Life in the Spirit: The sign of raising Lazarus
Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent:Readings from John 11:1-45; Rom 8:6-11
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the Book of Signs, which makes up the first 12 chapters of John’s Gospel. In the book proper Jesus performs 7 signs:
· Water into Wine
· The healing of the official’s son
· The disabled man at Bethesda pool
· Feeding of the 5 thousand
· Walking on water
· Healing of the man born blind
these signs are often called miracles, but the John never describes them as such. His intention is always for us to view the signs, and what they illustrate to us about who Jesus is, and what God wants us to understand. Often the signs are an accompaniment to Jesus’ teachings.
So, you might have heard that 3 is the magic number, well not to the Israelites; it was in fact 7. 7 is the Hebrew number that signified both perfection and completion.
What we read about today in John’s Gospel is the 7th sign, the culmination of the self-revelatory acts of Jesus as the Son of God. We receive small signs of His glory up to this point, but then Chapter 11 and 12 serve an important function to transition us into the Book of Glory which is from chapter 13 onwards.
Jesus’ delay in helping Lazarus is precisely down to that ‘glory’ he says in v 11 that Lazarus death is ‘is for God’s glory, so that God’s son can be glorified through it.’
Martha and Mary clearly already have faith in the healing power of Jesus, Martha says to Him, ‘if you had been here Lord, he would never have died’. When Jesus confirms to Martha that Lazarus will live again, she mistakes what he means:
1st century Rabbinic Judaism always believed in resurrection of Dead, that belief has been carried by only a few Jews today: but you can see it in the OT through the acts of the prophets Elijah and Elisha, it is written about in Ezekiel, Daniel and Isaiah. But the belief was that the righteous would be resurrected by God at the end of time. Here we see Jesus correct Martha with a profoundly significant statement for us today.
In his correcting Jesus makes another ‘I am’ statement. These are a clever NT affirmation that reflect OT truth that you should always be on the lookout for; it is a clever repurposing of God’s words said to Moses in Exodus 3:14. When Moses asks who God is he answers ‘I am who I am’ or ‘I am He that is’, this is brought into the NT by Jesus, who not surprisingly uses it 7 times in John.
Εγο ειμι – I am myself the bread of life, I am myself the light of the world, I am myself the door, I am myself the good shepherd, the way, the truth, and the life, I am myself the true vine.
And most significantly here, I am myself the resurrection and the life. Jesus is saying that He himself is the source of the resurrection and that it’s not something for the end of time.
No doubt the sign of raising Lazarus shows us what is possible when we have faith in Jesus, like Martha and Mary had.
No doubt it shows that God’s love extends to the darkest and seemingly unreachable parts of humanity. That God can call us back from the depths as in Psalm 130.
No doubt it shows us that death is not the end for someone who lives out the Christian faith.
But perhaps the real lesson this morning comes to us from the Apostle Paul, in his writing to the Romans. The gospel writers all have their own version of the ‘good news’ of the Kingdom of God; if Paul had a gospel – his ‘good news’ would be the resurrection of the dead and the subsequent restoration of the world – For Paul, the Kingdom of God isn’t somewhere we go when we die, but a place that will come to us where we will live.
Lazarus was raised from the dead, but Jesus was resurrected: He was the first fruit of the of the New Kingdom, fully healed and fully restored along with God’s creation. He is the resurrection and the life, that was God’s plan from the beginning.
We share in that life when we seek union with Christ. That’s what Paul tells us in Romans:
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
Paul here is obviously talking about a more spiritual union with Christ, but we also have our union with Christ in other ways: through the covenantal promise, through the incarnation in which God participated in our humanity, and we have it in a sacramental union when we partake in the thanksgiving each week.
We have it in the church, when we join together in worship or afterwards when we drink coffee together. Union with Christ is so easy that perhaps we have taken it granted. Perhaps we haven’t fully grasped what God intended for us? That’s why it’s good to spend time with scripture, to reflect on the things made possible through Christ.
To read the story of Lazarus, and ask what is God trying to show me today?
The intended message isn’t necessarily just the miracle: it’s a sign, for us, pointing the way to the Union with Christ that Martha and Mary and Lazarus all shared. A union that is easy to establish and has incredible reward for anyone who enters it.
This is why the readings that we have today are part of Lent. Lent is about getting your spiritual life in order and truly understanding what is important. Paul puts it in starker terms; turn from the flesh (that is the things of this world) and seek the things of the spiritual world. Life with God is good, and a Union with Christ is how you can have more of it.