Scripture: Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
John 11:38-44 ESV [Click here to read the entire chapter.]
Observation: Recapping Friday’s Daily Focus, Martha returns to her house to inform Mary that Jesus is calling for her. Mary no longer delays and quickly seeks her Master’s company. Taking notice of Mary’s abrupt departure, the mourners scurry behind her, thinking Mary is heading to Lazarus’ tomb. As Mary approaches Jesus, she falls at his feet and echoes her sister’s earlier words of dismay (v.21): “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (v.32 here). Deeply moved by the tears of all gathered around him, Jesus asks where they laid Lazarus. With their response to “come and see,” Jesus weeps. But the crowd’s reaction to Jesus’ display of emotion is mixed. Some interpret his tears as a sign that he loved Lazarus, but others question why this miracle worker could not save Lazarus’ life.
Today’s reading continues the story with Jesus arriving at the cave where Lazarus’ dead body lay. And like the tomb where Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus would soon bury Jesus, a stone enclosed its entrance. So Jesus directs abled men to roll away the stone, but pragmatic Martha cautions Jesus for concern of the odor wafting from a four-day decaying dead man. Thus, Jesus reminds Martha of their earlier exchange of words and his promise that, by faith, she would see the glory of God.
After this brief exchange, the men roll the stone away, and Jesus lifts his eyes toward heaven and prays intimately with his Father, giving thanks. He first thanks God for listening to him (and acknowledges he always does) and clarifies his audible prayer is for the sake of those around him, for these eyewitnesses will soon believe he comes from God. Then, with a loud voice of authority, Jesus commands Lazarus to come out of the cave, and he does—still wrapped in strips of burial linen. So Jesus commands the men to unbind Lazarus and “let him go.”
Takeaway: To Jesus, the raising of Lazarus posed no concern. He had already raised a widow’s son (Luke 7:11-17) and Jarius’ daughter (Mark 5:35-43). Indeed, as indicated early in this story, Jesus informed his disciples that Lazarus’ illness would not lead to (a final) death, for it would serve to glorify God (v.4) and strengthen their faith (v.15). And here, Jesus prays for the same purpose but to include a broader audience. Only this time, the magnitude (four days dead) and scope (crowd from the region of the capital city) would intensify the resistance (discussed in tomorrow’s Daily Focus) and hasten the climax of his ministry.
As for Jesus’ brief prayer, it aligns with his model prayer (the Lord’s Prayer): “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-10 ESV). How so? He prays aloud for the benefit of others, communicating thankfulness (hallowed by your name) and implying what is about to happen on earth has happened in the reality of his Father’s eternal existence (both the raising of Lazarus and the confirmation of Jesus’ Sonship). But this prayer has a second step: he acts on it. Jesus commands Lazarus with authority to come out. And there is one final element. He orders those who rolled the stone away to unbind and set Lazarus free.
Our takeaway? As Christ’s ambassadors of his ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:17-20), just as we have been set free from the ravages of sin to love and serve our Lord, we are to follow the Holy Spirit’s lead in doing the same for others. So, regardless of our vocation, gender, age, ethnicity, or social status, Christ calls us to make disciples of people from all walks of life by praying, guiding, comforting, and weeping with others bound by the fallout of sin. And we would do well to keep giving thanks and persevere regardless of their initial responses. Indeed, no matter whether others immediately walk out of their tombs of spiritual decay to new life in Christ or huddle in the familiarity of their darkness, our gracious Father knows their entire life story in his eternal existence and will unbind his elect in due time.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son who has called us out of our darkened tombs of spiritual decay to new life in him where we are unbound by the penalty and power of sin to walk in the light of eternity. So would you please empower us to pay it forward and follow your Holy Spirit’s lead to free others shackled by sin? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling