Summary: If you are free from death -- and in the man Jesus you most certainly are -- then you are also free from the fear of death and from its power and its finality.


John 11, selected verses (NIV)

1 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.... 4 When he heard this, Jesus... stayed where he was two more days....

7 Then he said to his disciples, "Let us go back to Judea." 8 "But Rabbi," they said, "a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?" 9 Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours of daylight? A man who walks by day will not stumble, for he sees by this world’s light. 10 It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light...." 16 Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him."

17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

21 "Lord," Martha said to Jesus, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask." 23 Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." 24 Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." 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?"

27 "Yes, Lord," she told him, "I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world." 28 And after she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. "The Teacher is here," she said, "and is asking for you." 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him.... 32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 "Where have you laid him?" he asked. "Come and see, Lord," they replied. 35 Jesus wept....

38 Jesus, ...deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 "Take away the stone," he said. "But, Lord," said Martha, the sister of the dead man, "by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days." 40 Then Jesus said, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" 41 So they took away the stone. Then...Jesus called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, "Take off the grave clothes and let him go." 45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him.

Some years ago, I had the sheer joy of seeing the movie adaptation of Fulton Oursler’s novel, The Greatest Story Ever Told. I loved the way Max von Sydow brought the personality of Jesus to the screen; it was perhaps the most natural portrayal of our Lord that I’ve ever seen.

It was a long movie by any standard, the premiere version being almost two-and-a-half hours in length, and it was broken in the middle by an intermission. I will never forget the climactic scene that occurs just before the break. Jesus has just raised Lazarus from the dead, quite a dramatic moment in its own right, and when Lazarus appears at the opening of the tomb, fully alive after having been in the crypt four days, the camera cuts to a foot race. Three men are seen hurrying as fast as they can to get some place -- you don’t know where. If they are together, you can’t tell it. You see one, then you see another, and then the other. And then you see the one again, and then the second man, and so forth.

While you’re watching these men run, you are also hearing the “Hallelujah” Chorus from Handel’s Messiah, being performed under the direction of Alfred Newman. The piece progresses as it does, moving toward its final crescendo. But just before the last “hallelujah,” as always, there is a rest, only in this case it is extended. And, in the silence, each of the three men arrives at the gate of the city of Jerusalem, winded from his haste, and they stand there together and look up toward a bewildered sentinel. And the camera focuses on the face of the first man. You recognize him as a man whom Jesus has healed. And he shouts, “I was lame, but now I can walk!” Then the second man. You recognize him as well. He is also someone whom Jesus has healed. And he shouts, “I was blind, but now I can see!” And then the third man: I don’t recall ever seeing him before. But now he shouts, “A man was dead, but now he lives!” And then, bam! the final “hallelujah.” I tell you, the first time I ever experienced that moment in the theater, my heart escaped my breast and soared to the heights. It was deeply emotional.

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