What If UR Wrong

“Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime.”

Martin Luther

Lazarus Come Forth!

 

by Mark Karapetyan

Last year, I was invited to speak to young students at a nearby elementary school. The school principle politely approached me and  informed me that it would be a good idea to leave God, Jesus, and religion out of my speech since many parents from different backgrounds and faiths would be there. “The entire event is going to be streamed live on line via Face book and other social media sites, so we have to be careful” he reminded me.

Although I agreed to speak to his students, part of me was reluctant since my goal, as an apologist, is always to evangelize others and introduce them to the message of Christ regardless of their age, sex, or background.

I thought and prayed about it for days asking God to guide me. I struggled to come up with a good plan on my own to achieve my goal of representing God without offending anyone. I wanted to be respectful to the principle and his request, since he was a good friend of mine. At the same time, my priority was to plant a seed or two in the young minds of those students in hopes that God might turn those seeds into giant trees one day.

Two weeks had gone by, and I still had no plan on how to proceed. One early morning, as I was reading the Bible, I suddenly remembered that we often forget to give all of our concerns and cares to God. We forget to trust the Lord with all of our hearts, souls, and MINDS. We forget that although a problem may seem unsolvable to us, no problem is too big and no issue is too complex to the creator of the universe. We quickly forget that with God, nothing is impossible.

That was a good wake up call for me, and a good lesson learned; when in doubt, always trust the Lord. I decided to leave the matter to God to resolve. I was confident that on the day of my speaking engagement, God, in His mysterious way, would instruct me on how to speak to those young kids. I trusted God and never thought about the matter again.

Finally, the day of my scheduled event arrived. I remember it was a brutally cold Friday morning. As I was walking down the hall to enter the school’s basketball court, I suddenly became a little nervous as I still had no clue what my message was. I asked God to help me and clarify what He wanted me to do or say. But I heard nothing…

When I eventually entered the court, all the students, parents, and teachers were gathered waiting for me. The principle warmly welcomed me with a smile, a hand shake, and gave me a few minutes to prepare. Quickly, I asked God one more time to intervene and stretch His hand or whisper in my ear and show me His will. Again, I heard nothing…

The principle grabbed the microphone and started to introduce me to everyone as the guest speaker. While he was doing that, I became more confused and agitated since I still hadn’t heard a word from God regarding my speech. I looked at all the young students sitting on the floor staring at me. I noticed the parents, some of them watching my every move, observing me like hawks, and sharpening their knives, in case I crossed the line and mentioned God or Jesus in any way, shape, or form (some parents knew I was a Christian apologist).

I was a little disappointed! “Where are you God?” I murmured in my mind! “How do you want me to do this?” I questioned.

With that, I took a hold of the microphone and started speaking…  

Since the majority of my audience was young, I wasn’t going to lecture them on the laws of logic, truth, or reality. I wasn’t going to teach them apologetics or theology. Instead, I started telling them a little bit about me and the nature of my business. Some kids were actually really tuned in listening to every word I was saying. Others, however, were bored out of their minds. I noticed a student to my left yawning. A couple of them in the back were drawing on the floor with their fingers. A few were snoozing.

At that exact moment, it dawned on me how we humans act and behave towards God when He is talking to us. I suddenly realized that what those kids were doing to me is exactly what we sometimes do to God. We don’t pay attention!

I desperately wanted a hint from God when suddenly, I had the image of an old, dark brown Chevrolet pickup truck that belonged to a guy I knew. You see, years ago, I had fixed and painted a truck for a friend of mine, who at the end suggested that we name the truck “Lazarus” since it was a pile of rust when I first saw it, but then resurrected it and turned it into a beautiful functioning truck again.  

God had finally spoken! I immediately realized what He wanted me to say to those kids without offending anyone. I immediately understood that the truck was my way to bring God indirectly into the scene.

In a hurry, I changed the topic and asked all the kids: “Do you guys want to see a picture of a cool truck that I painted a long time ago?” (I had a picture on my cell phone).

“YES, yes, me, me…” they all shouted.

