“But the Lord says: I will stand up and show my power and might.” Isaiah 33:10 NIV
Inception of life is a powerful thing, and we are in awe and overjoyed when our baby is born. At the other end of the spectrum, we hate life at its end as it ebbs away into death. Loss of life leaves us in overwhelming sorrow. How can anything good come from it? Today we will read a story which is intended to create within your heart and mine, a surge of hope and courage to sustain us along our way.
I write for the purpose of sharing messages of hope with hurting hearts; however, the messages don’t always begin there. Sometimes they start with the last memory I have of my firstborn, so bear with me. The last time I saw him . . . the last picture I have in my head . . . is of him in repose. He looked asleep, but there was no warmth to my touch or rapid eye movement that naturally occurs when we dream. There was no rise and fall of his chest. The horrible truth . . . so hard to face . . . this was my son . . . and this was a deep sleep from which he would not awaken. Why? Because the enemy who pushed him toward suicide, holds him in the vice grip of death . . . for now. But not forever. Read on if you are interested in a powerful story with a powerful outcome. It’s a Bible story that fuels my faith and hope in rebirth.
Death came to the little town of Bethany, leaving two sisters, Mary and Martha, in overwhelming sorrow. Their only brother, Lazarus, whom they loved and depended on for everything, became ill and died. The sisters’ hearts were burdened with grief. Tears streamed unchecked down their cheeks. They clung to each other for support as muscular men moved the heavy slab of stone to rest against the hillside cave where their brother was laid to rest. Multitudes of people from the rocky hillside witnessed the burial. They had gathered to show respect for the sisters in their loss.
Mary and Martha, walking arm in arm, slowly make their way back home. As was the custom, mourners, neighbors, and townspeople, will linger a while longer to provide comfort. But there was only one face they had longed to see . . . had hoped He’d come in time . . . but He did not come, and now it is too late. Life is over for Lazarus. What were they to do without him? Just the thought of his absence starts the tears flowing again. As the sisters were about to find out, we who mourn know that after the burial service is over, our grieving has just begun.
Not so long ago, life was a normal routine for the three siblings: Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. Jesus and His disciples had become acquainted with this family, and often traveled to Bethany to spend time resting and relaxing in their home. They enjoyed each other’s company, and it was an opportunity for Jesus to recharge. He and the fellas needed breaks from the throngs of people who surrounded them wherever they went. Jesus was lovingly doing the work His Father had sent Him to do, but His human nature became exhausted, and He craved R & R just like we do. The hours they spent together in Bethany were precious. All was wonderful until Lazarus’s health suddenly declined.
One day a messenger came running up to Jesus and said simply, “Lord, your dear friend is sick” (John 11:3 GNT). To answer the question reflected on the faces of His disciples, Jesus responded, “This sickness is not fatal. It will become an occasion to show God’s glory by glorifying God’s Son” (v 4). These words may have heightened the disciples’ curiosity, but undoubtedly they missed the meaning. Apparently Jesus said no more, and they remained where they were, healing and teaching for two more days.
After two days had passed, Jesus announced, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep. I’m going to wake him up” (vs 11). Like the disciples, I would also have assumed that if Lazarus was “asleep,” then he would get well. But Jesus clarified what He meant stating, “Lazarus died. And I am glad for your sakes that I wasn’t there. You’re about to be given new grounds for believing. Now let’s go to him” (vs 14, 15). (Further details of Jesus’ choice of word for “death” appears at the end.)
Along with curiosity, there was something else astir in the air that the disciples couldn’t quite put their finger on. Jesus’ words were confusing, and yet He said they would see God’s glory! Like a distant drum beat growing steadily louder, excitement began to build. Tensions mounted as they hurried to keep up with their Master, who was definitely acting like a Man on a mission.
Finally Jesus and His disciples were nearing the outskirts of Bethany. Someone spotted them afar off, and word spread like wildfire through the house of mourning. Martha is the first sister to hear the news. Hurriedly she makes her way to Jesus, who is walking toward her. Dropping to her knees, and with a voice full of pain, Martha wailed, “Master, if you’d been here, my brother wouldn’t have died” (vs 21). Jesus drew her to Him and wrapped His arms around her. There were words exchanged between them that aren’t included here, but you can read the entire story in John chapter 11. Jesus had come for one purpose. It was about to be made perfectly clear to the sisters and all others in attendance.
