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19. Good News for the Sick

c) Jesus Raises Lazarus from the Dead

Each of the three resurrection events reported in the Gospel accounts is complete in itself. Each account has its own particular perspective and its different details. Our third account informs us how Jesus raised a man, Lazarus, who had already been buried for four days, his body decomposing and no doubt physically dead. In a sense this more detailed account serves as a climax to all three accounts.

Lazarus and his two sisters, Martha and Mary, enjoyed a deeply personal friendship with Jesus. On occasions, Jesus stayed with them at their home in Bethany, a town close to Jerusalem. For a glimpse of this moving relationship, read Luke's Gospel account (10:38-42) and its highly instructive lesson.

Following is the account of the Messiah’s great work of raising Lazarus:

“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 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 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 lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ she told him, ‘I believe that you are the Christ (Messiah), 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. 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 odour, 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 hand 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.’ Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him.” (John 11:1-45)

From this lengthy account we single out a few points for special consideration:

1. Our account reveals that several times Jesus delayed in responding to the urgent needs of Lazarus. Why did Jesus delay His visit to Lazarus when He heard that Lazarus was seriously ill? Why did He not follow the advice of His disciples and later of Martha? As we read on, the account provides us with clear reasons for Jesus' delays. As we read them, we understand them and we agree with them.

Yet when we bring our personal needs before God, are we prepared to accept God's delays in responding to us, even though we know that God loves us, that He understands us and our situations better than we ourselves understand, and that His time is always the best time? Indeed, God wants us to tell Him our needs, just as good parents want their children to tell them their needs. But, then, we must trust God to do what is best for us, rather than telling God what He should do and how and when He should do it. At times, such is our pride and our arrogance that we think that God needs help, perhaps our help, to run the universe! May God forgive us.

How wonderful to know our Heavenly Father, to be able to address Him, to know that He wills what is best for us! Not even death can separate us from Him.

2. Our account clearly indicates that Jesus did what He had to do. At the same time, however, it states just as clearly that He ordered others to move the stone which sealed the tomb and to remove the cloth in which Lazarus was wrapped. Why these orders? No doubt because God expects us to understand that we are always responsible to do what we can do; yes, even in critical times when we view ourselves to be helpless and able only to commit ourselves and our concerns into His hands.

3. No doubt, Jesus wept because He loved Lazarus. But did He weep only because of Lazarus and his death? From all we know of Jesus, Jesus grieved not only for Lazarus but also because of the spread of sin and death, the fruit of sin, which has permeated all mankind. Death and its destructive power is, as the Holy Bible describes it, “the last enemy”. (1 Corinthians 15:26)

Yet at the same time that the Lazarus event shows Jesus' own true humanity and His identification with all humanity and with all human weakness and pain, it also identifies Jesus with the eternal, creative and living Word of God, which brings life even out of death. It again provides strong confirmation for the claim of the Holy Bible that Jesus is a prophet, yet also the eternal and living Word of God. Indeed, God's Word enfleshed! Here, then, is still another decisive sign defining the meaning of Jesus' Messiahship.

Yes, Jesus claimed to be the Resurrection and the Life. These three resurrection accounts clearly substantiate His claim. Because of Him, we look forward to that time prophesied by Jesus’ apostle John, when sin, sickness, sadness and death will be obliterated, when we will be forever with the Lord!

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ ” (Revelations 21:3,4)

Praise God! What a vision! What joy! Praise God, who heals and saves, who overcomes sin, death and the grave and gives eternal life!

Your hand, O Lord, in days of old
Was strong to heal and save;
It triumphed over ills and death,
All darkness and the grave.
To you they came, the blind, the dumb,
The palsied and the lame,
The lepers in their misery,
The sick with fevered frame.
Your touch then, Lord, brought life and health,
Gave speech and strength and sight;
And youth renewed and frenzy calmed
Revealed you, Lord of light.
And now, O Lord, be near to bless,
Almighty as before,
In crowded streets, by beds of pain,
As by Gennes’ret’s shore.
Oh, be our great deliv’rer still,
The Lord of life and death;
Restore and quicken, soothe and bless,
With your life-giving breath.
To hands that work and eyes that see
Give wisdom’s healing pow’r
That whole and sick and weak and strong
May praise you evermore.
(Lutheran Worship, Concordia Publishing House, 1982.)

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