Lazarus, Come Forth!

The shortest verse in the entire Bible is this:

Jesus wept.

John 11:35

It consists of two words only; simple yet powerful. Why did Jesus weep? He wept when he saw Lazarus’ dead body in the grave. Jesus loved Lazarus, and his sisters, Martha and Mary. While all of them were weeping, Martha said to Jesus if he had been here earlier, Lazarus had not died, believing Jesus could heal Lazarus’ sickness.

Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.

John 11:21

Such sorrow and sincerity of all people around moved Jesus. And he wept.

Despite this short, powerful verse, however, the entire chapter of John 11, especially the death and resurrection of Lazarus has much more profound implications. When Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, he said as follows:

When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.

John 11:4

The sickness that Lazarus had was not unto death. What did it mean? Was it because Jesus could heal him?

The answer is yes, and no.

In reality, Lazarus was sick and died before Jesus arrived at his place. That is why, both Mary and Martha were so regretful, saying if Jesus had come earlier, Lazarus had not died.

Jesus, however, said Martha, Lazarus will rise again. Martha thought Jesus was talking about the last day of the world. But what Jesus meant was still his initial statement that the sickness of Lazarus was not unto death, because Jesus himself was the life and resurrection.

Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:

John 11:23-25

In reality, what happened to Lazarus was just his physical death. Moreover, it did not matter whether Lazarus was dead, alive, even would rise again, as far as his physical existence was concerned. When Jesus said to Martha, her brother Lazarus shall rise again. It was not only physical but more spiritual.

Certainly, the physical resurrection of Lazarus was impactful. It shocked many people, including the high ranking priests at that time. It was even one of the turning points in the Gospels of John, which predicted the death and resurrection of Jesus himself. What Jesus focused, however, was not just Lazarus’ physical death and resurrection, but everyone’s spiritual death and resurrection.

And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth.

John 11:43

The voice of Jesus, shouting “Lazarus, come forth,” was one of the most powerful phrases we can never forget. If it implies our spiritual death and resurrection, then his three words “Lazarus, come forth” would be much more profoundly unforgettable together with his two words “Jesus wept.”

The resurrection of Lazarus did not mean that he became physically immortal. Despite this miracle of Jesus, after all, Lazarus would end his life physically one day. If so, what was the point when Jesus conducted this miracle?

Sören Kierkegaard pointed out this in his work, The Sickness Unto Death.

“This sickness is not unto death” (John 11:4), and yet Lazarus died; for when the disciples misunderstood the words which Christ adjoined later, “Lazarus our friend is asleep, but I go to wake him out of his sleep” (11:11), He said plainly, “Lazarus is dead” (11:14). So then Lazarus is dead, and yet this sickness was not unto death; he was dead, and yet this sickness is not unto death. Now we know that Christ was thinking of the miracle which would permit the bystanders, “if they believed, to see the glory of God” (11:40), the miracle by which He awoke Lazarus from the dead, so that this sickness was not only not unto death, but, as Christ had foretold, “for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby” (11:4). Oh, but even if Christ had not awakened Lazarus from the dead, is it not true that this sickness, that death itself, was not a sickness unto death?… And what help would it have been to Lazarus to be awakened from the dead, if the thing must end after all with his dying — how would that have helped Lazarus, if He did not live who is the resurrection and the life for everyone who believes in Him? No, it is not because Lazarus was awakened from the dead, not for this can one say that this sickness is not unto death; but because He lives, therefore this sickness is not unto death.

The Sickness Unto Death

From the beginning, Jesus declared the truth that this sickness of Lazarus was not unto death. It never changes whatever could be the case.

What if Jesus arrived earlier and was able to heal Lazarus and did not die? Or, what if Jesus was not able to bring Lazarus back to life but remained dead? Whatever miracles Jesus would do, Lazarus would experience his death at the end of his physical living as all of us would do, as far as our physical existence is concerned. It is never about a miracle of immortality, but Jesus’ love beyond life and death.

Let me repeat these words of Kierkegaard.

[I]t is not because Lazarus was awakened from the dead, not for this can one say that this sickness is not unto death; but because He lives, therefore this sickness is not unto death.

The Sickness Unto Death

Jesus loved Lazarus and wept for him. Lazarus lived such life with love of Jesus, which means, Christ lived in Lazarus. That was the fundamental truth that this sickness was not unto death, whatever would happen to the physical existence of Lazarus. Thus, Jesus said unto Lazarus. “Lazarus, come forth.”

Image by Michael Gaida

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