Now Jesus is standing motionless outside the cave where Lazarus is buried. His regal bearing speaks volumes. The air is electric as if a storm is brewing. Tension is palpable. Anger wells up within The Warrior. His brow furrows. His jaw tightens. His nostrils flare like a bull in the ring ready to charge. Jesus is staring down the enemy bullfighter, Death.
Death is the enemy, and it’s personal with Jesus. Satan is death. He is a killing machine, but his days are numbered. Satan will die, but until that day Jesus rages at death and the agony it brings, not only to Lazarus’ loved ones, but also to us!
Today we are poised to witness a showdown between the Life-giver and the life-taker. The stakes are high. Battle lines are drawn. Those gathered with Mary and Martha do not have spiritual eyes; they cannot see who opposes Jesus, but Satan is there. Death is his domain. If the devil has his way, Lazarus will stay dead! But Satan is facing the all-powerful Life-giver against whom he has no power!
Jesus knows what He is about to do. The sisters, mourners, and townspeople do not know. His disciples should have had an inkling, but they do not know either. Jesus sees tears in the eyes of His good friends. He hears the mourners wailing. His heart is touched, and He weeps. He weeps because He has a tender heart for all who have grieved down through the years of time. He weeps in spite of the most amazing miracle just seconds away.
“Then Jesus, the anger again welling up within him, arrived at the tomb. It was a simple cave in the hillside with a slab of stone laid against it. Jesus said, ‘Remove the stone.’ The older sister was quick to protest, ‘Master, by this time there’s a stench. He’s been dead four days!’” (John 11:38, 39 MSG)
Four days following death was enough time for the process of decay to begin and Martha is pointing that out. Jesus deliberately delayed this special miracle to counteract the commonly held belief that for three days following death, the spirit of the dead person can return and revive him. After four days no one could deny that Jesus had brought His friend back to life.
We know how the story ends, don’t we? Jesus shouts a command, Lazarus is raised back to life, and God is glorified. Tears of sadness are turned to tears of joy! “By giving life to Lazarus, Jesus sets in motion his own death” but that does not stop Him (biblegateway.com). Today’s miracle was for His friends, Lazarus and his sisters, and for us. Every time we read this Bible story, we are encouraged that one day soon Jesus will again exercise His power over death. One day soon it will be my turn, your turn.
What can we take away from this story? Hope. Hope in eternal life. Only Jesus can give life. To the believer, He is the Life-giver not the life-taker. No matter how many days or decades or millenniums it has been, nothing can stop the Life-giver from bringing new, immortal life into His sleeping children.
I am ready for this same Warrior, who fought for Lazarus, to fight for my child! I want my “Lazarus moment”, don’t you? It’s time we are reunited with our children!
Note the promise given to the disciples as Jesus ascended before their eyes. Two of His angels said to the disciples: “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11 NIV).
Jesus will come back. He will display His mighty power. We will have our Lazarus moment!
“Death is called ‘sleep’ at least 50 times in the Bible. We are to regard it as a sound, dreamless, painless, unaware sleep. A person may have been in the tomb 1,000 years, but when raised in the resurrection it will seem to him that he only dozed off for a moment. They all wait in their graves for the resurrection. (John 5:28-29) Death is not life in heaven, hell, limbo, or purgatory. It is not life of any kind. In death the soul does not live, the spirit does not live, the body does not live. The words ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’ are used over 1,600 times in the Bible, but not one time are either given any life or personality or wisdom or knowledge when separated from the body. Body plus breath equals ‘soul’. Breath is not referring to one’s common breathing, but breath as the ‘divine spark of life,’ and when someone dies, the spirit (or breath) returns to God, not the disembodied soul. When a man dies, ‘his breath goeth forth, he returneth to earth; in that very day his thoughts perish’ Psalm 146:4.” (wwco.com)
Scripture from the Good News Translation (GNT); New International Version (NIV), and The Message (MSG)