I have always loved the story of Lazarus. There is so much drama and humor and theology and practical faith lessons in this passage that it begs to be pondered again and again. But I often let my sanctified imagination run wild when I read this chapter and start thinking about “the rest of the story.”
Fast forward 30 years after this event takes place. Church tradition (not Scripture) tells us that Lazarus lived at least this long. I picture Lazarus and Martha and Mary at a family reunion with a bunch of their grandkids hanging around when the oldest grand youngun pipes up and says, “Grandpa Lazzie, tell us one your stories about when you and your sisters were hanging out with Jesus.” Lazarus leans back in his chair as his eyes start to sparkle and a smile creeps up on his face and says, “OK kids, tonight I’ll tell you my favorite story – and if it had not happened to me I probably wouldn’t even believe it myself.”
I was just a young man, this was before I was married, mind you, and I had gotten real sick. I knew that Martha and Mary were real worried about me when I heard that they had sent word for our friend Jesus to get here as soon as he could. I felt bad. As bad as I had ever felt in my life. And then I felt nothing at all. You see kids, I died that day. Really, honest to goodness, actually died. They tell me that everybody was crying and really sad that I had died so they started making preparations right away for my burial. They also tell me that Jesus did not get there before I died and that they were kind of mad at him about that. But I didn’t know any of that. I just heard about it after…. but wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.
So they got my dead body ready for burial before it started to decay. They put lots of ointments and spices on me and then wrapped me up tight like a mummy with what is known as burial cloths. Then they put me in our family tomb and rolled a big stone over the entrance. Evidently I lay there all wrapped up like that for about 4 days while the family continued to grieve.
And then Jesus showed up.
Now my last memory before I died was of how terrible I felt – of just wanting the pain to go away, and of hearing my sisters crying over me and telling me how much they loved me. My first memory after Jesus showed up was of how good I felt except for the fact that I couldn’t see or move my arms or my legs or turn my head or anything. And the first sound that I remember was this far away voice that sounded like a voice I recognized calling my name and saying, “Lazarus, come out.”
I lay there for a few minutes just getting my bearings and trying to figure out what was going on. Somehow I managed to wiggle and slide off the table that I was laying on. I managed to get up on my feet and I heard the voice again say, “Lazarus, come out.” So even though I couldn’t see a thing, I started following the sound of the voice. The best that I could do was hop and scoot a few inches at a time because I was so wrapped up. And it started to get brighter and brighter as I approached the entrance of the tomb and as the sunlight worked its way through the bandages wrapped around my face. I remember hearing a lot of clamor all around me. People were crying – but it was more of a happy cry then a sad cry and people were saying things like, “Who is this guy?” And instinctively I knew they were not talking about me.
Then I felt these arms wrapped around me and the bandages got looser and looser and before I knew it I was able to see again and move my arms again and walk around again. And standing right in front of me was my friend Jesus. And He had this big smile on His face, a smile that hinted of mystery, as if He knew something that nobody else knew.
So here I am 30 years later. Still just as alive as I was before I died. Able to enjoy being around you kids and watch you grow up. But I learned a lesson that day all those years ago that I don’t want you to ever forget. In fact it was something that Jesus had said to Martha before I was brought back to life…
He said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die” And then he asked her the same question that I will ask each of you, “Do you believe this?”
Now, if any of you have a story that can top that one, then I want to hear it.