such as protecting yourself and others against Covid, but some go against the faith. Christians should wake up. If you ask Christians what the Lord has done for them in the last year and a half, you will find many who are not where they should be, after the trials they have faced due to Covid. They may not have fallen into open sin, but they have not been able to see the brethren face to face and pour their hearts out. Through all this we have been tested and refined. Test yourself – before COVID what were you like, spiritually? After Covid, where are you spiritually? People may have different excuses such as limited airtime or data but honestly, how many friends have you lost on WhatsApp during this time? None, because you have been communicating with them. They were precious to you, you needed them, however, when it is time for the service, you say there is not enough money or time. There are many excuses. This shows where your treasure lies.

If I could choose, I would prefer to be sitting than standing here today. This place is the place of a man who paid a price to bring the Gospel. It is not a small thing to try and stand in his shoes. I apologise for any mistakes I might make. I tremble as I stand here but I am not ashamed. By the grace of God, I can preach God’s Gospel and the Truth. It is my daily prayer to live a life worthy of God’s calling and not to lower the standard which the man of God lifted before us. May God help us that in all that we have heard and been taught about the treasures of this Gospel, that we will never lower the standard while God’s children are still alive. You might reach a point where you think you are wiser and cleverer than them - which is very dangerous. You may visit another family and think they are living a wonderful life, but that is not the standard God expects of you. When you go into the world, there are many things you see and learn – leave them and return to the standard God has set for you. It can easily happen that you are walking parallel to God’s way. Be very careful. You can find yourself next to the road without realising it. Things seem so right but it is not what the Lord has taught us through His Holy Spirit in this revival.

There is a song that we sing which says: the young people have a Gospel that corrects and guides us. We must be sure that we do not mix it and compromise so that we make it something different. It is easy to mix this gospel with things that should not be there, things which we were not taught. The original Gospel is no longer there. May God help us as we grow older not to lose it. Many older people in our midst have stood through all the storms that have come and gone. They have remained strong and drawn closer to God. I visited a place recently with my family where there were beautiful trees. I was told that they were expensive. Many of them, however, have grown crooked. They are not what they were supposed to be because of the wind and storms. This reminds me of Rev Stegen. If you visit him today, he is same as he has always been. Storms have come and gone but this man of God stands firm. When you meet him, he is smiling.

38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odour, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” John 11:38 – 40

43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” John 11:43 – 44

This is an amazing portion in the Bible. Jesus deals with an unusual situation. This family was loved by the Lord Jesus, but they met with difficult circumstances where they needed the Lord. The Bible says that Lazarus was a great friend of the Lord. Mary was also a close friend of the Lord. This Mary once took very expensive perfume and anointed the Lord with it and wiped His feet. It is often the case that when the Lord comes to do something good, to build up, remould, there will always be opposition from somewhere. When Mary anointed Jesus with the expensive perfume - which she did because something in her heart drove her to do it, she received a blessing for her deed, but there was opposition towards her. When the Lord was on His way to the family of Lazarus and Mary, resistance grew. When Lazarus became sick, Mary asked Him to come because her brother was sick. When the Lord was told about Lazarus’s illness, they did not say, “Your friend is sick.” They said, “Lord, the one that You love so much is sick.” When Jesus received the message, He was delayed another two days - after which He told His disciples that they must go to Bethany. It was clear that Jesus understood that Lazarus was dead. After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” Verse 11. The disciples did not understand what sleep He was referring to, they thought it was a natural sleep. When the Lord said these words, resistance broke out. The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” Verse 8. The Lord was going to glorify God’s name, but the devil was close by and was going against it. On the way, some people told Him that Lazarus was dead. When the Lord was preparing to bring life, there was resistance. Through all this, the Lord went forward to visit that family.

If I put myself in that family’s shoes – what must they have thought? They had sent a message that Lazarus was sick, then he died, then he was buried and only then Jesus appears? Imagine the talk when the Lord came. They may have said, “Lord, we asked you…” Others may have whispered. Others may have thought that the Lord did not understand what it was all about. We do not know how the one sister approached the Lord, she may have said, “Lord, we told you, didn’t You understand? Didn’t you realise the seriousness of it? Now he has died.”

I respect the person who had the courage to go to the Lord and speak to Him. How many people amongst us, in this pandemic, have distanced themselves, fallen back and backslidden, saying, “If You had just been there, this thing would not have happened.” You may say that we were not cared for, nobody noticed us, nobody contacted us, we were all alone, nobody took our situation seriously, but what did you do about it when 50 could gather together, where were you?

This woman went to the Lord and told Him exactly what had happened. The Bible says that when He heard it, He was deeply touched, deeply moved inside and something drove Him to the tomb.

This is the theme of this sermon: That stone in front of the tomb. Jesus was driven by the words of the sister of Lazarus spoke, “Lord, where were You?” It deeply moved Him, disquieted him inside – then his sister said 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odour, for he has been dead four days.” Verse 39. The Lord said just one thing: Remove the stone. The Lord could only reach Lazarus when the stone was removed. I can imagine that the men around the grave said to themselves, “Where does this man come from? Who does he think he is? Doesn’t he know what has happened?” When there are funerals and a grave must be dug, people complain about it. Now they may have said, “Do they know what it is to dig a grave? Now we must take away the stone. We cannot do this anymore.” The men around there could have said, “Why don’t those who are with Him remove the stone? Why must we do this hard work?”

