Last week, Memorial Day prompted us to honor the fallen in our Armed Forces. It’s sobering to think about dead people, but the Bible tells us death isn’t the end of our story. Paradoxically, the Bible also talks about fighting death. I don’t know about you, but that’s a head-scratcher for me.
The Apostle John’s account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the grave offers some answers about that.
About two miles east of Jerusalem, in the small town of Bethany, Mary and Martha laid their brother Lazarus to rest in a tomb. They had hoped Jesus would come to help Lazarus before he died. At that time, Jesus was in Perea, east of the Jordan River. His journey meant crossing mountains and the Jordan to get to Bethany. Despite the matter’s urgency and travel time involved, Jesus purposely delayed going there. As always, God had bigger plans.
When Jesus arrived at the tomb, it moved His humanity and deity on the deepest gut level. Jesus wept for everyone whose vision didn’t extend beyond the tomb. He wept to see this prelude to His ultimate battle with death (merely two weeks away). In my mind, he also wept because he knew that calling Lazarus back from glory would put His friend in the Pharisees’ crosshairs. They would be just as zealous in trying to kill him as they were in plotting to kill Jesus. Lazarus would live his extra time on earth as a marked man.
But what really gets me is how Jesus involved everyone in the miracle.
Involving the group
He consoled and encouraged Mary and Martha. He instructed bystanders to roll the stone away from the tomb. With all of heaven’s authority, He commanded Lazarus to come forth. He told His disciples to remove Lazarus’s grave clothes.
So everyone present would not only see but also participate in the event. That way, they’d remember it forever, believe in Christ, and spread the word about Him.
The result of involvement
Everyone at the tomb that day witnessed God’s power over death. And most of them immediately started witnessing about it. (As usual, a few went to the Pharisees instead; see John 11:46-48.) But the rest of them were so vocal in their witness that less than two weeks later they started a first-century “wave”—what we know as Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem:
Meanwhile, many people continued to testify that they had been with Jesus when He called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead. That is also why the crowd went out to meet Him, because they heard that He had performed this sign. John 12:17-18, BSB
The Pharisees’ response in the next verse is a delicious sidebar: “Then the Pharisees said to one another, ‘See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!’” (John 12:19 NIV, emphasis mine)
Their hyperbole was actually prophetic. In Galilee, after the Resurrection, Jesus charged his disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:18-20; the Great Commission).
Lazarus lived the rest of his life as a witness like no other. Can you imagine that? Can you picture how everyone at that tomb spread through the region talking about Jesus?
God wants us to be involved, too
Think again about how Jesus purposely involved everyone in the miracle of Lazarus’s raising. Jesus could have commanded angels to roll the stone away. He could have dismissed the mourning crowd. But He didn’t. It brought God greater glory for Jesus to involve everyone.
God doesn’t need our help to work a miracle, but He invites us to participate in it.
Despite God’s sovereignty and complete ability to handle everything in this world, He co-opts His children into it. It delights Him to see us grow in faith as we witness Him working, especially when He chooses to work through us. He brings glory to Himself when He does wonders. But when we’re a part of them, we magnify His glory. That’s awe-inspiring and humbling.
Like the people present at Lazarus’s raising, we have every reason to spread the word about Jesus’ victory over death and sin to anyone who can hear. Let’s pray in faith for the opportunity and courage to do that as His Holy Spirit leads.
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