And some of them said, “Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?” (John 11:37)
We humans are often such predictable creatures, particularly when it comes to reasoning and assumptions. We will generally focus on what’s wrong than what’s right. Or we’ll focus on what has happened rather than what could happen. We see the tomb as an end, and focus our time and energy on recrimination or ‘should have’ because a dead Lazarus is fact and we cannot seem to see beyond that. Our possible responses can usually be predicted with a relative degree of accuracy because they will fall into a few easily identifiable categories or options. Strategists and planners are able to use this fact to determine and allow for the possible responses, and to prepare to counter or encourage them.
Our verse today highlights this, and we see the same logic and sentiment echoed throughout the entire passage dealing with Lazarus’ death. How often do we exercise the same thought-response process? If Jesus can do X He can surely do Y. If He could do it, why didn’t He. If He had been there, Lazarus would not have died – note that both Mary and Martha state this clearly. They do not say ‘might not’ but ‘would not.’
This, of course, raises an interesting truth regarding their faith. They knew, absolutely and beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Jesus would have been able to prevent their brother’s death. He had the power to do so, and they believed it completely. They no doubt also knew that Jesus loved him, and this is the point where faith gets confused and slides a little into presumption. It is logic rather than faith that adds Jesus’ love for Lazarus to His ability to prevent his death and comes up with a slightly skewed response – a response that contains a distinct note of accusation.
How often do we respond in exactly the same way? The logic is identical. First, Jesus has the power to prevent something. Second, He loves me so would have prevented it…if He had been there. Ergo, Jesus was not there and it happened so…hmmm…is this the beginning of unbelief? Are we subconsciously questioning His ability? His love? His faithfulness – after all, He did promise to never leave us and forsake us, didn’t He? Oh, what a slippery slope we’re suddenly on. We really do not comprehend the magnitude of living like Lazarus.
Of course, Lazarus – being dead – has nothing to say. But he even has nothing to say after he’s no longer dead, which is a fascinating contradiction of the prevalent response. Lazarus simply dies and comes back to life at Christ’s command. No accusations, no recriminations, no complaints and no regrets. What a wonderful testimony for all of us.
Much of the teaching on the death and resurrection of Lazarus draws on the obvious illustrative type of Christ’s death and resurrection. This is undoubtedly a very powerful and valid teaching, and we should all take hold of the inherent truth if offers. But there is an equally powerful parallel teaching – that every believer’s life is a process of learning to live like Lazarus. Specific to this is one single and very noticeable fact – despite being loved by Jesus, and despite being raised from the dead in a very public and dramatic way, the Bible actually has very little to say about the man. He’s not a centre stage hero at all – rather like a debut actor whose first role is that of a corpse.
Yet we all know exactly who Lazarus is. We know because a) he died and b) he was resurrected. We know him because of the miraculous power of Christ in his life, a power that testified of the cross and of the believer’s life beyond the cross. It’s not ‘accident’ that Lazarus is so well known. Jesus Himself makes it very clear that the entire Lazarus event had one purpose – to testify to the fact that Jesus was the Son of God, and to His glory.
We have to accept and take hold of the truth that Jesus deliberately allowed Lazarus to die, just as He deliberately and willingly went to the cross and the tomb. This is the very blueprint of the Christian walk. Jesus intends that each and every single follower learns to die. Of course, physical death is something we have no choice in. But the Christian death is the death of self. Learning to live like Lazarus means learning to die like Lazarus. It means laying down the flesh without complaint, and entering int the spirit without looking back – and if it means four days alone in the dark, tied up in knots, well, so be it.
Jesus does not deny that He had the power to ‘save’ Lazarus without death, but He knew that would not have glorified God or revealed His real authority. Its an uncomfortable fact that those who are saved without having truly died either don’t last in their faith or get diverted into ‘easy’ faith – the I’m so blessed lifestyle that regards anything that isn’t plain sailing as the work of Satan rather than the discipline of God. Salvation without death leads to comfortable Christianity and self-gratification. It puts the focus on me and creates the expectation that nothing will ever happen that is unpleasant because God loves me and I deserve the best. It’s the slow slide towards destruction.
Complete salvation happened at the cross. It happened through the death and resurrection of Jesus. There is nothing we can do or say to add to this or change it. Our ‘dying’ does not validate His work, nor does it ‘purchase’ our salvation. But the outworking of salvation in us requires that we learn to live like Lazarus, that we learn to die to self, to take up our cross…that we learn to live like Jesus, whose power and glory was manifest in His death and resurrection. We are called to be His disciples, which means learning to live by His example.
It isn’t possible for the new creation to exist if the old doesn’t die. The new life that Christ offers can only be lived in full if we receive in full. Receiving in full means getting rid of – laying down – the old life to make space for the new. Learning to live like Lazarus basically means learning to live like Jesus. Lazarus is the human example of the Christ life – a life completely in the hands of God, to give and take away as He chooses.
We thank You for Your grace, Lord, and for providing us with such clear examples of Your will and Your plans and purposes for our lives. Forgive us for our moments of unbelief and human logic, where we’ve mistakenly made assumptions because we don’t fully understand. Help us, today, to begin to live like Lazarus, and to willingly and joyfully lay down those things that threaten to entomb us forever.