John 11:17-44
"Lazarus, Come Out!"

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1. The [two] sisters Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus lived in the town of Bethany. We're told that Jesus and those with him often went into their home. During tough times when surrounded by Jewish hostility or when they doubted for their lives, it was one of the few homes in which Jesus could relax his thoughts. But, then all of a sudden great pain attacked this home. Lazarus succumbed to a terrible illness and could not be healed when it was all said and done. In spite of his family's hopes, he died.

2. Until yesterday they were a happy family always cheerful and smiling, but then they were pushed down to rock bottom pain the next day. They had never even thought about sickness or death, but then suddenly on one certain day, they had to come face to face with this humanly unavoidable reality. That's how this kind of thing usually comes. [But] death doesn't just lie in the direction we are all going. You might say we carry death with us right on our backs. Death is gravely and most terribly in control of people. We just [always] forget that. Even though we forget it, the truth is still true though. One day we are made to realize how true it is. Many times the way people come to see this truth happens just like it did in Mary and Martha's house. We can't get passed nor avoid this problem. So, where do we find the answer to this problem?

3. First, let's look at where we "won't find" the answer.

4. When Jesus arrived at their place, Lazarus had already been buried in the tomb for four days. Martha heard that Jesus had come and went out to meet him. Then she said, "O Lord, if you had been here for us, my brother would not have died. But, I still acknowledge that God will grant whatever you ask of Him," (verses twenty-one and twenty-two). The Lord said to Martha, "Your brother will rise from the dead." In reply to this Martha said, "I know that he will rise at the time of the resurrection at the end of days."

5. The phrase that Martha had in her mouth was an orthodox doctrine within Judaism (in particular, the Pharisees). She wasn't wrong in what she said. But, hers was a faith confession that amounted to an "I know" and only a hard head kind of thing. This is not much different from when Japanese people vaguely speak on "Heaven" or "Paradise." "They know that heaven exists;" "they know that there is a paradise." So, let come what may they may say. But, how is that helpful? In Martha's case, it didn't help her much. To know a doctrine dealing with a general hope for what's after death like she did did not bring her salvation. That's the way it is for us to. When we come directly into contact with the reality of our own death or with the death of someone close to us, these vague hopes about what's after death are not much useful.

6. So, where do we find the solution to death?

7. Jesus said more to Martha. "I am the resurrection. I am the life. He who believes in me, though he dies, will live. As he lives, whoever believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?," (verses twenty-five and twenty-six). What bold statements he made! And what a tremendous question he gave her! The Lord asked her, "Do you believe this?" The question he asked her was whether or not she believed Jesus when he made the statement that "I am the resurrection. I am the life." He didn't just ask whether she believed in a mere propositional truth. Nor did he ask whether she believed some doctrine. He asked her whether she believed in him when he made the statement that he himself was the Resurrection and that he was Life. Martha gave this answer to that question, "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the messiah, the son of God who is supposed to come into the world."

8. When Martha said that, she went back into the house and called Mary. Mary got up and turned to Jesus. She saw Jesus, laid down prostrate before his feet and said, "Lord, if you had been here for us, my brother would not have died." Mary had the exact same words that Martha had said and then she cried. Everyone all around them was crying out loud too. When Jesus saw this what did he do? The Lord felt some anger in his heart, some excitement, and so Jesus also shed some tears with them.

9. When we see with our own eyes the power of death wielding its furious menace and plunging a person's life into the depths of sorrow, we have felt such unventable anger. We became excited and cried tears. Jesus held in common with us this same anger and sorrow. But, even more than us he felt anger and sorrow deeper. The Lord looked hard at humanity's miserable state so under the control of the power of sin and death. In order to love, he cared. In order to love, he became angry and shed tears. They saw Jesus' tears and said, "Look, how he loved Lazarus!" But no, his tears were not just tears because he loved Lazarus. They were also tears because he loved them [all]. [He had] anger and tears because he loves everyone. "Look, how he has loved us!"

