Good morning. Sorry for not posting on Friday. It was a busy day of visiting hospitals and sermon preparation. Today, we will continue our look at the Gospel of John by looking at the story of the death of Jesus' friend, Lazarus. The story is found in the eleventh chapter. This story is a pivotal story in John's gospel.
"Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha...So the sisters sent word to Jesus, 'Lord, the one you love is sick.' When he heard this, Jesus said, 'This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it.' Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days." (John 11:1,3-6)
This is an interesting verse for many reasons. If you recall we read about these siblings in Luke's gospel. Martha had a fit, in that scene, because Mary was not helping her in the kitchen. Now, their brother Lazarus is sick. But, the most interesting thing for me in this passage is not that Lazarus is sick, or that Jesus stays put from two more days. *You would think that he would hurry to his friend. But, notice word was sent to Jesus that the "one you love is sick." Then we are told that Jesus loved Martha and Mary. Of course, we can easily answer by saying, "Oh, but Jesus loved everybody." Well, why are we specifically told that Jesus loved these three? Is the writer simply wanting is to know how close Jesus was to these three so that this scene really means more? Maybe! But, I don't think it is that easy. Why? Because John mentions on more than one occasion "the disciple whom Jesus loved." (Jn.13:23, 19:26, 20:2, 21:7, 21:20) Now, tradition has it that "the disciple whom Jesus loved" was John, the disciple and apparent writer of the gospel. *This poses a greater problem fro me as to authorship. *If John wrote the gospel bearing his name, then wouldn't it have been a little arrogant on his part to call himself "the disciple whom Jesus loved"? If you were one of the other disciples how would this make you feel? John's gospel identifies only a hand few as being those "whom Jesus loved." Could it have been that Lazarus was the "beloved disciple?" Well, there are some scholars who would easily argue, "yes." And they have a good argument. Still, Jesus waited.
Well, as the story continues we discover that Lazarus is not just sick, he is dead. Jesus announced to the disciples: "Let us go back to Judea." (John 11:7) Well the disciples had a very good memory and reminded Jesus "a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you." (John 11:8a) They can't believe that he is wanting to go back. But then, a disciple named Thomas (you may have heard of him?) said: "Let us also go, that we may die with him." (John 11:16b) Very little is ever said about Thomas, and what is said is said in John. But, what is it that we remember Thomas for? Oh yes, he wouldn't believe unless he saw and felt for himself the resurrected Jesus. (We'll get to later) Therefore, what is it that we call Thomas? Yes, we call him "Doubting Thomas." This is unfortunate. When we get to the actual story we will discover that it is wrong to label this man a doubter. When I hear sermons about how Thomas doubted I want to yell out, "Look deeper into the story!" And, here in this scene, Thomas is willing to die along side Jesus. Do we ever call him "Brave Thomas?" No, you never hear that.
Well, Jesus arrives on the scene and a crowd has gathered, including Martha and Mary. Martha questions why Jesus took so long to get to arrive. This is where we find the verse that is often read at funerals: "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die." (John 11: 25-26b) Then Mary approached Jesus. She too wonder why the delay? "When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled." (John 11:33) Hmm...I can understand why Mary was weeping as she was, but not the Jews. "Well, preacher, they loved him too!" Did they? If you recall the Jews has always been used in a negative way in John. So, is John doing something here? One truth that I came to realize while in Jerusalem was, in ancient days mourners were actually hired to mourn someone's death. Were these people doing just that? Then, we read: "Jesus wept." (John 11:35) Yes, the shortest verse in the Bible. Now, of course the usual way this is explained is that "well, Jesus was only weeping because he was troubled at the fact the people did not believe that he could raise the dead." Well, sorry, but this is not why Jesus wept. There is nothing about this that would indicate that this is the reason why. The Jews even declared: "See how he loved him." (John 11:36) There's that statement again! The fact is, Jesus' friend Lazarus is dead. he has been dead for four days. Jesus mourns his friend along with those who hurt over this loss. At this moment God understands the pain caused by separation from those we love. One thing that upsets me at funerals is to hear someone say: "Now don't be crying over (the deceased) because (name of the deceased) is not here. (Name) is with God in heaven. We should not mourn. Umm... wrong! Jesus is mourning. Jesus cried. Yes, the God of the universe cried. If God did not intend for us to cry he would not have given us the ability to shed tears. Besides, the shedding of tears is one way in which we come to know healing. Yes, we rejoice over the fact that our loved one is with God, but we mourn because we will be separate from them.
There were plenty of skeptics that day. "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have not kept this man from dying?" (John 11:37) I could spend a lot of time on this verse. Well, we are told that the reason that Jesus delayed his trip was so that when he did what he was going to do God would be glorified. (verse 42) Martha, is also skeptical: "Lord, by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days." (John 11:39) She said this because Jesus had ordered that the stone door of the tomb be removed. Of course, what she was saying was: "Lord, he stinks!" This is all said for our benefit, and not humor. The Jews believed that when a person died their spirit hovered over the body for three days. The spirit waited hoping to be able to re-occupy the corpse. But, after three days the corpse began to deteriorate and the face became unrecognizable. Then, the spirit left. So, Lazarus is indeed dead. His spirit is long gone.
Well, of course Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. There is much more to this story, and since I have been long winded enough I will look at the rest of thee story tomorrow. Have a great day. -Pastor Rick