The story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead has been told time and time again, but as I was reading it again this morning, some things came to mind. First, Jesus told his disciples he was glad he was not there when Lazarus died. Now, at first this may have seemed a little uncaring, but if you read a little further, you see he tells them since he wasn't there, this would be an opportunity for THEIR faith to grow. He said to them, "And I am glad for your sakes that I wasn’t there. You’re about to be given new grounds for believing." (vs. 15) I wonder how many times we complain about Jesus "not" being where we thought he should have been at some moment in time, not realizing his "absence" was really the specific opportunity for us to receive "new grounds for believing"? Probably more than we'd like to admit! Second, he was not exactly going into friendly territory. Many in the city had already been active in plotting ways to shut Jesus up - permanently. They saw him as a threat to their way of life - afraid his "interference" would just mess things up for them. Isn't it sad to think Jesus would "meddle" in the comfort of our lives? If he comes to disturb it, he just wants to make sure we don't turn into fossils!
Then he shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” And he came out, a cadaver, wrapped from head to toe, and with a kerchief over his face. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him loose.” (John 11:43-44 MSG)
Third, he has to deal with a whole lot of "wrong motives" along the way. The disciples don't want to go back to the city - probably because they fear they will be caught up in the anger of the leaders who want to shut Jesus up. Imagine what Jesus must have thought when he heard Thomas speak these words: “Come along. We might as well die with him.” (vs. 16) We may as well die with him? Sounds a little defeatist, does it not? And this was on the heals of Jesus just telling them he was about to give them new ground for their faith! I wonder how many times we just go along for the ride, not really all that excited to be part of the venture, but kind of there by some sense of obligation? Jesus had immense patience, though. He could have turned right there and encountered their lackadaisical approach to this whole "following" thing, but he didn't. He simply walks on, confident they will follow. They may not follow passionately at first, but they do follow. I think Jesus knows we start out a little "cool" at times, but eventually we find the "warmth" he so eagerly desires!
Fourth, Jesus wasn't that far away - probably somewhere between a day or two's journey. Yet, he "sticks around" where he is with his disciples for another two days after he hears Lazarus is sick "unto death". Some see this as a little uncaring, but I see this as a little sacrificial on his part. You see, Jesus loved Lazarus - scripture states he had a great relationship with him and his sisters. They were close friends. So, his delay actually probably hurt his heart a little - because he would not want his friends to suffer. Yet, this delay was going to serve the purpose to further emphasize what he had been teaching in Jerusalem about him giving his life, having power over death, no man being able to take what he would sacrificially give. His delay may have appeared senseless, but in actuality, it was another object lesson in his power.
Fifth, Jesus experienced anger. We are told a couple of times in this unfolding story of the anger of Jesus beginning the well up inside. Isn't it wonderful to know Jesus experienced even the emotions which seem to give us so much problem? He was moved by the mocking of the crowd, the constant questioning of his delay, and the senseless mourning of the "customary mourners" in attendance at the tomb. At first, they mourned because Jesus was not there - he had not come in their timing, allowing Lazarus to die. They thought they had a justifiable cause the mourn. They didn't know Jesus intended something "faith altering" in this whole process. I wonder how many times we mourn because we don't see the potential in the loss? It may not be an enjoyable process to walk through, but God's timing is always perfect. His anger is not so much over their mourning, but their continued mourning when he is present - maybe because they did not recognize his timing was perfect - he is never late. I don't know the exact source or reason for his anger, only what scripture tells us - he was indeed experiencing this powerful emotion. Look what he does with it though - he doesn't explode or implode. Instead, he brings life from what was once dead. Instead of allowing his anger to bring further "death", he turns it into something which produces life. Amazing!
Last, but not least, the bindings of what has been declared dead in our lives don't have to limit our ability to walk. Lazarus is bound in grave clothes - as a "cadaver" according to our passage. Wrapped from head to toe - pretty limiting if you ask me. Yet, Jesus knows as long as we remain IN the grips of our past - bound by the encompassing "grave clothes" - we cannot walk as freely as he intends. He gives life, but he also removes the things which would only slow us down and keep us from freely embracing the grace we have been called to walk in. Jesus calls Lazarus from the tomb - an act of grace. In order to Lazarus to embrace life again, the grave clothes has to be removed. He could walk, but just barely. I wonder how many times we have our "tomb opening" experience when grace is extended in our lives, but then don't stand still long enough to allow others to help with the removing of the grave clothes? Lazarus did not unwrap himself - it was those Jesus instructed who did the work of helping to loose him completely. We need the faithfulness of those God places in our path at those "grace moments" - to help us "unwrap" the tightly wound grave clothes of our past!
Thank you Jesus for the faithfulness of providing not only our deliverance from the tomb, but also the ones who will help us "unwrap" the past! Awesome God! Just sayin!