Posted on June 28, 2018 by Steven Gledhill
by Steven Gledhill for FREEdom from MEdom Project
Author’s note: This article was written initially as a eulogy for my mother-in-law, who passed away recently. The purpose of this particular message was to sneak a glimpse into the experience of being welcomed into paradise. It doesn’t begin like that’s where it’s going, but that’s where it’s going.
There is a verse in Scripture that is most famous for being the shortest verse in the entire Bible. It is two words in every translation there is: Jesus wept. John 11:35
I remember that as a child, whenever someone asked what Bible verse I memorized, I would answer sarcastically, “Jesus wept.” But as a child, I never considered the context of this verse.
It turns out that Jesus wept at a funeral. While Jesus was away doing ministry, perhaps even on a “refresher” break from ministry, someone came to him and told him that his friend Lazarus was dying, hoping that Jesus would drop whatever he was doing, change his plans, and run to save his friend from certain death. Lazarus, may have been in a great deal of pain in his last days and hours, but we don’t know. The story didn’t say.
What we do know is that Jesus waited a few more days before heading back to his friend. Certainly he would get back in time to intervene and heal his friend, right? Let’s look at the story. The two sisters sent a message to Jesus telling him, “Lord, your dear friend is very sick.” 4 But when Jesus heard about it he said, “Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.” 5 So although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, 6 he stayed where he was for the next two days. 7 Finally, he said to his disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.” 8 But his disciples objected. “Rabbi,” they said, “only a few days ago the people in Judea were trying to stone you. Are you going there again?” 9 Jesus replied, “There are twelve hours of daylight every day. During the day people can walk safely. They can see because they have the light of this world. 10 But at night there is danger of stumbling because they have no light.” 11 Then he said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but now I will go and wake him up.” 12 The disciples said, “Lord, if he is sleeping, he will soon get better!” 13 They thought Jesus meant Lazarus was simply sleeping, but Jesus meant Lazarus had died. 14 So he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 And for your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there, for now you will really believe. Come, let’s go see him.” 16 Thomas, nicknamed the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let’s go, too—and die with Jesus.” 17 When Jesus arrived at Bethany, he was told that Lazarus had already been in his grave for four days. 18 Bethany was only a few miles down the road from Jerusalem, 19 and many of the people had come to console Martha and Mary in their loss. 20 When Martha got word that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him. But Mary stayed in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.” 23 Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 “Yes,” Martha said, “he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day.” 25 Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. 26 Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?” 27 “Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.” 28 Then she returned to Mary. She called Mary aside from the mourners and told her, “The Teacher is here and wants to see you.” 29 So Mary immediately went to him. 30 Jesus had stayed outside the village, at the place where Martha met him. 31 When the people who were at the house consoling Mary saw her leave so hastily, they assumed she was going to Lazarus’s grave to weep. So they followed her there. 32 When Mary arrived and saw Jesus, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled. 34 “Where have you put him?” he asked them. They told him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Then Jesus wept. 36 The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much he loved him!” 37 But some said, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?” 38 Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance. 39 “Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them. But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.” 40 Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” 41 So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” 43 Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come forth!” 44 And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in grave clothes, his face wrapped in a head cloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!” John 11:3-44 (NLT)
Not What You Think
Are you ready to unpack everything that is in this amazing story?
Lazarus had been a dear friend to Jesus for some time. There are Bible scholars out there that would say that Lazarus was the disciple that Jesus had great affection for in the gospel of John. A few dare suggest that Lazarus and John are one in the same. They were certainly very close friends.
So why would Jesus wait two more days to return to Judea to what would be the funeral of Lazarus by the time they arrived on the scene?
Jesus saw so many of the mourners weeping and appeared to get caught up in it, and thus it is reported that Jesus wept. It is safe to say that Jesus experienced grief. But what exactly did he grieve? When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled. John 11:33 (NLT)
What do you suppose it was that Jesus became so angry and so deeply troubled?
Some have said Jesus was troubled by the lack of faith of these people not believing in the power of what Jesus was capable of. To be honest, I would find it troubling that Jesus would be offended that people were so upset that he didn’t get there in time, and that these loved ones of Lazarus mourned the death of their brother and friend. Jesus couldn’t have expected them to have faith they he was capable of resurrecting Lazarus. People had witnessed Jesus had performing healings and miracles, but they had not seen Jesus do that . Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb . John 11:38 (NLT)
What was going on? What was his problem? What was driving his anger? Who was his anger directed towards?
