John 11:39-44. Set him free

John 11:39  “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

40    Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

41    So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

43    When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

  Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

Jesus has arrived with the crowd of mourners at Lazarus’ tomb. He commands that the stone sealing the entrance to the tomb be rolled away. Whatever the social taboos (and the smell) around death, it is time for action. Jesus calls Lazarus out of death. And he comes,… still wrapped in grave clothes. Jesus orders that he be set free from the trappings of death– “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

Now why did Jesus do that— raise Lazarus from the dead? You see, this wasn’t a resurrection, this was a resuscitation. Apart from the length of time that Lazarus had been dead, this is not dissimilar to the paramedic who restarts the heart of the patient who has died. The thing is, Lazarus would still die again. He had only been restored to life on this earth again. He had been granted an extension on this life, that’s all. He would die again and, presumably, there was a second funeral.

So why did Jesus do it? Was this ‘resuscitation’ really anything more than just pushing back the inevitable? Why bother? What was the point? It was a picture, a visual demonstration, of something far greater that he himself would do in just a few weeks. 

Lazarus’ first funeral happened just a few weeks before Jesus’ own death, where he was hung on a cross. Jesus also was wrapped in grave clothes and buried in a tomb, with a rock placed across the opening. Jesus also came out of his tomb (there were over 500 eyewitnesses) but there was something very different about Jesus.

Jesus entered death as God’s representative for us. When he died, he went there for us all. That was God’s plan. Jesus is unique — not as a victim of death, but as the victor over death. He overcame death and therefore he was able to break its claim, not only upon himself, but upon us as well. 

And just as Jesus died for us as our representative, his resurrection to life lived with God forever is also as our representative. Jesus’ own resurrection life is what he promises to all who believe in him: he is the resurrection and the life. Hallelujah!