This past Sunday, I preached a sermon on John 11 – The Raising of Lazarus. This is a fascinating read. Every time I encounter John, I’m simply astounded at the craftsmanship that went into this document. It is the most ‘artistic’ of the four. By that, I do not mean in anyway that it is fiction, it is not. But John presents his subject and themes through symbol and metaphor in a way the other three do not. This particular account is a case in point.
But first, let me take a moment to describe the three ways that Jesus teaches in the gospels. One way is through direct instruction, what we might call didactic teaching. The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7; Luke 6:20-49) is the perfect example of this style. The second is through the use of story, what are called parables. This is a story that takes its substance from the everyday, in Jesus’ case mostly agriculture, and transforms it into a story with a single point. There are so many examples that to name one would be silly.
The third way, and I think the most often missed, is that Jesus taught through circumstances. We often think of these as the miracles and healings, but each one is much more than that. When I was in seminary, a professor (whose name I can not remember) called them “enacted parables,” and that they are.
One example might be the event of the feeding of the multitude, a miracle found in every gospel. Was Jesus just feeding people or was there a point? Well, I think there was a point. In my estimation, the point was that coming to Jesus for spiritual feeding will always satisfy one’s spiritual hunger, no matter what meager supply of faith you might have. In fact, after the feeding recorded in John (6:1-14), we have the Bread of Life Discourse (6:22-58).
The event recorded in John 11 is also an enacted parable. Every step of the way, from when He first hears of His friend’s illness to the ultimate scene when He says, “Lazarus, come out!” Jesus is teaching a crucial point to anyone who will open their eyes to see it. Some do, some don’t.
Notice that the event doesn’t end with Jesus calling Lazarus out. There is an epilogue. In fiction writing, we are told to end the book in a manner that demonstrates to the reader that the characters go on. It isn’t necessary to delineate what that looks like. It is only polite to give the reader the sense that these characters that they have spent a considerable amount of time with, do indeed, carry on.
So John shows us what happens after Lazarus comes out. Jesus says, “Unbind him, and let him go.” And THAT is the point! Faith in Jesus unbinds us from the entanglement of sin. Faith in Jesus frees us from the shackles of man-made rules for ‘goodness’, none of which can be followed perfectly. With Jesus, the ‘deadness’ of this life has no meaning, only the life we live through the Spirit of God indwelling our hearts.
How often do you feel like your life is more like a tomb? How often do you feel ‘stuck’ at a ‘dead end’ (job, marriage, etc.)? Maybe it isn’t the job or the marriage. Maybe it’s you.
I know, that hurt. But really, honestly, we are our own worst enemies. What if you stopped living like that job was the worst thing in the world and started living like it’s the job God called you to. Maybe not forever, but for now. Would it change how you worked?
Everyone of us who is married made a solemn vow at our wedding. Assuming you didn’t have your fingers crossed, what are you going to do about it? Can you tell yourself that this is the spouse God called me to love until I die? Rather than wallowing in the swamp of misery we create for ourselves when we say things like: “She doesn’t love me.” “I don’t feel the same way.” “We’re just growing apart.” Perhaps our marriages would be stronger if we said : “I will choose to love him.” “Regardless of how he feels, I will dig deep for those feelings within myself.” “Even if our lives appear drifting apart, our roots are enmeshed below the surface.”
I know that giving in to the voices around us is so much easier. Troubled marriage = divorce. Dead end job = quit. But that is like Lazarus, having been raised, walking out of the tomb, and saying, “No, this is too hard. I want to go back.”
This is exactly way the epilogue is so important. Jesus wants us to hear that life with Him is unbounded and free, a spiritual Garden of Eden. Jesus is saying to you, to me, “be unbound, you are free.”