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“Unbinding Grace” “Unbinding Grace”

"Lazarus! Come Out!"
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“Unbinding Grace”

Posted on Sat, Nov 7, 2015

John 11:32-44 - "All Saints Sunday"

November 1, 2015

All Saints Sunday “Unbinding Grace”


Gospel Text: John 11:32-44

32When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ 35Jesus began to weep. 36So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ 37But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’

Jesus Raises Lazarus to Life

38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.’ 40Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’



One day while I was performing a scattering of ashes out on the ocean, as we were going out to the sight, some dolphins surfaced next to the boat. Everybody was suddenly woken from their sadness and became alive, glued to the beauty of these graceful and powerful animals. On the same day, just as we were finishing scattering the ashes, a seabird (a brown booby) flew right up close to the boat on the stern. Everybody began to say that seeing the dolphins was “a good sign,” like a guardian angel leading us out to the scattering place; and when they saw the bird, there were words like, “there is ‘so-and-so’ (our loved one) coming to say good bye one more time!”


When we scattered my mom and dad’s ashes out in front of the church, there was a beautiful flock of seabirds flying by, and we thought the same thing. It seems like in times of pain and loss, we look for anything that might give us a sense of hope, recovery or maybe a sense of resurrection or one day being reconnected again.


But now, when there is a celebration of life, funeral, or memorial, I often think of this verse, and wonder about how Mary and Martha must have felt through this entire event.


For me, the drama found in this story is beyond words. It hits too close to my heart with all the suffering and death that I have witnessed in my short life. But, as Easter People with the luxury of simply opening our Bibles and reading about the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection, we know what is about to happen at the end of the Gospel… but if we insert ourselves into the story, as it was happening, what would the emotions of each character in the text teach us about what to expect from Jesus, the Christ? Because we know the end of the story, we know that Jesus will raise Lazarus from the dead, but not even the faithful women, Mary or Martha, could have expected to witness such a miracle as seeing Lazarus walking from his death chamber. But that is what the Word, the Gospel is all about… with God nothing is impossible!


Picture yourself as one of the members in the crowd; Do they really have any expectations of Jesus? Some of them witnessed Jesus giving sight to the blind man in Jerusalem, but do they really think Jesus can raise his friend from the dead? They had also heard about his many miracles up north in Galilee; but this is much bigger, expectations of a resurrection miracle defies all of human wisdom. Could they really expect the young rabbi to actually bring a dead man back to life… this is beyond their wildest dreams, but definitely part of their hopes in what a Messiah could do.


What is more amazing is that Jesus wasn’t a stranger to this neighborhood. Jesus often stayed with Mary, Martha and Lazarus when he was in town. The people in the neighborhood probably knew about Jesus. Lazarus was a wealthy man who oftentimes hosted Jesus and his disciples. It was said, Lazarus was always eager to hear more about Jesus’ teachings and it was his questions about God and faith, that were what Jesus enjoyed so much about their friendship. Lazarus and Jesus were genuine friends.


I imagine Jesus’ life traveling from town to town was rather difficult and sometimes uncomfortable, therefore I would bet he enjoyed visiting and receiving Lazarus, Mary and Martha’s generous hospitality.


But this day was different. Jesus comes to visit because his friend Lazarus had died. The text does not say he “passed,” or “transitioned.” Lazarus was “dead.” The life in his body was gone.  And for Mary and Martha there was nothing but pain and sorrow in their hearts. But more than that there appeared to be even some disappointment in Jesus because he was late to return before their brother died. Did they think Jesus could save their brother, Jesus’ friend? In the past they believed in Jesus and hung on every word he spoke to them when Jesus stayed with them; But at this time of death, when they needed Jesus the most, he was someplace else.


The text says that after seeing Mary and Martha’s pain, Jesus was “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” Being ‘disturbed in spirit’ is a nuanced way of saying in Greek, that “Jesus was angry.” Jesus is angry at what he sees is the result of human brokenness (pain and loss), a broken relationship with God that results in death. But his anger also focuses him on the purpose of his journey to Jerusalem and the cross. His anger also focuses him as to the purpose of his very own birth.


Jesus feels not only the pain of Mary and Martha, but Jesus feels the pain of all people who have and will feel the pain of loss… and He weeps. Thus, it is most true, when we hurt, our loving Savior is compassionate and hurts with us.  


But what could Mary, Martha and the crowd possibly expect after Jesus returned? Even though they have professed their faith in the most beautiful of words, what could they expect from the one they have confessed as Messiah and Lord. He still only appeared as human. And when they hugged him, he felt like any other person. What could they really expect of Jesus?


Still quite upset, Jesus goes to the tomb, and tells the people to “take away the stone.”


This is an unthinkable order. He didn’t command them to open the tomb so that he could examine the body.  For according to the Law if a rabbi where to touch a dead body, he was risking a long and arduous rite of re-purification. He wasn't interested in examining the body, they all knew that Lazarus was really dead, He had only one thing in mind, and that was to raise Lazarus back to life in order to demonstrate the power of God. It was truly a ‘teaching moment!”


Leave it to Martha, the one who was more concerned with the chores in the kitchen what Jesus was teaching, to say, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.’ She is concerned with human concerns; Jesus is about doing what only God can do.


So that the people can understand that it is God who has sent Jesus as our Savior to the people at this very moment in time, Jesus begins to pray in a very Jewish style for the time, “‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’”


Then with a loud voice, almost as if to wake up his old friend he says, “Lazarus, Come Out!”


John writes, “44The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’”


The Lazarus resurrection story is the first of two resurrection stories given to us in John’s Gospel, so that we can see the Power of God.


There is hope, then the hope is dashed, there is the resultant pain, and there is fragile hope that what God has promised is in fact true… but it seems so impossible for our human minds. But then, even when our human minds cannot even think it possible, the hope of our HEART comes true, God’s promise is faithful, and the power of death is destroyed! What Jesus does indeed promise does indeed come true!


Dietrich Bonheoffer taught the Bible in a radical and new form for his day. He stated that the Bible was not just a historical book, but also the Word of God written for us, to us, for the sake of strengthening our faith today. The Gospel writers were writing the Good News FOR YOU, FOR ALL OUR SITUATIONS IN LIFE.


Therefore, the story is earthy and full of human emotions, yet it is God’s glory that is witnessed in Jesus raising a very dead Lazarus from the dead.


Who are you in the story? John is writing this Good News text FOR YOU!!! Are you Mary or Martha grieving the loss of a loved one? Are you Jesus angry at the power of death and the pain it causes in human hearts? Are you one of the men standing off to the side expecting the impossible? Or, could you be Lazarus? Beaten and knocked down by the hardships of life, waiting for our Savior to say, “Take away the stone and YOU, YOU! Come Out!”


Jesus says, “My love for you is so great, that even though I knew it would be painful, I have gone to the cross FOR YOU! Open your ears, eyes and heart arise and believe!”


Our God is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. His love is greater than any sorrow or disappointment we have had or may be experiencing right now.


It is not coincidence that Lazarus emerges from the tomb in strips of clothes, or in other words, “swaddling clothes.” The baby that will be born on Christmas Morning will be wrapped in swaddling clothes, and on Easter morning he will leave them folded neatly in his tomb. 


The Lazarus Story is your story, let the Good News of our Savior Lift you up today and everyday!  Amen. 

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