I came across a passage in the New Testament the other day that I’ve never considered before. I must have read it at some point, but I guess I never stopped to ponder what God was saying.
“When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.” [John 11:9-11]
I knew the chief priests and Pharisees wanted to be rid of Jesus in the worst way, but I didn’t realize they had planned to kill Lazarus as well. What? Lazarus just got raised from the dead. And this was no ordinary miracle. Jesus took great pains to make sure that everyone who witnessed the event would know without a doubt that Jesus had authority that could not be explained away. When Jesus heard that His good friend Lazarus was gravely ill, He did not rush to his side. Instead, Jesus sent word to Lazarus’ sisters that their brother’s sickness would not lead to death. I’m sure Mary and Martha thought this meant Lazarus would not die.
But he did.
Not only that, but Jesus left them to flounder in their grief and confusion for four days. Sure, Jesus could have been there—but He chose to wait until Lazarus was good and smelly before showing His face. There would be no mistaking that Jesus truly brought a dead man to life.
God got the glory and Mary and Martha got their brother back. The story should end there, right?
But God mentions one additional thing about Lazarus. Apparently, the episode resulted in many people believing in Jesus. And they didn’t believe in Him merely as a man, but as the Son of God. This vexed the chief priests and the Pharisees, who had no theology for people being raised from the dead on this earth.
Enter the human condition.
When we can’t find a box in our established belief system for a new experience, our tendency is to eliminate the experience rather than re-evaluating our worldview. For the record, this is why we don’t see many people with Down’s Syndrome anymore. Incurable disabilities don’t fit our paradigm of a vibrant, glossy existence, so we just eliminate the offenders and go back to being shiny happy people holding hands.
So we can’t fully blame the Pharisees for wanting to eliminate the evidence of Jesus’ authority over life and death. To keep their doctrines and power intact, both Jesus and Lazarus would have to go. We know that Jesus was crucified shortly after this incident. What God doesn’t tell us is whether the plot to put Lazarus to death was also successful. Could it be that Lazarus got a new lease on life only to be murdered a few days later?
The prevailing Western theology dictates that all stories must end with happy closure. No loose ends. No continued wrestling with complex, seemingly conflicting ideas about the nature of God and the meaning of life. But the Lord throws in this unsettling bit about the plot against Lazarus to shake us up, just as He shook up the Pharisees. We have no assurance that Lazarus lived a long and prosperous life after his encounter with Jesus. The only thing we know for sure is that death is not the final word.
Ultimately, that has to be enough.
“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everything who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” [John 11:25-26]