THE LORD OF LIFE AND DEATH
By Pastor Glenn Pease
One of the oldest and most universal of all questions is the one of Job, "If a man die shall he live again?" In the ancient world almost everyone believed that death was a gateway into another world, and so they buried their dead with food and tools to be used when they arrived. This is obviously foolish to those of us today, but there are many who also feel that the whole idea of eternal life is a foolish superstition. They think it is only the hope of the weak and is mere wishful thinking. But they are doing wishful thinking when they hope that there is no life beyond and no penalty for sinful living.
Leslie Weatherhead points out that when the skeptic gives medicine to his sick child he hopes it will work and restore the child to health. He would be angry if you told him that was only wishful thinking, and was a sign of his weakness. He would say that he was not so simple as to believe that his hope could make the child well. He was putting his trust in the medicine and not just in his own wishes. There is nothing wrong with wishful thinking and hoping when there is good reason for it. The skeptic would show you it is only common sense to hope for what you love when there is good evidence to do so. He would point out that this same disease was cured in others and so there is evidence for his hope. This reasoning applies perfectly to those who have hope for life after death.
We have a basis for our hope, and we also have case histories in which the dead have been brought back to life. There was the daughter of Jairus, the son of the widow of Nain, and then Lazarus the brother of Mary and Martha. We want to look more deeply into this last case for it reveals a great deal about the attitude of Jesus toward death. We want to look at three responses of Christ in the presence of death here. The first response was that of-
I. HIS TROUBLED SPIRIT. v. 33
The Berkley Version has it, "Deeply indignant in spirit." Martha had been first to go and meet Jesus, but Mary did not come until Jesus sent for her. We do not know why, but she was likely deeply hurt by the delay of Jesus, and she was not sure of herself, and so she did not go to Him. But when Jesus called for her she came and fell at His feet, and threw her tears of grief and doubt she said, "Lord if you would have been here my brother would have died." The Jews that were with Mary in the house followed her and they were weeping, and the word means they were wailing.
Jesus responded with a troubled spirit. The meaning of this response has been variously interpreted. There are those who feel that Jesus was angry at the power of death because it caused such grief to those He loved. This makes sense, but I feel that the emotion of Christ here is like that He expressed on another occasion. When Jesus came near to Jerusalem on the day of His triumphal entry He beheld the city and wept over it. Why? It was because the people were blind and knew not the day of their visitation. The day of peace had come, but they would reject the Messiah and their city would be destroyed. Jesus wept because of their blindness, which was causing them to lose God's best. In anger He entered the temple and expelled the money changers who made the house of God a den of thieves. This is the emotion I think Jesus felt as He looked upon these wailing Jews. Here He was as the Lord of life and death in their very presence, but they were blind and mourned as those who had no hope. Jesus was troubled in seeing people live in the dark when the light is all around them.
We do not have near the love and compassion of Christ, but have you not felt sometimes that you would like to take people who are ruining their lives and just shake some sense into them? You are indignant and troubled that they can be so blind. They cling to hell and lose heaven for a straw. One of the most frustrating experiences of Jesus was that of seeing the blindness and the little faith of those whom He loved. Jesus was troubled and indignant because they acted as if the grave was the end. Those who believe that are dead already, for if death is the end, then life has no meaning. Paul made it clear that if in this life only we have hope, we are of all men most miserable. These people were wailing without hope, and Jesus is mourning for them and not for Lazarus. They are dead in a far deeper sense than Lazarus is. The deadness of the spirit that blinds to the truth of God is far more dangerous and sad than the death of the body. This first response of Christ teaches us that hopeless grief has no place in the life of a believer. Next we see-
II. HIS TEARFUL EYES. v. 35
This verse is far more than just the shortest verse in the Bible. It is also one of the most sublime, for it reveals to us the true sympathy of the Savior. Jesus was indignant at their unbelief, but He was also sympathetic with their grief. Jesus was not wailing as they were, but had silent tears rolling down his face. He could not hold back the tears of compassion. The first part of the account makes us wonder if Jesus had any sympathy at all for Mary and Martha. They had been so good to Him in giving Him a place to eat and sleep. He had been there often, but now when He is most needed He has stayed away.
