One Way? Week Six: "The Lazarus Effect"


This week I am continuing the sermon series that I've been working on with my church for the past several weeks--a sermon series entitled "One Way?"  Throughout this sermon series we've been discussing how followers of Jesus can demonstrate with their lives all the ways that Jesus is the way to God.

We're doing something a bit differently this week.  I'm starting off by diving straight into the text.  As I teach, however, I want everyone to hold on this one big idea, which is going to loom large for us as we dig into the story:

Jesus is the One Way to God that shows us what God is really like.  

Let's get moving--we've got a lot of ground to cover. This is the story of how Jesus raised a man named Lazarus from the dead.  The story of Lazarus being raised from the dead only appears in the Gospel of John.

In Luke's Gospel Jesus tells a parable about a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus, who die and go to opposite places, if you know what I mean.  The rich man goes to Hades and Lazarus goes to Paradise where he hangs with Abraham.  The rich man begs Abraham to allow Lazarus to return from the dead and warn his brothers to change their lives so as not to share his fate.  

At the end of the parable, Jesus says, "...even if someone came back from the dead, they still would not believe."

Here we go...
1. Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 (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.) 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”4 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.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, 7 and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.
Does anyone but me find verses 5 & 6 a little odd.  "Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus... so when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was..."  If this doesn't act as a clue that something is up, I don't know what will... Jesus is on a different timetable.  He chooses the time for his return here, just as he chooses the time when he goes to Jerusalem where he is arrested and executed. 
8 “But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”9 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. 10 It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”11 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.” 12 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. 14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 Then Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Thomas gives voice to what all of the other disciples are feeling.  "This is messed up.  The guy is already dead, and we have no idea why the heck we are heading back into the hands of our enemies... but if it means that we go now and start the revolution---or whatever---let's go.  The disciples don't really "get" Jesus--they are always a step behind. 

17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles[b] from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 

The mourning process in ancient Judaism was dramatic and extended.  Family, friends and neighbors would "sit shivah" with the family, a seven day process that included a small window of hope for the first three days.  Ancient Jews believed that the soul of a departed person would remain near the body for three days, but when the spirit could see the color of the face of the body changing on the fourth day--it would depart.  Essentially, all hope is lost at this point.  
20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. 21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” 28 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.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 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. 32 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.”
It's hard not to read some accusation and complaint into what Mary and Martha say to Jesus here.  What I love about this is that their complaints are hinged on their belief.  In fact, it's their belief that fuels their complaint.  They know that Jesus could have healed Lazarus if he had been there, if he had desired it.  It had been what they expected, honestly.  They'd seen him heal perfect strangers, and fully expected him to come to heal their brother, whom Jesus loved.  Martha goes back and forth with Jesus trying to struggle with this knowledge---and finally just taking whatever faith she had left and putting in his hands.  
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
And here is the focal point of our entire study today.  This simple verse--the shortest in the Bible...  
35 Jesus wept.
Let that little verse just sit with you for a moment...  
36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Some of the people gathered at the funeral exclaim "See how he loved him!" but do they do it admiringly or accusingly.  I think it might be the latter--more than the former.  
  
38 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.” 40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 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.”

I love this... for the first time in the entire Gospel of John Jesus addressed God as "Father."  
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.
The words used here for "called out" are the same words that are used to describe the action of the crowds gathered to accuse Jesus later on the Gospel.  They call out "Crucify him!" Jesus cries out life, they cry out death.

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

This is awesome---Lazarus comes out of the grave still wrapped in his graveclothes, a sign that he will one day have to die again.  When Jesus rises from the dead, he leaves those graveclothes behind, baby! 
45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.
Great story right?  But every time I read it, I get hung up on that little verse right in the middle:  "Jesus wept."  What does it mean?  Why did the writer include it?  What does it reveal about Jesus that he wept? And further, what kind of hope does it give for those of us who grieve, worry or who are afraid...?

Before we answer those questions... let me pose another one:  Why do we cry?
What is it inside of us that triggers tears?

I get teared up over strange things.  It's unpredictable.  I watched the entirety of the movie The Notebook and did not shed a single tear---until I looked over and saw my wife bawling her eyes out, and then I got choked up.  She cries when she watches The Way We Were, too--a movie that did not affect me one whit, until she started boo hooing when it was over.

But I did cry when I saw Old Yeller... and the scene at the end of The Natural when Robert Redford is playing catch with the son he didn't know he had... yeah that messes me up.  I often get choked up at the end of the American Adventure attraction at EPCOT during the stirring final song.

Oh and I cried like a baby when the Broncos won their first Super Bowl.  And no... I didn't cry when they lost last year... much.

So what it is that triggers our emotions?  What does it tell us when we cry?  I looked up this topic on some pretty serious medical journals online.  I discovered that crying is a way of "letting go of our guard, defenses and tapping into a place deep inside."  This is medical terminology people, I kid you not. I also found that crying is "A release--a build of energy with feelings..." and that this release actually results in "releasing stress hormones."  In addition, crying shows vulnerability and affects everyone around us because it shifts the level of intimacy of the environment.

But here's where it gets real...

I read that not crying "deadens" us.  It "suppressed what is human."  Get this:  "the sorrow which has no vent in tears may make other organs weep...."

Let me ask you something... what did Jesus see when he entered into that moment at Lazarus funeral?  He saw the effects of loss.  The time of hope had passed---the eleventh hour had come and gone.  There was only despair at this point.  There was desperate faith--the kind of faith that both accused and hoped in the same breath.  There was resignation that there was not really going to be any positive resolution, no healing, no miracle.

These sisters who mourned their brother--Jesus friend--had most likely been the ones who wrapped his dead body.  As unmarried women, he had been their protector, their livelihood, their future.... As they wrapped his dead body, weeping as they pulled those graveclothes around him---I am sure they wondered what would happen to them when all of the mourners had gone.

Jesus saw this---all of it.

And he saw people full of unbelief, anger and suspicion.  He saw them in all of their brokenness and frailty... in their humanity.

And he wept with them.

Jesus knew that Lazarus would be raised from the dead---and he also knew that this was just a foretaste of the kind of resurrection that would change everything for everyone.

He knew all of this and yet he let himself feel... he wept and in so doing showed his followers---showed us what God is really like.

Maybe you came here today feeling like the eleventh hour has come and gone.  You just finished wrapped the graveclothes around your dreams... You feel as though your life is never going to get any better... You have lost more than you could ever imagine---maybe even someone you love, to death or leaving....

Maybe you came here angry at Jesus for not showing up.

You hear the words he speaks and they are so familiar to you aren't they?  "I am the resurrection and the life...."  Perhaps your head is telling you that you should believe it.  But your heart, your gut---the part of you that is so very, very human isn't sure.

And it's that part of you that Jesus knows better than you can imagine.  He weeps with you in the middle of your mourning.  He knows what it's like to feel your loss, your pain, your loneliness, your despair.

And this should give you hope... and joy... and peace that can't be described...

Jesus is the One Way to God that shows us what God is really like.  

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