Brief Thoughts on Lazarus (John, Chapter 11)
John 11:21-27 KJV
21-22 Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee.
Martha, like all of us do in some way, knew that if Jesus had just showed up in time, and had done his hocus-pocus, like we all know He can do, He would have fixed everything and Lazarus wouldn't have been lying dead in a tomb. They'd sent a message to Jesus and they knew He'd had time to get there during Lazarus' illness. They must've looked out the window day after day, wondering over and over why didn't He come. "Where is Jesus? We called Him, but He hasn't come!" While Lazarus lay suffering day after day, weakening and obviously slipping out of this world, all their hopes were placed on Jesus coming.
Only He didn't come. Not in time. By the time Jesus arrives they've had time to prepare Lazarus for burial, have his funeral, seal up the body in a tomb, and it's been four days since. If only Jesus had come before. But He didn't, and Lazarus' corpse lay wrapped in stillness and darkness and overtaken by the ruthless, implacable onset of putrefaction.
In Martha's grief, the first thing she does when Jesus FINALLY shows up is to lay at His feet a little blame, in modern terms "venting" at Him just a bit, for not coming when she called. Hadn't they been clear enough in their message, that Lazarus was deathly ill? "WHY DIDN'T YOU COME IN TIME?" is her very plain unspoken, deep, hurt.
But then there is this glimmer in her heart, this very dim whispered Word from within, hidden in everything, hidden in all the circumstances, hidden in Lazarus' death, hidden in Jesus' late arrival, so that even in her grief she somehow manages to utter: "But I know that, even now, whatever you ask God, He will do -- for you."
Is there a real hope in that statement? Was there some inner substance (Lazarus rising) that she wasn't even aware of that prompted her tongue? Or was it almost accidental, something that just popped out, that when she said it she knew the desire behind it, the desire to see her brother out of that tomb and well and living with them again, and in her mind she knew that that was just too much to think, too much to hope for, too much, far too much, to expect?
23 Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again.
Jesus immediately says that her unspoken desire, her "too-good-to-be-true hope" is EXACTLY what is going to happen. "Lazarus, my dear, is coming out of that tomb." It was a very simple statement Jesus made. He just didn't say when.
Let's remember. Maybe for us this is allegorical, or a parable, or theology. Something to take notes on and outline principles from. For us Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead may be symbolic or it may be literal. The meaning of the events may be the foundation of some of the most central doctrines of the faith of Christ, but on that day in Palestine, 30 AD or so, it was just a few people in a dry dusty town not too far from Jerusalem, a suburb of Jerusalem since it was so close, and they weren't struggling with issues of theological importance. There was no thought on anyone's mind, including Jesus of Nazareth's mind, about laying any sort of foundation for later Sunday School classes or Seminary courses and nobody had any ideas about "proof-texts" they were going to be able to use when they were witnessing to "prove" the resurrection of the dead, and how believing in Jesus gives you eternal life. (In fact, if anybody had "correct theology" on their minds that day, it was probably the Pharisees who had come to find fault in Jesus, so that they could have good public reasons to condemn Him before all the people, by proving Him a fraud and a heretic and a blasphemer.)
But for our consideration, it was just one supposedly dead guy, his two sisters, some friends, mourners, Jesus and his disciples, and the crowd that usually followed Jesus around for one reason or another.
Other than Jesus and His entourage being in town, it's just a normal day that could be in any town and a normal circumstance in any family because this is a universal experience. And it's just "regular people" like you and me going through the normal everyday circumstances of life.
24 Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.
Now there's some gritty, courageous "faith." (I'm being facetious.) ME saying that may shock some people, because what Martha says is of course the Truth, but if I may be so bold, this "faith" exhibited here has fallen from where it started when it first heard the glimmer of the Word in a whisper. Her first "faith statement" to Jesus is "God will do anything you ask," (which couched her real heart's desire and inner faith "vision"), but this statement has backed off that "too lofty" perch, that "presumption" that she could even dare think such a thing, and has settled back into the Sunday School quarterly, which is nice milk for little kids, but Jesus is offering meat here. She had caught a glimpse, she had heard a whisper, but she couldn't yet go all the way with it, so when Jesus asked her if she believed in the Resurrection, she gave him the stock, "I-believe-it-in-the-future," answer. "OF COURSE" we believe in the Resurrection -- "tomorrow in the bye & bye."
