The Lazarus Syndrome
May 30, 2010
Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day because it was a time set aside to honor the nation's Civil War dead by decorating their graves. It was first widely observed on May 30, 1868, to commemorate the sacrifices of Civil War soldiers, by proclamation of General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of former sailors and soldiers. On May 5, 1868, Logan declared in General Order No. 11 that:
The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.
During the first celebration of Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, after which 5,000 participants helped to decorate the graves of the more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried in the cemetery
This 1868 celebration was inspired by local observances of the day in several towns throughout America that had taken place in the three years since the Civil War. In fact, several Northern and Southern cities claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day, including Columbus, Miss.; Macon, Ga.; Richmond, Va.; Boalsburg, Pa.; and Carbondale, Ill.
In 1966, the federal government, under the direction of President Lyndon Johnson, declared Waterloo, N.Y., the official birthplace of Memorial Day. They chose Waterloo—which had first celebrated the day on May 5, 1866—because the town had made Memorial Day an annual, community-wide event during which businesses closed and residents decorated the graves of soldiers with flowers and flags.
(adapted from wikipedia)
Read John 11:1-6
JN 11:1 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, "Lord, the one you love is sick." 4 When he heard this, Jesus said, "This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it." 5 Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.
Who was Lazarus?
There is some confusion with the Lazarus story. Many people connect the story of Lazarus in the Gospel of John with the parable that Jesus tells about the Rich Man and Lazarus. There are some similarities between the two stories: both men were named Lazarus and both men named Lazarus died. However this is where the similarities end. The account in Luke is simply a parable that Jesus uses the name Lazarus. The parable shares the name and nothing more.
There is little in the gospels about Lazarus but we do have some specific facts that we can glean from the New Testament.
* Lazarus was a close personal friend of Jesus
* Lazarus was the brother of Mary and Martha
* Lazarus was later an intended victim of a plot by the religious leadership
* Lazarus is an abbreviation of Eleazar which means whom God helps
Lazarus likely lived with Mary and Martha because Jesus later ate in their home. There are a couple of possibilities for this. The first is that Lazarus was a much younger brother who was not yet married. The second possibility is that Lazarus was acting as the head of the household and took care of both Mary and Martha. No matter what the circumstances were, Lazarus was a vital part of the family and Mary and Martha were greatly distressed by his illness.
Why did Jesus allow Lazarus to die?
Jesus is told of the illness of Lazarus and the grave situation that His friend was in. It is important to note that Jesus could have left then and made it in time to heal Lazarus. However, Jesus makers the decision to remain where He was for two more days. Only when Lazarus had died did Jesus make the decision to go to Bethany.
Why does Jesus do this?
Jesus understood that there was a specific time to everything He needed to do. Jesus kept Himself in the timing of God. The reality is that timing is everything. The problem is that Jesus did not arrive in the time that Mary and Martha wanted. Jesus kept His focus on His mission and the plan of God. Jesus allows Lazarus to die for two key reasons.
1. Jesus wanted to provide a sense of hope in the midst of pain.
2. Jesus wanted to provide a basis for faith
The fact is that Jesus is never late because He always right on time. Our problem is that our timing is often not on the same level with God. We want things in our time and our way but Christ has a different plan.
There are times when we question the plan of God. When God’s plans and our plans do not coincide, we often become upset. God’s plans sometime throw ideas and plans into disarray. The problem is not with Christ, the problem with us. When this happens to us, we have a choice to make. We can either, brood or sulk about our plans not happening the way we want or get on board with God’s plan. The moment that we choose to be in a huff or get depressed about things, we stop growing spiritually. The moment that we embrace the plan of Christ, we can move forward in life. The problem is that too many Christians get stuck in their problems.
Jesus provides hope when life hurts
No matter how bad things get in life, we always have hope. Jesus provides us with hope through the hard times. Jesus does allow us to go through hardships. Hardships are part of living in this fallen world but He gives us a sense of hope in the midst of our hardships. We have not been given a hopeless end but through Christ was have been given endless hope.