10. In one's sorrow and sighs, a person encounters the One who shares that sorrow and those tears together. Thus, he who loves us so sweetly asks us, "I am the resurrection and the life. Do you believe it?" It is not commonly held doctrines and ideals that we need. What we need is to meet Christ and be saved by Him.

Lazarus, Come Out!

11. Jesus didn't just become indignant and shed tear drops. The Lord walked on ahead and stood before [Lazarus'] tomb. The Lord ordered for them to "remove the stone." When they removed the stone, the Lord prayed to God the Father and cried out aloud, "Lazarus, come out!" Christ's voice reverberated into the tomb. Then, the dead man Lazarus came out still with his hands and feet wrapped. Various explanations and inquiries into this do not have great significance. The [most] important thing is this event being told to us and what its message is for us.

12. As I've already touched upon, Lazarus and his house demonstrate the wretched reality of humanity as under the power of death. We really are [like] Lazarus and his house. But, we shouldn't be thinking of mere physical death when we hear the word "death." It is not just the misery we humans have, or just getting sick, or aging, or our soon to come physical death. The problem goes way deeper than that.

13. In The Epistle To The Ephesian Disciples, this is what it has to say, "So, you used to be dead because of your faults and sins," (Ephesians 2:1). "You used to be dead" is a short expression. Obviously, they were not dead in the sense in which we commonly take it to mean. You might say they were dead though alive. They were dead in their sins and faults. That is a "spiritual death." And this is truly much more serious. That's because it means their relationship with God the very source of life is nonexistent and if it is nonexistent, it is nonexistent before they physically die and also afterwards, and either way there's no hope for them anywhere. If there is only sadness and desperation in physical death, it is because a person is already disconnected from God and spiritually dead.

14. Lazarus in the grave clearly express the condition of humanity dead in its sins and faults. We are all made by God as precious beings, we are supposed to be made alive in God's life, and we are just given one precious life time. But, people cut themselves off from the source of life, lose their precious way of being, and lose the sparkle of life. Just as a dead fish is washed along by the flow, they are dragged along by the evil powers of this world, are manipulated by their lusts, and do not live fulfilling out love as a human vessel of life, but live fulfilling hatred and deceit. Martha said, "Lord, since it has been four days, he already smells bad." Spiritually dead people are the same way like that. When dead for four days, a corpse decays and emits a foul odor. When a person lives the kind of life that is separated from God, has lost its flowing Life, has no fragment of purity, but decays and stinks, that is similar to Lazarus when he was a corpse.

15. But, then, the voice of Christ reverberated into the tomb. Christ called Lazarus' name with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out." Then Lazarus came out with marks of the tomb on him.

16. "Lazarus, come out." - This call was the cry of [Jesus] as he headed for the cross. Over against the powers of sin and death that rule over humanity, these words are let loose during the Lord's own life and death battle for his own life. Actually, because of this event, the Jewish religious authorities made their decision to kill Jesus. Knowing that would happen, the Lord calls Lazarus. You might say the Lord called Lazarus from the tomb in exchange for his own life.

17. And so, the Lord is calling out to us. The Lord gave up his life on the cross to call us, who have been dead in our sins and our faults, out of the tombs [we're in] and let us live new lives. The Christ of the cross is still today calling out aloud to this world. The loud voice of Christ, through the preaching work of the church, is reverberating in this world which is still in its tomb and so filled with the death smell of its sins. Christ is calling aloud from outside the grave, saying "Come out of your graves. Inside the grave is not where you are to be. Letting out such a corrupt odor is not what you truly are to be. Come to Life! So come out of your tombs!" There's no need for anyone to remain stuck under death's rule. As we respond to the Lord's calling, when we leave the tomb and come to Christ, we will live. We will truly live. Connected to God, we will live in life eternal. That's where and there alone, where we will find the ultimate solution to our death.

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