(watch here: https://youtu.be/ndX83ESsuVM)
1Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’ 4But when Jesus heard it, he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ 5Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
7Then after this he said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’ 8The disciples said to him, ‘Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?’ 9Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.’ 11After saying this, he told them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.’ 12The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.’ 13Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. 15For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’ 16Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow-disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’
17When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’ 23Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ 24Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ 25Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ 27She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.’
28When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, ‘The Teacher is here and is calling for you.’ 29And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ 35Jesus began to weep. 36So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ 37But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’
38Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.’ 40Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’
Four days! Four days of festering and rotting in the grave before Jesus comes and raises poor Lazarus. Four days of Mary and Martha getting angrier and angrier at Jesus for not coming sooner to save his friend. “Some kind of friend you are, Jesus!” Four days of Jesus going about his ministry as if nothing was wrong with his friend. Four days! Surely, he could have taken time away to come to the aid of his sick and dying friend, if not to save him then to at least say a few last words of comfort. What’s the deal, Jesus?! Not behaving very friend-like! Or was he?
Earlier this week we kicked off this season of Lent with Ash Wednesday. We were reminded yet again that from dust we were born and to dust we shall return. We all die eventually. Death isn’t something we should be afraid of, it’s just a part of life like breathing or sleeping. Sometimes we can cheat it, sometimes we can run from it, sometimes we can beat it, but death always wins in the end. All the miles we run will come to an end. Our bodies will carry us no further and they will break down into the dust from which they came. It is only fitting that we should lift up this passage about the death of Lazarus as a further reflection on death from earlier in the week. But it’s not just a story about a death; it’s a story about a new life after death. Lazarus is raised from death into new life! Death does not have the last word after all. Jesus raises him up with that mighty voice of his, “Lazarus, come out!” Lazarus rises with strips of cloth dangling from his body, certainly an eerie sight to behold. Not only is it a story of death but also a story of resurrection, foreshadowing the death and resurrection of our Lord at the end of this 6-week Lenten journey. What a nice bridge between Ash Wednesday and Holy Week!
But it isn’t just any old death. This was the death of a close friend of Jesus. This was the death of the brother of the woman who very boldly washed Jesus’ feet with perfume. This was the death that brought Jesus to tears. Very few things brought Jesus to tears which is amazing considering all the injustice and sorrow he encountered on a daily basis. Jesus didn’t cry very often but he wept over the death of Lazarus. And Mary and Martha would have us believe that Jesus could have prevented his death. “Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’” Yes, Jesus could have healed Lazarus just as he had healed countless other people. But he chose not to! He chose to stay with his disciples a few days extra after hearing about Lazarus’ condition. WHY?! Why didn’t he go and heal his friend?
Perhaps because he wanted to show off an even greater ability than simply healing a deathly sick man—the ability to bring a man back to life. There have been many amazing healings throughout history. Doctors and shamans and witch doctors and exorcists and a variety of people blessed with the ability to heal have performed some awesome feats. Jesus himself had performed many miraculous healings throughout his ministry. But no one had ever raised a man from the dead. That was an even more amazing feat, one to get far more attention. But was Jesus simply a charlatan trying to entertain the crowds with more and more amazing feats? Was he simply trying to impress by showing off his extraordinary abilities?
No, everything Jesus did was to reveal the glory of God. He said it himself when he initially heard about Lazarus’ condition, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Later, when he was at the grave with Martha, he again rebuked her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” Everything Jesus did, from healing the blind man to turning water into wine to walking on water to feeding the 5,000 people, everything he did was to reveal the glory of God! He did nothing out of selfishness or ambition…everything he did was for the glory of God! So how was the glory of God revealed in this encounter with Lazarus?
By staying a couple extra days with his disciples instead of running to the bedside of Lazarus, Jesus ensured that Lazarus was dead. Jesus no doubt was adhering to the commonly held Jewish belief that the soul left the body after three days. By the fourth day, there was no more soul and thus a person was truly dead. So by the fourth day Lazarus was truly dead. Now yes, this adds legitimacy to the resurrection: it was truly amazing because Lazarus was truly dead. But I believe Jesus was teaching a far more profound lesson through his actions—true life can only arise from true death. Remember, death is a difficult reality for many of us to accept. We cheat it, we run from it, sometimes we even beat it, all in a desperate fight to accept it. Few of us actually want to die. This is because in death there is change. Change is hard for a lot of us. We hate all the unknowns that come with change. We tend to believe only bad things come out of change. Nothing good can come out of change so nothing good can come out of death. But Jesus certainly believed quite the contrary. There are great things that can come out of death, out of change. New opportunities, new possibilities, and new hope are but a few things that can arise from death. Even new life can come from death. But only if there is true death. None of this half-dead or almost dead, none of this return from the dead. No, true and total death must occur before true life can spring forth. If we are to live, fully live, then we must truly die.
If we are to truly live for Christ, we must truly die for him first. We must give up our selfish, sinful ways. We must let go of all our regrets and doubts. We must silence our fears and anxieties about where he might lead us. We must go into that grave, all bound hands and feet, just as Lazarus was bound. For some of us, that isn’t much of a problem. We’re already bound up by our fears and doubts and regrets and sorrows. We just need to go into that grave already. We just need to enter into death with our ears open to his calling. Our Lord will call us out! Our Lord will usher us into new life! So many times, I have witnessed new life spring forth from truly dead lives. So many times, I have seen God’s glory revealed in the least expected of situations. Let us learn from Lazarus and seek out ways to truly die for Christ over the next 6 weeks. Let us listen for his calling…”Come out! Unbind him and let him go!”
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.