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Raised to die?


John 11:1-45 - NIV

1 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”

4 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.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, 7 and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

8 “But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”

9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. 10 It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”

11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”

12 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.

14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

16 Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles 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. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.

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.

36 Then 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 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 odour, for he has been there four days.”

40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will 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.”

45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

(after reading)

This is the Gospel of the Lord.

Praise be to you, O Christ.


The movement through John has been building to a crescendo throughout the book, swelling in grandeur, and in urgency.

The more the stakes are raised the more we see the revealed glory of Jesus. In fact, the section that begins with this Story in John 11 is traditionally seen as a transition from what is known as the “book of signs” in John, to what is known as the “book of glory”.

In two weeks we have seen a progression of the problems Jesus faces, an escalation from blindness to death.

And accordingly we see an escalation of the means he uses to combat them, from spit and mud, to the revelation of his most powerful weapon of all, the words that he speaks. Here we see a word powerful enough that even someone who is dead, the epitome of the inability to respond, obeys. The word of Jesus gives life, and it commands that life into action, just as it did when the same God spoke the words: “Let there be light” and the elemental building blocks of the cosmos sprang into being.

This reading contains the fifth metaphor in John that begins with “I am”. Jesus has identified himself as the bread of life, the light of the world, the door for the sheep and the good shepherd, all things that are wonderfully symbolic, but not very specific, but now he reveals himself in a new way: “I am the resurrection, and the life”.

In John’s gospel, this chapter also provides the crescendo of confession, or belief. In the Synoptic gospel, it is Peter who provides the great confession of faith. Here in John, it is Martha, with the words: “Yes Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world”.

This is the very reason that John tells us that he wrote the gospel.

In John 20:31 he says:

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Martha’s confession of faith in Jesus, is the very reason John wrote the book, that we might come to the same conclusion that she did, that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah, and that believing, you may have life in his name.

But back to Lazarus and Jesus revival of him from the dead. Many scholars call this a resuscitation, rather than a resurrection, because we know that a true resurrection, like that of Jesus, and like the one we will all undergo, is eternal, never to die again, and that apparently was not the case with Lazarus. But still, some amazing things remain. He was dead. Really, obviously, demonstrably dead. The details of Jesus waiting for two days, while seemingly painting him as cold and callous and uncaring, only makes sense when you see the story from his point of view.

In the certain knowledge that he could indeed raise Lazarus from the dead, certain of the power of his spoken word over death and life, over light and darkness, over physical and spiritual realms, those two days, while putting his loved ones through more grief, were important once he had raised Lazarus, as they removed doubt that maybe he was in a coma, or all the things that atheists like to throw up about Jesus own death, to argue it away so that they do not have to face the question: did he really rise from the dead or not?

One of the important themes for us in the story is the cost of discipleship. Jesus’ power over greater and greater forces was revealed, but also Jesus knew that by raising Lazarus from the dead, he would be drawing attention to himself and his message, and this would ultimately lead to his arrest and crucifixion. Despite this knowledge, Jesus was willing to pay the price and demonstrate his love for his followers.

This sacrifice is reflected in the response of the Pharisees and the religious leaders who are threatened by Jesus' power and influence. They plot to kill Jesus, and the raising of Lazarus becomes a turning point in Jesus' ministry. It is a clear sign of his divine authority and the fulfillment of prophecies, but it also marks the beginning of his journey to the cross.

The cost of Christian discipleship is not limited to the sacrifice of Jesus. There is a cost to us too. It is a call to follow Jesus, to put aside our own desires and priorities, and to commit ourselves to his mission of love, justice, and mercy. This means living a life of service, humility, and selflessness, as we seek to share the love of God with others. It cannot, and will not look like the life we had, or would have had, before we became disciples of Jesus. He didn’t raise Lazarus to life, and then leave him in the tomb. He didn’t give Levi a miraculous religious experience, and then leave him in the tax collector’s booth. He didn’t leave Peter at his nets.

A call to discipleship is necessarily a call away from an old, to a new way of life. Anything else is cheap grace, a forgiveness of sins and then Jesus saying to the woman caught in adultery, no go, and keep sinning! He didn’t say that, did he? But instead a life of discipleship is that daily struggle to leave the life of sin in which we have been trapped, in which we have been entombed.

Nadia Bolz-Weber has a quote that really resonates with me. In the book “Pastrix, The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner Saint”, she says:

"God simply keeps reaching down into the dirt of humanity and resurrecting us from the graves we dig for ourselves through our violence, our lies, our selfishness, our arrogance, and our addictions. And God keeps loving us back to life over and over.”

Maybe one day we will, with his help, stop digging those graves for ourselves and others. With prayer, scripture, help from others, and discipline (the root word of the term disciple) we will grow to be more Christ-like a little bit more at a time. And we will be calling out our commission to go and make disciples. Because Jesus never told us to go and make members, who sit unchanged week in and week out, their sins justified so that they can stay in the same tomb the next week ready to commit them again.

Discipleship is costly. But we do not have a choice. It is to this that we are called, and the call is as irresistible as Jesus’ words: “Lazarus, come out!”

The story of the raising of Lazarus highlights the sacrifice that Jesus was willing to make for his followers and the call to follow in his footsteps. As Christians, we are called to live lives of service, humility, and selflessness, as we seek to share the love of God with those around us. May you live in your forgiveness, be raised to life in him, and next week not be the same people that you are today, for once you were dead, but now you are alive.


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