Anticipating Our Resurrection

Westminster Towers Ecumenical Service
John 11: 1-45
Dc. Larry Brockman
“Anticipating Our Resurrection”

We have just heard the story of the most dramatic and moving miracle of Jesus in the Bible- the raising of Lazarus from the dead after 4 days. It was performed in front of a large audience of family and friends, with Rabbis and Pharisees of the Jewish faith looking on. This miracle can shed light on our Resurrection, so, let us consider some details in this story that are easily overlooked.

The first thing about this miracle that helps us understand it better is to know something about first century Jewish burial customs. When a person died, it was required that they be buried within 24 hours. The body was perfumed with oils and fragrant material, and then tightly wrapped in a shroud of linen. It was paraded to the tomb in a procession. The people used group tombs with stones in front of them. The body was carried down a dozen or more stairs to a chamber and laid on a flat surface adjacent to other burial positions in the chamber. Bodies were not cremated, and they were not placed in coffins.

You can imagine that medical technology in those days was much more primitive than ours. So those who examined the body could not absolutely certify that the person was dead. And in fact, there were cases where folks were not dead; they only appeared to be dead, and once and a while someone would recover.

But this just never happened after the third day. So, the rabbinic traditions held that the spirit hovered about the body for the first three days; but by the fourth day, all hope was lost. And also, by the fourth day there would also be a pronounced stench as well as signs of decomposition would be clear. If you look at the other Resurrection miracles in the Bible, including several involving Elijah the prophet and the raising of a dead child by Jesus, all of them occurred before the fourth day.

With this background in mind, all of the bystanders were thoroughly convinced that Lazarus was dead. So, when Lazarus ascends those 24 or so steps at Jesus command, wrapped in a tight shroud of linen cloth from head to toe, you can just imagine the shock and amazement of the people. How could this be! This was completely unheard of; the resurrection of the dead; body and spirit. Clearly, this Resurrection gave credence to Jesus’ teachings about an afterlife.

Now, there are two stories of weak faith imbedded in this account that lead up to Lazarus awakening. The first relates to the Apostles and disciples of Jesus and the second has to do with Martha and Mary. Jesus is testing the faith of both the Apostles and Martha and Mary. Jesus had left Jerusalem and Bethany, having been chased away by the Jewish authorities who tried to stone him. So, when Lazarus got sick, Martha and Mary did not send for Jesus right away, knowing that he would be in danger if he returned. Rather, they waited until Lazarus was very, very ill, and then sent a messenger to Jesus, giving him the option.

Notice that the Gospel says that when Jesus was told that Lazarus was ill Jesus first says “This illness is not to end in death”, but then the Gospel says “So, when he heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was”.

Let me ask all of you a simple question. If you knew that someone you dearly loved was deathly ill, would you purposely hold up your departure for two days before you visited them? I don’t think so. So why did Jesus do that?

Well, notice Jesus has a little discussion with the Apostles, saying that Lazarus is asleep. In fact, Jesus knew that Lazarus was dead. The Apostles didn’t understand that and took Jesus literally. Then Jesus tells them quite plainly that Lazarus is dead. Jesus knew that it took two days to get to Bethany. So Jesus knew he would arrive at Bethany 4 days after Lazarus was dead. Jesus wanted to wait so he could be sure everyone was convinced that Lazarus was dead! Jesus clearly planned to raise Lazarus from the dead. Jesus plan was to perform a miracle that would prove his divinity and establish everlasting life at the same time.

Now the apostles, having been told that Lazarus is dead, are reluctant to return to Bethany because they fear the Jewish authorities will still kill Jesus. So, having been told that Lazarus was dead, it is an incredible act of faith that the Apostles agreed to return to Bethany at all. After all, what could one do? It doesn’t seem to have occurred to them that Jesus would raise the man from the dead.

