Summary: The power of the resurrection was applied early to Lazarus, though Jesus was deeply moved to see the predicament that man had fallen into since creation.
In 1846, former president John Quincy Adams had a stroke. Upon his return to Congress the following year, it was apparent that his health was failing. When asked about his health Adams replied, “I inhabit a weak, frail, decayed tenement battered by the winds and broken in upon by the storms, and from all I can learn, the landlord does not intend to repair.” Fortunately for Lazarus, in today’s Gospel, Jesus, the divine landlord, was ready to make repairs.
First, let’s set the stage. Lazarus is the brother of Martha and Mary; yet he also stands as a type of sinner. He is a type of Adam. Within this context, I’d like to focus our gaze. Lazarus, the sinner, Adam, the man, is he whom Jesus loved. When Lazarus fell ill, Jesus was called. When Adam was stricken with the disease of sin, God sent his only-begotten Son. Why was Jesus called for? Because the one whom He loves is sick. And for all men, Jesus came, “For God so loved the world.” Love for us is all the motivation Jesus needs.
Jesus said that Lazarus’ sickness would not end in death; Adam’s sin would not end in death. The immediate consequences of it will be death, but it will be for something greater, for God’s glory. God was glorified in showing his power by raising Lazarus, but He was further glorified when Lazarus himself gave thanks to God for His loving-kindness. God is glorified in the forgiven sinner in showing his power and love in absolution, and further in the glory that the forgiven sinner gives to God.
Just as Christ came to Bethany and found Lazarus already dead for four days, so too He came to earth and found man dead. If you remember back to Advent we have how many candles? Four, for the traditional four thousand years before the coming of Messiah. Lazarus was given up on by the mourners. Even so, man was given up on by himself, and the Devil saw fit to claim the world as his own kingdom while tempting Jesus in the desert.
Jesus’ timing in going to heal Lazarus was not what might be expected. “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Pe. 3:8–9). God’s timing is sending the Savior was not what man expected, but it was the perfect time.
Martha came out to Jesus. Martha, who was left behind in a world of death, came to him to beg. “If you had been here my brother would not have died.” If God were really present, this bad thing would not have happened. If God really were God, He could have fixed this. What was the first argument of this sort? If God had been with Adam in the garden, he wouldn’t have sinned. This prayer of bitter, bitter anguish is familiar to anyone who has suffered tragedy. Why me? Why didn’t God do something? But hear Martha’s prayer of faith, “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” In the darkest turmoil, Jesus is with us and the Father always hears His plea. When all hope is lost, Jesus has powerful, effective prayer.
Sometimes we think we know what God’s answer to our prayer is, or should be. Martha wanted to see her brother live again. She wished that he hadn’t died. She wanted Jesus to give her a miracle whereby she’d have her brother back. What did Jesus reply? “I am the resurrection and the life.” I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE. It’s not enough to ask Jesus for a miracle. Even if Lazarus was raised from the dead, eventually he’d go right back to the grave. Martha needed Jesus, who was the answer to her prayer. She didn’t need what Jesus could do for her. She needed Jesus. She needed “the resurrection and the life.” Jesus continues, “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.” Lazarus was dead to the world but, because he believed, he was alive to God. “And whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” All who are yet alive—we used to call them the “quick” (although my dad says that some aren’t as quick as the used to be)—these are forever alive. Jesus is the Life, and we are in Him. We participate in His life, in His resurrection, so long as we abide in Him. Conversely, whoever does not believe in Him will die, even though he lives; and whoever lives but does not believe in Him will die eternally.