Mary and Martha are deeply worried because of the illness of Lazarus. They are wondering why he is so ill when Jesus was not there. They knew He could raise him up and heal him as He had so many others. They sent a message to Jesus telling Him that the one He loved was so sick. As soon as Jesus received this message He did not borrow an Arabian horse and race to Bethany as fast as He could. Instead, we read in verse 5 these words: "Yet when He heard that Lazarus was sick, He stayed where He was two more days." Is this a misprint? It seems that Jesus stayed away just when He was most needed. Then to make things even worse we read in verses 14 and 15, "So then he told them plainly, Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe..." It is no wonder that they felt Jesus had lost His compassion for them.
The tears of verse 35, however, wash all the doubts away. Jesus had been so calm about it before because He knew His delay would be for the greatest glory. He was going to perform the greatest miracle of His life up to that point. The other two He raised from the dead had died so short a time before that there may have been some doubt as to the reality of their death. But He delayed to come to Lazarus until his body was in a state of decay so that all could know for sure that he was truly dead. The Jews felt that after 4 days there is no hope for the spirit to enter the body again, and so there was purpose in the delay of Christ.
Now Jesus stands in the presence of grief and He sheds tears of sympathy. He knew He was going to raise Lazarus, and He knew joy would soon be in their hearts, but He shed these tears of sympathy because He was a man of sympathy. The tears of Jesus indicate that there is such a thing as a good cry. Jesus was not sentimental, nor would He approve of indulging tear-jerking stories, but Jesus was realistic. He would not approve of hopeless grief, but He did recognize the place of honest grief, even in those who are believers. Someone said, "Tears are liquid emotions pressed from the heart." Here was Mary weeping because her brother was now separated from here, and that separation brought sorrow. Jesus said with His tears that He approved of that kind of sorrow. There is a valid place for tears in the Christian life. We need never fear nor be ashamed of the tears of the hopeful. Christ has been our example, and He was touched by our feelings. We need to learn to be sympathetic with the tears of others, even when we know the problem is only temporary. Next we consider-
III. HIS TRIUMPHANT VOICE. v. 43
Jesus revealed His sovereignty over death by a shout. In His conversation with Martha Jesus made a claim that no one else has ever made. He said in verses 25-26, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die." Then He asked Martha, "Do you believe this?" How could He expect Martha to believe such a thing when Lazarus had died and was now decaying? She just could not come out and say she believed it. She just said that she knew in the last day he would live again. Jesus is trying to teach her that He is the Lord of the present and not just of the future. Jesus said that He was the life, and not that He would be.
Jesus is trying to tell her that her brother is not dead. He is trying to tell her that He is right now the resurrection and the life. He proved it by talking to Lazarus and calling him back into his body. Who can speak to the dead? Jesus can, for He knows they are yet living and that it is only the body that is dead. Jesus is saying that the Christian never dies even though his body does. This means that the body is not you. There is something more basic that is the real you, and that is the soul. The poet wrote,
Life is real and life is earnest,
And the grave is not its goal.
From thus thou art to dust returnest
Was not spoken of the soul.
The body is an instrument through which the soul makes its self-known. Unbelieving materialists say that the soul is dependent on the body, and so when the body dies the soul does too. The Christian who believes in Christ can see what they cannot see. Take the prism for example. It separates the colors of light, but when you take it away and the instrument is gone no one believes that the colors no longer exist. The spiritual world goes on and the unseen is just as real even when the physical means to make it visible is gone. When the body is gone the unseen soul continues, and it is under the Lordship of Christ. Jesus is Lord of all the living, and that includes those who have left their bodies. One day they will all hear the trumpet voice of the Son of God and they will be raised in the final resurrection. The raising of Lazarus is Jesus proving that He is the Lord of life and death.