Perhaps one of the most familiar stories from the Gospel of John is the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. If you’re new to the faith, the story can be found in John chapter eleven. I’ll provide a synopsis of the story here, but I encourage you to go read it in it’s entirety. It spans the entire chapter.
Jesus is good friends with Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha. Lazarus has fallen ill and is about to die, when Mary and Martha sent a messenger to Jesus. When Jesus learns that Lazarus is sick, he doesn’t leave immediately. He instead remains where he is for two more days before departing. By the time Jesus arrives, Lazarus has been dead and in his tomb for four days. Many Jews had come to Mary and Martha’s house to console them during their time of mourning for Lazarus. Jesus has Mary and Martha lead him to the tomb. He instructs them to open the tomb, much to the protest of Martha, for, “he stinketh,” according to King James. Jesus then, after offering a prayer, with three simple words, “Lazarus, come out,” raises Lazarus from the dead. Because of this miracle, some of the Jews with Mary and Martha believed, but some reported to the Pharisees. The Pharisees, from this moment, began forming their final plot to kill Jesus.
Again, please read this in its full form. There are several things said from which many Christians have drawn hope and comfort. What I want to draw our attention to right now is the overarching theme of this miracle: death is not the end. What Jesus demonstrates with Lazarus unfolds in both the big, life and death picture and in the small, daily living picture. In the big sense, Jesus proves to us by raising Lazarus that life does not end with death. Death is not the end for us when we die. Our spirit continues to live on when this body dies. More importantly, Jesus demonstrates that he has dominion and authority over death, which he demonstrates first here with Lazarus, then ultimately in his own resurrection after dying on the cross. This is why Jesus said to Mary and Martha:
“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26 ESV)
What does this mean for us every day? That’s a fine and hopeful thing for the day we die, but how does that help us while we live this life? Romans 12:1 tells us we are to be living sacrifices. The irony of that phrase is that it should be impossible. It is impossible to be both a sacrifice and alive at the same time. “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”
The picture of a sick Lazarus, dying, then being raised, is a picture of you and I every day. My desires, my wants, my schedule, my relationships, all must die every day. Sacrificed, like Jesus was crucified. They must die. And Jesus takes those things, recreates and raises them from the dead. How about this illustration.
Many of us have had relationships that we tried to fix again and again, only for them melt down again and again. We beg Jesus to fix it. We pray and pray, but at the same time, we meddle and meddle. It’s not until you take your hands off, give it to Jesus, and let it die that Jesus can recreate and infuse that relationship with new life. There’s a lot of patience and trust involved in that kind of release. We want it fixed today. We want it fixed the way we think it needs to be fixed. Jesus may wait until it’s been dead in the tomb for four days before he does his best work!
Marriages that are dead and divorced, Jesus can raise from the dead, reunite, and recreate. Sometimes Jesus resurrects dead careers. Sometimes he gives new life to old dusty talents. Whatever it is in your life that has died, Jesus can raise again. Don’t fret when you let God take over, and things still blow up. God is in it, and he will either raise it to new life, or he will replace it with something that will bring him more glory.
Mary and Martha were distraught at their brother’s death. They knew that Jesus could heal him, that’s why they sent for him. But Jesus waited. A death had to happen so that God would get the most glory. A death had to happen so that new life could emerge. If you want that new life to emerge in you every day, you must die every day. If you want new life to emerge in your relationships, let your hopes and dreams for them die so Christ can recreate them.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:24-25 ESV)