Lazarus come out!
Do you know the story of Jesus who raised Lazarus from the dead? It was a tremendous miracle that shows us that Jesus has the power to raise us from the dead, too. But the story contains much more and John tells some details that have a deeper meaning for us today.
Let us note the way Johannes tells this story. Lazarus was not an unknown inhabitant of Judea - he was the brother of Martha and Maria, the Mary whom Jesus loved so much that she poured precious anointing oil over his feet. The sisters summoned Jesus: "Lord, behold, the one you love is sick" (from John 11,1: 3). To me, this sounds like a cry for help, but Jesus didn't come.
Do you sometimes feel like God is delaying his answer? It certainly happened to Mary and Martha, but the delay does not mean that Jesus did not like them, but rather that he had another plan in mind because he could see something they could not see. As it turned out, Lazarus was already dead by the time the messengers reached Jesus. Jesus said this disease would not end in death. Was he wrong? No, because Jesus looked beyond death and in this case knew that death would not be the end of the story, he knew that the purpose was to glorify God and His Son (Verse 4). Nevertheless, he made his disciples think that Lazarus would not die. Here is a lesson for us too, because we do not always understand what Jesus really means.
Two days later, Jesus surprised his disciples with the suggestion to go back to Judea. They did not understand why Jesus wanted to return to the danger zone, so Jesus replied with an enigmatic comment about walking in the light and the onset of darkness. Then he says to them: "Lazarus, our friend, is sleeping, but I'm going to wake him up" (Verse 11).
The disciples were apparently used to the mysterious nature of some of Jesus' remarks and they found a detour to get more information. They pointed out that the literal meaning makes no sense. If he sleeps, then he will wake up by himself, so why risk our lives by going there?
Jesus explained: "Lazarus died", and further: "I am glad that I have not been there". Why? "So you believe". Jesus would work a miracle that is more astonishing than if he had only prevented the death of a sick man. The miracle was not simply to bring Lazarus back to life - it was rather that Jesus knew what was happening about 30 kilometers away from them and what was going to happen to him in the near future.
He had a light that they could not see - and that light revealed to him his own death and resurrection in Judea. He was in complete control of the events. He could have prevented the capture if he had wanted it; he could have stopped the trial in one word, but he did not. He decided to do what he had come to earth for.
The man who gave life to the dead was ready to give his own life for the people, for he had the power over death, even over his own death. He came to this earth as a mortal man so he could die, and what at first glance looked like a tragedy had actually happened for our salvation. I do not want to claim that any tragedy that happens is in fact planned or good by God, but I believe that God is able to bring good from evil and he sees the reality we can not see.
He looks beyond death and masters the events no less today than then - but it is often as invisible to us as it was to the disciples. We just can not see the big picture and sometimes we stumble in the dark. We should trust God to do things in the way that best suits them.
Jesus and his disciples went to Betania and learned that Lazarus had been in the grave for four days. The funeral speeches were made and the funeral long over - and finally the doctor comes over! Martha said, perhaps with a little despair and hurt: "Lord, would you have been here, my brother would not have died" (Verse 21). We called for you a few days ago and if you had come then Lazarus would still be alive.
I would also have been disappointed - or, more appropriately, dismayed, angry, hysterical, desperate - would you not? Why did Jesus let her brother die? Yes why? We often ask the same question today - why did God let my loved ones die? Why did he allow this or that catastrophe? If there is no answer, we angrily turn away from God. But Maria and Marta, though disappointed, hurt, and a little angry, didn't turn away. Martha had a glimmer of hope - she saw a little light: «But even now I know: what you ask from God, God will give you» (Verse 22). Maybe she thought that asking for a resurrection would have been a little too daring, but she suggests something. "Lazarus will live again," said Jesus and Martha replied: "I know well that he will be resurrected" (but I hoped a little earlier). Jesus said, "This is good, but did you know that I am resurrection and life? If you believe in me, you will never die. Do you think the?"
Martha then said in one of the most outstanding statements of faith in the whole Bible: "Yes, I believe that. You are the Son of God" (Verse 27).
Life and resurrection can only be found in Christ - but can we believe today what Jesus said? Do we really believe that "whoever lives there and believes in me will never die?" I wish we could all understand this better, but I know with certainty that a new life will emerge in the resurrection that will never end.
We all die in this age, just like Lazarus and Jesus, but Jesus will raise us up. We die, but for us this is not the end of the story, just as it was not the end of the story of Lazarus. Marta went to get Maria and Mary came to Jesus crying. Jesus also cried. Why did he cry when he already knew Lazarus would live again? Why did John write this down when Johannes knew that joy lives "just around the corner"? I don't know - I don't always know why I'm crying, even on happy occasions.
But I believe the statement is that it is okay to cry at a funeral even though we know that person will be raised to immortal life. Jesus promised that we would never die and yet death still exists.
Death is still an enemy. He is still something in this world that is not what it will be in eternity. Sometimes we feel times of deep sadness, even when Jesus loves us. When we cry, Jesus weeps with us. He can see our sadness in this age just as he can see the joys of the future.
"Lift the stone away," said Jesus, and Mary held out to him: "There will be a stench, because he has been dead for four days."
Is there anything in your life that stinks, something you don't want Jesus to expose "by rolling the stone away?"
There is something like this in everyone's life, something that we would rather like to keep hidden. Sometimes Jesus has other plans because he knows things we don't know and we can just trust him. So they rolled the stone away and Jesus prayed and called: "Lazarus, come out!" "And the deceased came out," reports Johannes - but he was no longer dead. He was tied like a dead man with shrouds, but he left. "Untie him," said Jesus, "and let him go!" (Verses 43-44).
Jesus' call also goes to today's spiritual dead and some of them hear his voice and come out of their graves. They come out of the stink, of the selfish way of thinking that led to death. What do you need? They need someone to help them get rid of their grave cloths to get rid of the old ways of thinking that are so easy on us. This is one of the tasks of the church. We help people move the stone away, though it may stink, and we help people who respond to Jesus' call.
Are you listening to Jesus' call to come to him? It is time to come out of your "grave". Maybe you know someone Jesus is calling? It's time to help him roll the stone away. This is something to think about.
by Joseph Tkach