The Raising of Lazarus
Read: John 11:1-44
A journey that many of us have made is the journey of sickness or grief: a loved one is gravely ill, a loved one has died. We must suspend everything we’re doing and go to the place. These are terrible trips.
In the famous story of Jesus and Lazarus, Jesus is called to his friends’ home in Bethany because he is sick. Someone had to travel and to locate Jesus, increasing the likelihood that Lazarus would die before Jesus arrived. But Jesus waited an extra two days before he set out with his disciples to Judea. On the way, he knew that Lazarus had died (vss. 11-15), but he tells them that the delay would help their belief later. The reason is that Lazarus would not only be dead but four days dead. His disciples, including Mary and Martha, try as best as they can to give him the benefit of the doubt, but his delay seems to them distressing.
The Bible contains seven miracles of persons raised from the dead, three by Jesus (Matthew 9:18-26, Luke 7:11-17, John 11:1-44), and four by others (1 Kings 17:17-24, 2 Kings 4:32-37, Acts 9:36-40, Acts 20:7-12). Don’t forget Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones Ezekiel (37:1-14); those people were beyond decomposition, yet in the prophetic vision, God restored their life. There are also stories of God’s power over natural forces, including destruction and death: for instance, Jesus’ calmed of the storm (Luke 8:22-24), Jesus walked across the churning sea (Matt. 14:22-36), and much earlier in the Bible, God splits the sea (Exodus 14:15-31).
I think of all these stories as part of the larger story: the forces of life and death, creation and destruction, are all somehow, in ways we do not understand, within the power and life of God, and therefore of Christ.
“In him we live and move and have our being,” were the words of Greek philosopher Epimenides that Paul approvingly quoted as he preached before the Areopagus (Acts 17:28). Our physical lives, though not the same as God’s life, are within God’s being and cared for by God. Of course, we also believe that our spiritual identities are preserved by God: that is, God saves our souls for Heaven, to use traditional language that affirms God’s power to preserve our lives.
One of my favorite verses in all of scripture is Colossians 3:3, “your life is hidden with Christ in God.” We have “died” in the sense that God gives us God’s life that continues although our own lives will end. We’ve also “died” in the sense that we are no longer condemned by God through Christ. No matter what kind of people we are, we are surrounded by and included in God’s life. This is slightly different from religions that teach that we are part of God because all reality is ultimately God. The Christian idea personalizes the life of God, so to speak. To say, “my life is included in God’s life” means that we are included in the life of a living person and living reality.
Furthermore, being included (“hidden”) in Christ’s life is unfathomably wonderful, because the New Testament also teaches the tenderness of Christ toward struggling people, his identification with those who are struggling materially and spiritually, the attention he gives to the emotionally downcast, his willingness to intercede and intervene for people when they are weak and faltering. Eventually, Jesus’ death—which he was fast approaching the day he raised Lazarus—opened infinite Spirit-power that rescues us from the nothingness and misery of death.
During times of sad travel, as you struggle with the decline and death of a loved one, look to the story of story of Lazarus to remember the ways God safeguards us in this life and beyond.