“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”. (John 11:25-26). Just about everything Jesus taught was backed up by action, and nearly all his actions were a means of teaching too. The ‘Lazarus Incident’ (as the Chief Priests and political leaders might have called it) was a perfect example.
His friendship with Lazarus was possibly closer than with anyone else outside the Twelve. He truly loved Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. That fact, combined with the miraculous powers from God that flowed daily from Jesus’ ministry, was the reason that Martha sent a top priority messenger to Jesus to ask him to come as soon as he could to heal her brother. “Don’t worry…”, he said to his disciples on hearing the news, “…this sickness will not end in death, but God will be glorified through it”. He was absolutely correct.
It would have been a day’s journey to the other side of the Jordan for the messenger to travel from Bethany, and then Jesus waited another two days, before taking a further day to arrive back at Lazarus’ home; on arriving Jesus was told that Lazarus had been dead four days, which meant that he’d died before the message had reached Jesus at all. The Son of God already knew that, of course, but needed those four days to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Lazarus had been dead, then raised from the dead, rather than just healed on his deathbed. Most Jews believed that the soul remained near the body for three days after death – so, in their minds, on Day Four all hope was gone.
Jesus’ eventual arrival was met with “If only you’d been here sooner…” by both sisters. But it was to the faithful (in both senses) Martha that he delivered the famous quote. Martha already knew that Lazarus would “rise again in the resurrection at the last day”, presumably because Jesus had already taught her that fact. But Jesus meant rather more in Lazarus’ case. “I AM the Resurrection and the Life”, he claimed. The original language makes it clear that he is using the same ‘I AM’ as the Lord did with Moses; in other words, claiming to be Almighty God himself. He is the Resurrection, rather than just creating resurrection; he is Life, rather than just creating life. As we unite ourselves with Jesus, our non-physical nature (spirit, soul, heart…) becomes instantly raised from death forever; later, our physical nature (our body) will also be raised. That’s available to all of us as we decide to place our trust in Jesus.
For Lazarus, there was yet more: Mary arrives and is weeping loudly and emotionally. Jesus quietly sheds some tears; verse 35: “Jesus wept”, is the shortest in the Bible. Why did he weep for someone he knew would be raised within ten minutes? My own view is that he had, in a very personal way, come face to face with his old adversary, ‘Death’. It is a travesty that people’s lives are cut short by physical death – the separation of body from soul – that only came into the world as a result of Adam’s sin. Death was never God’s plan of creation; it is wrong, unnatural, an invasion of our true purpose and an offence to God. There is only one fate worse than death, and that is to continue to exist in an unredeemed state forever. God was merciful to us all when he decreed that physical death would cut our earthly lives short. Jesus, in seeing his dear friend held captive by this enemy, and in realizing the price that he, Jesus, would soon need to pay to release us all from death – that became in him an overwhelming emotion. To rescue us from Death’s eternal clutches, the Eternal Living One would need to die himself – for a time.
In raising his friend from physical death, Jesus was restoring, for a while, bodily life to the soul of Lazarus. He therefore demonstrated his power and gave glory to his Father. But much later on, Lazarus would still have died again of some other infirmity or of old age. So this kind of resurrection was only a temporary solution. However, one day he and we will all be given new physical bodies designed to live forever in a Paradise world – the new Earth. Today, we are limping along with slowly degrading bodies that are extremely time-limited in their usability.
The other form of death is separation of the soul from God – far more serious! Jesus himself warned us not to be so worried about those who can separate body from soul, but rather to be concerned about being separated from God himself. That kind of separation will continue forever if not remedied in this life. For those who do choose to put Death to death, by trusting in Jesus, that separation is instantly removed and there is no longer any fear of death remaining. We may not relish the process of physically dying, but death in any of its forms can no longer blight our glorious future. And one day it will be gone forever! 1 Corinthians 15:26 tells us that “The last enemy to be destroyed is Death”.
“I am going to wake Lazarus up!” said Jesus. As his Church, we are now called to do the same for all the people of Earth. So let’s have a holy war against ‘Death’ in all its forms. Let’s use the gospel, the scriptures, prayer, spiritual gifts, and a faith in Christ in order to rid this world of all last traces of our ancient enemy. The sooner we get down to work, the sooner death is gone forever!