Lazarus, Come Forth! Lazarus and the Christian Hope of Eternal Life
Dr. Kris A. Jackson
In late 2017 I preached twenty-five mini-videos on the healing miracles of Jesus, hoping to encourage my wife Debra’s faith, as she battled a rare bile duct/liver cancer, but really I was trying to bolster my own waning faith. The videos were prerecorded and were posted daily on my social media pages. The tragic night came when my wife turned all loose to the Lord and went to be with Jesus. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. The family was left with the physical shell, the memories, a mere glove. The hand that moved the glove was gone. Not by accident, I assume, the preloaded teaching video that posted early the next morning was, you guessed it, the story of Lazarus’ miracle resurrection. Watching that post was hard to digest, a million questions flooded my mind, but a lasting encouragement came through the imagery of a plaster and gauze wrapped friend, who came to life at the command of the Resurrection and the Life, Jesus.
My first question for both Lazarus and myself, and I think I can speak for hundreds of other readers, was, why do bad things happen to good people? Debra was a woman of God. Lazarus was brother to Mary and Martha who had hosted Jesus and the Disciples on numerous occasions. In fact, he was a close friend of Christ – “Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him!” (John 11:36) And there is the puzzling question, if bad things happen to good people, why doesn’t God intervene and heal or fix the situation before it gets out of hand – “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (vs 32). But it is not ours to know Why; only to know Who, and that Who is Jesus. He holds both the keys to life and death, and it is good news to all that He alone turns the key.
Satan once held the power of death, but Christ has pulled the teeth of the Lion – “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2:14). Note the words “through death”. The Pioneer of our Faith navigated the chilly waters of death and made a way for us to pass through unscathed – “In the way of righteousness is life and in the pathway thereof there is no death” (Proverbs 12:28). Like the elder brother who walked all through the dark rooms of an old, supposedly haunted house, and came out through the upper balcony doors to proclaim to his frightened brother, “I’ve walked all through this place and there is nothing to be afraid of!” So, Jesus our Elder Brother has walked through the lowest hell and ascended to Heaven’s balconies with a command that we fear not!
Every man has an appointment with death, with destiny, with Deity. We can break a doctor’s appointment but not this appointment. But we do not fear the valley of the shadow of death because Christ walks with us. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15). Precious because of the great reward, precious because the long hard labors are over, precious because of the grand gathering on the other side, precious because to be absent from the body is indeed to be present with the Lord. Christian believers are not to sorrow as others who have no hope. We do have hope and it is illustrated so beautifully in the Lazarus story.
1. Gospel resurrections are prototypes for ultimate resurrection
Our God specializes in hard cases. Jairus’ daughter had been dead but a short time, her skin perhaps still retaining a degree of warmth, when Jesus whispered, “Damsel, arise”. Pallbearers were carrying the coffin of the widow of Nain’s dead son to the cemetery when Jesus stopped the procession and commanded the young man to rise. Those cases were hard and harder, but Lazarus’ situation was hardest because he had been dead four days “and by now stinketh!” Is there hope for the most scientifically impossible case? Is there hope for the hardened sinner, addict, criminal. “She that lives in pleasure is dead while she lives” (1 Timothy 5:6). There are other stenches more noxious than a decaying corpse. But Jesus proved to be the Reviver of every dead situation.
2. He is Both Resurrector and Rapturer
He announced to Martha – “I am the resurrection, and the life: he who believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; And who so ever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25,26) He is the Resurrection to those who have died in the Lord, but He is the Life to those who remain alive until the coming of the Lord. Those buried under the clods will soon step atop the clouds.
Paul said, “If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him” (1 Thessalonians 4:14). There is no soul sleep. A sleeping beauty appears no different than a slumping body. The body is carpa, a carapace, a carriage to carry us in, a corpse. The spirit of man lives on, returning to the Lord who gave it. But soon the body of dust will be reunited, literally raised again by the power of God, no different than Lazarus’ decomposing body was reanimated and rejoined with his own spirit and personality. Further, whoever “liveth and believeth in me”, those who remain unto the coming of the Lord shall put on immortality, just as did Enoch who was “translated that he should not see death” (Hebrews 11:5).
3. There is going to be a meeting in the air
“Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers will be singing 'round the throne, in that land where no one ever knows a care…” The Lazarus story is joyous because Martha and Mary’s brother was restored to them. Hope, memory and togetherness were not entombed when the stone rolled shut on the sarcophagus. We may not see our loved ones for a while but see them again we will. The voice that cried, “Lazarus, come forth” is the same voice that will awaken the dead at His coming. “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:28,29).
We do not sorrow as others because we are not impatient in our wait for His coming. “If a man die, shall he live again? all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come” (Job 14:14). We shall arise in His likeness (Psalm 17:15). We shall be known there as we are known here. Nametags will be unnecessary at the Reunion. It is interesting that Lazarus was seen dining with Jesus in John 12. The resurrection is our escort to the Marriage Supper.
4. You can’t kill a dead man!
After Lazarus was raised back to life numbers of friends and acquaintances accepted Jesus as their Messiah and Master, which of course put the Pharisees and Sadducees in panic mode. To stop the exodus from the Establishment’s stale religion, they threatened to put Lazarus to death. I find that very comical. What? They are going to kill a dead man? Ooh, you scare me! Lazarus had been dead four days; he wasn’t in the least afraid of their threats. And so it is with those who are crucified with Christ and have already accepted their lives as martyred for the Lord, nothing should cause us fear. The enemy cannot kill a dead man!
Similarly, if we understood the certainty of resurrection, the grip of fear would once for all be broken. Lazarus died a second time, true, but still he lives. Debra is gone, yet she lives. Jesus was laid in the grave, but over five-hundred brethren at once testified to seeing Him alive. This is our anchor of hope. It holds the boat steady when the storm tosses to and fro. Without such hope we would be of all men most miserable.