Lent Week 5: Jesus Raises a Dead Man


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.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”

Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have 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 (also known as 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. Now 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. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

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.

Jesus wept.

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 believe, you will 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.”

–John 11:1-44

We are now in week 5 of the Lenten season.  One of the traditional readings from this week is this familiar passage from the Gospel of John in which Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.

Jesus gets word that his friend Lazarus is sick.  But he doesn’t go right away; instead he stays on another two days.  Don’t you just love the sense of urgency here?

Jesus does go to Bethany.  By the time he gets there, all the townspeople are gathered around.  Lazarus has been dead for four days, and all the mourners are out.  Mary and Martha are understandably upset.  Wasn’t Jesus their friend?  Didn’t they entertain him one day?  Didn’t Martha cook all day for that?  And he still didn’t come?  Where is the love?  “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Yet even at this point there is a glimmer of hope in Martha:  “I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”  She doesn’t know the half of it.  Jesus is not simply a prophet, someone to whom God listens and grants favors.  He is not simply a “son of man”, like Ezekiel; instead he is the Son of Man, God Himself in human flesh.  Martha’s hope is for the last day:  “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”  But Jesus is the Resurrection, the one who would conquer death once and for all, standing right there in her midst.

“I am the Resurrection and the Life.”  There are seven I AM sayings of Jesus in the Gospel of John; this is the last of them.  Resurrection is not just a last-day thing with Jesus; instead, resurrection and life are present tense.  Wherever he is, they are.  Oh, you will die a physical death all right, but this will not be the end for you.  You will live, even as you wind your inexorable way to death.  Death is your destiny in Adam, but life is your destiny in Jesus.  The grave cannot and will not hold you, because it could not and did not hold Jesus.

To show that his words are real and not just so much hot air, Jesus goes to the tomb.  He orders that the stone be removed.  Martha doesn’t quite trust what is happening.  Lazarus has been dead for four days, and surely there will be a bad odor.  But Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life.  With Jesus, death has lost its sting.  Jesus goes to the mouth of the open tomb.  He prays a very unnecessary prayer, strictly for the benefit of those watching.  And then he speaks the words:  “Lazarus, come out!”  And Lazarus comes out, just as alive as ever.

You would think that the religious leaders would be impressed by this.  But if you keep reading you will see that they are not.  They were not impressed when Jesus healed the man born blind, and they are especially not impressed now.  They plot to kill Jesus, and Lazarus with him.  Jesus predicted as much, in a story about another Lazarus.

One of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, suggested that it was best for one man to die for the nation rather than the entire nation be lost.  Of course he was speaking in strictly practical terms; get rid of the one troublemaker and there won’t be trouble for the entire nation.  Yet John takes great pains to point out that Caiaphas unwittingly prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not just for the Jewish nation but for all the children of God wherever they might be, so that they all might be one.

From here we segue into Palm Sunday and the events leading up to the cross.  This is as good a place as any to break it off.