For God’s Glory
As you can tell, we are dealing with the phenomenon of LIFE today. Before us is this most remarkable report of Jesus’ seventh and ultimate ‘sign’ or miracle. But it is chock full of unexpected pieces which we really must look at more closely.
(In Jn. 11:4)
St. Columba’s, Bp., 3/9/08
OT Reading: Ez.37:1-14 NT Reading: Selections
(Children’s Story, Song) from Jn. 11:1-45
- We know the family in this story, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, from other times and places recorded in Luke and even later on in John. Jesus often pent time at their home, and he loved them. We know Mary as the meditative, hungry-for-learning, devoted type, and Martha as the organized, hard-working ‘housewife’ type – though, fact, this family of three is a brother and two sisters. Mary is the Mary who later (in Jn. 12:1-8) anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume and wiped them dry with her hair!* And we learn from this Scripture that this family knew Jesus well enough to know where to find him when he was out of the country.
- Yet, Jesus did not come when the sisters sent for him! He remained in the Trans-Jordan, in the Decapolis east of the Jordan River, where he was safe from the Judean religious authorities who wanted to eliminate him* because he had said (in Jn. 10:30) that he and God were One! (Bethany is only 2 miles n.e. of Jerusalem and the Jewish leadership certainly didn’t want him near there again! They had already tried to stone him to death and/or at least arrest him, but he had escaped them.) And yet, in our account, Thomas, ‘our’ doubting Thomas, was willing to go with Jesus when he finally began the trip, saying (perhaps for all the disciples), “Let’s go along with him so that we also, can die with him!*(!!!)
- They arrive and find a mourning crowd. In Jewish tradition, at least 10 mourners must be there every day to mourn with the family for thirty days!* And we hear such a testimony from the ‘kitchen’ Martha!: “I know that God will give you whatever you ask Him!” and “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world!”* What a statement of faith! How did she know this?
- Then, when Mary went to meet Jesus, she was weeping, and the Jews with her were weeping, and “Jesus began to weep!”* Did he weep out of empathy with his friend? Did he weep because death causes others such pain? Or was he touched to the point of weeping because he was foreseeing how others would react to his coming death? We don’t know the answer from the written record, but “Jesus began to weep!”
- Of course, the family was distressed about the terrible decaying odor which would accompany any opening of Lazarus’s tomb! Like all good Jews, he had been put into the tomb and it had been sealed on the day that he died. Now, as late as the 3rd Century AD, rabbinic tradition was saying that because a soul hovers near its body for three full days before it departs,* it then was possible to say that all previous ‘raisings’ were just resuscitations, similar to a First Aid intervention, rather than an actual ‘bringing back from the dead’!* This means that the entire Bible’s listing of such ‘raisings’, – the son of the widow in Zaraphath, by Elijah; the small son of the Shunammite couple, by Elisha; the young man son of the widow in Nain, by Jesus; or the later raising of Dorcas, by Peter; the raising of Eutychus, by Paul – all were just resuscitations!* In fact, you and I may have overlooked a small piece in Mt. 10:8 where we are told that all the disciples, when sent out on their first training mission by Jesus, are expected to learn how “to raise the dead!” So, perhaps all this three-day ‘raising’ business was not so impressive back then, but Jesus is evidently hoping that a fourth-day raising will be!
- And when Lazarus did exit the tomb and was freed from his embalming wraps, “many of the Jews who were with Mary believed in Jesus!”* – even though that didn’t seem to be Jesus’ intention. He had meant for God to be glorified by the event, – (while at the same time he rather dourly predicted that he, too, would be ‘glorified’ or ‘would see glory,’ – in his Crucifixion). Meanwhile, we, living in these times, wish that someone had asked Lazarus for a report of his experience. What was his life-during-death like? What was his life-after-death like? We in this century tend to be so intrigued by “Near-Death Experiences” and how they are described by survivors! Yet, sadly, we get no such information from Lazarus on the subject.
- Lastly, in the Book of John up ’til now, Jesus has been identified by several different titles: Andrew called him “the Messiah”, John the Baptist said he was “the Lamb of God”, Nathaniel spoke of him as “the Son of God”, and “the King of Israel”, the Samaritans said he was “the Savior of the world”, Simon Peter called him “the Holy One of God”, the man born blind knew him to be “the Son of Man”, and Martha (in vs. 27) gave him three more identifiers, “the Christ”, “the Son of Man”, and which “was/is coming into the world!”* Let’s add to this the fullness of Jesus’ own self-identifying terms recorded so far in the Book of John, his famous “I am” sayings, such as: “I am the living water”, “I am the Messiah” (Jn. 4), “I am the Good Shepherd”, “I am God’s Son”, and now, in today’s Reading, “I am the resurrection and the life!”* The names by which Jesus is known, his self-revealings, and the seven miracles or ‘signs’ culminating in Lazarus being raised from the dead are absolutely intolerable to the ruling religious Jews in the area. They are terribly afraid of a local insurrection because the Jews have been awaiting the Messiah so long,* but even more, they (!) want to avoid the Romans’ doming to destroy their holy place (and their holy system?) and their holy nation.*
- There are a number of sermons in this Lazarus story, aren’t there? – preserved in oral tradition for 2-3 generations and recorded in John sometime between 90-120 AD.** Yet in spite of all the issues we just looked at more closely, this is a straight forward story, wouldn’t you say? – one which we can either accept or reject!
