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Friday, July 25, 2008

Would Lazarus have been better off dead?

Would Lazarus have been better off dead? Would he have been better off if Jesus had not called him back to life? That's a pretty presumptive question. It's questioning God. But I (think) I have a valid point. Bear with me, please.

Just in case you are wondering, my church's Sunday School lesson for the coming Sunday is based on 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul considers the resurrection at considerable length. Beginning with verse 12, Paul considers six consequences of no resurrection, with six if statements. Then, he hits us with the key word of the chapter, but:
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (ESV)

So what about Lazarus? Well, let's start earlier. The Bible contains the following stories of people being raised from the dead:
In 2 Kings 4, Elisha, with God's help, raised the young son of a woman from Shunem back to life, at her request.

One Old Testament storiy of a person coming back to life seems accidental. The apparent agent of this miracle was dead himself. In 2 Kings 13:21, a burial was interrupted, and the body thrown into the grave of Elisha, and the dead person revived.

In Luke 7:11-17, the widow of Nain's son had died. Jesus had compassion on her, and raised him back to life.

In Mark 5:21-43, Jairus begged Jesus to heal his daughter. She died before Jesus got there, but Jesus raised her from the dead.

In Acts 20:7-10, Paul brought Eutychus back to life. Eutychus was a victim of Paul's long preaching -- he went to sleep and fell out of a high window.

In Acts 9:36-42, Dorcas died. Peter brought her back to life, apparently out of sympathy for the poor widows that Dorcas had helped.

In John 11:1-44, there is a story with some of the same features. Lazarus, Jesus' friend, was sick, and his sisters, Mary and Martha, sent a message, urgently asking Jesus to come heal their brother. Jesus didn't get there before Lazarus died, apparently on purpose. Then, in seeming response to the chiding of the sisters that He hadn't been there when they needed Him, he brought Lazarus back to life.

I am omitting discussion of people being brought back to life in Revelation, because I'm not sure these events are meant to be taken literally.

One thing about all of these situations, even the one involving Elisha's grave, is that someone died twice. The Bible says nothing about the second death of Lazarus, or the daughter of Jairus, or any of the other people brought back to life, but they must have died a second time.

Notice something else about all of these stories but that of Elisha's grave, and, perhaps, that of Eutychus. That is that a person was brought back to life for the sake of someone else. Now, granted, a dead or dying individual would not be able to summon a miracle-worker for him or herself. But the emphases above make the point that Elisha, Jesus and Peter brought someone back to life because someone else loved him or her very much, and, at least in the case of the widow's son, and of Dorcas (and perhaps of Lazarus) needed the dead person back alive, to help them materially.

I hope you miss a story in the list above, the most important story, the one told in 1 Corinthians 15. Christ was also raised for others -- for me, for you. Without His resurrection, as Paul puts it, we would be "of all people most to be pitied." (verse 19b, ESV)

So what about Lazarus? Perhaps, on balance, he personally would have been spared great suffering, if he had only had to die once, not twice. We can't know. But God had a plan, to aid his sisters in their great need, and to publicly proclaim the power of Christ, even to the raising of a man who had been in the grave for over a day. It was better for others if Lazarus was brought back to life, only to go back through death again, instead of (presumably) to heaven. It was certainly better for me that Christ went through death and resurrection. And He didn't have to die a second time. (Except that I, or you, may crucify Him again by not living and being what we ought to be -- see Hebrews 6:4-7.)

Thanks for reading. Live so as to not put Christ through death again!


Anonymous said...

This is a great teaching! Maybe Lazarus needed to live to be born again, then die. Maybe bringing him to life shows God's Mercy on us to keep us alive so we can be saved. Who knows?!

Martin LaBar said...

Who knows? God, only.

Thanks, Anonymous, whoever you may be.