Christians look forward to the resurrection of the dead, as promised through Jesus’ own resurrection. What about the resurrection of the living? How many of us go through life doing the same things, including making the same mistakes, over and over? Someone has observed that a rut is nothing but a coffin with the ends knocked out. Just as there is new life after physical death, so is there new life after stagnation. Lazarus died physically, but we can take his death and rising from death as a metaphor for reawakening to new life after a period of spiritual slumber.
When Lazarus became deathly ill, his sisters sent for Jesus. How many times have people reached out to Jesus because, say, a brother is drifting through life without purpose, or worse yet has developed some kind of self-destructive habit. Don’t prayer chains often receive requests about a loved one who for one reason or another cannot shake himself off the couch to look for a job? Or has an alcohol or drug problem? Or who has drifted away from the faith he professed as a child or youth and doesn’t recognize that turning back is the way out of his current suffering?
Jesus declared that the sickness would not end in death and stayed where he was for two days. Notice that where Martha and Mary were probably frantic, Jesus (God the Son) had his own timetable. They most wanted to see their brother healed. Jesus most wanted to see his Father, and himself as Son of God, glorified. Depend on it. Whatever we most want, God most wants something higher. His answer to our prayer, whether it’s the answer we want or not, always accomplishes his end and is always what is ultimately best for us and those we love—even if it doesn’t seem so.
Apparently Jesus was a two-day journey from Lazarus. After two days he knew in his spirit that Lazarus had died and set out to wake him from sleep. He arrived four days after Lazarus had been buried. Martha scolded him for the delay, but Jesus promised her that Lazarus would rise again—and not just in the resurrection of the last days. She believed his words. Then the more emotionally demonstrative Mary came and fell at his feet, weeping.
Probably everyone has memorized this, the shortest verse in the Bible. Jesus certainly did not weep for sorrow and grief as Mary did. He knew what he was about to do. So why did he weep?
He had such compassion on her suffering, which his delay had caused, that he wept in anger at the human sin that ultimately causes all human suffering. Six days later, though, he wept again over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41), loudly lamenting a city that insisted on living without him. Living without Jesus is being dead in the spirit. Wouldn’t he also weep over believers who live as if they were already dead? I believe he does.
Jesus raised Lazarus from physical death. No one else could. I believe that he also wants to awaken Christians from spiritual slumber. No one else can. But notice: Lazarus didn’t walk out of the tomb; he could only hop. His feet were bound by the grave clothes. Jesus commanded other people to loose him. Christians today ought to be attentive to heed the same command.