Saturday, November 21, 2015

From the Dead: Lazarus Part One - Special Treatment

I don't actually use the word "special" that much. I realized it while trying to right this blog; I have no idea why, but "special" is just not a part of my day-to-day lexicon. But, after checking out its official definition, I know that I have a desire for special treatment.

Special - better, greater, or otherwise different from what is usual.   
  • When I start dating someone new, he better make me feel special
  • At work, you want to stand-out as an especially valuable employee and get that raise/bonus/employee-of-the-month plaque.
  • On February 14, couples go do something special!
Why do we love that so much? Well, because it feels good! Special treatment is all about making the object of that treatment feel good. Special treatment is a perk of particular types of relationships. Special treatment almost signifies that a close relationship even exists! Parents treat their own children better than somebody else's children. Your BFF can walk into your house, eat your food out of your refrigerator, make messes in your house, and otherwise act like everything is theirs. New friends have to keep to decorum. This difference in treatment is the indication that a different kind of relationship exists. And once you're in a special relationship, you have a reasonable expectation of special treatment.

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 
- John 11:1-3

Why this particular exposition? Why this extra detail about exactly who Mary, Martha and Lazarus are? I think John wants us to know that there is history here:

And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 
- Luke 7:37-38
Lazarus is the brother of that Mary.

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her. 
- Luke 10:38-42

Looking at the way they have interacted. Looking at the way they speak to Jesus and the way Jesus speaks to them. It's clear: these are not just Jesus' disciples. These are His friends! When Jesus goes to Bethany...this is where He crashes. This is where he'd have Friendsgiving if they were kicking it in 2015. So, when they send notice that their brother is sick...when they send notification that the person that Jesus loves is sick...what is the expectation? 

That Jesus comes running! The expectation is "special treatment."

But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it. Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

The underlined sentence kills me. Jesus loved them so He waits. 
Jesus loved them, so He waits?! He waits two days when He's already a two-days journey away from Bethany. He purposely creates a four day delay! Not because He was unconcerned. Not because He didn't care. Not because He wants to hurt them. He did this because He loved them! 
 In reading this passage of scripture one huge truth kept pressing down on me: 

whaaaaa? I don't understand!
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. 
- Isaiah 55:8
God simply does not do things in the way we would do it. It's hard to imagine, but that four-day delay...was the special treatment. And it's so outside of what we would do or expect that we have the audacity to get mad at it. We get incredulous and we question it. This special treatment turns the excited new believer exclaiming "Jesus loves me" to this person who stays at home angry on Sunday morning thinking "God hates me!" Because He didn't come running to clean up your mess the way you thought He should. Because He didn't fix it as fast as you felt your relationship with God demanded. We simply don't understand. It's confusing!

What happened with Lazarus is incredibly curious! Why did Jesus wait for him to be in the tomb for four days? Why did he let His friend go through that? And believe me, they went through something. Lazarus died of an illness, so that includes time that he's in pain. Time that he's suffering. And his sisters are at his bedside. Nursing him. Praying. Waiting for the life-saving arrival of their friend Jesus. They're believing in Him to do something. They're never giving up hope. Until...Lazarus breathes his last. And even then...since they sent word to notify, they're probably watching the door, waiting for Jesus to pull off a resurrection miracle like He's done before. But no one comes. No one comes. So they do what they have to do: they wash Lazarus' body, they anoint him with perfumes, they bind his body in cloths, and they bury him in his tomb. Lazarus is dead. 

So then, way late, Jesus shows up. Martha and Mary both tell Jesus respectively that things would have turned out differently if only He had been there (John 11:21 and John 11:32). And then this is the part that people have explained in different various ways: 

When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. 
- John 11:33-35  

We have an accidental way of painting this picture of "heartless Jesus" or "heartless God." This cosmic "bigger picture" in which was are just cogs in the wheel of God's really huge machine. But, at the same time, we know...God cares about even the sparrows (Matthew 10:29). He is concerned with the lives of His friends. When Jesus saw them weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled. I used to think He was troubled because of their lack of faith. Some theologians say He was moved and troubled by His contemplation of sin and its consequences. But I think...and I could be wrong...that Jesus was moved and troubled because He made them wait. He made them go through this, and it was sad to see them so distraught. He could have given them the special treatment they wanted, but His desire to show them something even more special was greater than the stress He felt from watching cry miserably at His feet. 

These days, we don't have the opportunity to see God cry for us. I wonder what you would think if you saw Jesus cry at the sight of your personal grief. These people saw Jesus cry, and immediately they broke into two camps of thought:

So the Jews were saying, “See how He loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?”- John 11:36-37

They broke into (1) See how much Jesus loved him?! and (2) He saved other people, why not his friend?

And I think because we don't Jesus cry for us, we default to #2. He saved other people! He helped other people! He healed other people! But...what about me? And we start to question our special relationship. But, in every single one of our situations, our relationship is still intact. Jesus isn't questioning it. We are!
So Jesus, again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
- John 11:38-40

This has become my favorite part. Lazarus isn't even raised yet, but this is my favorite part! Jesus, still really deep in His feelings, goes to the tomb and says "remove the stone." And Martha, who was just exclaiming that if only Jesus had been there earlier tries to stop Him! She thinks it's too late for special treatment. The special thing that she wanted from Jesus...the time for it has passed. Her brother is dead. And his body is decaying. He stinks now. But then Jesus says something amazing: 

Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?

And that is it. THAT is the special treatment. To see and behold the glory of God! It's not a commonplace thing. It's not a for-everyone-to-see thing. 
It's something extremely special. It is a special treatment.
And it's reserved for friends.