Growing in Christ - Meditation
The Miraculous - Evidence for the Senses
Lazarus: Questions Asked and Answered
Presented at New Life Community Church; Burnaby, British Columbia - May 7, 2017
John 11:1-44 (NIV)
Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. So the sisters sent word to Jesus, "Lord, the one you love is sick."
When he heard this, Jesus said, "This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it." Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.
Then he said to his disciples, "Let us go back to Judea."
"But Rabbi," they said, "a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?"
Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours of daylight? A man who walks by day will not stumble, for he sees by this world's light. It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light."
After he had said this, he went on to tell them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up."
His disciples replied, "Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better." Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.
So then he told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him."
Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him."
On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
"Lord," Martha said to Jesus, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask."
Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again."
Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day."
Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"
"Yes, Lord," she told him. "I believe you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world."
And after she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. "The teacher is here," she said, "and is asking for you." When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
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."
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.
"Where have you laid him?" he asked.
"Come and see, Lord," they replied.
Then the Jews said, "See how he loved him!"
But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?"
Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. "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."
Then Jesus said, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?"
So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 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."
When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" 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."
The story of Lazarus is very enjoyable to read. Here, Jesus brings a friend back to life. In doing so, he interacts with a number of different people, requesting faith and demonstrating his power. Things are said and done here which are very significant. We appreciate this miracle all the more because we are familiar with what has gone before-previous miracles have prepared us for this, laying a foundation of faith and belief that all things are possible with God.
The story of Lazarus has a simple plot, but profound implications. As we read the story, questions arise, but then they are quickly answered. We will see that the conclusion of the story of Lazarus is also a fitting conclusion to the story of the life and miraculous ministry of Jesus.
I. Questions: Asked and Answered
The first question is, of course, why did Jesus wait two days? (11:6). Would we not expect Jesus to go rushing immediately to the side of his friend, at least to comfort him, if nothing else? But Jesus knows a thing or two that no one else does. The sickness will not end in death. It will result in God's glory. We have encountered this idea before, of course. In John 9:1, Jesus is asked why the man was born blind. The answer was "so that the work of God might be displayed in his life (John 9:3)." In other words, so that God might be glorified when Jesus gives him his sight. So it is necessary for Jesus to wait until Lazarus is certainly dead, so that he might be brought back to life in front of witnesses.
Do any of us here today feel like Lazarus-we are waiting for Jesus to show up, and wondering why it is taking so long? Do we have the courage to wait? Do we have faith in God's plan, especially in matters pertaining to life and death?
The second question is asked by the disciples. They want to know why Jesus wants to go to Judea, a very dangerous place for Jesus. The people there have already tried to stone him. Jesus answers that "A man who walks by day will not stumble for he sees by this world's light. It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light (11:9-10)." Clearly, Jesus has no intention of living in fear. He knows, furthermore, that he has a destiny to fulfill.
Do we walk courageously, openly and honestly through the days of our lives? We Christians aren't perfect but surely we know what direction we are supposed to go. If we, with our assurance of salvation, cannot be brave enough to set a good example, who can? What if no one does?
A third question arises when Thomas says "Let us also go, that we may die with him." In other circumstances, we might think that Thomas was being sarcastic or fatalistic. But it seems rather that Jesus has developed enormous loyalty amongst his disciples. They will follow him, and they do follow him no matter where it might lead. We find ourselves talking once again about relationship with God through Jesus. Throughout the story of Lazarus Jesus is both testing and encouraging faithful relationship in the people around him.
More questions arise when Jesus arrives to visit Martha and Mary. Jesus talks first to Martha and assures her that her brother will rise again. Martha is a woman of faith, but Jesus asks a question of her that is framed in language they have not heard before. He says:
I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this? (11:25-26).
They have come to expect Jesus to say and do remarkable things, but this is putting things in absolute terms. Eric Metaxas has stated: "Such words are sheer unparalleled hubris or they are madness-unless they are true." It is the truth of these words that has caused them to echo down to us throughout the ages. Martha, thankfully, is equal to the task of responding to these words:
"Yes, Lord," she told him, "I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world (11:27)."
We should remember Martha for this response. We know from this story of Lazarus, previous miracles and from our own personal experience, that when people start making bold and assertive statements of faith in Jesus, remarkable things start to happen.
