By Dr. Mark Scott
Jesus and death cannot coexist. Death has no victory around Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:54, 55). Jesus destroys the one who has the power of death (Hebrews 2:14). Jesus proved this in his earthly ministry. Prior to his own resurrection, Jesus raised three people from the dead: the widow’s boy at Nain (Luke 7:11-17), Jairus’s daughter (Mark 5:21-43), and Lazarus (John 11:1-44). Five reasons made the raising of Lazarus the most famous: 1) Its proximity to Jerusalem—the others took place in Galilee. 2) Its nearness in time to Jesus’ own resurrection. 3) The reaction by the religious leaders. 4) The space devoted to the narrative—44 verses. 5) The “I am” claim associated with the event.
This month our lessons have considered four joyous weddings. But today we focus on a solemn funeral. Funerals remind us that the world is not set right yet (Romans 8:18-25). Funerals remind us of our poor choices (Genesis 3:1-19). But when Jesus attended, the funeral death was swallowed up by life.
The Pathos of Jesus
The earlier narrative tells us of Jesus’ tender relationship with the family of Lazarus. Jesus was informed of Lazarus’s illness with these words, “Lord, the one you love is sick” (John 11:3). When Jesus arrived and greeted Martha and Mary, he was moved by their disappointment and tears. John 11:33 says, “He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” Whole sermons could be preached from the tiny verse, “Jesus wept” (v. 35).
Our printed text begins with these words: Jesus, once more deeply moved . . . We have a Jesus who can be moved. We have a Jesus who can be touched by our grief. Truly as the song says, “No one understands like Jesus.” But Jesus’ pathos was more than mere sentiment. His pathos moved him to action. “Take away the stone.” Martha probably objected for a number of reasons, but the one stated in the text is, “By this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” In Jesus’ day burial followed quickly on the heels of death. Bodies were not embalmed but placed in a stone-like grave for one year to give the body time to decompose. Then the bones were removed and placed in a bone box called an ossuary. But Lazarus’s decomposition would be interrupted. The pathos of Jesus moved him to do something that put the glory of God on display.
The Prayer of Jesus
Jesus needed no excuse to pray. He prayed before meals (Mark 6:41), in the early morning (1:35), and all night before he chose the apostles (Luke 6:12, 13). He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-42). He prayed on the cross (15:34). He often withdrew to pray (Luke 5:16).
After the stone was removed from the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus prayed. The prayer began with Jesus’ typical intimacy, “Father.” It proceeded in thanksgiving, “I thank you that you always hear me.” It acknowledged that an omniscient God knows everything, “I knew that you always hear me.” Finally it allowed others to overhear and thereby believe, “But I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” Everything in John’s Gospel moves us to the purpose of his writing, namely belief in the one sent from Heaven (John 20:30, 31).
The Power of Jesus
John 11:43, 44
The pathos of Jesus motivated the prayer of Jesus, which fueled the power of Jesus. Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” More than one person has observed that it was good that Jesus called Lazarus by name. Had he not done so, Jesus would have emptied the cemetery! Who could doubt that he had that kind of power (John 5:25)?
The next words are a stunning tribute to the power of Jesus. The dead man came out. What other teacher can do that? This power is what sets Christianity apart from other religions. Philostratus tells of Apollonius of Tyana who supposedly performed a resurrection, but it was never substantiated. Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism have nothing quite like this. Jesus is in a category all his own when it comes to resurrection.
Lazarus crawled up those steps with his strips of linen and sudarium (the cloth around his face). Jesus commanded his sisters to unwrap him like they would a Christmas gift. What words of liberation these were, “Let him go.” When Jesus shows up at funerals, dead people move out of the cemetery.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College and has held preaching ministries in Missouri, Illinois, and Colorado.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.