38So Jesus, again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus said, “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42“I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” 43When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” 44The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with acloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
Don’t you wonder what all those friends and neighbors of Mary and Martha must have been thinking when Jesus approached that burial tomb and commanded them to “take away the stone”? Can’t you just see them covering their noses in dreadful anticipation and casting perplexing glances at one another? We can imagine them starting to take steps backward away from the cave. And how do you suppose they reacted when Jesus cried to a dead man, “Lazarus, come out!”? And did those who witnessed the miracle really see the spiritual truth at the base of it all? And what is the spiritual truth at the base of this story? Jesus said: I am the Resurrection and the Life The story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead is the climactic miracle in the Gospel of John. It is told by the writer of John’s Gospel, to visually illustrate Jesus’ claim that he is able to resurrect the dead and return what is dead to life again. I am the resurrection and the life is the 5th of Jesus’ great I am revelations. These statements in John’s Gospel point to the divinity of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah.
- “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger.” John 6:35
- “I am the light of the world; he who fallows Me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life.” John 8:12
- “I am the gate; if anyone enters through Me, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.” John 10:9
- “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for His sheep.” John 10:11
- “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies.”John 11:25
- “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.” John 14:6
- “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.” John 15:1
The significance of these statements lie in the phrase “I AM.” When Moses asked of God as he stood in front of the burning bush “who shall I say sent me?” In other words “what is your name God?” He was told “I am who I am. Say I am sent you.” God is theGreat I am. When Jesus says I am he is affirming that he is the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity. The divinity of Jesus Christ is further illustrated in John 8:58. Jesus said, “Truly, Truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am”. John’s Gospel is carefully constructed to confirm the divinity of Jesus, the word of God made flesh. From this Gospel and specifically from the I am statements in it, we understand that Jesus is God and as such
- reveals the nature of God to us,
- exercises the creative and saving work of God in the world,
- knows the mind of God and
- has access to the power of God.
The story of Lazarus has a number of significant applications for us today and can be understood on several levels.
Firstly, the event of Jesus’ raising Lazarus from the dead confirms that he is God. Only God can raise the dead to life.
Secondly, the physical death of Lazarus can be understood as a metaphor for spiritual death. Just as physical death ends life and separates people, so spiritual death is the separation of people from God and the loss of life which is in God. Jesus came to break the deathly hold that sin has on our spiritual lives and to offer us a life of resurrection to new possibilities and spiritual freedom. See John 10: 10 I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. In the raising of Lazarus, Jesus shows he can resurrect the spiritual life that is dead in sin. Just as Jesus is said to have called to Lazarus to “come forth” from the tomb of death, we are encouraged to believe that the same thing is said on our behalf—“Charmaine, come forth from the tomb of your sin to live again!” Yet Jesus was also thinking of the life to come. The story illustrates that Jesus is able to fulfil his promise to conquer the power of death and to offer us eternal life.
Thirdly, we know that in Jesus we see the nature and character of God revealed and so we can learn some important things about the compassionate nature of God from this story. We learn in the words: Jesus wept, that God cares deeply about us and our grief. Jesus wept because of his compassion for his friends. He knew Lazarus would be raised and all would be well yet he wept because he felt the grief of Mary and Martha and Lazarus’ friends and family. We understand from this, that we worship a God who cares deeply for his children. This is a wonderful insight which blesses us.
Finally, the story of Lazarus also foretells Jesus’ own death and in some sense it is a catalyst that sets in motion the events leading to his death and resurrection. One might ask why Jesus raises Lazarus? He answers this question himself:
- To bring glory to God
- To encourage people to believe in him
- To prove that death spiritual and physical will not have the final word when we put our trust and faith in Christ.
The Gospel writer uses Jesus’ miracles to convince people that Jesus is who he says he is. 20: 30 – 31 30Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.
The story of the raising of Lazarus illustrates what Jesus can do in our lives. We each of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Many are the tombs that hold us captive in life and there are many different kinds of grave cloths that can bind us. Just as Lazarus’ grave cloths made it difficult for him to walk out of darkness of the tomb into the light of freedom, we too can be paralyzed by those things that keep us from experiencing life in all its fullness.
Think of the fears and addictions; the feelings of hopelessness and aimlessness; the anxiety and despair; the lack of faith or the lack of self-confidence to do what we feel we should do that holds people back and immobilizes them.
I wonder what are the spiritual, emotional, or psychological strips of cloth that might be binding you and me today? In what ways are we, like Lazarus, longing for release, longing for the light of day, and for a breath of fresh air?
Today as we read this Gospel story perhaps we too can hear Jesus crying out to us, “Unbind her, and let her go!” Or as the old King James Version puts it, “Loose him, and let him go!”
The good news of Jesus Christ comes to us today, calling us out from our tombs of sin and despair to new life, right here, right now. And that is really what the season of Lent, as we look toward Easter, is all about—leaving the deadness of our lives, to take hold of new life. The story of Lazarus teaches us that in Jesus we have one who can call us forth just as he called Lazarus forth. Sometimes it is hard for us to walk away from those tombs that enslave us. And sometimes it is difficult for us to walk in new life while still bound by those grave cloths that bind us.
Thankfully, we have a community of faith, the Church to support us. “Unbind him (loose him), and let him go,” was spoken to the community of faith of which Mary, Martha and Lazarus were a part. A question that we are led to ask ourselves is, Once we have been unbound, found release, are we willing to return the favor? Are we one who is ready to jump in to help unbind others who need release? Or, are we like the ones who drew back critically, not wanting to get too close? As members of the community of faith, the call to each of us is to jump in and do our part in helping others find freedom in the liberating grace of Jesus. This we can by sharing our testimony with others who need Jesus to help them sort out their lives.
Joy Cowley has written a beautiful poem entitled “Lazarus” about this whole experience of how we are called forth from death to new life by Jesus.
I don’t intend it to happen.
It just sneaks up on me
and before I know it
there’s been a kind of death,
part of me wrapped in a shroud
and buried in a tomb
while the rest of me stands by wondering why the light has gone out.
Then you, my Friend, all knowing,
seek me out and knock
at the edge of my heart,
calling me to come forth.
I argue that I can’t.
Death is death and I’m too far gone
for story book miracles.
But you keep on calling,
“Come forth! Come forth!”
and the darkness is pierced
by a shaft of light
as the stone begins to move.
My Friend, I don’t know how you do it
but the tomb has become as bright as day,
as bright as love,
and life has returned.
Look at me!
I’m running out,
dropping bandages all over the place.
Yes, that is exactly what John the gospel writer is trying to get us to see. There is something more powerful than death. The grave clothes that bind us need not have the final say.
And today and every day there is the voice of Jesus that stands outside the tombs that hold us and calls out,
“Come forth! Come forth!” Come forth from a state of deadness to the joy of being alive.
And then his call to us collectively, the community of faith to which we belong, is, “Unbind them and let them go free!”
William Barclay: The Gospel of John Vol 2
Joy Cowley: Psalms from Downunder Randy K Hammer: The Call to come forth