In a couple of weeks, Jesus would be telling a man who knew he was dying that he would be in paradise that very day. (That man was the thief on the cross next to Jesus.) As a man, Jesus may or may not have known the depths of who he was the context of eternity, but he knew he was the son of God. He knew that his relationship with God the Father was unique compared to the common man. Jesus understood that only he was the Savior of the world. He must have understood that paradise was the logical destination for the person of faith in God.
Lazarus would have been destined for paradise upon his death. The story we read from John, chapter 11 tells us that Lazarus had been dead for four days. It is safe to assume that Lazarus had experienced Paradise for four days, which in the context of eternal glory where time might not be relevant, may have been an eternity.
If the experience of eternal glory is living beyond what any of us could possibly imagine, without pain or sadness or any form of discomfort. And if the experience of eternal glory is one of joy and peace, then the body of Lazarus was not only healed but restored into purity and wholeness. His new body was perhaps made glorious, to the point that nothing of earthly flesh could possibly pale in comparison. Yet, Jesus was about to bring Lazarus back into life on earth. If the experience of paradise is what the essence of living is all about, then what would an earthly life be for Lazarus until he would again die?
It is entirely possible, and likely for that matter, that Jesus was fully aware what he was about to do, not for Lazarus, raising his friend from death back into life, but what he was about to do to Lazarus, bringing him back from really living in the experience of glory into a life that includes discomfort, pain and suffering until he inevitably dies yet again . It appears as though Jesus was not bringing his friend from death back to life, but that he was bringing Lazarus from life back into death.
Jesus may have found this reality to be deeply troubling. So much so that the problem of death in this life, and having to bring Lazarus back into the death experience, evoked a deep sense of grief and regret. Like anyone else who struggles with intense regret, Jesus felt anger from within, apparently brought to a boil, according to the text.
Imagine him standing in front of the tomb of his friend. The stench of death is still in the air. Jesus calls out to Lazarus. What did it sound like when Jesus called out to Lazarus? The Scripture reads that Jesus still burned with anger as he approached the tomb. Did Jesus imagine, or know, what it would mean for Lazarus to have to leave paradise (some version of heaven), even if he was returning to his family and friends?
Jesus recognized that the resurrection of Lazarus was necessary as a precursor of his own resurrection to come. People needed to see that resurrection was possible so that the seed of hope would be planted in those that needed to see, and might be more open to anticipating that Jesus would need rise again in three days just as he said he would.
Jesus stood in front of the tomb, deeply troubled in his spirit. He ordered that the stone be rolled back, against the will of Lazarus’s sister Martha, who still hadn’t a clue about that she was moments away from being reunited with her brother. She, no doubt curious, seemed more preoccupied with the foul odor that would overwhelm everyone anxiously standing in front of the grave. (See image at the top of this article.)
Jesus called out, “Lazarus, come forth!”
Out the man came from his own tomb. Grave linen still wrapped around much of his torso, Lazarus strolled on out of there. Who spoke to Lazarus first? Did Jesus apologize in his ear for taking Lazarus out from paradise? Was Lazarus raised to life with memory of his paradise experience? Or, perhaps Lazarus felt as though he was awaken from a four-day slumber.
Regardless of whether or not Lazarus was consciously aware of his paradise experience or not, the report of Jesus being so angry and troubled suggests that it didn’t matter. The fact was the fact, and Lazarus would return to a body and life wrought with the impact of sin and imminent death. Death is hard enough on everyone without having to repeat the experience.
Whether or not Lazarus was happy to be back, reunited with family and friends, no doubt everyone outside of the tomb was thrilled to have their brother and friend back with them. It must have been quite the scene. Imagine, being able to attend your own funeral reception.
So, what did Lazarus give up being resurrected from the dead?
Let’s consider the paradise experience. What does Scripture say about heaven? “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” John 14:2 (NKJV) Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” 5 And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” 6 And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. 7 All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children. Revelation 21:1-7 (NLT)
In heaven, love is perfect. So there is no anxiety, or doubt, or any lack of self-confidence when it comes to relationships. This is the experience of love in heaven. Everyone in heaven is family; not like a distant relative, but as a healthy brothers and sisters who love each other without reservation, united in the purity of perfect love.
