We will be hearing a lot about (at least we should be) an empty tomb in the coming days. But, I’d like to focus on a different empty tomb for a moment, that of Lazarus. The story of Christ’s raising Lazarus from the dead was the Gospel lesson this past Sunday. Looking at John 11:
4 When he heard this [that Lazarus was sick], 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.” 5 Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.
Jesus was always God and always Man, yet here we see Him offer knowledge he could only have as God: the purpose of Lazarus’ illness and subsequent death. Notice also that he says the sickness “will not end in death.” Was He wrong? Of course not. He knew the ultimate outcome. He could say the same thing about us, about our cancers, about our illnesses, about our deaths.
17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Bethany was less than two miles[a] from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
21″Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
27 “Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ,[b] the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”
Remember, how Jesus prefaced this event: this is all working toward God’s glory and His Son’s. Jesus’ question to Martha is really directed to all of us. He is the resurrection and the life. No mere teacher could make this declaration. No mere moralist or prophet could do so. Only God can make this declaration. The only question that matters is “Do you believe this?” Indeed, this is the only question that matters, like, ever.
32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
35 Jesus wept.
Here we see Mary accuse Jesus. For what she really means is that it is Jesus’ fault that her brother is dead. How often do we do the same thing? But then we see something remarkable. John says that when Jesus saw Mary and the Jews weeping, He was “‘deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” Then Jesus weeps with them.
I was tempted to say that this demonstrated Jesus’ nature as true man, but upon further reflection I am not so sure. It is hard to imagine God “troubled” about anything, but isn’t that just the sort of God Yahweh is? I am having trouble separating Christ’s two natures – which I suppose is precisely the point. We cannot put the two natures into neatly confined compartments. Christ is True God and True Man. What a comfort it is that he shares our sorrows. He is troubled with us. I wince at saying this, but he truly does “feel our pain.” Remember he is the only one who knows how this story will end. Yet, he still weeps with us. What a loving God we worship.
How unlike any other gods worshipped by man! Can you imagine Zeus doing something like this? How about Allah? That’s just something to keep in mind.
38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “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.”
40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 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.”
43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 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.”
Again, we are given insight into the purpose of this miracle and every other miracle Jesus performed during His ministry – so we might believe. He then speaks three words: “Lazarus come out.” There is no magical chant that is necessary. His simple command is sufficient. Death cannot withstand His might. This is True God.
Someday he will call us forth with a similar command, though we are told that it will be accompanied by the blast of trumpets . . . at least the sort of trumpets that angels play.
It is no accident that John concludes Chapter 11 with many Jews reporting to the Pharisees what had transpired with Lazarus. It is hard not to have the impression that they knew exactly who and what Jesus was. Yet, their lust for their power and their desire to keep their positions of wealth and influence kept them from bowing down and worshipping. Instead, they plotted to kill.
As I said, there is a lot of good stuff coming out of Lazarus tomb – best of all, Lazarus and us.