25-26 Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?
He was asking Martha if she believed in the Resurrection NOW, not later. He said, "Your brother will rise again," and "He who believes in ME shall never die, even though I'll have to admit, he looks pretty darn dead. But I'm telling you, Martha, that even though your brother is as if dead, he really isn't dead. He who believes in ME never dies.
Do you believe this?
27 She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.
She still didn't catch what He was asking her, so once again she answers, giving an absolutely true answer, "Well, I know You are the Christ, and because of You my brother will rise at the last day." But still she was not in the least comprehending that Jesus was talking about her brother walking out of that tomb in about five minutes.
But Jesus ignores Martha's misunderstanding. He sees Mary briefly and they have a little conversation, and then off they go to the tomb with a train of friends, mourners, and "spies" from the Pharisees following.
At other times Jesus has asked people, "Do you believe that I am able to do this?" before He has healed them. But he doesn't ask that in this case, because first of all He doesn't state plainly what He's about to do.
He talks to them about Resurrection and they misunderstand and think He's talking about something happening way off in the bye and bye. But He doesn't correct their mis-thinking, because of course that IS the truth; there IS the resurrection of the dead which is to come, as it pertains to us in this life. And certainly part of what is going on here in this Lazarus story is a parable of that, as well as Jesus' own Resurrection. All of that is in this story.
Paul says this (the resurrection of the dead) is the hope whereby we are comforted, that when we are loosed from our earthly house we'll have an eternal house (body), and we all groan in travail in the birth of this new Holy Body, which to me is not some esoteric metaphysical ectoplasmic aural extension of ourselves that is building now even as we speak which we could see and walk around in if we had the right vision and knowledge -- (or it may be somewhat that, what do I know?) -- but this New Holy Body of which I AM speaking about its Rising Again, is the One Body of Christ, the New Jerusalem, The One New Man, The One Eternal Man, The Second Man, Lord from Heaven -- Christ, with many members, and so the "New Body" as I AM meaning it is not just some new individual-unit (separate from all the other individual-units like we are now), a New-Improved-Tide sort of body, with each of us having all sorts of neat superman powers like walking through walls, appearing and disappearing at will, X-ray vision, traveling back and forth in time, being solid and corporeal (if we want) and eating whatever you want and yet it having no ill dietary or gastronomic effects, etc., (that would be one of my favorites), but instead all of us as Being One Man and One Body in unity of Will and Heart and Purpose in Love, interpenetrating each other and dwelling in ourselves, and in each other, and in God, all in a Oneness of Person that delights to do nothing but expand itself without end in an eternal procreation of love. We will know our own complete distinction, and yet be so one with all, that there will be no remembrance of separation or that there was ever such an idea as a "separate person" from me.
But back to the story. They arrive at the tomb. Since He doesn't ask them any more about how "much" they believe, and He doesn't correct their assumption that the "rising" He's talking about is the familiar one in the future everybody knows about, it becomes plain that Jesus doesn't need Mary and Martha or any of the others to "catch on" in order for Him to do what He's about to do. He's content for the moment to let them think that Resurrection is something in the future. And so He takes it up a notch.
A big notch.
39 Jesus said, Take ye away the stone.
Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.
See, Martha is still not getting it. Jesus had just said to her, "Your brother shall rise again," but there is just no possibility of a thought in her head that could possibly conceive of her dead brother walking out of that tomb, and she is aghast that Jesus wants to open it, since Lazarus' body had already started to decompose. If you've ever had the "pleasure" of that odor, (I used to work in the basement of a hospital where the county morgue was), you know why she was aghast.
It's interesting at what point we "cut off" God's ability to do anything. She had told Jesus if He'd only arrived in time. But now, alas, Lazarus' body has decomposed, he's past helping. CERTAINLY Jesus could have healed him if He'd gotten there even a few minutes before he died, or even maybe right after Lazarus had passed. But now? When he stinks? When his corpse has already started to rot?
