The Extraordinary in the Ordinary!
The eleventh chapter of the Gospel of John is one of the most remarkable chapters in the Bible. It deals with some of the ordinary events of life: sickness, death, anxiety, frustration, hope, surprise and weeping, but also joy. As Jesus steps into the picture, the ordinary becomes puzzling, then extraordinary and miraculous. Of all the stories in scripture, this account provides the basis for a hope that is unshakeable despite various circumstances of adversity. It also is a story which challenges our assumptions about God and his intervention in the ups and downs of human history!
Just prior to the story, Jesus escapes an effort by his enemies to capture and kill him (10:39). He and his disciples have camped a ways off near the Jordan River. Lazarus becomes sick and word is sent to Jesus with the expectation that he, Jesus, would do something to provide a cure. After all, he had proven by precedent that he merely needed to say the word!
But Jesus never seems to do something the same way. It seems inconceivable to our way of thinking that he stays put for two whole days before embarking on the journey to Bethany to meet the family and help out. The disciples perhaps accept this delay because they knew that going to Bethany, near Jerusalem, would be risky given the plotting of his enemies. A conversation ensues with the disciples who are finally informed that Lazarus has died. The group is scared when Jesus finally says, “Let’s go”. He explains that despite their confusion and anxiety, he is willing to allow the sickness take its natural course into death “so that you may believe”. He also indicates that entering risky territory is no risk at all when God’s light illumines the way!
Both Mary and Martha, when Jesus arrives on the scene, complain in a very subtle way: “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” The sisters are not sure what can be accomplished but they have a sense that Jesus may somehow change things although that hope is a difficult one: it would perhaps find its fulfillment only in the next life, not this one!
Verse 25 of this chapter is profound and astounding. It is the basis for our realistic expectation that no matter what, God will see us through to a glorious life with him even though the journey there may be difficult. “Jesus said to Martha, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.’” Jesus is saying that when we put our full trust in him and commit our entire selves to him, our souls will be permanently animated and fully alive no matter what happens to our bodies. As the hymn ‘O Sacred Head Once Wounded” states in one of its last lines, “He who dies believing dies safely through His [Christ’s] love.” That means, safe passage into his glorious Presence.
There is a lot more to consider in this chapter as Jesus commands the tombstone to be rolled away and as he commands the corpse to live and shuffle out. He orders the grave clothes to be unraveled. After four days dead, the body is reanimated and Lazarus’ spirit returns to a body no longer decaying and back to health.
Jesus bears testimony that this miracle reflects the glory of God. The time of mourning is transformed into a time of joy. The event validates Jesus’ assertion that he is indeed the “resurrection and the life”. What he can do to a putrefying body, restoring vitality once more, he can also do to our souls. He can free us from our dark tombs, our sickness of soul, he can roll away the “stone(s)” that keeps us from seeing God’s life-giving Light which is, Jesus, the Light of the world!
There are questions that are worth asking ourselves: Can we continue to trust Jesus even when we don’t like our circumstances or understand why adversity has gripped our lives? Are we willing to allow difficulty into our lives so that God is glorified? Can we see through our temporal existence into the eternity that God, through the Person of Jesus, has reserved for us? God’s love to us embraces us throughout this life on into the next!
Consider reading John chapter eleven at a slow pace putting yourself into each of the settings that is described.
May God bless his word (the story) and his Word (Jesus) into our lives!