Dear saints of God, what an account of Jesus’ power over death in the raising of Lazarus is to us who have not yet tasted death fully, but know we will.
This is the second last of seven signs of Jesus’ identity and promise in John’s gospel – the one before THE sign of signs of God’s presence and power active in his world – the resurrection of the One who raises Lazarus, and millions of other dead people!
I wonder how many times this account from John must have sured up so many faithful people under severe threat.
I am reading a book on the history of the church, showing us at our very worst and our very best. It shows that in these first few centuries this new community of Jesus spread across the known world even though it was way out on the fringes of Roman society, without any political or institutional power and largely misunderstood and dismissed by most.
Several times these communities of Christians came to the attention of the powerful. Several times they were severely persecuted by the powers that be. Many Christians gave the ultimate witness – become a martyr – a ‘witness’ in ultimate way?
We know some of them. There is the famous account of a guy named Polycarp.
Polycarp was a disciple of the Apostle John, the one who wrote this account of Lazarus being resurrected from death by Jesus.
Polycarp eventually became a leader in the early church. Even more, Polycarp is now famous for his witness under extreme pressure. After being imprisoned and transported hundreds of kilometres to Rome where he was informed that he would be burnt at the stake. Polycarp is given one last chance to disavow his Saviour Jesus. His words are famous:
Here is his martyr’s prayer, as recorded by the ancient historian Eusebius.
Eusebius, the ancient historian telling the story adds:
So, Polycarp knew the Apostle John personally and John knew what Jesus could do for people personally. John says,
He knows what he is taking about. John witnesses two resurrections – John and then Jesus! I can imagine Polycarp sitting at the feet of his teacher, soaking up John’s eyewitness words of Jesus more than once.
Without any magic words or hokus pokus of a Halloween spell, the simple but deafeningly powerful word is spoken by the King of kings – “Come out! Come out of your death you dead person. Arise, O sleeper, from the dead!”
A man in a mummy cloth shuffles out unable to see through the cloths wrapped around his head! No more smell of death here – just the sweet taste of life!
And then they all immediately know that they are in the presence of greatness. They are in the presence of the awesome power of God in this human teacher.
He seemed so silly and weak. But now he has done what no other human being can do, just by a word he makes death live. Just by a command, he raises a dead person to new life!
Many are convinced and begin to trust the man. Others are scared to death of this sign of life and what it will mean for the life and choose to kill this life. We notice that immediately after this sign of life, Jesus’ death is sealed.
We know that so soon after this day, Jesus’ own dead body would fill a tomb. But then just a few days later it wouldn’t! His corpse would be called out of the dark tomb and his rising would provide the final antidote to our human death.
His resurrection power would be set loose on the world as he ascended to his rightful place among the angels and archangels and all the saints of God as his resurrection glory fills the universe.
So many sinners would be touched by his great power and the gospel would fan out like a flame through the world by means his word planted in his “sent ones” – his “apostles”.
The community of sinners made holy – sinners now saints – would be born in the power of the Spirit as the once disgraced Peter would get on stand up and preach this Jesus on the Day of Pentecost. The church of the Resurrection is born and the saints of God bear the witness to Jesus’ resurrection power over sin and death to a dying world.
It is not so difficult to see how an old Christian man at the age of at least 86, just one generation after all this could resist the call from the world to give up his faith in the resurrection of Jesus and willingly give up his life for this Jesus who raises dead people.
In faith in Jesus’ power to save him, with faith in Jesus’ Word, passed on by the Apostle’s, Polycarp received this resurrection power, even at the moment when the “firemen lighted the fire”.
Friend, you are the bearer of this sign of life right now. Especially in your weakness and hardship, you carry Jesus’ death and resurrection in your body. None of us have carried the witness to death. That may be our calling one day, but for today all we can do is thank the Lord for the resurrection we have received in our Baptism and live it – live it now.
Living the Resurrection means living life in the promises that you will be Lazarus because you belong to Jesus. You carry his life for the life of others.
We don’t hold back anything that would be of benefit to people. We give others our all. We are the witnesses to this resurrection life we have been given with all its hope and peace whatever threatens us.
Is this your witness? I pray it is.
When challenged or when genuinely questioned on what you are saying and doing can you say, “These years have I served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How can I speak evil of my King who saved me?”
Friend, the Lord has done you no wrong and he is martyr for you. He has given himself to you and always does. Speak well of him, especially in the fire. You are captive to his Spirit and connected with him always.
I sing a song of the saints of God,