As we read and listen to this miracle story of the raising of Lazarus we see it as a story which points to the resurrection – fulfilling God’s plan for us to be in an intimate relationship with him in the future kingdom. Lazarus rising from the dead shows gives us a glimpse of what is possible for us in the kingdom of God on earth.
To the people of Jesus’ time, the raising of Lazarus was the most astonishing of all his miracles. Traditional Jewish belief was that the soul of a dead person remained with the person for three days and then the soul departs from the body never to return. So when Martha objects to the opening of the tomb saying, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days,” she is expressing the common view that the situation was hopeless physically and spiritually.
The fact that Jesus did wait until four days sends a message to all who would come to believe in Jesus and the resurrection. It is a message that says to all believers that Jesus can work in our lives even when we find ourselves in hopeless situations. It is a message to us as individuals, as a community of faith, as a church and as a nation. It is a message that says it never too late for God to revive or revitalize a person or a parish or a church or a nation. However, we must cooperate with God and be willing to do something that seems impossible.
How much do we believe in God’s ability to work in our lives today? How does faith play a part in our witnessing God’s power at work among us? You might think that the obvious thing that day was the display of faith on the part of Martha and Mary. Yet if you read the story they had given up hope of their brother being cured, he was dead and it was four days. Their faith told them he would rise on the last day so they were seeking something else but not his rising that day. What are our expetations of God doing somethng as amazing as the raising of Lazarus in our lives?
Lord, if you had only been here before now, it would have made a difference. Instead we will hope in something later. So no one expected anything of Jesus at all. What John is showing us is that what is required to cooperate with a miracle is our working in obedience to God’s will.
In order for this miracle to happen, Jesus issued three commands and every one of his commands had to be obeyed in order for anything to happen. First Jesus said, “Roll away the stone! … So they rolled away the stone.” Did those people fear rolling away a heavy stone to expose a stinking corpse? You can bet they did. Yet they were obedient in following the dictate of Jesus even when their intellect said they should not do this. Did you ever wonder why Jesus had them physically roll back the stone? He could have commanded it to move and it would have moved. He commanded trees to wither and they did; he commanded the wind to stop and it did.
Here is the Lord of the universe and he asks them to roll away the stone. It seems to me that the divine power of God working in our lives seems to be activated by our cooperation and stifled by our non-cooperation. C. S. Lewis put it this way, “God seems to do nothing of Himself which He can possibly delegate to His creatures.” Miracles work when we are obedient.
The second command Jesus directed toward Lazarus himself. “Lazarus come out and the dead man came out.” We do not know the details of what transpired in the tomb all we know is that Jesus commanded him to come and he came. Everything that made him human had to be repaired and his soul restored in an instant. The God who created the universe commanded Lazarus to become whole again. Imagine the possibilities of God restoring us so we can become whole again.
The third command is addressed to the people. “Unbind him and let him go.” Even though Lazarus came out of the tomb, there was no way he could unbind himself. He needed the community to do that for him. Note they did not know what they would find under those wrappings but they followed the command of Jesus. By unbinding him and setting him free the community accepts Lazarus back as one of them. How many people do we hold in the bondage of our judgment about them so that they remain outside the community of our lives?
Many individuals, churches and communities today have fallen victim to the death of sin. Many individuals are already in the tomb of hopelessness and decay, in bondage to sinful habits and attitudes. Nothing short of a miracle can bring us back to the life. Jesus is ready to do miracles in our lives. He has told us He came that we might have life and have life abundantly. Are we ready to cooperate with him for a miracle?
Are we ready to roll away the stone which stands in between us and Christ himself?
Are we ready to take the first steps to come out of that place of where we are spiritually dead?
Are we ready as individuals and as a community to unbind those keep bound by our judgment of them?
As we prepare over the next two weeks for the celebration of Easter let us prepare to encounter the power of the resurrection of Christ in our lives. It is not history we celebrate on Easter it is a truth that Christ wishes us to know deep in our hearts.