This last Sunday we had the honour of baptising two brand new followers of Jesus; two people who have decided to follow Jesus, leaving the old behind and starting a new life with Jesus.
That really is good news; second chances. Despite the mess we might have made of our first shot at this thing called life, through Jesus we can get to go again; and again; and again. Not that we need to get baptised again and again. As we confess our sins, the Bible tells us that Jesus is ‘faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1:9).
A short while before his own death and resurrection, Jesus demonstrated his victory over death by literally loving Lazarus’ broken (and very much dead!) body back to life in John 11. Lazarus has been dead for four days and His sisters, Mary and Martha, call upon Jesus and make it known to him that Lazarus is sick. John tells us that Jesus, who very much loved Lazarus, was deeply moved or troubled.
Jesus demonstrated his victory over death by literally loving Lazarus’ broken (and very much dead!) body back to life...
It's what happens next that impressed upon me as I read the account again. The way Jesus is, the way he approached the tomb. We already know he was deeply moved; but if we look into it, it was so much more than human empathy and the understandable sorrow at the loss of a friend. The actual Greek word used here is ‘embrimaomai, which outside the Bible refers to the ‘snorting of horses’. Inside the Bible however, this speaks of righteous anger. So Jesus is literally ‘snorting horses’ in an angry kind of way at the death of Lazarus, and more to the point, at the person behind death, Satan. Jesus is reminded first hand of the power of death and the effect it has on the people He loves. It’s in this context that Jesus approaches the tomb determined to get to Lazarus and demonstrate the power of God over sickness and death.
That Jesus knows what it is to be troubled used to trouble me. But when I think that the reason he was troubled was primarily because he loves me, wants the best for me, and is righteously angered by the destructive force of evil in our world to the point where he would give His very life to turn that around, I am filled with great hope. Hope that my Jesus gets me, empathises with my weakness, is troubled at what troubles me, and makes a way where there doesn't seem to be any other way. Jesus sees beyond death. He saw beyond the death of Lazarus, and he sees beyond our death. Anything that suggests otherwise should anger us, as it angered the Son of Man. For too long too many Christians have settle for dead situations, instead of believing for power. Jesus’ death made a way for life, and life in all its fullness (John 10:10 – see last week's blog ‘The Full Life’ for more).
Jesus sees beyond death. He saw beyond the death of Lazarus, and he sees beyond our death.
And that’s what he did next – made a way. Verse 39 of chapter 11 tells us that Jesus commanded the stone to be rolled away. In doing so, he is removing a huge obstacle here. At first glance, it might seem an insignificant part of the story, but for me its really vital that we understand something here. The stone is important because it stood in the way. It stood between Jesus, the author of life, and a dead man. Even if Lazarus was raised to life at the command of Jesus, unless that stone is removed, Lazarus is going nowhere fast. Imagine being raised to life only to wake to find a huge breeze block preventing you getting out and embracing your new life? Jesus doesn't leave that option open. He saw ahead, made a way, and made sure the stone was removed, so that when he spoke the word, Lazarus could come out of the tomb without hindrance.
Today, Jesus is still gracious like that. In his grace and kindness he enables us to see, if we are willing, some of the potential ‘stones’ in our lives that are blocking our route to destiny. But he calls us to more than just see the stones; he partners with us to move them out of the way. Perhaps today, there’s some divine stone-removal we need Jesus’ help with. Stones with names like pride or fear. We want the death part dealt with, but like Martha, the sister of Lazarus, we’re a bit worried about the smell once the stone has been removed. In verse 39, right after Jesus commands the stone to be removed, Martha remonstrates: “But, Lord…by this time there is a bad odour, for he has been there four days”. She kind of believed Jesus could do it, but what about the smell of the dead body? What would people think? For some of us, we want death dealt with. But what about the smell? We keep the stone called ‘pride’ and ‘worrying what others think’ over the tomb because we’re worried that if God (or others) actually sees us as we are we’ll never make it or we won’t be accepted. If you’re in that place today, there's good news for you. God already knows all about you, all the little details. And he still thinks you're amazing - who you were and who you are didn't stop him going to the cross, ‘Whilst we were still sinners, Christ died for us’ (see Romans 5:8). Jesus doesn't love a future you any more than he loves the present you. Ask Jesus today for him to help you roll away the stones, the obstacles, whatever they are for you. He's desperate to speak life into your situation; just like he did to Lazarus; ‘Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out” (11:43).
Jesus doesn't love a future you any more than he loves the present you.
Death has been dealt a bitter blow. When Jesus speaks, dead situations, marriages, relationships and smelly dead men and women like Lazarus, like you and me – spring back to life! There is no other option. So today, what’s your ‘Lazarus’? We’ve all got them; dead situations, areas of our lives that need some resurrection life that we need to bring to Jesus? Whatever it is, know this; He is driven with compassion towards it, he reveals and works with us to remove any obstacles and he has a life-giving word for it.
Questions for reflection
- Spend some time quietly contemplating areas of your life that are closed to God. We all have them. Open up to Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.
- Ask Jesus to reveal the Lazarus’ in your life that need the life giving words of Jesus.
- What might some of the stones be that need removing in order to let Jesus in? Do you need to talk to someone about them, and remove them by faith? How might you go about this?