Lazarus' healing had certainly been not only possible, but 100% reliable in her mind "if only" Jesus had gotten there in time, and it even might not have been too late if Jesus had gotten there not too long after Lazarus died, like with "Wesley the Pirate" in the movie, "The Princess Bride."
(For those of you who don't know the movie, this won't interest you, so tune this out. But those of us who do know that wonderful movie of all movies know how the evil ["I'm swamped"] Prince Humperdink tortured Wesley to death, and his friends in desperation brought him "dead" to Miracle Max [Billy Crystal], who was able to help Wesley because Max determined that Wesley was just "mostly dead," but not yet "all the way dead," so Miracle Max was able to revive him with his special big brown Ex-Lax looking pill, which worked even though Miracle Max's wife, [Carol Kane], chased him around and around and around, verbally emasculating him because he'd never been able to overcome his life-long nemesis, Prince Humperdink, and she can never ever ever ever ever ever let him forget. [Truly one of the greatest moments of cinematic history.])
Well, Lazarus had gotten past the point of being "mostly dead" and it had become as an utter impossibility to the human mind and belief, that life could come back into a rotting stinking corpse and bring it back to the world restored and whole and able to feast with them again. (Maybe the human thinking could latch onto the "idea" that Lazarus would "one day" be resurrected, yeah sure, we could believe that, but this Lazarus wasn't content to wait. We can believe anything for the future, since we don't have to really believe it "right now." It's the "right now" that causes most of the problems.)
Where Jesus was coming from, the state of Lazarus' body didn't matter. Lazarus lying there in the tomb was dead, so his "believing" wasn't a factor. He was past being able to assist in his own defense. (Dead people [like those of us crucified in Christ], don't DO anything, think anything, believe anything. They're dead!) Both Mary and Martha were certain Lazarus could have been healed if Jesus hadn't lolligagged and had gotten His Holy Butt down there when they first called him. So their faith and their mindset had nothing to do with it. And all the mourners and spies for the Pharisees, if anything they were scoffers and disbelievers, so their "faith" or their ideas of what might have happened could have had no bearing.
Jesus didn't enter into any of that. He didn't enter into the visible (and smellable) reality that Lazarus was NOT asleep, that as far as anybody could see he was as dead as roadkill trampled and flattened by a hundred Roman cavalrymen. Only two statements are recorded of Jesus about Lazarus. One, that he wasn't dead, but asleep, and the other that he would rise again.
Martha told Jesus Lazarus wouldn't have died (meaning -- "he's dead you schmuck!") if He'd been there in time and Jesus replied, "Your brother will rise again." And "though he were dead, yet shall he live."
And still, Martha, and everyone else I know from then until now, including the entire Christian Church throughout all the centuries, and me, has seen Resurrection as "later."
40 Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?
What "believing" did Martha & Mary do? Did their "believing" contribute to what was about to happen?
For the first question, all we have evidence of is that Mary & Martha believed the Truth as far as they had been given a vision for -- that there IS a coming Day of Resurrection. This was firm in their hearts and right on the money. Nothing wrong with that.
But as far as their "believing" having anything to do with what Jesus was about to do in any sort of direct sense, that just isn't the case. They most certainly weren't "believing" that dead, stinking, rotting Lazarus was going to come walking out of that tomb, still wrapped in graveclothes, but good as new.
Lazarus rising again, right there on the spot, was outside anybody's box! They couldn't be "responsible" to believe it, because it was too preposterous to even consider. It was an utter impossibility. It was not even presented to them directly to believe in, only in little hints. It was something they couldn't have believed if Jesus had told them in plain words that was what He was about to do.
And there was no requirement from Jesus or the Father for their faith to rise to that impossibility.
Let me repeat that: And there was no requirement from Jesus or the Father for their faith to rise to that impossibility.
An idea like everybody rising from the dead at the final judgment is an easy concept to believe in. Most of the world believes some version of that, no matter what "religion" they profess.
The Lazarus story presents something entirely different, however.
41-42 Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.
