The raising of Lazarus from the dead in John 11 always elicits memories of what older preachers have said as they thundered through the text. I’m not sure who said it but someone somewhere once said, “Jesus called Lazarus from the tomb by name lest all the dead arise!” And I can imagine George Whitfield in my mind’s eye summoning his congregation to draw nigh unto him with almost a whisper saying with increasing intensity, “Yes, Lazarus was in the tomb for four days but he doesn’t smell nearly as bad as you!” It must have been wonderful to sit under such godly expositors who could provide such rich and colorful applications with the power to cut to the quick and in an instant set our eye on Christ as the only hope.
And there are many things in the story that are rich. For example, it’s in this story that Thomas deserves better than that moniker, “doubting.” Knowing that Jerusalem could end in death for Christ as well as them he said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Or how could we pass over the sisters. How they loved their brother. Scripture provides a glimpse into this family that we all ought to cherish. What a loss to these women. But it’s Martha that reminds me of a woman who might fit well into one of the mainline liberal congregations today! Jesus says, “Your brother will rise again” to which she responds, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Martha had been catechized. She knew the right answer and she even recognized that Jesus was the Son of God who was coming into the world. But she seems to lack understanding. Perhaps we might describe it like this, there is form without power in her confession.
And then there was Mary. I just love her. She seems spontaneous but unflappable. She knows where to fix her eyes in the storm. She knows the value of Jesus. He is worth more than the costliest perfume. She seems to apprehend the meaning of the catechism. She knew if the Lord had been present her brother would not have died. But even that statement was lacking. The finite cannot contain the infinite. Geography does not hamper the exercise of divine prerogative.
And, of course, there are the tears of Jesus. Francis Schaeffer helped me to see God’s empathy in Christ’s tears. This is the Son of God who hates sin and is moved by its effect on His creation. But these tears also caused misunderstanding. Is this not the man who opened the eyes of the blind? If so, then could he not have kept this man from dying? These people do not understand the plan and purpose of God. The incredulity of the onlookers is captured in their response to Jesus’ call to remove the stone from the tomb, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.”
But Jesus, the righteous man, prayed. The interesting thing about the prayer has to do with the tense of the words translated “you have heard me.” They are spoken as if the prayer was offered at an earlier time. Perhaps Jesus prayed days ago upon hearing of Lazarus’s death. Perhaps being the righteous Man he knew that his prayer was heard and with confidence He thanked the Lord before summoning Lazarus from the grave. Perhaps and even likely that is the case. But here we find that the Lord Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Him shall have life. Do you believe in Him? If not, may the one who brings life bring life to you today.
Jeffrey A Stivason (Ph.D. Westminster Theological Seminary) is pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He is also Professor of New Testament Studies at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA. Jeff is also an online instructor for Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA. He is the author of From Inscrutability to Concursus (P&R), he has contributed to The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans) and has published academic articles and book reviews in various journals. Jeff is the Senior Editor of Place for Truth (placefortruth.org) an online magazine for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.