Sign #7 – The Raising of Lazarus

Sign #7 – The Raising of Lazarus

Sign #7 – The Raising of Lazarus.

“I AM the Resurrection and the Life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this? (John 11:25).

Context. As recorded in John 11, Jesus received word that His close friend Lazarus was deathly sick in his home town of Bethany. Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha, were very close friends of Jesus, and so this news certainly troubled Jesus. But He decided to stay where He was for a couple of days. Jesus saw a timely opportunity to make a big statement, and unfortunately He needed Lazarus to die to make it. Finally, on the fourth day after His friend’s death, Jesus and His disciples arrive in Bethany, which is only two miles from Jerusalem. Jesus first had conversations with both sisters about Lazarus and their understandable grief. Both Mary and Martha wondered why Jesus delayed in coming. Both women believe in Jesus, and that He has the spiritual power to do great things. Jesus told them not to worry about Lazarus. He told them that He is the resurrection and the life. He has power over death and is the source of everlasting life. Jesus then leads the mourners to the tomb holding the dead body of Lazarus. He offers a prayer within the hearing of everyone in attendance. a word of thanks to the Father for what is about to happen. Jesus then shouts, with authority, “Lazarus! Come out!” Miracle of miracles, after the stone is rolled away, Lazarus does indeed walk out of the tomb, alive. Human death is no match for Jesus’ life. It wasn’t long before Lazarus’ burial clothes were taken off, and he returned to something like a normal life. But of course, Lazarus was never the same again.

Feeling the Heat. Shortly before Lazarus took sick, Jesus was surrounded by religious leaders at the Temple in Jerusalem. They are accusing Jesus of blasphemy, because he clearly was claiming to be equal to God, the long-expected Messiah. In fact, the leaders were so convinced of this charge that they picked up stones to kill Jesus right where He stood. But Jesus somehow talked His way out of this crisis. It simply was not time for Him to die. So the leaders intended to arrest Him instead, and once again Jesus was able to walk away unhindered. Then Lazarus enters the scene by getting sick and dying. Jesus miraculously raised him from the dead, and this became too much for the religious authorities. They begin to plot Jesus’ death, and He left the Jerusalem area. He stopped His public ministry, and stayed near the wilderness for a while till He knew the time was right for His grand Palm Sunday appearance.

On Time. When Jesus was told of His friend’s deathly sickness, He could have dropped everything and rushed to the rescue of Lazarus. Jesus could have immediately healed Lazarus on his sick bed. But He didn’t. He waited two more days before He started His trek to Bethany. He disappointed a lot of people, especially Mary and Martha. And imagine Lazarus’ thoughts as he lay on his sick bed knowing that Jesus could heal him but He did not. But Jesus had other plans. He waited for Lazarus to die so He could bring glory to the Father, and so the Son could be glorified by His death that, with this miracle, was a  sure thing. Jesus certainly knew a resurrection miracle would get a lot of attention, and would be the last straw for those who wanted Him dead. So Jesus had a grand plan that no one else knew about. Jesus wanted to create an unforgettable teaching opportunity. He wanted to use a powerful object lesson to show everyone that He is the source of life, that the Resurrection is a Person, not a moment. And the Person is Him. When we pray and don’t seem to get a response, are we disappointed in God? Does our faith waver? When it seems our prayers are falling on deaf ears, think of this gospel story. Only God knows the Big Picture, and we can trust in that. It may seem like the Lord is late, but heaven knows that He’s actually right on time.

I AM. In literally a matter of life and death, Jesus once again used the I AM formula in a startling self-description. He is taking the Name of the Great I AM as His own. This is a scandal in the eyes of the religious authorities. The sacred Name of Yahweh, I AM WHAT I AM, is the most treasured and most personal Name for the God of Israel. With this claim, Jesus states that He is on equal footing with God Himself! Who does He think he is? Jesus used the name tag I AM around 20 times in John. The seven metaphors He uses with I AM are especially enlightening as to the roles Jesus has in His ministry on earth. Throughout Scripture Yahweh has power over death and is the Source of life. Jesus embraces these divine powers when He claims to be I AM. Jesus underlined His being the Author of life by inserting “life” into three of those seven metaphors… I AM the Bread of Life (John 6:35); I AM the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25); and I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6). As Jesus says in John 10:10“I have come so that my sheep may have real and eternal life, that they may have life in abundance – to the full, till it overflows – Better life than they ever dreamed of.”

Another Miracle, Please? A resurrection of a dead person is still unexpected, even if Jesus had already accomplished two resurrection miracles: 1. – Jairus’ daughter was raised to life by Jesus (Matthew 9, Mark 5, Luke 8); and 2 – the widow’s son was raised, while laying dead in his coffin, no less (Luke 7). Is this what Martha was thinking when she told Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.” (v. 22). Perhaps Martha, in a moment of great faith, was hoping against hope that God would give Jesus the power of another resurrection miracle for her brother Lazarus.

Afterlife. When Martha confirmed her belief in the general resurrection at the End, she revealed that she had indeed been listening to Jesus’ earlier teachings. Jesus spoke often of the resurrection of the dead, especially in moments like John 5: 24-29“I tell you the truth, those who listen and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life. Indeed the time is coming when all the dead in their graves will hear the voice of God’s Son, and they will rise again. Those who have done good will rise to experience eternal life, and those who continued in evil will rise to experience judgment.” So Jesus wasn’t shy about discussing resurrection, whether of all people, or specific people, or even himself. He told His disciples on a number of occasions that He Himself was going to be resurrected: Matthew 16:21; Matthew 20:19; Matthew 26:32; Mark 9:90; Mark 10:32; and Luke 18:31. So the topic of a general resurrection or a particular resurrection was nothing new if you hung around Jesus. Maybe it was a passing thought in the Hebrew Bible, but not with Christ.

