John 11:32-45 (NIV)
32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw Him, she fell at His feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” He asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
35 Jesus wept.
36 Then the Jews said, “See how He loved him!”
37 But some of them said, “Could not He who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” He said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odour, for he has been there four days.”
40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard Me. 42 I knew that You always hear Me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that You sent Me.”
43 When He had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
When Martin Luther preached on John chapter 11 in 1518 he began by saying: “I have told you the story of this Gospel in order that you may picture in your hearts and remember well that Christ our God, in all the Gospels, from beginning to end, and also all writings of the prophets and apostles, desires of us nothing else but that we should have a sure and confident heart and trust in Him.”
Mary and Martha had sent for their close friend Jesus when their brother Lazarus fell ill. Their love reached out to Jesus for help and their faith trusted that Jesus was capable of healing their brother.
Jesus' first response sounded reassuring, This sickness will not be the end of Lazarus; even though he will die, he will live again - and not just physically. The whole purpose of Lazarus' death was to reveal God’s glory.
Jesus was going to show the Divine creative power of God the Father. We also see in this story Jesus, the Son of God in all His glory.
Lazarus' sickness does end in death. This seventh sign in the Gospel according to St John is the precursor to the passion and resurrection of Jesus as it is to the Christian’s – yours and mine.
When Jesus wanted to go to Jerusalem there was a great risk to His life and the disciples were worried that those who had so recently wanted to kill Jesus, by stoning Him, might try again.
Because Jesus is the light of this world, He has the light in Him but He must do something before the darkness of the world closes around Him in His suffering and death.
We learn that to walk in the light is to follow Jesus. If the eye of faith is sound, the whole body will be full of light. Those who trust in Jesus will not stumble, and will not take offence at Him and His teachings. And so, Jesus teaches us with His encounter with Lazarus.
Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days when Jesus finally arrived on the scene. Lazarus was well and truly dead. Many friends had come to comfort Lazarus’ sisters.
In verse 25 of chapter 11 Jesus had solemnly stated, I am the resurrection and the life. Jesus is the I Am of the Old Testament who alone can bring alive and comfort those who mourn. Jesus offers an eternal life that is received in the present by everyone who believes – including you and me.
Eternal life is a life unaffected by physical death; despite the fact that we must all physically die and be buried, we’ll live forever because faith brings about unbroken communion with the God the Father through the Son.
Dr Vic Pfitzner, in his commentary on chapter 11 wrote, “So, whoever lives and believes in the Son shall never die, since he has already escaped the final judgment for sin, having 'passed from death to life' in the present world. Never dying means the same as never thirsting. Only the Son who shares the life of God Himself can make such a promise. But it is one which first demands His own death.”
In this story we see the story then moved to Jesus' own reaction to the grief and weeping which surrounds Him. Martha left Jesus on the road outside the village. She spoke in private to her sister; Mary. Mary, hearing that The Teacher is here, … asking for her, goes to Jesus immediately. She answered Jesus’ call, showing herself responsive to His voice.
Her mourning friends thought she just wanted to be close to Lazarus, to cry at his tomb. (We remember the other Mary, who did weep at Jesus' tomb). At Jesus’ feet Mary repeated Martha's words in verse 21. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Jesus was deeply moved with grief. Death and sorrow were the two great human realities of the moment. Jesus expressed anger and grief at the horrible power of death: His Spirit was indignant that there is death where there should be life; later He was again deeply disturbed as He faced His own death.
Jesus wept. Jesus shed tears, not in anger, but in compassion. Jesus didn’t resort to uncontrollable wailing, a mark of grieving without hope, but, as one who is fully human, He knows the pain of loss.
We see in the climax of the story four important points: hopelessness - humanly speaking; the unique relationship between the Son and Father; the life-giving power of Jesus' voice; the connections with His own burial and resurrection.
Jesus was deeply moved as Lazarus came to the tomb. First, human tears and now the actual burial-site, perturb him greatly.
Martha objected to Jesus request to open the tomb for practical reasons. The tomb would stink with the decay of death.
Jesus reminded Martha that if she would only believe, she would see God's own creative power at work, giving life to the dead, which for us signifies the greater gift of eternal life - and also points to Jesus' own hour of glory.
Jesus paused to pray at the now open tomb. The prayer is similar to that which He prays when He faces His own death and burial: “Father, I thank You that You have heard me. 42 I knew that You always hear Me, ...”
Jesus prayed not for Lazarus, but for those present, and for us that they and we might believe and understand the sign and know who Jesus is, that He’s sent from God and has God’s authority to bring new life to humanity.
With authority, Jesus called, Lazarus, come out. Jesus' voice wakes the dead from sleep. The one who’ll raise the dead on the last day with the sound of His voice, returned a man to physical life.
Where everything looked to be hopeless, there is life with Jesus.
Lazarus still tied up with the bandages and shrouds of death shuffles out of the tomb – a bit like us as we shuffle about trying to follow the teachings of Jesus but partially restrained by the trappings of our old selfish nature. Jesus had released him from the bonds of death. Now the shroud alone needs to be removed for normal life to resume.
In this story we have a foretaste of what’s to come. Let’s go out in faith with Martha, expecting a miracle, and let's believe, like Mary, that we along with our brothers and sisters in Christ will live again.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Russion dissident who was renowned for his writing about human freedom told the story of how when he was a prisoner a fellow prisoner gave him a reason to go on living. At the time he was working 12 hour days of hard labour. He’d lost his family and the doctor in the gulag told him he had terminal cancer.
One day he thought, “there’s no use going on, I’m going to die anyway. Ignoring the guards he dropped his shovel and sat down resting his head in his hands. Feeling a presence beside him he looked up to see an old man he’d not seen before and wouldn’t see again.
The man took a stick and drew a cross in the sand in front of him. Jesus met Solzhenitsyn, reminding him of the power in the world greater than any empire or government. The power that could bring new life to his situation. He picked up his shovel and went back to work.
One year later he was released from prison and was free to live in freedom outside of Communist Russia.
Jesus sets us free from our tombs to live.