It is as if the Lord said to them, “This is a man-made stone, a man-made situation. You closed the grave with this stone, now you remove your human ideas from this situation. You remove that stone.”

It did not matter how long Lazarus had been dead or what odour emanated from him – it was insignificant at this point. It was as if the Lord was saying that that which is human and belongs to you, remove it from here so that I can work. When they had obeyed, His voice came with authority.

The Lord may stand before you today. He is disquieted. He is saying, “If you will only remove that stone, I will be able to work.” The Lord comes today, there is a deep sigh in His heart, He is deeply moved. He says, “My child, just remove that stone in your life, allow Me to work.” The Lord is sighing deeply and saying, “My child, that thing in your life which you have brought upon yourself, remove it so that I can work.” Things may have been spoken into your ears, gossip about others and the Lord says, “Remove that from your ears, allow Me to work and then you will find that there will be a relationship between you and Me.”

Whatever is preached today does not touch you because of this blockage in your life. People may have spoken things in your presence about others and you have never done anything about it. Those are stones that stop God from speaking. You may have had a clear conscience about a particular person but because of what you have heard from another person, there is suddenly a stone wall between you and him. Go to the Lord who is sighing deeply, He says, “Why don’t you remove that stone so that you and I can speak?”

Among the Zulus something may happened a few generations ago and that conflict has been passed from generation to generation. Today you may be divided because of conflict that happened generations back and the people who began the conflict have long since passed away. This issue has become a stone and it does not even involve the present generation. Remove the stone, take it away so that you can hear the Lord calling your name and telling you to remove the stone. Once you do this, you will hear Him speaking to you. If that thing has hindered the Lord from speaking to you, allow the Lord to remove it and you will hear God speaking to you again. The Lord wants to speak in your life. You know what that stone is in your life. If you would only remove the stone, another world will open where you will hear the Lord speaking to you.

You may feel self-pity. A person may say, “Who am I? What can the Lord do through me? That self-pity is a stone between you and the Lord. The Lord says remove that stone. Someone may have stepped on your toe without meaning to but now you hold a grudge. “Who does he think he is?” The other person continues preaching, he does not know what is in your heart regarding him.

You may rate the preachers in your heart. You have your preferences. If a particular person preaches, there is a resistance, a closing up but the preacher does not have a clue about it. It is only you.

Friends, if you would only hear the sigh of the Lord concerning your life. If you hear and remove that stone, take it away so that the Lord can work, you cannot imagine what He can do.

There are some people who leave because of what they meet up with and the rocks in their lives, but others do not know what has happened. It is you who have something against others because of your own heart. People leave and move from church to church, choosing their preachers. They have things against others, they walk with grudges, they point fingers, forgetting that the stone in their lives is the very thing that hinders the Lord from speaking to them.

The Bible says that when the Lord called out his name, Lazarus, he emerged. Friends, it is amazing, with those grave cloths wrapped around him he should not have been able to move. But when Lazarus heard the call, he himself moved, came out and came to the Lord. Lazarus was not hindered by the cloths around him. He stood up and came out and then the Lord said to those around him, “That which you put around him, go and untie.” What death cloths are around you? Do what the Lord has said and allow His anointed ones to remove those cloths of death from you.

There are those who also grade the counsellors: he is too strict, he asks too many questions, the one who just prays is the one I want to go to. But when the Lord raised Lazarus, He asked others to remove the cloths. The Lord says, “You take off those cloths.” If your head is covered in cloths, everything seems dark, negative and that is how you view others. Take that cloth off and then you will see things in the light of the Lord. If that cloth is removed from over your ears, you will hear the Lord clearly. Before, it would have been muffled and indistinct, but now allow the Lord to remove things so that you can hear clearly. When the cloths are removed from your eyes, you will see clearer. Before the cloths were removed, I was the only right person, now it is the opposite.

Children, when that cloth is removed from your face, ears and eyes, you will understand the teaching of your parents much better. You will realise that they have taught you correctly and that it was a good teaching. As you grow older, you will recognise when that cloth is removed. As a teenager, as an adolescent, you will realise that what your parents have taught you has protected you from so many things.

It does not matter what age you are, once those cloths have been removed, there is a relationship between you and the Lord, and whatever stage you are in life, there will be an overcoming – a victorious stage.

The stone and cloths are man-made. They must be removed so that there is a breakthrough between you and the Lord. Friend, if that stone is not removed from your life, you will be an unhealthy person all your life. You will be crippled because of that stone.

When that cloth is wrapped around you and the stone placed before you, you will find yourself withdrawing - even from your own family, until you are all alone in a place where you never imagined finding yourself. Slowly but surely, you were negligent and took things lightly, thinking it would never happen to you, but now you find yourself going in a direction where you will commit worse sins than you ever dreamt you would. There is suddenly a curtain blocking you off from the Lord where He cannot speak to you and help you. When you close the grave with the stone, it is heavy, not light. It is the same with sin You say, it is not that bad, it cannot be so bad. You play around with it and at the end of the day, those who were close to you are now far away.

When those burial cloths were removed, the Lord said, “Let him go.” Lazarus was dead and suddenly there was new life. Imagine what he experienced: I was in the grave but now I am alive! We thank the Lord for it.