Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead
Jesus and his disciples are off somewhere undisclosed, resting from ministry in recent days when Jesus receives word that his good friend Lazarus is deathly sick. Lazarus’ sisters Mary and Martha are really worried about him and believe Jesus is the only one who can help Lazarus before it’s too late. They send word to him, Jesus receives this word, and then Jesus does something that seems out of character.
When we have loved ones who are deathly sick we stop everything we’re doing and rush to the hospital. Make no mistake about it, Lazarus is one of Jesus’ loved ones and Lazarus is deathly sick which makes the next part of this story all the more peculiar. Jesus doesn’t rush to see Lazarus before he dies. He doesn’t rush to perform a miracle on Lazarus. Instead, he waits a couple of days knowing Lazarus is going to die before heading to Bethany.
In the meantime unbeknownst to the disciples, Mary and Martha are weeping for their brother. The village is mourning the loss of Lazarus. He has died, been placed in a tomb, and the tomb closed shut. Jesus knows this and he softly tries telling the disciples what has happened. Jesus tells them Lazarus is asleep but the disciples misunderstand him and think this is a good thing. They think to themselves that Lazarus will get better as he rests. Jesus has to stop them and plainly tell them that Lazarus isn’t sleeping. Lazarus is dead.
Now sit in that moment. Sit in the moment of finding out that one of your friends has died. There’s nothing pleasant about. There’s nothing good about it. It hurts. It cuts you to the core. That’s what death does. It rips life out of you. Jesus let’s the disciples sit in this for a moment. He let’s Mary and Martha sit in this for a few days. He himself sits in it for a few days. Death is at the door and it’s back in Judea. Not just for Lazarus and his family but for Jesus too. You see, if the last time Jesus was in Judea, the people tried to stone him to death. He was certainly headed back to that if he chose to head back.
Jesus being who Jesus is, he certainly is going to head back and it’s in the moment of sitting in death that something happens. The disciple Thomas rises up and challenges the disciples to head back to Bethany with Jesus. If Jesus is going to go back and die we’re going to go die with him. As far as Thomas was concerned, dying with Jesus was better than living without him. No matter what was going on, as far as Thomas was concerned, it was to be experienced with Jesus.
So together they head towards Bethany. When they arrive they find out that Lazarus had been in the tomb already for four days. Lazarus was as dead as dead gets. They had lost him. Death had won. Mary and Martha were devastated. Their brother was gone. Martha feeling the weight of it all tells Jesus that if he had been there Lazarus would still be with us and in Jesus fashion, he tells her that her brother will rise from the dead. She believed this in the deepest part of her heart but she didn’t know what was about to happen.
Martha secretly calls for Mary because Jesus wants to talk to her too. Mary comes sobbing hard to even form words but she says the same thing to Jesus. If you had been here Lazarus would still be with us. She seems to have taken it harder than Martha has and she’s coming undone. She’s sobbing. The townspeople are sobbing and all of this troubles Jesus. Death is so treacherous. It steals life from even the living. Jesus begins to weep in the face of all this. Jesus himself is cut to the core.
Jesus, moved to the point of anger against death itself, approaches the tomb. He instructs them to remove the boulder covering the tomb but Martha objects. Lazarus has been dead four days already. The stench of death is going to be terrible. It’s hopeless at this point anyway. Jesus reminds her of who he is. The glory of God is about to be revealed. God’s power and might is greater than all of our tears. All of our hopelessness. All of our unbelief. All of our doubts. They remove the boulder. The stench of death comes rushing out. How could Jesus possibly redeem any of this.
Looking up to heaven, Jesus thanks his Father for hearing him. He did this so the people would know who Jesus represented. Jesus was there on behalf of God. Jesus assertively shouts through the darkness and stench of death, “Lazarus, come out!” The physical reality of death was no match against the voice of Jesus. Christ’s words are louder than death. Lazarus comes out, still bound in funeral dressing and perhaps the most symbolically powerful part of this entire event is about to happen.
Jesus says to them, “Unwrap him and release him.” Jesus was talking about his funeral linens but he was talking about so much more all at the same time. He must have said the same thing to Death and Death had no choice but to give up it’s hold on Lazarus. Jesus is the God of the Resurrection. Jesus is the one who takes Death and undoes it. Jesus is the one who takes hopelessness and turns it into hope again. Jesus doesn’t just raise people from the grave, he gives them life again. That’s what he meant when he told Martha, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.”
A retelling based on John 11: I-44.