And yet, they went with Jesus. Their attitude is summed up well in Thomas’ comment: “Let us also go to die with him.” For although these men believed in Jesus, they just could not see the possibility that Lazarus would be raised. They had faith, strong faith, faith enough to trust Jesus’ judgment and follow after him; but not faith enough to grasp what Resurrection and everlasting life really meant.

The second story of insufficient faith is that of Martha and Mary. Both of these women knew that Jesus loved them and their brother; and that Jesus would come despite his life being in danger. Both of them separately say the same thing to Jesus after he arrives: “If you had been here our brother would not have died”. Both of them say that they believe in the Resurrection on the last day. But they also didn’t see that everlasting life had already arrived for those who believe.

Now one of the verses in this Gospel is the shortest verse in the Bible. It simply says: “And Jesus wept.” This verse is packed full of meaning. Why did Jesus weep? Jesus planned to raise Lazarus from the dead, so it is doubtful he wept over the fact that Lazarus was dead. But Jesus did have compassion; compassion for his friends Martha and Mary. It grieved Jesus to see the two of them suffering and in pain. Jesus could feel their sense of loss; but he also saw that their faith was incomplete and that saddened him.

But that is not all. Many commentators say that Jesus also wept because he was angry. Jesus was angry that the whole process of his salvation mission had to occur. Jesus was angry over the fall of Adam and Eve which ushered the advent of death itself into the world. Jesus was angry over the evil in the world and the inability of the people to embrace the faith that he had preached to them.

And so, Jesus wept in frustration and anger over the plight of the people that He was born into. Jesus knew that this was the culmination of his ministry. Jesus was taking this last opportunity before his passion to make a point: There is death, yes; but the Resurrection of the Body and everlasting Life are on the way.

Now there are other things about the Gospel of John that are unique and shed light on our Resurrection. The Gospel of John contains a number of messages which are hidden, Much like the Book of Revelation also attributed to St. John, contains hidden messages. These messages are especially hard to pick up when we read a selection out of context, as we did today. One of those messages is that John talks about “signs” that Jesus performed during Jesus’ ministry. These “signs” demonstrated Jesus divinity. It turns out that John records 7 such “signs” performed by Jesus prior to his Passion and Resurrection. These seven signs are the turning of 180 gallons of water into wine at the Wedding Feast of Cana; curing a royal official’s son of disease without even visiting him; cure of a blind man on the Sabbath; multiplication of the loaves and fish with the feeding of five thousand families; Jesus walking on water for miles; the curing of a man born blind from birth at the pool of Siloam; and seventh and last, the raising of Lazarus from the dead.

Now, the number “7” has significance in several ways in the Bible. It means perfection and completeness taken together; and it also means a sort of perfect ending. There are seven days in a week; seven days of creation, seven gifts of the Holy Spirit; just to mention a few examples of perfection and completeness.

However, there are two examples of the second meaning of seven as well in the Gospel of John. First, John begins his Gospel by talking about things that occurred in the “first seven days”. These are the things that occurred before Jesus ministry began. And it happens that the Wedding Feast at Cana occurred on the seventh day.

Now there are strong parallels between the wedding Feast at Cana And the Wedding Feast of the Lamb described in the last chapters of the Book of Revelation. Indeed, the Wedding at Cana points to the final resting of all believers That will take place after the Resurrection of the body at the Wedding feast of the Lamb. And so, the seventh significant sign of Jesus as recorded by St. John points to a sense of completeness of Jesus ministry.

Notice that Jesus ministry began with the wedding feast at Cana; And it all ended with the working of the seventh and last sign. In this sense, the raising of Lazarus brings to perfection the message of his entire ministry.

Now Lazarus Resurrection also points to and predicts details of Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead. And it also points to the Resurrection of the body that all of us believers will experience as we enter the wedding feast of the Lamb on the last day! This miracle foreshadows and anticipates the perfection and completion of our lives. We may have to sleep after death for a while, in a state of unknown Just like Lazarus did. But all of that is in preparation for what happens on the last day- our life everlasting in the Kingdom of God.

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