Now the moment has come. We’ve been studying John 11 this week, and we’ve observed Jesus talking with his disciples and his friends, Mary and Martha, about their brother Lazarus’ sickness and death. Jesus made the trip to Judea to the town of Bethany to visit that sisters, as Lazarus lay in a grave for four days. Now they bring Jesus to the tomb. Here’s how the story concludes in John 11, verses 38-45.
“Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. ‘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.’ Then Jesus said, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I 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.’ When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The 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.’ Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him.”
When they arrive at the tomb, and Martha is really worried about the odor, I don’t blame here. Four days had passed, and the smell of deterioration had to be strong. Is Martha, having started with such strong belief in Jesus, now doubting? John doesn’t say that. I think Martha is just stating the obvious, “Uh, Jesus, if they roll that stone away, we are all going to get hit with an awful smell of rotting flesh, and no one wants that.” I’m guessing that most of us have never smelled a human body that is at four days of decomposition. But maybe you’ve smelled dead animals, and it is enough to make you sick. This would have to be worse.
Jesus charges forward, reminding us about belief and glory. He is not afraid of the stench and the mess. His power can redeem anything. He is about to do something that will inspire the people to believe, because they will see a manifestation of God’s power at work in him.
The stone is rolled away, Jesus prays, pointing out for our benefit that God always hears, and then calls Lazarus to come out of the grave. Just like that, this once dead man is now alive. It is a miracle of astounding proportions, bested only by Jesus’ own resurrection a week or so later. Seeing Lazarus brought to new life, many people put their faith in Jesus that day. They had witnessed the glory of God, just as Jesus said they would, and the proper response to seeing God’s glory is to believe.
We, too, are witnesses. Not quite like the crowd that day, watching their dead-for-four-days friend come back to life. Not quite like the men and women followers of Jesus who saw him back to life on that very first Resurrection Sunday.
But we are witnesses in our own right. We are people who, 2000 years later, are witnesses to the power of the resurrection in Jesus in our lives. We are witnesses because we experience new life given to us by Jesus.
For those who believe with the life-changing belief in Jesus and his ways, we have the hope not only of resurrected eternal life, but also real experience of his abundant life now enabling us to lead flourishing lives here. That does not guarantee life without pain, but a flourishing life in the middle of the pains of this world.
This is why we sing so loud on Easter. We are people of resurrection and life in Jesus. I invite you to believe in him, just as he invited the people in his day.
I recently met someone grew up in a Christian family, but it was a family with numerous difficulties. As a child and teenager he was very shy, afraid to talk to people. But through giving his life to believe in and follow Jesus, he experienced a transformation. He said he has been experiencing Jesus change him, especially during his years studying at Bible college. He said he felt a new freedom to have numerous in-depth conversations with me, a freedom he formerly did not have. He also plays drums in the school worship band, leads in prayer in the school’s chapel services and is serving as a volunteer in youth ministry in his church. He is experiencing the flourishing life of Jesus. He is seeing God change him, give him new joy and perspective and courage, even in difficult circumstances.
I suppose we could say that Jesus wants to resurrect us now, as well as in the future. He wants us to experience new life now. He wants to bring his renewed life to the things that bring death. Renewed life to our anger, to our sadness, to our addiction, to our broken hearts. He wants to bring his new life so that you and I can experience flourishing. He is saying that in him we do not have to lash out in bitterness. We do not have to cut people down. We do not have to give the silent treatment. There is new life in Christ. He brings the dead to life.
Jesus wants to bring his new life to the things of this world that we regularly experience our daily lives. For his glory. For a bigger purpose. Because he is good. He is alive. He is resurrected. He offers all of his new life to all of us.
Photo by Josh Calabrese on Unsplash