Jesus loved Lazarus enough to raise him from the dead. Jesus knew what it would cost Him. He knew there would be consequences. But He did it anyway. He freed Lazarus from the bonds of death, and submitted to them Himself.
The resurrections that Jesus performs amplify as you move through the 4 Gospels. In Matthew and Mark we are told of Jesus reviving a little girl, the daughter of Jairus, who’s death was so recent she was still lying in her bed. In Luke Jesus interrupts a funeral procession that is on its way to the burial site and gives life back to the only son of a widow.
In John’s Gospel we learn of Lazarus, who has been dead, not for several hours, but for several days, 4 days to be exact. Lazarus has been lying in the strong bands of death for half of a week. His body has already begun to decay.
There is no way that this is an accident, no way that this is a coincidence. There is no way that Lazarus has been asleep or in a coma. 4 days sealed in a tomb would be the death of anyone, even if they were alive when they went in. Lazarus was the prisoner of death. There are no two ways about it.
But that is nothing to Jesus. He cares nothing for the power of death to bind us. He cares only for the power of God to set men free from its grasp. The stone is rolled away. Jesus prays to His heavenly Father, so that all those present might know that God is at work. And Jesus calls His dead friend by name, “Lazarus, come out.”
And “the man who had died came out.” The dead man walked out of his tomb. Can you imagine? The astonishment of the crowd. The jubilation of Martha and Mary, his sisters.
As if to make things final, Jesus has one last bit of instruction: “Unbind him, and let him go.” We assume, of course, that Jesus is talking about the burial clothes. But those words apply just as well to death itself. Jesus commands the grave: unbind him. Let him go. And death submits.
This is a triumphant day for Jesus and for his friends. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus rejoice at his newfound freedom from death. He was a prisoner to death, but now he is free.
As I said earlier, however, this was not without its cost. This was simply too big of a miracle. It was too public and too close to Jerusalem, the center of Jewish power. Jesus first miracle was harmless, turning water into wine. Most people were probably too drunk by then to notice anyway. And it was far away, at Cana in Galilee.
This was close. Many Jews had gathered for the funeral rites. Everyone was very sober, very alert. A Jew does not open a grave without everyone taking notice. The chains of death were loosed. The bonds of the grave were shattered. And everyone saw it.
The Jewish leadership could not let this go. The Pharisees and the priests, two groups who did not normally trust one another, get together to discuss what they should do now. “If we let Him go on like this, everyone will believe in Him!”
Then Caiaphas, the chief priest, speaks under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Unknown to himself he delivers God’s own pronouncement of how this must all end. “It is better for you that one man should die for the people.”
This is what it cost Jesus to raise Lazarus. It cost Him His life. This miracle, so blatant, so brazen, so amazing, attracted too much attention, and the chief priest had to squash it. Jesus must die.
Yet this is to be expected. This is exactly what Jesus says that He will do. He is the Good Shepherd. What does the Good Shepherd do? He lays down His life for the sheep. Jesus loosed Lazarus from the grave knowing full well that it would put Him in His own. Jesus died so that Lazarus might live.
Jesus died so that others might live. Jesus died for Lazarus. But He also died for you. For me.
Death is a reality that looms large for us all. It strikes at different times and in different circumstances. For many of you death has had a very real impact here very recently. Whether it is watching an elderly relative suffer through a prolonged illness, or having a loved one taken with nearly no warning at all, death is there.
Death is a reality because of sin. We die, not because we are being punished for anything we have specifically done, but because of the curse that lays on all the world. All have sinned and therefore all die. When we attend a funeral it slaps us in the face. If there were no sin they would not have died. If I were not a sinner, I would have no reason to fear death.
Just as Jesus called Lazarus from the grave knowing that it would cost Him His life, Jesus went to His death knowing that it would result in our resurrection. When His blood filled the debt of sin that we owe, death lost the power to lay hold of us. Jesus has set us free from death. He has loosed us from the bonds of the grave.
“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”
Jesus gives life to all who believe in Him, and that life begins now. Jesus’ death and resurrection transforms the death of the Christian from a thing of punishment and finality into a doorway from one moment into the next.
Don’t get me wrong, death remains a painful doorway. It is still the enemy to be fought against. But it is a defeated enemy, a tamed evil, that can no longer hold us captive as it once did.
Those who die in Jesus do not cease to exist. They do not receive punishment as their sins deserve. They are not separated from the Lord Jesus Christ for a single moment.
Because of what Jesus has done, because He has died for us, when we die our body does go into the ground and our spirits rests in the heavenly presence of Christ.
And on the Last Day, when He returns, Jesus will command death: “Unbind them, and let them go!” And He will call you by name saying: “My friend, come out.” So you too shall rise.
The resurrection of Lazarus is just a glimpse of the greatness of that Last Day. It is a sneak peak of the glory that will be accomplished when Jesus bursts the bonds of every grave on this planet.
The price that Jesus paid to set Lazarus free is the same price He has paid for you and me. Just as He called Lazarus out from the tomb, so He will call you. And you shall rise.