There was no morphine for the pain. There were no antibiotics for the infection. The discomfort of his dehydration could not be remedied by intravenous saline. There were only herbal remedies, and these had proved ineffective. As he lay there dying, one hope came to his mind, hazy with fever; he tried to whisper it, but by then his throat was so swollen no sound would escape from his parched lips. So he died. His family buried him in the customary way, and life for everyone else would have just carried on if it weren’t for his friend.
The friend arrived by everyone’s reckoning four days too late. He had missed the final rites, the cave-side burial, and the wailing lament of the mourners. He had missed the final moments when the unspoken hope of the dying man might have been voiced. Instead, he was greeted with the family’s accusation.
“If you had been here, (our) brother would not have died.” They believed he could have prevented their brother’s death somehow, but with his death that hope had evaporated. Taking their friend to the burial site they showed him their brother’s tomb, a stone-blocked cave, cold, silent and hopeless. Deeply moved, the tears began to flow down the friend’s cheeks and sobs shook his shoulders. There was no doubt he had loved the brother, but death had had the upper hand.
“Take away the stone”, he said. And then called out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”
Do you remember the story now? The authority of Jesus’ command broke the spell of death. Lazarus’ life was returned to him and his family was overcome with joy.
Jesus’ claim to be “the resurrection and the life” is not idle talk. He chose to perform this miracle for this one family to illustrate for all what he offers every person on this planet.
“He who believes in me will live, even though he dies….Do you believe this?” he asks you right now. He’s talking about something more significant even than our earthly lives. He’s talking about that part of us that was designed by him to be eternal—our spirit. The sin that came into the world with our first parents, Adam and Eve, has brought mortality to our spirits and we desperately need a resurrection. His miracle illustrated for those people, in that community, what he would accomplish on a much grander scale with his own death, burial and resurrection: a new eternal life for anyone who chooses to believe and accept it.
What is the new life like? It’s full of hope, for one thing. No more fear of death; our bodies will eventually fail us, but that physical death is a great doorway to the eternal life Jesus has given us.
The new life is also full of love. We have a new ability to love God; to do what pleases Him also pleases us. We want to use our lives to further His good plans, to bring Him glory and honour. We also have a new ability to love people around us; not just our friends and family, but even our enemies. We find ourselves called to give up our own desires in order to bring good to others’ lives, to help them find new life in Christ too.
I like the end of this story found in John chapter eleven. Jesus’ command brings Lazarus back into the land of the living, but he’s shuffling out of the tomb because the grave clothes are still binding him. Strips of linen still entangle his hands and feet and his face is still covered in a grave cloth. Jesus wants his friend to live fully. Death has no place for a man given new life. The old rags have to go.
“Take off the grave clothes and let him go,” commands Jesus. He’s talking about you.