This part of the story reveals Jesus—although confident in divine power—in the depth of human emotion. The grief of separation and death hits the human Jesus with full force.
Three times it is mentioned that Jesus feels deep emotions. In verse 35—the shortest verse in the Bible—“Jesus wept.” In verses 33 and 38 it says that he was “deeply moved.” Jesus was in human anguish, yet also enraged against the enemy—death. Why does Jesus cry? Jesus cries in anger over what sin does to us. Jesus cries in anguish because of the sorrow of human separation. Jesus cries because he is fully human. He was made like us in every way. Jesus cries because we cry. Jesus cries with us.
Jesus not only cries with those who cry and weeps with those who weep, but in his own anger and frustration over the suffering caused by sin, he takes control. What makes Jesus angry? Sin, separation, and suffering. Notice the power and authority of Jesus words: “Take away the stone.” “You will see the glory of God.” “Lazarus, come out!” I’m quite sure he is yelling.
The final statement, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go” is pregnant with symbolic meaning. Christ, the liberator frees humanity from all the powers that abuse us and bind us. Jesus is angry at the suffering that sin causes to human beings. Salvation and life comes through correctly placed anger—not at other human beings but anger at the inhuman powers that bind us. As we respond to the voice of Jesus we shed the grave clothes that bind us and suffocate our life.
Jesus demonstrated visibly and dramatically what he had said to Martha earlier, “I am the resurrection and the life.”
The resurrection of Lazarus cannot help but point us on to Jesus’ own resurrection. For the next weeks we will experience the dryness, darkness and death of Lent but we know the end of the story. Lazarus, dead for four days, heard the voice of God in Jesus Christ, came out of the cave and shed the death clothes that bound him.
Today, we are also bound in death clothes of various kinds:
We are bound in the dark caves of family violence and incest.
We lie dormant under the heavy cloud of depression.
We are bound in the dark caves of various addictions.
We are stifled with the grave clothes of spiritual lethargy and legalism.
We are bound in the dark caves of broken relationships.
We are dressed in the death clothes of separation from loved ones through divorce or death.
Twenty years ago when I first preached this text as a sermon I was emerging from one of the darkest caves in my life—recovering from the trauma of childhood sexual abuse which I had never confronted head on in my life until that point. This was my death. The abuse had bound me up as tight as grave clothes. That year Lent was very real for me.
Jesus weeps with us in the pain of our bondage and death, but his powerful voice calls us into the life and freedom of Easter.
It’s a long Friday, but Sunday’s comin’.
This article is part of a MennoNerds Synchro-Blog reflecting on suffering during the Lent season of 2015. To read more articles in this series, go to http://mennonerds.com/tag/mennonerds-lent-2015/. To find out more about MennoNerds in general, go to http://mennonerds.com/about.