[Friends, I am sorry I have not posted these for a while. I will do better this week. Unfortunately, I got a wee bit sidetracked in some conversations with certain unbelievers. Check back for more this week.–jerry]
38Jesus, 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.” 40Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42I 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.” 43When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44The dead man came out, his hands 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.”
“Because death, as we have seen, is fundamentally God’s impose limitation on human arrogance, his stern ‘thus far, and no farther,’ the deepest terror of death is being cut off from him forever. But where there is reconciliation with God, where faith in the Son of God and his death on the cross has brought a man or woman into vital union with the living God himself, death no longer holds all its old threats. Death has not yet been abolished, but it has been stripped of its power. ‘The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law’ (1 Cor. 15:56); but where sin is atoned for, and the curse of the law set aside by one who died in our place, we respond, ‘But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57). (DA Carson, How Long O Lord, 114-115)
Jesus is still angry at death in verse 38. “Once more” indicates that He is experiencing the same outrage that He experienced just prior. But I like Jesus’ approach: Deeply outraged, he came to the tomb. Jesus approaches death head on. This is no time to turn back, no time to be afraid. Here we have a preview of the Cross: Jesus confronts death on its own turf. Jesus came to the tomb. It reminds me of the story of Jesus going to the region of the Gerasenes and confronting the man named ‘Legion’ who ‘lived among the tombs.’ Isn’t it encouraging to know that Jesus is not afraid to go straight into the graveyard and confront death?
Now in this case things are a bit different from Jesus’ own resurrection. In Jesus resurrection the stone was rolled away not to let someone out, but rather to let someone (the apostles, and certain woman) in. In this case, the stone is rolled away to let someone out. So the stone is taken away. Some objected. If the stone were to be taken away, we might be offended by what’s inside the grave. But Jesus dismisses this concern, which I take to mean that not only was Jesus about to give Lazarus back to his family and friends, but that he has also reversed the causes of decomposition that would cause Lazarus to emit strong ‘death odors’ in the first place. This resurrection was the real deal: Lazarus was made completely alive by Jesus.
In this miracle Martha, Lazarus’ sister, saw the glory of God. Jesus always did that which pleased the Father and this miracle, this sign, was certainly no different. In bringing Lazarus back to life Jesus put His Father on display: Through his power, his prayer, and through this sign people were able to see exactly who Jesus was. Jesus says as much in his prayer: I say and do these things so that people will know that You Sent me. This is the stated goal of the book as recorded in John 20:30-31: That people believe in Jesus and have life in His name. I suspect, and I believe, that this is still the purpose behind the retelling of this sign: That we might believe in Jesus. After all, if Jesus can and did raise Lazarus from the dead after four days, how much more can we expect him to raise us from the grave also? And then we will shout: Praise be to God!
Why did Jesus shout Lazarus’ name when he called him out of the tomb? Someone suggested, and I don’t have a source, that if Jesus had just yelled ‘come out’ that everyone in all the tombs would have come out that day! Jesus had to make certain, the logic goes, that only the one he wanted to come out came out: That being Lazarus. And then the dead man Lazarus heard the voice of Jesus and came out of the tomb. He said elsewhere that a day would come when the dead in Christ would hear his voice and come out of their graves. There will come a day when we too, like Lazarus, will resurrect to the new and glorious dawn! Our hope is this: We will not be left orphans of the grave, but we have hope that someday we will hear the shout and the blast of the last trumpet and we raise to walk once and forever in the glorious Name of Jesus.
I don’t know how Lazarus came out of the tomb. Was he carried along by the Spirit? The Bible says his feet were bond with strips of linen and thus it would have been rather difficult for him to walk. Carson suggests that perhaps Lazarus would have had to shuffle along or hop. Imagine that picture for a minute. Imagine Lazarus being called out of the tomb: He hears the voice of Jesus, he sits up in darkness, throws his legs over the edge, tries to walk but falls down, then decides to hop out of the tomb! It might have been humorous and you know what, I hope it was. You see, I cannot imagine a scene such as this being a scene of anything but joy and happiness. I imagine that all the tears stopped, the wailing ceased, the moaning and mourning halted. I’m a bit surprised Jesus had to instruct them to take Lazarus’ grave clothes off his face and body, but perhaps they all stood around in utter disbelief and surprise. What could they do? This was something beyond imagination, beyond expectation. No one that day expected Jesus to do what he did.
I’m not sure people expect it today either and that’s why we are all like Lazarus before he was called out of the tomb: Wrapped in grave clothes that we refuse to take off. I think we spend too much time preparing for death and not nearly enough time preparing for life. So how many want to be buried naked because they anticipate getting new clothes? How many want their caskets left open, unlocked, because they expect to be called out by Jesus? I do. I have very few expectations about life except this one: I want to be called out of the tomb by Jesus’ voice. I want to hear my name called. I want to hear his voice. In fact, I’m looking forward to it. I’m banking on it. I have no other expectation or hope in this world except to be called out by Jesus from my earthly tomb. I don’t want to have to even waste time taking off my grave clothes so that I can get back to my living clothes: Just bury me naked.
Perhaps it is a bit over the edge, but what else can it be? Jesus said if we believe in Him we will have life and he will raise us up at the last day. I’m not interested in living life so that I can merely die some day and be done with it. I don’t want to live and live and live and die. I don’t want death to be my epitaph or have the last word on or in my life. I don’t want the last thing I hear to be the funeral director clicking the locks on my casket. I want the first thing I hear when I take my last breath, to be my name spoken by the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the Bright and Morning Star. I have this hope; so do all who hope in Christ.
Soli Deo Gloria!