In last week’s post, “Resurrection ~ No Happy Ending Without It,” we took a brief look at an event that took place during the closing days of Jesus’ life and ministry. Before leaving that event, there’s at least one other element worth highlighting.
As His rendezvous with the cross loomed nearer, Jesus unfolded one of the most astounding scenes ever seen by human eyes. It was common knowledge throughout the region that inexplicable things happened in His presence, but no one had ever seen anything like what happened at a family tomb in Bethany. It wasn’t Jesus’ first repudiation of death. He had intervened with Jairus’ daughter and the widow’s son in Nain, both of whom were restored to life after they had been pronounced dead, but the episode with Lazarus was different. No one could claim that this was merely a case of dramatic resuscitation. Lazarus was not only dead, he had been sealed in a tomb for four days.
It’s hard to imagine what it would have been like to have been among that crowd of grieving family and friends that day as they gathered around Lazarus’ tomb. Even after four days, outpourings of grief were continuing as people expressed their love and appreciation for Lazarus and made public demonstrations of the high esteem in which he was held. As was the custom in that culture in those days, professional mourners added their voices to the lamentations of Lazarus’ family and friends.
Anxious Expectations ~
As the day began, many, if not most, of those present were probably wondering why Jesus hadn’t shown up yet. In light of His reputation as a healer, His close relationship to this family, and the fact that Martha and Mary had sent for Him while Lazarus was still hanging onto life, Jesus’ absence must have been puzzling–and disappointing. No doubt the murmuring would have spread through the crowd in response to the news that He had finally arrived. Regardless of their personal opinion about Jesus, almost everyone would have been glad that He had finally come, even though it was clearly past the point where anything could be done, even by Him. Still, the sense of curiosity and anticipation must have been palpable. How would He handle the situation? Would He offer some fresh spiritual insight to help people deal with disappointing times like these? What would He say? Would anyone openly ask Him to explain why He hadn’t come earlier? What could even the Messiah do in a situation like this?
Jesus’ comments were very brief that day, and almost all of them were directed to Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and/or Mary. But though His words were few, encapsulated within them lay one of the most profound declarations ever made about life, about death, and about the source of absolute authority over both. But it wasn’t just Jesus’ words, as inexpressibly sobering as they were, that rose up to challenge the capacity of human minds and hearts that day and for every day since then. It was what happened after He spoke them.
One of the things people quickly learned about Jesus was that when He showed up, rules weren’t rules anymore. Even “laws” of nature weren’t laws anymore. Things that couldn’t be done were done. Oppressive perversions of God’s Word and burdensome religious dictates were exposed and verbally shredded. Empty philosophies and vain rituals were revealed to be the vacuous and impotent lies that they had always been. Whether they loved Him or hated Him, when Jesus showed up, people expected something. They may not have known what it was, exactly, that they expected, but they expected something. It was no different that day at Lazarus’ tomb, but their expectations could not possibly have prepared them for the scene that would unfold before them.
A Shocking Context ~
God defined Jesus’ words that day by wrapping them in a context as shocking as the truth they were meant to convey. In our tendency toward disconnected storytelling, we must not miss that God meant the vision of watching Lazarus come walking out of that tomb, with the grave rags hanging onto him, to be as shocking to the rest of us as it was to those who were there. God wants us to be as speechless with incredulity as that crowd was when they realized that Jesus has that kind of power. But there’s more that He wants us to see.
To those in the crowd that day, it was crystal clear that Lazarus contributed absolutely nothing to the power that freed him from death. Jesus didn’t initiate a negotiation with Lazarus to work out some kind of deal to get him out. And Lazarus didn’t promise to live a better life if Jesus would set him free. Dead people don’t negotiate. Dead people don’t make promises to do better. Dead people can’t bribe their way out of the grave because they no longer own anything. Dead people have no skills, no abilities, no money, and no talents. They have no influence to peddle, no tricks they can do, and no response they can offer to anything, good or bad. That was Lazarus’ condition when Jesus found him, and like it or not, that’s the state where He finds you and me as well. Paul said it repeatedly and with provocative simplicity:
And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins. Ephesians 2:1 (NKJV)
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved). Ephesians 2:4-5 (NKJV)
And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses. Colossians 2:13 (NKJV)
A Harder Thing to Believe ~
It almost seems as though we have less trouble believing that Jesus can raise the dead than we do believing that we are spiritually as dead and helpless as Lazarus was. We raise absurdity to new heights by arrogantly presuming that we can negotiate our way out of the tomb, but the events of that day were not an achievement that Lazarus could brag about. It was all Jesus. The matchless grace of a loving God sent a voice to pierce the endless darkness of that tomb and with that voice came the awesome power that allowed a dead man to rise to his feet and come forth.
Since that day, millions have known what it’s like to hear that same voice. If you haven’t heard it, listen carefully, perhaps you’ll be next . . .
“TWEETABLES” ~ Click to Tweet & Share from the pull quotes below. Each quote links directly back to this article through Twitter.
- “One of the things people quickly learned about Jesus was that when He showed up, rules weren’t rules anymore. Even “laws” of nature weren’t laws anymore. @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “It was crystal clear that Lazarus contributed absolutely nothing to the power that freed him from death . . . and like it or not, that’s the state where He finds you and me as well.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “It almost seems as though we have less trouble believing that Jesus can raise the dead than we do believing that we are spiritually as dead and helpless as Lazarus was.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “The matchless grace of a loving God sent a voice to pierce the endless darkness of that tomb, and with that voice came the awesome power that allowed a dead man to rise to his feet and come forth.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
Check out Ron’s book, “Right Side Up Thinking in an Upside Down World ~ Looking at the World through the Lens of Biblical Truth.”
Click HERE for details …
© 2019 Gallagher’s Pen, Ronald L. Gallagher, Ed.S. All rights reserved.
To follow this blog, sign up just below the Search box in the upper right sidebar for regular email notifications of new posts.