Heaven on Earth. The Jewish believers throughout the Hebrew Bible were for the most part not all that interested in the afterlife. They didn’t talk much about heaven or hell as a place to go after death. Their sense of God’s judgments were intended for life here on earth. People who were cursed in their life if they didn’t obey God were experiencing for the most part their hell on earth. They were judged here and now, and were suitably punished if that’s what God wanted to do. And the same for God’s blessings. People living on earth could be blessed during this life for obeying God. They didn’t need to think about the blessed life after they die, since they more or less have their heaven on earth. There were a few hints, though, that some old saints in the Hebrew Bible were thinking about an after life with God. Job made a beautiful statement of faith in Job 19:35, “As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and he will stand upon the earth at last. And after my body has decayed, yet in my body I will see God!” Or look at Daniel 12:2-3“Many of those whose bodies lie dead and buried will rise up, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting disgrace. Those who are wise will shine as bright as the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness will shine like the stars forever.” There are other passages that refer to the resurrection of the dead, including Isaiah 26:19Hosea 13:14, and many times in Psalms (17:15, 49:15, 71:20). Most of what Jesus had to say about the resurrection seemed to have their foundation in those passages in the Hebrew Bible. Jesus switched thing around by making it more of a focus.

Martha. We are given a much more balanced view of Martha in this Lazarus story. All we know of her so far is her choosing to sweat through a luncheon preparation instead of sitting at Jesus’ feet like her sister Mary. There was workhorse Martha, fretting and complaining about the fact that she wasn’t getting much help with all her work around the kitchen. Well this story of the resurrection miracle puts Martha in a much more favorable light. She was the first to rush out to meet Jesus outside of town. She was the one who believed in Jesus’ teaching about the resurrection. She was the one who seemed to imply that Jesus could fix things even though Lazarus was dead. And she was the one who offers for all of us a powerful statement of faith in the midst of her grief. “Yes, Lord, I have always believed that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the One who has come into the world from God Himself.” (11:29).  It is clear in this story that she believes in Jesus, and loves Him. Martha is an example to us all.

Jesus Groans. It doesn’t happen often, but once in a while we see an emotional Jesus in the gospel stories. Every so often, we get to observe a more passionate side of Jesus’ human emotions. The Lazarus story is certainly one of those times. When speaking with Mary, Jesus was deeply moved. The various translations describe it this way: a groan; a profound sigh; an emotional shudder; in great distress; deeply troubled; indignant anger; an angry snort, like the snorting of a horse. And of course there is here the famous verse, “Jesus wept.” Jesus literally had tears of grief and distress flowing down His cheeks. Some translations have Jesus angry at the devil and the introduction of death and sickness into the human experience. Jesus is angry at what sin has brought into this world. Jesus felt deep human emotions, and He wasn’t afraid to express them.

Lazarus! Is it true that Jesus had to shout His friend’s name at the tomb, because if He didn’t specify the name, He may have had other dead people rising from their tombs?

Other Tombs. At the moment of Jesus’ death on the cross, this Lazarus miracle was multiplied in the tombs surrounding Jerusalem. “Then Jesus shouted out again, and He released His Spirit. The earth shook, rocks split apart, and tombs opened. The bodies of many godly men and women who had died were raised from the dead. They left the cemetery after Jesus’ resurrection, went into the holy city of Jerusalem, and appeared to many people.” (Matthew 27:50-53). How amazing and profound that Jesus was so full of life that even at His death He caused others to resurrect! Jesus is the Source of life, even at His death! As He was dying, life was slipping through.

Burial Customs. In the orthodox Jewish world of the first century, it was forbidden to embalm a dead body. Instead, they anointed the body with fragrant spices to keep the body smelling fresh for as long as possible. They would wrap the body in white cotton cloth from neck to feet, and place a large handkerchief over the face. They would keep the wrapped body in a tomb for eleven months. By that time, there would be nothing but bones. And they would place the bones in a burial box and put that box on a shelf in the tomb. The Jews believed that a person’s spirit hovered over the dead body for 3-4 days following death. At that point, the body would start to deteriorate. Who knows… maybe the spirit of Lazarus had still remained over the body, and that was how he was able to respond to Jesus’ command to rise from the dead. Just another mystery about death.

Unbind Him. After Lazarus stumbled into the daylight from the darkness of the tomb, Jesus made an interesting remark. It was more or less a command. He told the people around the tomb to unbind Lazarus, loose him from his grave clothes. Take off those bandages of death, Jesus instructed, so he can live his new life in freedom. Unwrap those vestiges of death and decay, and let him go free. That seems a clear picture of how we can minister to new believers, to each other. This isn’t just a command regarding new believers, but also those of us who still have vestiges of our former life hanging on to the new life. We can, with Christ’s guidance, loosen those parts of the old life that need to be taken off. We can unbind that which is keeping each other from walking free in the Spirit. An important part of wise counseling is to be able to discern those aspects of a person’s life that is holding a person back, that need to be taken off and left behind. Maybe it’s an addiction, an obsession, a hurtful habit, a grievous wound, a family learned trait, an attitude that needs changing to break free. Unwrap this person, Jesus is saying, and help him live his new life. Take off the old death rags and give him a new set of clothes.