Read John 11.1-45
Of all the miracles in the Gospels, there is none so amazing as Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Jesus had turned water into wine, fed thousands with a few loaves of bread, gave sight to the blind, even healed lepers, but all these miracles added up hardly compare to this. Lazarus dies. He is buried in a tomb. Four days later, Jesus appears and commands Lazarus to come out. The dead man walks out like a living mummy, still wrapped in bandages. No words could possibly describe the creative power of God in this miracle.
This miracle story has much to say to us, not just about life after death, but about our lives today, in the midst of death and darkness. Someone has called it an “enacted parable” which means a story that teaches us about God and our faith. It teaches us that God does not stand idly by as we endure pain and suffering in our world. God does not sit on the sidelines as we struggle with so much that is beyond our control. Instead, God becomes intimately involved with us. When we feel we can do nothing more, God loves us into action.
God’s intimate love is shown clearly in this story. Jesus arrived to find Lazarus already dead. Martha and Mary, his sisters were very sad and even angry. “If you had been here,” cries Mary, “maybe this wouldn’t have happened.” This is both a statement of faith- that God’s power in Jesus could have healed Lazarus and an expression of anger. “Why didn’t you come sooner?” Mary believes in the power of God in Jesus and she wonders why he didn’t put it to use to save her brother.
Jesus hears her sadness and anger and he is “greatly disturbed” and “deeply moved.” The verb here is translated in a variety a ways. It is a verb indicating strong emotion, rarely used in Scripture. When Jesus sees the temple being used as a marketplace, he feels this emotion. It seems to be a combination of sadness and anger. Jesus is sad about the death of Lazarus and angry at the lack of faith he finds in Martha, Mary and the others. He watches their sadness turn to hostility and it angers him.
The anger of Jesus is quickly turned to creative action. He goes to the tomb where Lazarus is buried and tells them to remove the stone. Martha is concerned about the stench, but Jesus says to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God.” They roll the stone away, Jesus gives thanks to God and then cries out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”
I was reading an article on this passage and it posed a challenging question. Suppose Lazarus didn’t want to live. It is entirely possible that Lazarus had lived a full life – working long hours at hard labor with just enough time off to catch his breath and get back to work. He may have looked forward to the peace that death would bring. When the time finally came, along comes Jesus, intruding in this realm of quiet, peaceful sleep with a loud shout, “Lazarus, come out!” The voice interrupts the peaceful silence and Lazarus stumbles back to life, out of the darkness and into the light.
This may seem like a strange thought, but it raises an important point. This story is about more than life after death, but the new life that comes to us even in the midst of death. Many of us go through life and suffer death along the way – from the loss of friends and family members, to the loss of jobs or activities we used to enjoy. As we grow older, we become more aware of our losses. We lose independence, memory, our ability to think and do for ourselves. We can get so used to the experience of loss that we lose the ability to find new life in death.
God’s word is Jesus Christ calls us to a new way of life. We can try to cover up, pull the blankets over our heads and enjoy the darkness, or we can walk into the light where God meets us, where God has others loosen the bonds that hold us.
The story of Lazarus is about more than life and death, it is about faith. Faith in Christ brings hope in life after death. And, faith in Christ makes our lives worth living. The miracle Jesus performs is not as important as what it points to. Faith enlivens us.
The challenge of this text, I believe, is the challenge to live even when you want to give in to death. It is the challenge to see the ray of hope that shines in the darkness. No matter where you are in the darkness, God’s light can shine in like the light that entered the tomb of Lazarus. You may be grieving the loss of a loved one. You may be battling depression over a life beyond your control. You may be lost in shame, worried that you aren’t worth loving. You may be torn with guilt over something you’ve done or failed to do. In your dark cave, God’s voice echoes, “Come out. Live in the light. Leave behind the darkness. Step out in faith.”