The saddest funeral I ever went to was that of a young father leaving behind four little ones and a wife.
I remember sitting in the back, uncontrollably sobbing, not because my life would be directly affected (beyond pure sorrow) by the loss of this man, but because I was sick to know what his family might endure. Silently, in my head, I rested my eyes on His body. God please, I thought, can’t you just pull a Lazarus here and raise Him up. You would be so glorified through that.
But His body continued to lay there. Lifeless. His family sat up front. Confused. Sad. Not knowing what was yet to come. I sat in the back. Angry. Hating death.
As I walked into the rainy abyss that waited for us outside, God spoke–not audibly, but clearer than I think I have ever heard Him.
He is resurrected, Lauren. Not because of what I did to Lazarus, but because of what I allowed my Son to do. I have brought more life than you can possibly fathom, and I will bring life from this.
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Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
(John 11:17-27 ESV)
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For those who are unfamiliar or need some refreshing on the story of Lazarus, here is some context.
Lazarus, Mary, and Martha are all siblings and sweet friends of Jesus. They both loved Him as a companion and worshiped Him as God. So when Lazarus fell ill, they immediately sent for Jesus to come–not only because He could bring comfort, but because they knew He could bring life. He could heal Lazarus of this illness that would otherwise take His life. By the time the word came to Jesus, He would have had time to get to Lazarus before death; however, He chose to wait a few days. All for His own glory to be revealed.
One more thing: Lazarus and his family lived in Bethany, an area where people wanted Him dead and the area where He would eventually be crucified for our iniquities. All this death, all this sorrow, all this morning occurred for the purpose of revealing His life.
He will not bring life in the way we expect.
When Jesus and his disciples arrived in Bethany, He was not met with great joy. He was met with weeping, wailing, and mourning. It was the home where a death has occurred suddenly and the celebration of life has yet to ensue. There was confusion and anger and sadness. Clothes were torn. Eyes were swollen. It was more apparent than ever that this is not how it was supposed to be. Death is not how it is supposed to be.
Mary sat in silence–unsure of what to say or how to say it. Martha ran out, I imagine in sort of a daze, grasping onto straws, both upset that her Lord hadn’t come sooner and trusting in His great might still.
Mary and Martha’s sorrow reflects the sorrow of God’s people in so many ways. You see, the Israelites were nothing without God. They had no power to save themselves. They just happened to be born into a situation where He chose them. And so He promised life. He promised that He would save them and hold them and bring them into His kingdom despite their inadequacy. He did great works in front of them, parting bodies of water, crushing their enemies, literally sending food from the sky. He has spoken through prophets and He had sent great Kings to rule over them.
Then there was silence.
He waited. But instead of a few days, it was a few hundred years.
They expected Him to return as a political figure, as a triumphant King who would overtake the oppressive Romans.
And yet He waited. And when He came, it was not a grand entry. He came as a quiet man, slipping in and loving on His children. So unexpected. So not the way we would have planned it. SO much better.
In fact, in our humanness, we may hate the way He does it at first.
But that doesn’t mean that we are not confused.
When Jesus told Martha that her brother would be resurrected, she responded with, “I know.” While scripture does not grant us subtext, I imagine she said it with some sass as many of us do when someone looks at us and says “They’re in a better place.” Yes, it might be true, but that is not what we want. We want our loved one back. We want things our own way.
The Jewish people of this time probably felt similar. If this really is our Messiah, why would God choose to do it this way? I think it would work better my own way.
Oh, and then there is our own hatred of God’s plan. We choose to be angry with what He has put us through. We are not concerned with His future glory, but our current pain. We look at God and say, “I know, but!” I know that your Kingdom will be built, but I hate that it is happening this way. I know that your power is made perfect in my weakness, but I hate being weak.
Beloved, Jesus is known for looking into our heart and simply speaking truth. He looked into Martha’s eyes and said, “I am the resurrection,” He looked into the eyes of His people and said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” and all the same looks at us and says, I hold life, beloved child of mine. Trust me. Give it to me. Let go. I am already holding it in my hand.
He always brings life through resurrection.
And then, when we are least expecting it, when all hope seems to be lost, He resurrects what is lifeless, and He does it in the least expected of ways.
The story goes on to take everyone to Lazarus’s grave. Jesus spends some time weeping, hating that death is part of the world He created for perfection. When He asks for the stone to be rolled away, He is met with resistance. Won’t the body stink? He doesn’t care. He isn’t bound by the rotting of flesh. Though He was flesh, He triumphs over flesh. He calls out for Lazarus to come out and all at once, the laws of life are broken. Lazarus’s body is regenerated. His decayed organs are pumped with blood. His white face regains its pinkness. His lungs are revitalized. His heart beats. His feet walk to the Savior.
On this day, this Sabbath day, Jesus does the unimaginable: He regenerates death to life. He performs His most impressive, least human kind of miracle. A task that is exactly what sends His enemies over the edge. How dare He practice these tasks unfathomable to man on their God’s day? How dare He embarrass them like that. How dare He get glory for anything.
The next day was palm Sunday.
Later that week, He was dead.
Oh, and then three days later. Three days later He far exceeded the regeneration of Lazarus. He resurrected Himself.
Isn’t it funny that on either side of the cross there was a dead man, a tomb, a lot of doubt, Devine intervention, and unexpected life? It’s because that is the holy rhythm of our God.
His existence is one that uses death to bring about life. Death. This thing that was not originally created into the fabric of this earth, but that exists because of our disobedience. It hurts us. We hate it. We deserve it.
And yet He chooses to grant us life. He chose to remain silent to His people for years that His son’s entry might be even more powerful. He chose to let Lazarus die that He might be able to demonstrate His sovereignty in the last days before His death. He chose to hang on a cross, rot in a grave, and overcome all of that so we would not have to be held accountable for our transgressions.
The life He brings is always on the other side of death. It is a resurrection. A newness. An unending bloody stream of mercy.
So while our hearts ache in the back of funeral homes, while the Israelites waited in sorrow for years before Jesus, God is behind, beside, and in front of everything. He is the one pulling the strings. He is the one in charge of the only resurrection that ever greatly mattered. He can choose to bring beings of this earth back to life–He has obviously done it–but His rhythms of grace surround an empty grave in Jerusalem. Because of that resurrection, we can celebrate the abundant life unimaginable by those who do not know Him. We can share His love with all confidence that even when the world fails us, even when death takes all that we know, He is waiting for us with holes in His hands and feet on the other side of eternity. Take heart, this Holy week, Beloved. For Christ Jesus has brought Life.
And Life He continues to bring.