John #5 | Death and Life

February 2, 2020

John 11:1-45

1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of Man may be glorified through it.” 5 Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6 after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of day light? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10 But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” 11 After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” 13 Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now Iknow that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesussaid to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

28 When she said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” 45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

Martha & Mary

I must admit. Today’s story from John is extremely difficult. As I spend more time reflecting on this story, I became more unsure of my understanding. As I was trying to unpack the story, I felt like I was being like Martha and Mary.

So, what did Martha and Mary do?

First, Martha: She told Jesus that if he had been there her brother Lazarus would not have died. Martha believed Jesus could have saved Lazarus from dying. And when told that Lazarus will rise again, Martha responded something that a lot of Christians would say. “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” This is how we usually understand resurrection. That at one day in a distant future, God will raise the dead from their graves; that there will be a life after death. And this is in consistent to Jesus’ teaching earlier in 5:28-29.

Yet, Jesus wasn’t so impressed by her answer. Rather, Jesus corrected her, saying,

“I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

What does he mean by this? I think Marth didn’t seem to really get it, so she went back to get her sister Mary instead.

Second, Mary: She said the same thing that Martha did, tha tif he had been present, her brother would have never died. And she said this while crying, and her friends crying with her. And the story tells us that by this Jesus was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. When Jesus asked where the body was, the crowd responded by, “Lord, come and see.” And for some unknown reasons, Jesus began to weep. Was it by compassion for the people’s grief or was it by frustration towards them? When I want to tell myself that it was by his compassion, the story tells us again that Jesus was greatly disturbed as he came to the tomb. For some reasons, Jesus was greatly distrubed by what was going on.

So, when I said I feel like I’m being Martha and Mary, I’ve meant that first,, I have no idea what this story means, and second, I think Jesus will be greatly disturbed by my message.

Death is hard

Yes, I’m flexing my humility here, but I’m also trying to acknowledge the limitation of our human understanding, especially when it comes to Jesus’ wonders and signs. Why did Jesus raise Lazarus from his grave? What does it mean by Jesus being the resurrection and the life?

Last year in December, there was a hashtag that went viral in the Christian twitterverse. It was called #WakeUpOlive. Apparently, a two-year old girl passed away in her sleep. And her mother, a Christian influencer, requested her hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers to help praying for her daughter’s resurrection. And so, a countless number of people aroundthe world responded to her request with compassionmaking the hashtaggo viral but gathering days before Christmas to hold special worship servicesdedicated to Olive’s resurrection. To their eyes, she lived an incomplete life, thus it must not be what God had wanted. And her pastor supported by saying that theyare joining in prayer because we have a biblical precedent, Jesus raising adead, like raising Lazarus from today’s story. And, after a week since the birth of #WakeUpOlive, her family and church thanked everyone and announced plans for a memorial service.¹

Death is hard. And that’s my takeaway from the #WakeUpOlive story and also from the story of Lazarus. Death is a hard pill to swallow. Because it is so hard, we tend to do these following things. Like Martha, we rely on this general sentimental belief in life after death. Like Mary and Martha, we blame God for not being present. And like Mary and her friends, we weep.

In the face of death, this is what Jesus says:

“I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, eventhough they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

And the reason why Jesus visited the tomb four days after Lazarus, despite learning about it earlier, was because so that we may believe. And at the tomb, Jesus called Lazarus, as the Good Shepherd (10:3-4).

The gatekeeper opens the gate forhim, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leadsthem out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and thesheep follow him because they know his voice.

“Lazarus, come out!” Then, the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus, then, said to the people, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Biblical Precedents

Before bringing a dead person back to life, Jesus set another precedent. He healed the blind man in Chapter 9 and the lame man in Chapter 5.

Last week, I got to hear a testimony from a pastor who was born deaf. He grew up in a church. And he said the churched people told him that he needed to be healed. Why? Because there is a biblical precedent. So, to churched people’s eyes, he was an incomplete man waiting to be healed.

And I’m just paraphrasing his story, but as he eventually came to a point where he realized that he wasn’t a failure needing to be fixed, but rather a beloved child of God with a call to ministry. And God surrounded him with great people who journeyed with him in his process, where not only he became an ordained pastor but also a professor of theology. And while hearing his story, I could not help but think of what Jesus said to the tomb and the people around it,

“Lazarus, come out!”

“Unbind him, and let him go.”

Someone said Lazarus is the most unfortunate person, because he has to die twice.² Yes, Jesus has raised him from the dead, but he has to die again. This means that his resurrection is not the climax of today’s story.

Rather, the real climax of the story is, despite being greatly disturbed for some reasons, Jesus still called Lazarus by name, who was "not only a dear friend, but also a disciple, a follower, a believer, a sheep of Jesus’ own fold who knows the voice of his shepherd and follows."³ Believing in Jesus means being in a relationship with Jesus, which means living with this conviction which Paul talks about in Romans 8:38-39.

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

God's love is what sets us free. God's love is what lets us live. Living in this love of God is what it means to believe in Jesus, who is the resurrection and the life. Let us pray.

¹Kate Bowler, "We are not divine. But we are loved. That is enough." The Washington Post.

²Stanley Hauerwas, "Can we hope for life beyond death?" ABC Religion & Ethics.

³Karoline M. Lewis, John (Fortress Biblical Preaching Commentaries), pp. 160-1.