5th Sunday in Lent

by Bear Wade

John 11:1-45
(Fifth Sunday in Lent)
analysis by Bruce Martin

1Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 5 Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world, 10But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” 11After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him. 12The disciples said to him, ” Lord if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” 13Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him. 17When Jesus arrived he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” 28When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you. 29And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35Jesus began to weep. 36So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” 38Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice,” Lazarus, come out!” 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” 45Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

DIAGNOSIS: The Resurrection of Judgment

Step 1-Initial Diagnosis: Really Dead!
The question is not whether we die, or when, but how we will fare in the resurrection of the dead — whether to the judgment of death or to eternal life. The verbal banter between Jesus and his friends show several levels of “death” being juxtaposed with “life”. Lazarus is a stand-in for the proverbial “every man,” while the others in the story (the disciples, Martha, Mary, the crowd, the Jews) play roles to evoke some common emotions when presented with death’s stark reality (grief, anger, denial, pleading). The story begins with a very real death which Jesus’ initially perplexing actions are designed to establish beyond any doubt. To the consternation of everyone, Jesus waits past three days for Lazarus to be entombed, the time in popular belief that one’s spirit hovers about the grave before passing on, irretrievably, to “the dead” (further definition being fruitless). After the third day, revival was no longer possible. Plainly put, “Lazarus is dead” (v. 14).

Step 2-Advanced Diagnosis: Worse than Dead
But, in truth, there are worse things than dying! Jesus states plainly that the story being unfolded is “so that [purpose clause: in order that] you may believe” (v. 15). Jesus is therefore willing to let his friend die. Apparently, not believing is worse than simply being dead. Jesus alone is aware of what is at stake. Martha’s profession of faith, so often like our own, lacks depth by referring to Jesus ambiguously as “lord” (or “sir”), “messiah,” “teacher.” A more accurate term for Martha’s belief-statement is “acknowledgment,” since it does not rise to the level of personal commitment (confession) but, as mere “knowledge, remains on the level of descriptive comment. Thus, she and everyone else is worried sick over Jesus’ absence. Already in 5:19, 21 and 24, and implicitly even in Martha’s confession, trusting in Jesus-the person-is identical to trusting in God the Father. Anything less incurs judgment, the proof of which is death itself, in all its stench and finality. For reasons about to be publicly demonstrated, not believing in Jesus is the gravest “evil” of all (5:29).

Step 3-Final Diagnosis: The Resurrection of Judgment
Speaking of Lazarus’ death, Jesus says, “This illness does not lead to death.” Jesus is clear enough that by “illness” he means physical death. Lazarus’ death, Jesus promises, will not lead to death. So then, what sort of “death” is worse than physical death? It is, “for those who have done evil, the resurrection of judgment” (5:29). Since we know that “evil,” now properly named, is precisely not believing in Jesus, the person, all humanity is at risk for the resurrection of judgment (see 3:18). We do not need to know precisely what “condemnation” entails, only that it is the opposite of authentic “life”, properly named. This is the situation of Lazarus and all the others, including ourselves; yet, for Lazarus at least, it is also the occasion for the glorification of God (vss. 4 and 40).

PROGNOSIS: The Resurrection and the Life

Step 4-Initial Prognosis: The Resurrection and the Life
Ultimately, the dead Lazarus (and we who are also dead) have the risen Jesus on our side: the one who, because he has life in himself, gives life to whomever he chooses, to the glory of God the Father (1:4-5; 5:21). It is, surprisingly, the glory of God the Father to send the Son into the world to die that all who believe in him should have eternal life (10:11; 17:1ff). Jesus, who has authentic life, casts his lot with those already headed for judgment. This is the “judgment” that Jesus is authorized to bring (5:27). His own sweet judgment means “authentic life/eternal life” for us and all others who entrust their mortality to the One who has death behind him. In this sense, Jesus is “the resurrection and the life, ” properly named. Where Jesus is concerned with us, resurrection and authentic life go hand-in-hand. That is “the glory of God.”

Step 5-Advanced Prognosis: The Resurrection of Life
Concerning Jesus, there are no neutrals. A final judgment is assumed. But there is more for us than resurrection; there is faith: the “resurrection of life” (5:29). Believing in Jesus, the Resurrected One, means that one “does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (5:24), and thus “will never die” (v. 45). Yet this belief was likely as undeveloped as Martha’s. Only later, when Jesus himself was raised from the dead, would faith in Jesus (the exemplar of faith) be understood as “eternal” or authentic “life” over which death has no power. To all of us comes the great promise: “Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?!” (vss. 25-26).

Step 6-Final Prognosis: Really Alive!
Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead to demonstrate that faith in Jesus is authentic life. But it is Jesus, not Lazarus, who exemplifies true life. Jesus alone glorifies God. Therefore, authentic life glorifies God. It matters not that one may die in the process, as Jesus did. What matters is that death itself is ultimately subject to the power of God. Jesus, in the power of authentic life (trusting in God wholly and without reservation), loved Lazarus and Martha and Mary, and went to them despite the fact that he would again face mortal danger there. Even though Jesus walks “at night,” he does not stumble, for the resurrection light is in him (vss. 8-10). Specifically, God “loved the world in that he gave his only Son” (3:16 )– that we might really live. This, then, is the authentic life: to live and die in such a way that God is glorified — which happens when the faith we have in the risen Jesus is exemplified in the (cruciform) love we have for others.


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