Lazarus is sick. He lives in a village two miles from Jerusalem, the capital city. Mary, Martha and Lazarus are Jesus closest friends. But now Lazarus is seriously ill. The sisters send an urgent message to Jesus who is some distance away. The message reads, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” Jesus, come quickly with your healing touch, before it is too late!
Instead of coming immediately Jesus lingers saying, “This illness does not lead to death; but Lazarus dies because it will reveal God’s glory.”
In order to understand today’s lesson about the raising of Lazarus we have to get two translation points out of the way. The first is where it says: “Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus …he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.” That is an incorrect translation. It should be translated not Accordingly but: “Because Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus…he stayed two days longer.”
As always Jesus wanted us to learn something from what he was doing. This is not a magic trick but is in fact a lesson for Jesus’ church. What does it teach us?
I think there is a big difference between being not dead and being truly alive. The last few weeks have been a real eye opener for me. I am embarrassed that I have taken so much of my life for granted. I waste time as if there is a limitless supply of it.
As I said: Jesus has something that he wants to teach us so he says: “For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.”
I want to share with all of you that I intended to be open for worship last Sunday. If our governor did not order all of us to be closed I certainly would have opened up which retrospectively would have been a mistake because of the danger of spreading the corona around. I did not take it seriously because of the way I believed. Now I believe differently so I am acting differently.
I think that this is what lies at the heart of today’s lesson about the raising of Lazarus. Jesus goes to Bethany at great personal risk because he knows that opposition to him from the Jews is greatest right where he is going.
Even as Jesus goes to give life to Lazarus his own life is growing ever shorter as the cross looms ahead in his near future.
Jesus tells his disciples that “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” Then Jesus adds that all of this is going to happen so that they may believe. What we believe drives everything that we do every single day. The things we believe are really important because what we believe compels us to act and we are what we do.
What do the disciples believe? I think the disciples probably think Jesus has totally lost it. Thomas even says: Let us also go, that we may die with him.
Martha what does she believe? It seems that she holds Jesus responsible for her brother’s death saying: Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.
The conversation between Martha and Jesus shows that Martha does not understand what Jesus is talking about when Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life.” She cannot see that this statement has any bearing on her or her dead brother. Martha does not comprehend. She does not believe he is the resurrection and life. So she leaves Jesus standing there and “goes back and calls her sister Mary, and tells her privately, ‘The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” It doesn’t say that Jesus called for Mary though Martha said he had. I think there was something about the conversation that was making Martha very uncomfortable so it was more like hey “you go talk to him.”
What did Mary believe? While Mary says the same thing to Jesus as Martha, Mary says it while kneeling at his feet. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” I get a different feel from Mary. She asks the same question but without the pointing finger of blame. She, too, wants to know why but the question comes from a place of trust. Their relationship is still intact, even though she is sad about her brother’s death.
Now we get into the second translation issue in our Lesson from John 11. The next section is usually translated “Jesus was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” I don’t think Jesus was emotionally upset. Why would he be if he knew that in a few minutes Lazarus would be alive again?
I think that Jesus was angry and frustrated. His message wasn’t getting through. His disciples and his two closest friends were not understanding what he was teaching. I get angry with myself and frustrated when my students don’t understand what I teach too. It is not a good feeling. I think Jesus was angry and not sad.
Jesus knows what he must do and he says, “Where have you laid him?” Those around him say, “Lord, come and see.” Interestingly these are the same words Phillip said to Nathaniel when Jesus called them as disciples. So Jesus goes and he does not like what he sees. Then we get the famous shortest verse in the New Testament which is Jesus wept. A few years ago I looked out over an especially full church on Easter Sunday and I was overcome with a deep grief. Everyone was happy and singing but I felt an overwhelming grief over how our church is declining. My thinking was that this beautiful thing is not going to be here much longer. I dug down deeply and suppressed my grief so that I could lead the rest of worship but I really just wanted to run away.
This remains for me an experience that has changed the way I think about the church and because my thinking has changed what I do has also changed.
Since that day I have stopped taking worship for granted. I look at it as a precious resource that needs to be treasured. I sing all the hymns, every verse even the ones I don’t like. I’m so happy to see every one of our people when we are together. I work extra hard to sing the choir anthems with precision. The entire rest of the week I devote myself to our congregation’s preservation.
What must have it been like for Lazarus to receive his life back? I would like to think that Lazarus had a renewed sense of life as a gift to be treasured. I would like to think that he stopped wasting his time. I would like to think he treated his sister’s with increased respect.
Jesus went to the tomb and called ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The 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.’
Today I will say that I am bound by my fears. I am afraid of how many of you I will lose to this dangerous virus. I am bound by my fear about what will be left for us to return to when the church re-opens. I am bound by my fear about the damage this is doing to our economy where we each work to earn daily bread. Today I am bound by my fears.
If I stay that way I will be wasting the rest of the life that I have. This is not a good thing. I think we all need to be unbound and let go. With each passing day I am beginning to be filled with a hope that I can play a part in what will be a difficult recovery. Just as Lazarus got his life back for a second chance I am getting another chance to continue to work for our congregation and to reflect Christ’s life in my life.
Jesus said that he would raise Lazarus so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.
We too have been unbound and let go because we have the faith of Christ. Jesus wants to unbind all of us. He wants to unbind us from complacency, taking things for granted, wasting time and finally he wants to unbind us from the grip that death hold on our lives. Just as on the day of Lazarus’ raizing “Many…who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did believed in him.” Today I tell you that I am among them. Please join me.
1. Why is Jesus not afraid of death?
2. Do you agree with me that Jesus was angry about the display of mourning and not sad?
3. What would a life be like that had no fear of death?