Jesus is the resurrection and life; person who believes in him, mortal though they may be, will never die spiritually - eternity is theirs.
v1-16. In the opening section of this episode, John records Jesus' response to the serious illness that has overtaken his friend Lazarus. Mary and Martha send word to Jesus of their brother's illness. On receiving the news Jesus makes the point that the illness has a positive prognosis and that it will serve to bring glory to God, but then he waits a further two days before undertaking the day-long journey to Bethany. The sign itself will certainly honor God in Christ, but it will also set in motion the events that lead up to the ultimate expression of God's glory, namely, the death and resurrection of Christ. When Jesus finally decides to set off for Bethany, the disciples balk at going anywhere near Jerusalem, what with the present fury of the religious authorities. In their understanding, there is no need for a return trip, given that Lazarus is now on the mend ("sleeping"). Jesus finally explains that Lazarus is dead and that their faith is about to be strengthened.
v17-27. While Mary is with the many mourners in the family home, Martha hears of Jesus' arrival on the outskirts of the village and so goes to meet him. She expresses her faith by making the point that had Jesus been able to come earlier he could have prayed for the healing of Lazarus and her brother would now be alive. She goes on to affirm Jesus' statement that Lazarus "will rise again", although her mind is on the "resurrection at the last day." Jesus, in preparation for the coming sign, takes to himself the title of "resurrection and life" - Jesus is the one who raises the dead in the last day and enables them to live forever, never to die. Martha then affirms the truth that faith in Christ is the source of this life, and this because he is the Messiah.
v28-37. Mary now learns that Jesus has arrived and goes out to greet him. Like Martha, she expresses her belief that had Jesus been able to come earlier he would have been able to heal Lazarus. Her words are often read as a criticism of Jesus, but they are actually an expression of faith. With everyone crying, Jesus himself gets choked up. Obviously, some of the people read this as a sign of Jesus' frustration and wonder why he couldn't have kept Lazarus from dying.
v38-40. Jesus now moves to the grave and asks for the cover-stone to be removed. Martha knows for sure that Lazarus is dead and makes the point that a four day old dead body will smell. Since it was commonly believed that the soul left the body after three days, Lazarus is now nothing more than a decomposing corpse. Jesus reminds Martha that he has just promised her that she would experience the powerful hand of God in Christ.
v41-45. Jesus now enacts this promise in his last and most amazing sign. First, he declares his assurance of the Father's cooperation in the sign. Then, in an aside, Jesus notes that such a declaration serves only to drive home the sign to the onlookers and so help them come to faith. He then summons Lazarus, who stumbles out of the grave in his grave cloths and with a towel wrapped around his head. In the face of this amazing sign, many believe.
What is it that we fear most about death? Is it annihilation? Many people will answer "no", claiming that the business of dying actually outweighs their fear of death. We fear the loss of dignity, of freedom and particularly the painful side of dying. It was not so long ago that if someone had a serious fall in old age, or some other medical emergency, pneumonia, "the old man's friend", would set in and the person would pass away quietly in their own bed. Now we take our pain to unbearable limits just to squeeze out a few extra moments of existence. That we hang on desperately to life probably illustrates that the stoic resolve with which we face our annihilation is more front than fact.
There are still some people who fear death because they fear hell, although notions of a place of eternal punishment are fast receding in the psyche of Western man. Growing old, facing disability, pain and the loss of dignity, along with the end of being, these are our fears, and powerful motivators they are. Increasingly the urban technocrat looks to salve these fears through the white-coated medical professional rather than the robed priest.
None-the-less, the words of Jesus remain to confront today's self-reliant humanity. Jesus claims of himself to be the resurrection and the life. He claims that there will be a coming day when he will raise the dead from their grave, that the dust of our mortality will live again. He claims also that once raised, we will never die again; Jesus is resurrection and life. This reality of eternal life is for all who believe, who believe in Jesus, or in simple terms, all who ask Jesus for eternal life.
There is no escaping the indignity of dying. The body disintegrates with age and there is nowhere to hid, even for those who believe in the healing ministry of the church. Yet, what about after death? When it comes to our dust, Jesus claims authority. The issue is, do we recognize and trust Jesus' authority?
Discuss the nature of the sign evident in the "resuscitation" of Lazarus.