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Life After Life

Read John 11 – Our society is preoccupied with issues related to  “life after death.”  Books, articles and television programs have addressed the question: “What happens to a person after death?”  People want to know—when facing death—if  they simply cease to exist or if there’s something more.

For centuries the Church has been inspired by the story of Lazarus to believe that there is something more.  Because of the life-giving power of Jesus, as revealed in the story of Lazarus, the Church has celebrated the promise of resurrection given those who confess faith in Christ. 

If we read this story closely, however, we will discover that the story of Lazarus is not just about life after death.  It is also about life after life – and of the God who gives us that life.

In an indirect plea for help, Mary and Martha sent  word to Jesus that their brother Lazarus was very ill.  Interestingly, Jesus does not immediately respond to their plea.  He says to his disciples that Lazarus’ illness was “not unto death” (11:4a).  That seems odd until we remember that John’s gospel is rich in symbolism.  Of course Lazarus’ illness was deadly—after all, he died!  But when Jesus spoke these words he had something more in mind than physical death.  Jesus was teaching that there is something more deadly than the cessation of physical life—that being the curse of eternal death.  Lazarus illness cannot bring about the curse of “eternal death.”  The only thing that can bring the curse of  “eternal death” is the sin of unbelief.

A few days after receiving word about Lazarus illness, Jesus gathers his disciples for a trip to Bethany.  He says that Lazarus had “fallen asleep” (11:11).  The dense disciples thought Jesus meant that Lazarus was “taking a nap.”  Jesus told them plainly that Lazarus was dead.  Now, if the travel plans didn’t make sense when they thought Lazarus was sleeping, imagine how confused the disciples must have been at this point.  If Lazarus was dead, what’s the point?  Jesus should have gone sooner.  Then Jesus could have performed a healing.  Now that Lazarus was dead Jesus would be too late to do any good. 

Upon arrival at Bethany Jesus is met by Martha.  She is  both angry and frustrated—emotions that often reveal themselves in grief-stricken individuals.  She tells Jesus that if he had arrived sooner, Lazarus might still be alive.  Nevertheless, Martha still trusts in Jesus’ power.  She believes that the Lord’s prayer will aid Lazarus in experiencing resurrection—in the last days (11:24).

Jesus’ response is powerful.   He tells Martha that the last days have arrived.  He declares:  “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25).  In other words, resurrection is no longer a future event.  It is present now in Christ.  What should be a persons response to such an awesome message?  They should have faith!  

“Do you believe?”  This is the question Jesus asks Martha—and each of us!  If we respond to Christ is faith, we begin a relationship with one whose very essence is life.  Almighty God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – has chosen to mediate LIFE to us through Jesus Christ.  He is LIFE to us, not only when our heart stops beating, but NOW as our lungs take in oxygen and our heart pumps blood through our body.

Martha believes!  She has faith!  She confesses!  “You are the Christ, the Son of God” (11:27).  She may not have understood all the implications of her confession, but what she did understand was that Jesus had come from God.  To truly experience life in its abundance, she would need to be connected to him.  She would need to be in a relationship with him.

Moments later Jesus stood with Mary and Martha near  Lazarus’ grave.  Four days had passed.  The Jews believed that the spirit of the deceased remained near the body for three days.  By declaring that four days had past, the text is informing us that Lazarus was as dead and dead can get!   Nevertheless Jesus commands the stone to be rolled away.  Next he prays to God and calls for Lazarus to come forth from the grave. Lazarus obeys.  Life is given back to his body!

Please recognize that the primary focus of this story is not on the miracle of Lararus reanimation & resurrection.  The central focus is on the identity of Jesus and the importance of faith.  Jesus is the resurrection and the life.  He is oure resource when we face the reality of physical death.  He is also our resource for living while we are still alive. 

This story is also about FAITH.  Faith is the one action that allows us to fully experience the gift of life that is the gift Jesus mediates from our Triune God.  Through faith in Jesus we enter the “perichoresis” (the Divine dance of fellowship beteen Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).  By faith we know what it is like to experience the “resurrection and the life.”

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