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John 11:38-39, NIV38 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 odor, for he has been there four days."
October 12, 2011First, Jesus commanded some of the mourners to open the grave. He wasn't going to do this thing all by himself. Others had to cooperate. But Martha protested--it can't be done; no, we should not open the tomb! After all, Lazarus had been dead for four days. She thought they were opening a literal "can of worms" which is a disgusting thought. Besides it stinks in there. She probably remembered the smell of death as he lay dying.
Those who watched Jesus observed that he was deeply moved. He was about to do something he had never done before. He would bring back to life a body that had already begun to decompose. I wonder if Jesus was sweating at the thought of what he had put into motion? How confident was he in what he was attempting? Did the human side of Jesus ever worry?
Did he place his confidence in his heavenly Father and not in himself? That's how many of the amazing things we do get accomplished. We know God can do anything. What we don't know is whether God will do what we ask and at the moment we ask.
Had others not cooperated with Jesus, would this miraculous sign have been performed? Was the involvement of these mourners a sign of their faith and proof that they did believe in Jesus?
The tears that Jesus shed that day--what was that all about? Was he weeping because he loved Lazarus so much? Because of the ordeal Mary and Martha were going through after he delayed so long in coming to their aid? Because he had to go to these extremes to teach these people to believe he was sent from God? Was Jesus crying because of how this situation looked from God's point of view? Were these divine tears or human tears? Maybe Jesus was getting a glimpse of how his followers would feel when he "brought glory to God by giving up his life." Death viewed from the human side can be so tragic, and nothing like the triumphant homecoming as described in Christian theology.
John 11:40, NIV 40 Then Jesus said, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?"
Here's what Martha needed to do. She had to believe and trust Jesus. The situation required her consent before they could remove the stone door of the cave. She had to agree to exposing the stink and nastiness of the burial site.
She had to believe that Jesus is what he had told her, the resurrection and the life. Not on some "last day" but here and now, in this time and place. Jesus was asking Martha to believe something no one else had ever believed before! It's easier when there is precedent. But Jesus was not establishing a precedent here. This was to be once and done, and prelude to his own death and resurrection.
If Martha believed, she would see the glory of God. The word "glory" is often associated in the New Testament with the death of Jesus. While it was happening, his crucifixion appeared to people more like shame and humiliation, yet Jesus claimed it would bring God glory. But that is all in the future tense, and Martha lived in the present.
Caught between a rock and a hard place, Martha submitted to the appeal of Jesus. She gave in to his request and his ability to inspire faith even in hopeless situations.
John 11:41-42, NIV41 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."
October 13, 2011After Jesus got everyone lined up and on board, and with the stone rolled to the side and the entrance to the grave exposed, it was time to pray aloud so everyone could hear and become involved. "Father, thank you for hearing me." Jesus had already sent his request heavenward. He knew God had heard him and always did hear him. The prayer at the gravesite was not for the sake of Jesus but for those who had come to the tomb with him. In order that the question of whether Jesus was sent from God would be settled in the affirmative.
Jesus, strong and confident. Ready with one mighty sign to demonstrate that he was sent from the Father, that he was one with the Father. Knowing also that this one feat would create a great stirring of interest among the masses, and an equal hostility among his opponents. Thus it signaled the beginning of the time being right for Jesus to give up his own life.
John 11:43-44, NIV
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."
October 19, 2011"Lazarus, come out!" Do you think that's what happened on Easter morning?--God's voice permeated the tomb where the body of Jesus had been laid and called out loudly. "Jesus my son, come out!"?
It's no use trying to figure out how Jesus resurrected Lazarus. Jesus calling in a loud voice reminds me of the creation story in the beginning of Genesis wherein God said, "Let there be light!", and there was light. Jesus called out to Lazarus and Lazarus roused himself, stood up and hobbled out of the grave. Then it was time for the mourners to participate yet again. They had to remove the grave clothes and set him free. That was their chance to touch the body of Lazarus and verify that he who had been dead is now alive.
There is no further description about the event. We are just left there, in a hush. Everyone is silent. Lazarus, Martha, Mary, the other mourners, Jesus--no one spoke another word.
The reaction to this event will be mixed. But I imagine it will take days for the magnitude of what they witnessed to sink in. The sheer surprise of seeing Lazarus walk out of the tomb must have been stunning. The turnaround of emotions--what would that be like?
I have heard sermons and read meditations which suggest we are all like Lazarus in the sense of being bound and shackled by sin, or laid low by so many things that bring us down. Even the ruts we are in serve as graves. Then Jesus comes along and calls us by name, saying, " . . . , come out!"
Symbolically, every morning we have a new chance, often with the help of our friends, to unwrap the grave clothes and walk into a new day. We are not doomed by what happened yesterday. Today is a new opportunity to get it right, to start over, make amends, forgive ourselves and each other, to sit and be quiet in God's presence.
For Jesus, this incident may have foreshadowed his own death and resurrection. But for us it can mean our own breaking free, if not forever at least for the moment, from the gloom of worry, stress and fear, from our sins of not loving as we ought to love. It's an invitation Jesus offers us every day, every moment, to come out into the miracle of renewal. Of course it is God's will and great desire, that we stay out of the caves of death. If Jesus is our life and resurrection, then we are not meant to live in the pits.
"Lazarus, come out!" is like the dry bones that rattled back to life in Ezekiel's vision. Jesus can give life to anyone no matter how dead! E. Stanley Jones wrote that Jesus is "resurrecting your mind, your body, your spirit, your hopes, your outlook, your everything. In him you are resurrected now." Am I willing to believe and trust Jesus to fulfill this promise in me? As Jesus had told Martha--If you believe, you will see and experience the glory of God, not off in some distant future, but here and now.