Summary: Jesus resurrects us to New Life. Once we are loosed from the old we should live up to the potential he places in us.
1. Death is Unstoppable
Back in March of 2008, the mayor of a city in SW France had a problem. It seems his village was running out of space. Not in housing, nor in the retail district, nor even at City Hall. It seems they were running out of space… in the cemetery. There was no room for any more graves. It was full. And apparently (wait for it) people were just dying to get in. ?
Now the mayor tried to purchase land that was next to the cemetery, but an administrative court ruled that his village couldn’t do that.
And so the mayor - having no space in the cemetery, and unable to purchase more land to bury people - did what any politician would have done… he passed a law. And he had this law posted in the city building informing the 260 residents of the town that they are no longer allowed to die.
The ordinance read, in part, "[A]ll persons not having a plot in the cemetery and wishing to be buried in Sapourenx are forbidden from dying in the parish…. Offenders will be severely punished" (From an article by Patrick D. Odum)
Of course, everybody knew that was a silly law. You can’t stop people from dying. All you can do is to determine what to do with them when they do die.
2. [Embalming stone in Jerusalem In ancient Israel, the bodies of the dead were washed and wrapped in winding cloths. The Jewish historian Josephus tells us that corpses were usually perfumed with various spices. The perfume was partly to honor the dead, but mostly it was used to disguise the smell of decay that set in after a few days. They had none of the advance embalming techniques that we have to stop the body from decaying, so bodies were generally buried a day or so.
Poor families would take the deceased out into a “Potter’s Field” and buried in the ground. But richer families could afford to use tombs - caves that had been hollowed out and blocked by a stone rolled in front of the entrance.
3. John 11:38 basically informs us that Lazarus and his family were relatively wealthy people. “Jesus… came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance.”
4. We know that this is a powerful story…Lazarus dies, he’s buried, and 4 days later, Jesus raises him from the dead. John 11.1-44 Some key texts:
• 11.1-4 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
• 11.17 17 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.
• 11.21, 32 “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
• 11.35 35 Jesus wept. [Softly crying because of the effect of sin on us; contrast with loud crying of others – paid mourners; sensitive family
• 11.33 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. [Anger/Emotion
• 11.38 38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it.
• 11.43-44 43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
5. Jesus called Lazarus back to life and He calls you and me to be the people He intended for us to be – Jeremiah 29.11-12 – 11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. [Regarding the return from Babylon; John 10.10 Abundant Life
Two Key Insights from this account:
I. Identify the Hindrances to Real Life (What Holds Us Back?)
Scholars have concluded that ancient Bethany was the site of an almshouse for the poor and a place of care for the sick. There is a hint of association between Bethany and care for the unwell in the Gospels: Mark tells of Simon the Leper's house there ( John 12.1-8 + Mary’s anointing; Mark 14:3-10); Jesus receives urgent word of Lazarus' illness from Bethany (John 11:1-12:11).