Saturday, April 01, 2017

April 2, Lent 5, Belief is Disturbing

Ezekiel 37:1-14, Psalm 130, Romans 8:6-11, John 11:1-45

It’s a wonderful story, but if you read the subsequent verses, you learn that the Judeans who did not believe in Jesus reported this miracle to the authorities, who responded by setting in motion the plot to arrest him and kill him. So the resurrection of Lazarus was the death of Jesus.

Our Lord had two best friends. One was the disciple John, the author of the story, and the other was Lazarus, so when Jesus wept, it was personal, and more than general grief for the human condition. And I wonder if he also grieved what he felt he’d had to do, his disturbing strategy of letting his dear friend die.

Yes, he had a miracle he was planning, but letting him die first in order to do it was close to an abuse of their friendship. Lazarus died believing that Jesus had abandoned him. When Our Lord got the message that Lazarus was ill–so please come quick, he must have thought to himself, “Good, maybe he’ll die, and then I can use that as an opportunity to demonstrate my final masterpiece.” To do this did he not have to stifle his natural emotions?

How much of a favor was it for Lazarus, to raise him, after having let him die? I mean the guy had crossed the finish line and now he had to come back and run his race all over again!

If he meant it as a favor to Martha and Mary, it would have been much kinder to come and heal him before he died, as the sisters were expecting. That he hadn’t done so had disturbed their relationship. When he finally shows up the first thing they let him know is that he failed them. They believe in him as Messiah but he had strained their trust in his personal love for them. He has to suffer the pain of this.

So when Mary joins him and they approach the tomb, it all comes out of him, and the author stresses the great emotional disturbance of Our Lord. So when Jesus wept, did he also grieve the loss within his natural friendships? And when Jesus wept, did he weep for himself?

He knew what his disciple Thomas knew, that doing this miracle would end up getting him killed. So Jesus felt in the death of his friend his own impending death, when he would exchange places with Lazarus, and, despite his own resurrection, lose his friendship with Lazarus forever. There could be no gain without some loss. Life for Lazarus was death for Jesus. This was his last miracle. Jesus wept.

The author is clear that the reason that Lord Jesus did this disturbing thing of using his friend was to instill belief. Eight times in the story the verb “believe” is used.

He did this so that his disciples would believe in him.

He did this so that Martha would believe he was the resurrection and the life, that she would believe that those who believe in him will live and never die, and that she would believe he was the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world. 

He did this so that if Martha believed, she would see the glory of God

He did this so that the crowd would believe that his Father in heaven had sent him. 

And he did this so that many Judeans who saw what he did would believe in him

A complexity of belief in the interrelated aspects of who he was and what he did.

He did this to demonstrate in one consummate action the several things he had been teaching all along, that the Father had sent him to act as God in human flesh, that his human word was the very word of God, that in his human life was God’s life, that from his death would come eternal life, that he was the good shepherd, that his sheep would hear his voice, and that when he called them by name they would come out. All this he demonstrated when he shouted, “Lazarus, come out.”

He demonstrated the power of his word, and not even deadness could resist the command of his voice. It’s one thing to heal a body that is still alive with its own vitality, but even modern medicine, having conquered many fatal diseases, is powerless after death. Once life goes out it’s irretrievable, and Lazarus was very dead. But Jesus calls the putrefying corpse by name, and the voice of Jesus is answered by the corpse presenting itself, as if to say, “You called me, Lord!” Implicitly saying, “Here am I, hineini.” As you too will say. He has demonstrated something in the future of us all.

He demonstrated that the prophecy of Ezekiel was now come true in him, that the predicted resurrection of the nation of Israel would be at his beck and call. Those who saw what he did believed in him for this. So now they could hope that the resurrection of the nation of Israel would be soon.

It would be a narrowly national resurrection of every dead Israelite, nobody else, finally to live the promised good life in the Promised Land. Martha believed in that, and that her dear friend Jesus was just the Messiah to get the whole thing started, and soon enough her brother would rise again along with all the other Jews. Martha doesn’t cry, she’s come to terms with everything. But Jesus will disturb this too, and the national hope as well, by letting himself die, as he let Lazarus die. He had a global resurrection for all of humanity to set in motion.

He demonstrated his divinity, we would say, looking back. But that they did not yet believe. The dots were all there, but no one connected them till Thomas did it a week after Easter. It required the absolute shock of Good Friday and Easter to intuit what still unimaginable. But here it is enough to believe in his person and his promises, and he will open up himself in his own time.

When you believe in Jesus, you believe in him for more than you successfully grasp of him. He always is ahead of you. And what you ask of him he may well not answer when you call. “Lord, if you had been here, this would not have happened.” 

Where were you, Lord? Why did you let us go through this?

Well, do you still believe I am the resurrection and the life?

I am not sure what that means.

I know you don’t, but do you believe in me? That you can trust me for whatever it might mean? Can you believe in those promises of God that I am delivering in my way and in my time?

You know, in wrestling with this story this week I was struck by the emotional disturbance that the Lord Jesus felt and the social disturbance in what he did, and how much belief in Christ is a disturbance, and is meant to be so. It means the disturbance of all your other beliefs, a shaking, a loosening, an unbinding from the cloths that bind you, and a letting go.

The Lord Jesus disturbs the laws of nature, he overturns the tables of biology, he interrupts the natural harmony of chemicals and the God-given cycle of life and death. He initiates a rupture in the world, a crack in the chain of being, a disturbance in the vibrations of the universe. Your belief in him disturbs your friendships and your family expectations.

Your belief in him disturbs your emotions and you find yourself weeping and you can’t tell whether it’s from grief or joy or both. Your belief in him disturbs your security, economic and political. Your belief in him is meant to disturb your loyalties, patriotic and theological and even ethical.

I’m thinking about the turmoil in our nation being generated from the White House and aggravated by the Congress. I’m thinking about the daily disruption of our domestic tranquility whether by intention or incompetence. I’m thinking about the detectable disturbance in our weather which gets met by denials of climate change and answered by frantic increases in fossil fuel extraction.

And we divert ourselves in entertainment and educated consumerism and soothe ourselves in dining and fine design. This is the American way of death. This Bible calls this “flesh,” the frantic chasing after life by any means. To set your mind on the flesh is death, but to set your mind on the Spirit is life.

This turmoil and this frantic disruption is what Our Lord disturbs when in grace and love he cries with a loud voice, “Come out.” Against the resistance of our fear and doubt, the resistance of dead matter and the hardness of rock, and into the darkness of the cave, he calls, “Come out.”

To believe him is life. You rise again. You are set free from the drag of the flesh to live in the breath of God’s Spirit, free from the turmoil to live in tranquility, free from the criticism of your family to say what you believe, free from the pressure of your friends to act on your belief, free from White House to live in open generosity, free from Congress to live creatively in peace, free from your own grief and fear to use your grief and fear for empathy and service and love.

It was for love that Jesus wept. His disturbance is the power of his love to break through the resistance of death and fear and your unbelief. I invite you to believe that God loves you and to answer when God calls you. Here I am.

Copyright © 2017, by Daniel James Meeter, all rights reserved.

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