A river winds its way through a forest

Lazarus’ resurrection was a long time coming for his loved ones but change came with the spoken words of Christ. Today we trust the same Lord who will speak and renew our hearts and this whole creation. This is the gospel!

You can read the Gospel of John, chapter 11, verses 1-41 here.

Introduction

How long did it seem to Lazarus that he was in the tomb? Just a blink of an eye? Hours? Days? Decades? And after his resurrection, did death itself feel like a dream? There in the dark of the tomb and in the grip of death, did he grow weary, sad, or resolute?

As he heard all the music of heaven and earth, did he go to the bookshelf and thumb through the sheet music and say, “This is it. Yes, yes, yes! Sam Cooke will sing me the gospel.”?

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“I was born by the river in a tent and like that river, I’ve been running ever since. It’s been a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come.”

After working yet another long day as a seamstress in Montgomery, Alabama, she stood there on the sidewalk waiting for the city bus to come and take her home. She noticed how some people moved so easily through society, but others, like her, struggled. I wonder as she paid her fare and walked, yet again, to the back of the bus, did Rose Parks look out at that city that resisted equality and say, “It’s been a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come.”

As he spent 27 years in prison watching his country convulse with bigotry and prejudice, and as he heard the new president of South Africa, de Klerk, wanted to dismantle apartheid, did Nelson Mandela sing? “It’s been a long time coming, but I knew change is gonna come.”

It’s painful to be a person of hope. It’s easy to be negative, to be a hopeless nay-sayer.

You see, within Christianity, there is this idea that makes you stubborn. It hooks on to you like cuckleburs on your pant legs. It’s called hope. Hope makes you stubborn. It makes you discontent with what is so you can pursue what can be.

However, it can be painful to be a person of hope.

Call Me if You Need Me

Mary and Martha are disappointed because they dared to hope. Hope is located in God’s goodness.

Jesus was their friend. He had been to their home before. They had one of those evenings where you talk about everything and nothing and then you look up at the clock and you say, “Oh, it’s late.” So they get up and walk Jesus to the door.

“Thanks for taking the time out of your busy work to be with us. It’s been a joy.”

Jesus: Martha, promise me that if you need anything you’ll let me know. Don’t hesitate.

Martha: I promise. When will you be back in town?

Jesus: Hard to say, but probably before the next festival. I’ll stop in next time I’m through.

Okay. Goodnight. Love you.

You too. Be safe.

We Need You

Days pass. The festivals come and go.

Lazarus, are you okay?

No. I’m feeling off, to be honest. I’m going to go to bed early. Wake me for breakfast, though.

Night falls.

They can’t arouse him. “Lazarus, it’s time to wake up. It’s a new day. Laz? Wake up!” Oh dear, he’s sweating through the sheets and his breathing is shallow. Go get Jesus!

The servants return.

What do you mean he said everything would be okay and that he’ll be here in a few days? Sis, Laz is gone.

A red rose placed on a gray tomb bearing a white cross.

The unthinkable has happened. How can the world keep turning without my brother in it?

What? Jesus is outside now?

Martha: I called you and you never picked up. You said you’d be there for me. It’s been so long and if you would have been here this would be changed. Now, your friend, my brother, is dead.

Jesus: He’s dead? Why are you dismayed? Just because I’m later doesn’t mean it’s too late. He will rise.

Martha: Oh, yes, I know he will be resurrected on the last day. I love the Apostles’ Creed too Jesus, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” Yes, Laz and I will rise one day, thanks be to God.

Jesus: I’m the resurrection. I’m the life. I’m the change that is gonna come.

Hey, guys, can you start to open the tomb by rolling away the stone? There are a few words I need to say to Jesus.

But Jesus, this is highly unusual. We’ve already given him the burial rights, paid our last respects, and had the benediction and everything.

Please open the tomb.

But Jesus, he stinks.

Yes, a lot in this world stinks but not everything. Laz, it’s time to wake up. It’s a new day. Laz, there you are. Things have changed.

And what did Lazarus say, I wonder. “I don’t understand. Where am I? I don’t understand.

You don’t have to understand. You just need to go and enjoy your new life.

This Story is About So Much More

As beautiful and rich as the story is, there’s much more at play here.

In storytelling, there is a technique called foreshadowing. That’s when the writer gives you a hint at what will come later.

In Romeo and Julie, William Shakespeare does this. On the opening page, we read:

Two households, both alike in dignity

In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,

From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,

Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean

From forth the fatal loins of these two foes

A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;

whose misadventured piteous overthrows

Do with their death bury their parent’s strife

The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love.

