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17th November, 2008

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The dead man came out

Russian novelist, Fyodr Dostoyevsky, used the account of Jesus' most startling miracle - the raising of Lazarus - in his famous story about a man named Raskolnikov who murdered an elderly neighbor. Much of the novel, Crime and Punishment, deals with the process by which Raskolnikov gradually came to abhor the horrific ax murder he had committed and finally confessed to the constabulary. The first stirrings of regret arose when his new-found Christian friend, Sonia, read the story of Lazarus to him from the Gospel of John.

Preachers and theologians often use the account to bolster the case for Jesus' divinity, to strengthen faith, or to teach deep spiritual truths they find in the account.

Let us here use the narrative for the purpose given by Jesus. Moments before He commanded the dead man to come out of the tomb, Jesus told Martha, Lazarus's sister,

Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God? (John 11:40).

With a little effort, you and I can see what Martha saw, albeit through a glass darkly. We can "see" the power of God through the things He has made and which stare us in the face every moment of our lives (Rom. 1:20). If we are willing to close our eyes, go back in time, and replay the scene recounted in Scripture in our mind's eye, we can see His glory displayed in this unique, momentous miracle performed only weeks before Jesus' own death and resurrection. Don't you think if you actually saw a man raised from the dead after four days in the tomb, as described in John 11, that you would throw yourself at Jesus' feet in worshipful awe towards Him and His heavenly Father? And that you would never doubt God's power to raise you, too, from your looming grave? It did happen, it really did. Let's not hesitate for another second. Let's mingle with the large throng of people who had come from Jerusalem to nearby Bethany that day - as they had the previous three days - to comfort Mary and Martha in their grief. Let's try to see what they saw.

While sitting in Lazarus's house with Martha and Mary, we might not have noticed Martha get up quietly and leave. She had received word that Jesus and His disciples were coming down the road and had gone out to meet Him. But we could not help but notice when she returned some time later and immediately went to Mary to confer privately with her. A hush fell over the crowd as we all strained to hear the whispered words they exchanged.

Something is going on. Mary has gotten up and, without a word, left abruptly. Surely she is going to the tomb again to lament her beloved brother, our friend. Why isn't Martha going, too? Anyway, we join the crowd which, to a man, follows quietly behind Mary. The late winter chill that hits

us as soon as we get outside makes us pull our collars up. But what is going on? She has turned down the path leading to the front gate rather than down the garden path to the tomb at the back. Where are we going? Some minutes later we come across a crowd of people gathered on the road. Mary goes up to one of them and drops on her knees at his feet. Surely not. Surely it's not Jesus of Nazareth. Doesn't he know that those who tried to stone him recently are determined to kill him? His disciples certainly look decidedly uneasy. They obviously remember their master's recent narrow escape.

After a short exchange, Jesus asks Mary to take Him to Lazarus's tomb. He weeps along the way. When we get there, we find Martha standing there in tears beside the large stone across the tomb's entrance. Jesus looks even more distraught than earlier.

"Take away the stone", He says.

Why? What on earth does He think He's doing? Martha obviously agrees with our puzzlement.

"But Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days", she says.

"Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?", He gently replies.

Puzzlement turns into total confusion. What is going on here? Mary and Martha don't seem to have any more idea than we do. Some muscled young men nervously obey Jesus' words. Sure enough, we cover our noses as the overpowering smell hits us. All we can see through the entrance is pitch darkness. Jesus says a few more words that make the hair stand up on our necks. We're not sure what is going on, but everything about this scene tells us something momentous is about to happen. We can't believe our ears:

"Lazarus, come forth!", Jesus cries out loudly.

Silence. But the stench - it's gone.

No, no, no. It can't be. The entire crowd utters a gasp of amazement; a pale white form is moving around in the gloom. It's coming towards us. A mummy-like figure emerges through the entrance and stops in front of Jesus.

"Loose him, and let him go", Jesus commands.

As Mary and Martha tug away at the linen strips, Lazarus gradually appears, with a look of puzzled bemusement on his face. We have just witnessed something that has never, ever been seen before. Mary and Martha are beside themselves with joy, and fall at Jesus' feet again.

Can you picture it? Then you, too, have seen the glory of God.


Seeing God articles

A search of images turned up none that fit the biblical account accurately. Duccio's version above left is the best we could find. Note that the artist depicted Lazarus without the cloth around his face (John 11:44).


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