I pulled out my phone, and showed them a brown truck. They all glazed at the picture admiring it like it was magic. (This reminded me of Jesus when he told others that “unless you accept the kingdom of God like a child you will not enter it.” Kids are innocent with no willful, evil motives in their hearts).

Seconds later, many of them asked: “What is Lazarus?”

I took total advantage of that precious opportunity and answered with a smile on my face: “Lazarus is the man whom Jesus once resurrected from the dead. Do you guys know that story?” I asked.

There was total silence in the room. Then, “TELL US, TELL US,” the kids all screamed together.

“Alright,” I agreed, and continued my speech by making comparisons between the old dead truck and the dead Lazarus.

“COOL…” many kids yelled.

When I was done at the end of the day, not only was I able to please the principle, I was also successful in achieving my goal of indirectly bringing God into a secular environment and planting a seed in the minds of those students without directly shoving God or Jesus down anyone’s throat. Everyone was pleased. Most importantly, I hope that God was pleased with what I did as He orchestrated the whole thing from the beginning.

Three weeks later, I received a thank you card in the mail from all the students with their signatures on it. When I read the thank you notes in the card, I instantly remembered this one young girl who came to me after I was done speaking and asked me: “Is Jesus going to make frosty (her puppy) alive again like He did to Mr. Lazarus?”

That question, as cute as it was, is the reason I write this topic today. If Jesus is powerful enough to bring the dead Lazarus back to life, will he do the same to us also?

To find out the answer, let’s dig in deep and study the event together:

One of the most pulsating stories recorded in the Gospel of John is the story of Jesus raising a man by the name of Lazarus who had been dead for four days.  The suspense-filled drama in the eleventh chapter of the Gospel of John records one of only seven miracles which appear in that book. At the time Lazarus got sick, Jesus was preaching on the eastern side of the Jordan near the place where John the Baptist had baptized Him. Lazarus must have died just after Mary and Martha had sent messengers to tell Jesus of his sickness. Bethany, a town at the edge of the Mount of Olives, was about two miles away from Jerusalem.

Here is the event in detail as John tells it:

 “Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.  (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.)  So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”

 When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

 “But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”

 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”

 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”

 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.”  Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.

 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

 Then Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.  Now Bethany was less than two miles[b] from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother.  When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die;  and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.”  When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him.  Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him.  When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.

 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.  “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

 Jesus wept.  Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance.  “Take away the stone,” he said.

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.  I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!”  The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.  But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. (John 11:1-46)

Reading the passage above, an interesting question arises: Why did Jesus decide to stay two more days in Bethany knowing that His friend, Lazarus, was dying? Jesus could have easily resurrected Lazarus from a distance or even prevented his death like He did with others, but He chose not to. Why?

The answer to that logical question is that Jesus knew it was the will of the Father that Lazarus die and that his resurrection show God’s glory. You see, Jesus wanted to wait four days before going to Lazarus  because in Jesus’ days, the Jews believed that the soul remained near the body for three days, hoping to re-enter it, but then left on the fourth when it saw that decomposition had set in. After four days had passed, no one would deny that Lazarus wasn’t dead. Jesus wanted to make sure that after four days, everyone was sure Lazarus was dead. That way, when Lazarus came back to life, no one would dispute the miraculous event and claim that perhaps Lazarus was sick instead of dead. Brilliant move by Jesus!   

Jesus empathized and shared this moment of sorrow with His friends knowing that, moments later, Lazarus would come back to life again. When Jesus wept, He showed compassion and love toward others. Remember, Jesus is 100% God, and 100% man. His human nature wept, but His divine nature performed the miracle. Martha, Mary, and the others didn’t realize that earlier.

Another interesting point comes to mind: In those days, it was a Jewish tradition for a person to be buried on the same day as he/she died. The body was washed and anointed with various spices. Unlike the Egyptians, the Jews did not embalm bodies. They placed a cloth over the head and wrapped the hands and feet separately in strips of linen (70-100 lbs). The linen strips were then wrapped around the body over the clothing. The irony of this is that Jesus’ body would be prepared in the same exact way months later after His death on the cross. In my opinion, when Jesus saw the dead Lazarus wrapped in linen head to toes, He pictured Himself in the same way. He knew His body would also be wrapped in the same manner. Could it be that this is why He became upset and wept before resurrecting Lazarus?                      