To be specific, the Lazarus event is a good example of “With God all things are possible!” (from Mt. 19:26)
- The good news is that somehow in Jesus, as in God, there is the capability to give life!* Inherently, intrinsically, as living water, bread of life, Shepherd, Son of God, Jesus the Christ, – our Lord Jesus can make life happen in us and for us. (We’re not speaking of ordinary life here, as miraculous as it is, but of LIFE, corporeal and spiritual, full, spelled in capital letters!) There was and is ESSENTIAL LIFE in the person of Jesus Christ!* (And so he went ahead and raised his friend from death, knowing that such a display of divine power would absolutely lead to his own death. But he did it to glorify God!)
- This new LIFE for you or me is not something we can order up; we can’t say, “Just 2 spoonfuls of life for me, please Lord,” or “No, not that kind of life, please, – I’d rather have this kind of life, Lord!” Nor is this LIFE for rent, nor for sale! It comes to us as a Gift, a grace Gift! Because all things are possible with God!
We are exhorted ‘way back in Dt. 30:19 to “choose life rather than death,” – so we may live! – loving God, obeying God, holding fast to God, – which means LIFE to us!* But the decision to choose life is as far as “our” will, “our” capability can take us. The rest results dynamically from our ‘fellowship with’, our ‘being with” God each day.*
When this new LIFE shows up in us, in others, in our everyday world, it takes our breath away!:
when an Iron Curtain comes down,
when another person actually understands us,
when someone gets their days going well again after some horrible, wipe-out tragedy,
when an abandoned baby, maybe from the East, gets adopted, maybe
in the West, and grows up well to live a full life,
when an older adult finally learns to read,
when a new Christian church starts up and flourishes in a place where
there had been none,
when a loved one ‘wakes up’ from a long coma,
when Springs always come after Winters, etc., etc., etc., etc.
With such examples, are we speaking of just this here and now life, or of eternal Living? (We know that this LIFE becomes a present possession where Jesus is; it is not just a promise for “the last days!”* Certainly, we are wise to opt for both! Choose LIFE!
And finally, we are reminded by this Lazarus account, just before Easter, that Jesus said, in this very John (10:10), “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly!”
- We’re speaking here of a God-full, Christ-full, Spirit-full status, aren’t we, depending on where you find your ‘connectedness.’ Especially as Christians, we can be pro-LIFE! Especially as Christians, we can enjoy “a dual citizenship,” as one on-line evangelist puts it, – in our own nation and in the Kingdom of God. Especially as Christians, we can know that only God-in-Christ can give us this LIFE-full standing. For God’s Glory!This orientation to LIFE will alter our perceptions and opinions regarding wars, and dominance, and time, and resources, and children, and crime, and punishments, and health, and the food supply. As important as ‘anti-abortion’ is, pro-LIFE living is even larger, isn’t it, because it includes both the supernatural (the numinous) and the tangible, the pragmatic. However, we are living in a time when even our thinking about what is supernatural OR material is challenged:
Example: Louise’s pacemaker removed by the doctors once each year to see how her heart is without it. For several years now, she has no heartbeat without the pacemaker!
Example: CNN News last week. In Norway, millions of plant seeds are being stored away in a below-ground natural ‘freezing space’ to preserve them for thousands of years for any survivors in the case of a world calamity.
Example: For $250.00, the U. of Chicago says, you can ask for a screening of your DNA to learn where your ancestors came from. Only a very small percentage of our DNA can so far be tapped for this information. They’ll know more in the future.
Example: Closer to home, right here in fact, immigrants, refugees, begin their lives, or their LIVES, all over again, – in this place.
Lazarus, as we know, was raised to life only to die again, whereas Jesus Christ was restored to life to live forever!* There is that difference between him and us. Even though we humans ‘die,’ the IDB tells us that “with Jesus’ resurrection, the ‘LIFE’ Jesus came to bring is poured forth in power and let loose for all!” (p. 50)
We serve and worship and grow in knowing a Living God!
We serve and worship and grow in knowing the Lord of Life!
To God be the Glory, – “For The Glory of God.” Amen.
*Main Sources – The New Oxford annotated Bible (NRSV), The Interpreter’s Bible, The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, The Supplementary IDB.
Coralyn T. Medyesy
Coralyn T. Medyesy serves with the Reformed Church of Hungary. She is a teacher of Social Work and Diakonia at the Nagy Koros School.