Romeo and Juliet, Prologue. William Shakespeare.

That’s in the Prologue! There it is; they die. Does that keep us from reading? No. And finally, when Romeo is laying there dead and Juliet hears the footsteps of the oncoming guards, we can’t put it down. Juliet can’t imagine living a life without her love. She takes Romeo’s dagger and says, “O happy dagger this is your sheathe,” and she plunges the knife into herself. And we read it and say, “You know, I had a feeling something like this was going to happen.”

Foreshadowing gets us ready and says, “Pay attention. Something bigger is at work here. Be on the lookout.”

This passage foreshadows two things: Christ’s passion and resurrection and our own resurrection.

Lazarus’ Tomb Foreshadows Christ’s

Notice the overlap between this passage and the last hours and days of Christ’s life. The cemetery is within walking distance of Jerusalem. Jesus is deeply moved and laments with weeping just like in Gethsemane. The grave is carved out of the mountainside and the entrance is covered with a stone, which gets rolled away. After the stone is rolled away, what do they see, signs of life! Unneeded grave clothes are discarded. Sound familiar?

The connection is almost direct. This miracle and sign leads to many more people to follow Jesus. His popularity is so stunning that it gets the attention of some religious leaders who then plot his murder in earnest.

Lazarus’ new life leads to Christ’s death. By unsealing Lazarus’ tomb, Jesus is sealing his fate.

By unsealing Lazarus’ tomb, Jesus is sealing his own fate. 

Mary and Martha are correct. If Jesus was there Lazarus would not have died. Yet, if Jesus wasn’t there to raise him, Jesus would probably not have died. Jesus is willing to die so Lazarus can live. The gospel shows up everywhere!

This passage AND the resurrection of Jesus points to our own resurrection.

Lazarus’ Resurrection is the Gospel for Us!

The good news of this passage is not that this is something Jesus did for a family friend way back 2,000 years ago. No! The good news is that this is what God wants to do for the entire human family and the cosmos.

An early Christian had an incredible encounter that humbled him and stirred within his soul belief in Jesus. Shortly thereafter he felt called to ministry and to tell others.

At one point he writes to a group of Christians he met. And he wrote this to them:

After I became a believer I felt a call to ministry. I felt that God was calling me to go and spread the gospel to people who had never heard it. That’s what led me to you. What did I tell you? I taught you the very thing that was taught to me: Jesus died for our sins according to the Law and the Prophets, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Law and Prophets, and that he appeared to Peter and then the rest of the disciples. After that, he appeared to more than 500 at one time, some of those are still living and you can talk to them. Some of them have died. 

I preached to you about Jesus’ resurrection so how can some of you go around saying there is no resurrection? If there is no resurrection for us, then there was no resurrection for Jesus. And if Jesus has not been resurrected then our preaching is a lie, you are left in your sins, and we should be pitied.

But Christ has been raised from the dead. Adam brought death into the world and everyone who is a child of Adam dies, but in Christ we are all made alive.

Some of you will perk up at this and ask, “Okay, then. How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they have?” 

This about your vegetable garden. What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you start your garden, you are not putting the mature plant in the ground; you start with the seed. When the time is right, God gives that seed a body that is suitable for it. Not all seeds and plants are the same just like not all animals or the bodies of people are the same. The sun has a certain kind of beauty and form and so does the moon and so do the stars. Each of us will be unique.

The Gospel for Us and the Whole World

This body is the seed that will be planted in the ground and it will be raised in glory. It is sown in weakness but it is raised in power. 

One day and it may be a long time coming, the seeds of our bodies will hear the voice of God saying, It is time to emerge. It’s a new day. 

The trumpet of God will sound and we will be changed. We will wipe the sleep from our eyes and say, it is true. We will remember Lazarus. We will remember Jesus. We will see one another again and say, “See! I knew something like this would happen. Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” 

Therefore, cling to this hope. Don’t let the specter of death haunt you and cause you to fear. You are seen and not forgotten and God will gather you into the everlasting arms and you will be well, all will be well. 

For now, we join with one another and Christ around the tombs of our dearly departed. We weep because we love, but we wait for the change that is to come.

Kill the sarcasm and the cynicism that steals your joy and blinds you to the good things God brings into your life. Rejoice!

This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him. The Lord is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him. It is good that a person should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.—Lamentations 3:21–26

For we shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye. 

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