So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him” (John 11: 14-15).
Not only does this fabulous piece of scripture tell us that Jesus was an absolute sass monster, but it’s also foretelling of the ensuing events - namely, that (spoiler alert) Jesus will raise Lazarus from the dead. But I don’t think is gospel is just about Lazarus’ resurrection.
Part of what distinguishes John from the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) is his emphasis on Jesus’ presence. According to John, Jesus knew at the beginning of his ministry ‘which of them did not believe and who would betray him’ and even knew ‘all that was going to happen to him’ (6:64; 18:4). We learn from the gospel that because Jesus knew what’s up, upon hearing the news of Lazarus’ impending death, our Lord insisted on waiting two more days where He was before making the trip back to Judea.
That Jesus waited is a very important detail. It demonstrates that His purpose for raising Lazarus was two-fold. Sure, Jesus wanted to resurrect old mate Lazarus because He loved him, but in raising His friend from the dead, Jesus also communicated to His disciples and Judea His own imminent death and resurrection and what that will mean for the human race.
John loves a good ol’ metaphor. Or two. Or three - think bread, water, light, etc. Jesus’ raising of Lazarus acts as both a metaphor for His own resurrection and ours. It’s also a precursor for what is to come. Jesus knows that this final miracle of His will be the action that ultimately sparks His death and resurrection.
Four days elapsed before Jesus arrived to Lazarus rotting body in Bethany. The world’s standards would judge Lazarus as long gone, but God proved otherwise. By waiting so long to resurrect Lazarus, Jesus intended to demonstrate that in Him, who is in God, nothing is impossible. This event is repeated not long afterwards, when Jesus himself lay dead in a tomb for two days, and on the third rose again. With two resurrections under his belt, we really can’t doubt Jesus’ victory over death. For those who are friends of Jesus (like Lazarus was) or in other words, believing Christians, God has the power to reduce death to mere sleep (11:11).
Lazarus being raised from the dead represents the raising of our spirits by Jesus after death. And the raising of our spirits was only made possible by Jesus’ own death and resurrection. Jesus sums it all up pretty nicely when He says “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die” (11:25-26).
But death doesn’t have to be as morbid as it all sounds. In fact, death can be a pretty beautiful thing, even when we experience it in our own world right now. Jesus’ power of resurrection isn’t limited to the first century AD, or even just to the realm of the dead. As followers of Christ, we have the opportunity to constantly give ourselves over to death, and in turn be resurrected by Jesus.
In letting aspects of ourselves die, we give Jesus greater assertion over our souls - more room for Him to work within us and resurrect the now-dead parts of us into new life. What areas in your life do you need to let die? Maybe it’s that resentment you feel for someone who took an opportunity away from you. Maybe it’s that small part of you that pines after or enjoys something that you know is sinful. Or maybe it’s an addiction that is bringing you pleasure, but in the process also destroying you.
The four days of physical death suffered by Lazarus is proof that no habit, no nasty skeleton in our spiritual closet, no nursed grudge is too smelly or too embedded in us for transformation and new life.
Jesus demonstrated this when He waited to resurrect Lazarus from the dead. For many, this act confirmed or ignited faith in Jesus’ messianic nature. Let the story of the raising of Lazarus affect you too. Give Jesus the opportunity to ‘take away the stone’ that’s guarding your tomb, and let Him enter and resurrect your spirits so you can enjoy new life with Him who can do all things.
This reflection was written by Catherine, who enjoys reading very old books and cleaning. She has a cat to whom she is allergic and doesn't particularly like, and has an unhealthy obsession with "Dance Moms".