43 And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth.
44 And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.
(For those who have to spend some extra time reading this long piece, if it's any consolation to you, I've been stuck right here at this point now for two days. I've written and rewritten everything above several times, but I get right here to this point and stop. This birth has been hard to bring forth. But I trust the Spirit to do it.)
One thing to take note of is that Jesus kept the silence. When the Word is gestating within us, as it swirls around and begins to rise in our consciousness, we learn to keep a certain degree of silence about it. The Father's work is in secret, at first. His first Word is a whisper, then it gets louder, then it takes on more concrete form, then we begin to see it plainer and plainer, until at some point, and we learn to know it when it happens, heaven and earth come together and we speak the Word we've seen in the pattern shown to us on the Mount. But to speak it too soon, is sometimes like pulling up a seed to see if it's growing. We don't do that.
Martha and Mary get the Word in whispers and glimpses, but they can't do anything with it. It comes and goes and they are powerless to hold onto it as it passes through.
Lazarus is all we ever hoped to be and thought we were, lying in a tomb dead, powerless to release himself, powerless to do anything, bound with the clothes of death, face covered with a napkin. Out of the picture.
The scoffers and accusers, the mourners and the Pharisees, also travel with us wherever we go and provide plenty of fodder for condemnation and accusation and the abuse of hope, and serve their purpose well.
If you think I'm denying the "literal truth" of the Lazarus story by my next statement, let me assure you you are mistaken, but this next statement is just simply that EVERYONE in the story is YOU, right up to and including the Jesus "character."
Every single day this story is enacted in my life. Every day death takes me beyond its door into its most intimate chamber. It tries to make love to me and would have me as its own. That statement is as literal a statement as I can make.
Every single day of my life I get whispers and glimmers, rays of hope and soft gentle words that seem too good to be true and couldn't possibly be, so that "I see" and "believe" and yet constantly pray, "O Lord, help thou mine unbelief."
Every single day of my life I live in the secret place of the Father, in His place where there are no human words, and from that place say to every Lazarus I know, "Lazarus Come Forth!" And they do.
I AM HE who utters "Come Forth" and I AM HE who comes forth. I have taken to the grave with me all the human limitations, all the curses, all the sicknesses, all the worry and stress about money and kids and houses and cars, and I have gone into the grave and the land of no remembrance of things which are past.
And when HE WHO UTTERS, "COME FORTH," has spoken, I AM HE who rises up out of the tomb, and comes forth to new life, and my graveclothes are removed from me and the napkin is taken off my face and I can see everything.
I AM not separate from YOU, I AM YOU, and therefore I DIE and RISE as YOU.
Martha and Mary and Lazarus are all Christ manifest and showing forth His Own Glory in the weakness of humanity, in the mis-thinking, in the almost hearing the Word, and in the falling all the way down in sickness into death.
But one must understand, MUST understand, since Martha and Mary and Lazarus are the Same Person manifesting in each, that the Martha consciousness and the Mary consciousness and the Lazarus consciousness are not the "responsible" parties. They exist FOR CHRIST TO COME FORTH. I said above that the Father did not require Martha's & Mary's "faith" to rise to the level of impossibility it was for Lazarus to rise out of the grave. It is not given to them. That is ONLY given the Christ-consciousness. Martha gets to continue to always be Martha, and Mary continues always to be Mary.
And though we are Martha, and Mary, and Lazarus, and the mourners and friends and even Pharisees, too, in the end Christ is All in all, and the end is now. As Hebrews says, "Today is the Day."
That's what Jesus was saying.
Don't wait for the future resurrection. Rise now. Arise, let us go hence.
Trim your lamps, fill them with oil, the bridegroom cometh, and the wedding night is upon you. It's gonna be a wild ride.
Do you see? You are Lazarus. You are dead and in the grave. And you are Martha and Mary. You believe and yet you don't. And as Lazarus and Martha and Mary, and the Pharisees, you never can believe. But the CHRIST has come and embodied Himself in YOU, and now YOU are HE who calls forth Lazarus, who comforts Martha and Mary, and who shines Light on the hypocrisy and sin of the Pharisees who attempt to live in your own reality.