Jesus is there. Scripture identifies us as the bride of him who is the bridegroom. The love between the bridegroom and his bride is holy and pure. Jesus is the husband with every resource imaginable, and his bride has full access. Everything that is his is hers. The gate to the favor of his generosity is always wide open, and his bounty knows no bounds.
If Lazarus was fully conscious and aware of his heaven experience and was given the opportunity to choose to come back into his mortal life flesh on earth, would he?
Fast Forward more than 2000 Years
We buried my mother-in-law, Marci, the other day. She was halfway into year 98. Her mind had been diminishing for a few years. Her body was in swift decline, lately. Her body, and her confused mind had been her tomb during her last few years. Finally, the struggle ended as she went on to be with her Savior, whom she had worshiped and loved throughout her life. She spoke with her Lord daily while her body and mind permitted her.
There is no doubt that as her mind and body spiraled until her death, that Jesus spoke to her soul and spirit continuously. We cannot know how aware of that she may have been. What, in her last weeks and days, looked to us like physical and emotional torment, may have been something altogether different spiritually between Marci and her deliverer from her tomb.
Marci was in her tomb of physical decay and emotional desolation. But Jesus never left her. Her spirit always had the constant companionship of her savior and friend.
The day finally arrived.
Let’s recall the experience of Jesus at the tomb of his friend Lazarus, as his friends and family all stood with Jesus in front of the tomb. Jesus was angry and troubled, grieving the reality of what he was about to do, returning Lazarus from the eternal celebration of heaven, back into the flesh infected by sin and death.
Jesus is standing before Marci’s tomb of suffering, loneliness and pain. Jesus may always feel indignant regarding the impact of sin against his creation, but today there is joy all over his face.
Jesus calls out in a voice that all of the inhabitants of heaven can hear, “Marci, come forth! Your home now.”
The grave clothes of her former life have fallen from her as she stands before her Lord in a gown, holy and radiant with beauty. The angels, and her brothers and sisters have come to greet her and welcome her. They are hugging and kissing her; insistent that Marci knows how much she is loved.
Jesus, her bride, stands there patiently, loving every second of the plan of God coming fully together… perfectly.
Marci’s “new” heavenly family suddenly backs away from her, clearing the way for Jesus to come to her and welcome his bride home to the party. She would be experiencing of one of her favorite bible verses as she is brought by the bridegroom to the banqueting table, where she would be under the banner—the regal majesty—of Christ’s love.
And what does Marci look like today? Someone may ask, “How will the dead be raised? What kind of bodies will they have?” Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. For just as there are natural bodies, there are also spiritual bodies… For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. 1 Corinthians 15:35, 42-44, 53 (NLT)
The Bible tells us that we are created in the image of God, but that the glory of that image had fallen away because of sin and death, having fallen short of God’s glory. So, what does that say of the bodies of those who have been made new, transformed into a body that is immortal; into something glorious on the heaven side of glory?
Of those whose earthly bodies have been transformed into immortal bodies; whatever that looks like, C.S. Lewis said this:
“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship.”
We cannot possibly comprehend Marci’s experience that has gone on for more than the four days that Lazarus had experienced during his time in paradise. Marci is loved right this moment in the presence of brothers and sisters with such authentic love that all we can do is wonder in awe of her experience. Marci lived 97 years. My guess is that there are a whole bunch of brothers and sisters in her heavenly family that she recognized right away, having known and loved them when they were family to her on this side of glory.
Has she met Moses… Abraham… the Apostle Paul… Billy Graham?
Has she asked Peter what is was like to walk on water with Jesus? Has she asked Jesus if she can go walk on water somewhere?
Marci is now one of the cloud of witnesses who has gone before us. I believe she is an ambassador advocating for each one of us most of her day. All has been revealed to her. Why not consider us from a place unobstructed by all the stuff that gets in our way when we pray?
Being that she loved to pray for all those she loved, my guess is that most of her time is spent interceding in the ear of our Lord for each and every one of us. She’s also interceding for God’s favor those that may not have relationship with Jesus; that they would know Jesus in the hope of everything she now knows and is experiencing firsthand. Marci is a prayer warrior who loves and has compassion for those in need. That is still who she is.
Friday, June 29 2018
Posted on June 28, 2018 by Steven Gledhill