Over the past few weeks, we’ve been following Jesus as he’s left Jerusalem only to return to the region—back to Bethany—putting his own life on the line to raise Lazarus from the dead and to reveal to all the glory of his heavenly Father. Last week we read as Jesus stood at the tomb and spoke those unforgettable words, “Lazarus, come out!” When the dead man—now very much alive—came out of the tomb Jesus told them to unbind him and let him go. BUT today marks our fourth week in a five-week series. So, what is there left to talk about? Isn’t that it? Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead! Well, Lazarus coming back to life isn’t the end of the story here.
Remember also that there’s a huge audience at this point. In the Gospel of John, they’re all lumped together with the same people who wanted to kill Jesus during the Hanukah celebration in Jerusalem back at the end of John 10—why he left the region in the first place. When Jesus comes back to the region, many of them are now in Bethany where Martha and Mary go out to meet Jesus. When Mary goes out, this group follows her because they think she’s going to the tomb, and without even realizing it, in her mourning, she leads them to Jesus. They all follow Jesus and Martha and Mary to the tomb only to watch as Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.
So, John continues the story. He writes, “Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him.” They believed! This is why he did this all in the first place, that they would believe and give glory to his heavenly Father.
It’s not easy to give things up
“BUT,” John continues, “some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.” Even after seeing Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead—after seeing an act of the Creator himself right before their eyes, some from the crowd reported Jesus back to the ones who wanted to arrest him in the first place. Before, at the Hanukah celebration, they didn’t like him, because he healed a blind man and compared himself to God. NOW, he’s referring to himself as “the Resurrection and the Life” and he’s raising people from the dead! They couldn’t let it go. They couldn’t give it up.
It seems that giving things up for the sake of those around us is a theme in our society today—whether or not people are actually doing it—both by personal choice and by the mandate of others. Either way, it’s not always so easy. I’ve watched every day on the news to see what mandates will come next. Though I agree with these limitations and believe them to be very necessary, I have to admit that I don’t like to limit myself. We don’t like to limit ourselves. And the ever-increasing amount of limitation will continue to mean isolation for many—loneliness, uncertainty of when it will all end. I saw reactions from parents the last few weeks as they’ve talked about being home with their kids, and one of the questions is what do we do? As everyone is trying to figure that out—how to live in such a way with sacrifice for the sake of others—I think to myself what if we thought about that more in general? Does it take a pandemic for us to limit ourselves? Does it take a pandemic for us to give things up for the sake of those around us? I think that because of our sinful human nature, it’s a lot easier for us to expect others to sacrifice so we can do whatever we want. We’re self-protective, self-preservatory.
When those who witnessed the raising of Lazarus told the Pharisees what happened, John writes that the chief priests and the Pharisees came together to talk about the signs that Jesus kept performing. They know that if he continues, the Romans are going to wipe them out. The high priest, Caiaphas, chimes in and had already prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation and to gather the children of God who had been scattered. Of course, Caiaphas didn’t understand all the implications of what he was saying, but one thing was clear: they would rather that Jesus die than that they die. So, they planned to put him to death to protect themselves. In this, Jesus was isolated.
Jesus endures for those around him
By returning to the area in the first place, Jesus knew that he was putting his life in danger, but he did it for the sake of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. Whereas we naturally take from others in order to preserve ourselves, Jesus gives up everything for the sake of everyone else. In his self-sacrifice, as he fulfills the prophecy of Caiaphas on the cross, Jesus wins us over. He forgives our sin and restores us. He leads us in enduring for others, because when others see us endure, when others see our own self-sacrifice, when they see us let go of our own best interest for the sake of others, they’re not really seeing us, they’re seeing Jesus act through us. As the body of Christ, even though we are now scattered, we are a reflection of him. His love becomes our love. It’s my prayer that we would take that love seriously—not only during quarantine, not only in the middle of pandemic, but in our future interactions with those around us. How might we endure for the benefit of others?
When the high priest decides to kill him, Jesus hides out again for a little while. John writes, “Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Epharaim, and there he stayed with the disciples.” It looks like Jesus and his disciples practice some social distancing until the Passover. Though there were more than ten of them…
I think that this time of physical distance between us and the ones we care about might be an opportunity—a time of honest reflection. How do I normally interact with those around me? How might I better endure for the sake of those around me? Not just to feel good about ourselves or to do the right thing, but all inspired and captivated by the unending love that Jesus has for us. In his enduring he forgives us for when we fall short and promises us mercy and grace in his kingdom.
As all the pilgrims made their way down to Jerusalem for the big event, they’re looking for Jesus again wondering if he’ll show his face. They don’t know if they’ll see him again. I’m sure that many were amused by him, many probably interested in what he might do next. Of course, the chief priests and Pharisees have an arrest warrant out on him. With the final installment of this series we’re going to see Jesus just before the triumphal entry. We’ll see Jesus in Bethany with Martha, Mary, and Lazarus again, and talk about the encounter between Mary and Judas just before Jesus rides into Jerusalem.