To me, the story of Lazarus is one of the most profound messages of love in the scriptures. For years, I read it over and over again in awe of the God who raised a four days dead, stinking, maggoty, corpse to life. Songs proclaiming that “it’s the same spirit that raised Christ from the dead lives in me” were sung with confidence and naivety. We were young, completely in love, and indestructible. If something did go wrong, we had the dead raising spirit of God in us. No worries. We lived in a safe, rural area in central Vermont, where David held a job that was adequate enough to provide for the basic needs of our large, single income, family. We were happy, healthy, and full of faith.Though I had been to Europe as a child, neither of us had ventured outside the U.S.A, to countries where provision and safety have a very different meaning, and “faith” stares back from the face of a starving child, or a mother whose entire family perished in a typhoon while she prayed for mercy.
Then our son died.
Being part of a hyper-faith cult didn’t help our theological perspectives, nor did the people who wanted to know where we had “missed it.” Within the false doctrine of health, wealth, and prosperity according to your “faith,” reasons have to be found when the unthinkable happens and we don’t receive the “promises” of God.
“Lazarus come forth.”
The three word focus of this passage that reveals the power of God, are the most often emphasized, while bypassing the most human part of the story.
In John 11:5 we read that Jesus “loved Martha, and her sister and Lazarus,” and Christian love is a verb – it’s an action word. When Jesus finally arrives at Bethany and sees those who loved Lazarus mourning, verse 33 says He was deeply moved and troubled. Love hurts. Yet to reduce this just to pain filled emotion is to rob the scriptures of their intent – the original language implies that He was emotionally outraged or angered.
God hates death.
The purpose of the cross, the reason for Jesus’ anger, was that He fully understood what was required to conquer death.
He was troubled by the pain that death causes, and angered at what sin had brought into a previously perfect world. In verse 34 Jesus is taken to where they have lain Lazarus, and the emotions of a fallen world are strikingly revealed in verse 34,
Those two words are all that needed to be written to exemplify death. Even the One who would bring life to the dead, remove the sting of death, and grant eternal life to those who call upon His name, was so emotionally overcome by the site of death, he was reduced to weeping. He knew within moments that Lazarus was to be called forth, and restored to His family and loved ones, and still He wept.
We know the rest of the story – Lazarus was miraculously raised from the dead to the glory of God, and we see the third reason we should pay attention to the story of Lazarus. The miraculous, creative miracle of the raising the dead brought glory to God.
We too should be angry at death. After returning from a natural disaster like the tornadoes of 2011, the Philippines typhoon, or the recent earthquake in Nepal – shootings, accidents, or a local funeral, my usual comment is, “I hate death.”
Death is ugly, messy, and beyond human words or comprehension.
The loss of a child in particular defies everything we know to be good and right in the world. Death should stir within us a deep troubling of the fallen nature of this world and provoke us to fight death through acts of social justice, compassionate care, and agape love, revealing the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Second, we should be moved with compassion at the suffering of others. Ecclesiastes 3:4 tells us there is “time to weep and a time to laugh,” and Rom 12:15 as well states “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” There is no shame or lack of faith in tears.
Grief is not evidence of a lack of faith, but the presence of love.
Compassion is often revealed in tears. It is impossible for me to work with people who have experienced loss and not be moved with compassion. My own losses have enabled me to have a deep sense of empathy, and sometimes what I consider a healthy counter-transference. Though some would argue there is such a thing, I believe that is exactly what is revealed through the emotions of Christ in this passage of scripture.
Third – The Glory of God. Most individuals will live their life without witnessing the raising of the dead. Stories abound – some believable, some not. Healthy reasoning should cause a certain amount of skepticism at the miraculous. Yet, God is glorified in and through us every day, all over the planet. How we react to suffering, how we react to the poor, needy, ill, mourning, or forsaken, is how we glorify God. The ridicule thrown at the church today does not revolved around our lack of miracles, but our lack of love. When we witness suffering, we need to heed the words of I John 3:17
“This is how we’ve come to understand and experience love: Christ sacrificed his life for us. This is why we ought to live sacrificially for our fellow believers, and not just be out for ourselves. If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God’s love? It disappears. And you made it disappear.” (The Message)
We need to reveal the power of God in our daily lives – not just in the miraculous raising of the dead, miracles of healing and deliverance, but in the love we have for a suffering humanity.
Yes, it is the same spirit that raised Christ from the dead that dwells in us, and that Spirit IS Love.