On the flip side, rather than acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah because of this miracle, the chief priests plotted to kill Lazarus in order to destroy the proof of Jesus’ divinity. Lazarus is not mentioned again in the Bible after this point. We know from tradition that Lazarus fled Jerusalem and ended up in Larnaca, Cyprus, where years later, he died for the second time as the bishop of Larnaca (you can go and visit Lazarus’ tomb at the Church of St Lazarus).

It is also worth noting that some critics discredit the Bible and attack the veracity of the raising of Lazarus in John’s Gospel because it is not recorded in the other three Gospels. John’s Gospel is believed to be the last Gospel written, so the skeptics allege that John invented the story to further his agenda. 

Although critics are mistaken in their assumptions, the question remains: The resurrection of Lazarus was a major event in the life of Jesus, but Mark, Matthew, and Luke failed to mention it. Why?

First of all, why does an event require multiple attestations in the Gospels to be considered historical? If three men witness a car accident, for example, and only one of the three men mentioned the color of the car that was struck to the police in his report, does that mean the accident was fabricated or it never happened? Of course not! It is absurd to assume that. Regarding the resurrection of Lazarus, there were many other miracles not described by John or any of the other writers. John simply chose to describe one of those other miracles. It’s that simple!  “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (John 21:25)

Second, John mentions names like, Lazarus, Mary and Martha. He mentions WHERE they lived, in detail (Bethany). He mentions the many people that were there and mentions how the Jewish leaders of the time plotted to kill Lazarus. Basically, John is telling his audience to go and verify the event with those people who were eye witnesses to the event. Why would John refer the skeptics of his time to people who never existed and create a fabricated story? Don’t you think he would have been exposed as a fraud instantly?

Mary, Martha and Lazarus were dead by the time of the writing/putting together of the Gospel of John. There is no reason to believe that their town was gone, which means that a story like this would have been quickly refuted by those living there. When Matthew, Mark and Luke wrote their respective Gospels, Lazarus was still a living testimony to Christ having raised him to life. They had no need to mention the miracle because it was so well known and could easily be confirmed by Lazarus himself. John wrote his gospel much later, and by this time, Lazarus had once more gone to the grave, so it was necessary for John to give an account of this particular miracle especially since many heresies regarding the divinity of Jesus were creeping up in those times. John had to re-assure people that he was an eye witness to a divine Jesus. That’s why John writes about the divinity of Jesus more than any other Gospel writer.

Lazarus’ name in Hebrew means “God is my help.”  – The account of Jesus’ raising Lazarus from the dead is not just symbolic of Jesus being God and having within Himself the power to resurrect the dead, it is a story that we will all be raised someday. The example of Lazarus’ being raised from the dead has important truths that the believer can learn about the plan of salvation; however, it also has applications for the unbeliever. As I think more about this, everyone must have been amazed and shocked when Lazarus came out of the tomb. This miracle showed Jesus’ followers that God the Father had given Jesus power over death. It was a sign that Jesus was the Son of God as He claimed to be. The story of Lazarus tells us that people will gain new life if they believe in Jesus. The Gospel of John tells us this story so that we will be prepared for Jesus’ own Death and Resurrection. The story also gives us hope that, at the end of time, Jesus will grant us new life just as He brought Lazarus back to life. 

 If Jesus resurrected Lazarus, He will perhaps resurrect Frosty, and surely anyone that believes in Him. If you are a believer, then, one day, Jesus will be at your tomb not weeping, but calling your name:   “…COME FORTH…”

 

 

 

“We follow One who stood and wept at the grave of Lazarus-not surely, because He was grieved that Mary and Martha wept, and sorrowed for their lack of faith (though some thus interpret) but because death, the punishment of sin, is even more horrible in his eyes than in ours.” 

 C. S. Lewis

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