We can also observe the reaction of Mary. She has held back, at first, from going out to meet Jesus, but when he asks for her she hastens out to see him and falls at his feet. This brings us into a different realm-the realm of heartfelt, human emotion. No sooner are we asked to believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life-or in other words, fully divine-than we are reminded that Jesus is also fully human:
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. "Where have you laid him?" he asked. "Come and see, Lord," they replied. Jesus wept. (11:35).
Jesus wept? The One who had absolute power over life and death? As long as we live, we Christians will struggle to comprehend how God can be both all-powerful and humanly vulnerable. What does it mean? Among other things, it means we should never be ashamed of our own heartfelt emotions. If Jesus can let himself grieve over the death of someone he loved, then so can we. Furthermore, it means he understands. All of our fears, all of our worries, all of our heartbreaks-God understands. Jesus-God Incarnate-- understands our emotions and our pains better than we do. And one day he will wipe every tear from our eyes. (Rev.7:17).
Imagine the joy of Martha and Mary when they see Lazarus emerging from the cave. Imagine the joy and amazement of all the witnesses. Imagine them running to tell all their friends about what they just saw. We can share in that joy as we read the story, and as we contemplate our own salvation in Christ the Lord.
There are still a few more interesting things to observe about this remarkable episode in the life and ministry of Jesus. For example, why, in such a serious story about life and death, do we have that peculiar reference to the odor caused by the decaying body of Lazarus? (11:39).The King James Version has Mary saying succinctly: "He stinketh (39)." It seems like such a trivial thing to mention. Then again, perhaps not. For the same reason he waited two days, Jesus needed people to know that the body was well and truly dead. He wanted no doubts raised that perhaps he had only revived Lazarus from a sickness or a coma. The smell of a rotting body would be unmistakable evidence for the senses that the death was real and the raising back to life was therefore real. The witnesses had to be convinced, for, just like in the other miracles, the witnesses would be the reporters, the communicators of the astonishing abilities of Jesus to the outside world.
II. Evidence for the Senses
Evidence for the senses-when we review a number of previous miracles, we discover that Jesus has taken care to address all of the five senses of a human being. For example, in the very first miracle of his ministry, the turning of water into wine at the wedding feast, the sense of taste is engaged. The master of the banquet tastes the wine and pronounces it to be the best (John 2:9-10).
Secondly, at the healing of the paralyzed man at the pool, Jesus restores his ability to walk and of course this would include the restoring of the sense of touch in his legs (John 5:1-8).
There is, thirdly, the case of the man born blind, already mentioned (John 9). This blind man had to obey some strange instructions-mix saliva and mud into his eyes, then wash in the pool of Siloam. Sometimes the Lord tests our faith and obedience in the most peculiar ways!
Fourthly, Jesus heals a man who was deaf-and we find this in the book of Mark 7: 32-37. The sense of hearing is all important-for many centuries after the mortal life of Jesus, most people would only hear about him. They would not read about him in the newspaper, or in a Bible for that matter. Another example of the importance of the spoken word and the hearing thereof is the healing of the Official's son. Jesus never sees the boy or touches the boy, but he hears about him from his father. The father also hears about the successful healing of his son before seeing him again. John 4:43-54.
It is fitting, therefore, that the fifth sense-that of smell, should be used in the story of Lazarus, the final miracle in the ministry of Jesus. From all of this we should never doubt that our senses and our bodies are good things-gifts from God, not to be abused or neglected. Moreover, we generally do trust our senses in the search for truth and knowledge. Students of philosophy will be familiar with the term "empiricism": a theory that states that knowledge comes only or primarily from sensory experience (Wikipedia). In providing miraculous services to the people of his day, Jesus was not just demonstrating love and compassion-he was laying a foundation of evidence for faith that would last throughout the centuries.
After the raising of Lazarus, the disciples probably thought they had now seen everything. But they had only just been prepared for the amazing, earth-shaking events to follow-namely, the death and resurrection of Christ himself. Let us pray that we too are prepared to accept the miraculous and live out our lives in faith and joy.
Praise the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Suggestions for further reading:
Eric Metaxas, Miracles (New York: Penguin)2014
Paul Barnett, John the Shepherd King (Sydney: Aquila)2005
Jean Vanier, Drawn Into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John.(Ottawa: Novalis)2004
 Eric Metaxas, Miracles (New York: Penguin) 2014, p.330.