Jesus provides a basis for faith
Jesus tells the disciples that He has allowed Lazarus to die because the result will help build their faith. There are times when Christ is more glorified through our suffering than through our comfort. Our human mind has an extremely difficult time grasping the purpose and plan of God. This seems the most true when we go through periods of hardship, times of pain and suffering or seasons of grief and sorrow.
When does faith become difficult?
Jesus issues a challenge of faith
25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" John 11:25-26
Jesus challenges Martha’s faith by asking her to believe. Jesus specifically asks her to believe that He is the source of life. Jesus not only the source of life, He is also the source of the resurrection.
Martha responds with great faith
27 "Yes, Lord," she told him, "I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world."
Notice the simplicity of Martha’s words: Yes Lord. Martha makes the decision to believe that Jesus is the source of life even after death. Martha goes on to commit herself to Jesus as the Messiah by calling Him the Christ. Martha also states that Jesus is the Son of God. Not only does Martha say that Jesus is the Messiah but that He is divine in nature. He is exactly who He claims to be.
Even in the midst of great disappointment and sorrow, Martha still responds in faith. The same should be true of us as well. Even when the situation looks grim, even when we are hurting beyond imagination, Jesus challenges us to believe.
Application of faith (v. 21)
1. Faith becomes hard when faced with hard facts - Jesus did not arrive
2. Faith becomes hard during times of personal pain - if you had been here
3. Faith becomes hard when we face our mortality - Lazarus died
Why was Jesus troubled?
The emotional situation
Jesus was surrounded by pain and misery of death. Think about this for just a moment. The Lord of life, the source of life and the power of the resurrection was surrounded by death. Jesus was the solution but here He faces the problem. Death was allowed to enter the world because of sin. Humanity was never created to die, we were made for an eternal existence. An eternity that Jesus came to make possible for us again. Jesus has an eternal perspective in an absolutely mortal circumstance.
Jesus is deeply moved and troubled
When Jesus is greeted by Mary with the exact same statement as Martha, He is moved. There is some confusion about the wording here. The word used in the Greek is used to describe strong emotions. Often it describes anger. Some English translations even use the word angry here. Why would Jesus become angry? Jesus is not angry or upset with Mary and Martha. Jesus is upset by the pain and suffering that they are experiencing. He is angry that Lazarus had to die. He is upset that death exists at all. Jesus has an eternal perspective in a mortal situation.
The word for moved is combined here with the word troubled. The term literally means to be stirred up or to be agitated. The main mechanism in a washing machine is called an agitator because it stirs the water. The situation stirred the emotions of Jesus and His response was to weep. No matter how you look at this, we have a God who cares about our pain and steps into our points of suffering.
Jesus is agitated by the power of death. Jesus understood that we were never meant to die. Jesus understood that humanity was made for eternity. We were made in the likeness of God. We were made to have a relationship with God.
Jesus is attempting to raise the level of faith of those around him. The purpose of waiting to heal Lazarus was to increase the faith of those who believe. When Jesus approaches the tomb of Lazarus it is an emotional moment for several reasons.
1. Mary and Martha are concerned about opening the tomb
Martha is concerned that opening the tomb is a bad idea. The mere thought of opening the tomb was repulsive. The process of decay would have been rapidly working and the body of their brother would smell. Fact collides with the reality of faith. The Hebrew belief was that the spirit moved on to be with God after three days. Mary and Martha had no hope of their brother being raised from the dead. Jesus gives a gentle reminder of His promise: believe.
2. Jesus shows no concern about opening the tomb
The moment that the tomb is opened Jesus commands for Lazarus to come out. In his commentary on the New Testament John Wesley makes an interesting observation. Jesus not only spoke at the tomb as Lazarus was alive but also like he was awake. The power of Jesus was so instant that Lazarus was raised from the moment Jesus began to speak his name.
What do we learn from Lazarus being raised?
1. The power of life is always greater than the power of death
2. Jesus has absolute authority over all things
3. With Jesus, the impossible becomes possible