Summary: Odd things about this story: Why does the Bible tells us "Jesus wept"? And why didn’t Jesus "show up" a few days earlier and make sure Lazarus didn’t die? Why allow this close personal friend to die, and allow his friends and family to mourn?
OPEN: 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)
APPLY: 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.
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.
Now, poor families would take the deceased out into a field and drop it into a hole dug 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.
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.”
Of course, we all know the rest of the story…
Lazarus dies, he’s buried, and 4 days later, Jesus raises him from the dead.
But there are some oddities to this story that make it intriguing.
The 1st oddity is this:
Jesus could have been there BEFORE Lazarus died.
From the way this story plays out, there’s no mistaking the fact that Jesus knew Lazarus would die. Jesus KNEW – before Lazarus even got sick – that Lazarus was going to die.
As I said last week, Jesus did great miracles/healings, I doubt that EVERY miracle/healing Jesus did was pre-planned. However the way Jesus responded when He heard that Lazarus was sick tells me that this miracle was arranged ahead of time in the very courts of Heaven.
Notice - before the disciples knew Lazarus had died Jesus told them:
“‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.’… Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.” John 11:11, 13
And then, Jesus waits 2 more days (knowing Lazarus HAD died) before returning to Jerusalem. Vs. 6 tells us: “Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.”
So, Jesus could have prevented Lazarus from dying.
If He had just shown up a few days earlier… Lazarus WOULD NOT have died.
And that’s what both Mary and Martha say to Jesus when He arrives.
They both tell Him the same thing:
"Lord… if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” John 11:21
And they were right!
They knew that Jesus had already healed dozens (perhaps 100s) of people up this point in His ministry. They also knew that Jesus had raised at least two people from the dead.
And so, the moment they realized Lazarus was deathly sick they IMMEDIATELY sent for Him, because they KNEW that if Jesus came… Lazarus wouldn’t die.
But Jesus didn’t come.
And Lazarus (pause) died.
The other oddity about this story is how Jesus responds to the funeral.
“When Jesus saw (Mary) weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled… Jesus wept.” John 11:33,35
Now, if Jesus knew Lazarus was going to die (it was all pre-arranged), why weep? And if He knew He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, even before he arrives at the grave, why shed tears?
Why would He weep?