Harrowing Of Hell
March 29, 2020

Lazarus and My Belief

The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.

To listen to the sermon click here.

Good morning. It is nice to be with you today, joined fiber optically…but God is here, with me and with you, and where we are, wherever we are, the Holy Spirit is with us as well; and today is Sunday, so we are invited to the dance of liturgy, even if you are still in your pajamas… I see you. Heck some might mistake this alb for pajamas. 

Anyway, I meet you with great optimism in my heart because of the story we hear in the Gospel today. This story changed my life, because it changed my relationship with Jesus. Today I want to tell you why; I want to witness to you, because witness changes the world. 

The Gospel is about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. This story is what inspires me to proclaim to you during this time of the Great Timeout: that the bad thing is never the last thing.

Now I’ve had some push back from a few people on this line of reasoning. They say it is not true. One woman said to me: “What about the six million Jews?” Another wondered about the fear this invisible specter of death provokes, causing people to cross the street as you approach, and forcing us into isolation all in an effort to dodge death. And we still can’t; and worse yet, we can’t do anything to ensure the safety of those we love. How are those things not bad things?

Indeed, this coronavirus is insidious, infiltrating our thoughts with lightning strikes of fear,  much of which stir around the reality of our mortality, our death…and this is a last thing that we consider a bad thing.

The author of the Gospel of John witnesses to a different reality. He does so very intentionally; quoting Jesus saying: “This illness does not lead to death, rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (Jn 11:40). This illness does not lead to death?  Well, it seems to have. Lazarus died. He is dead. Four days in the tomb. Even if he wasn’t dead four days ago, he is now.

But here we see the author doing what the author has done repeatedly throughout the Gospel of John; he has tried to reform the readers thinking, from perceiving Jesus as simply a great teacher and healer, to understanding Jesus as the Second person of the Trinity; as God incarnate, who lives and moves and speaks with the perspective of God. As the prophet Isaiah reminds us: “’My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor my ways your ways,’ says the Lord” (Isa 55:8-9).

Here in Bethany, at the tomb of Lazarus, whom Jesus loved, as he sees all the heartbreak and mourning and tears; Jesus weeps. Many have claimed that his tears were tears that showed his deep love for Lazarus…and this is true, but only true in part. 

On a side note incidentally, it is interesting to note that throughout the Gospels Jesus only loved three people specifically, by name: the Rich Young Man in the Gospel of Mark (Mk 10:20); Lazarus, in the Gospel of John (Jn 11:3); and also, the Disciple Whom Jesus Loved in the Gospel of John. (Jn 13:23)

But, back to the tears, I also don’t wonder if Jesus’s tears were over the fact that even his closest friends, like Mary and Martha, and his students, the disciples, had failed to realize that he is the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, present in the world for the glory of God. Over and over the author of John has tried to make this point, that Jesus is also God; which why he opens the Gospel with: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (Jn 1:1-4). 

And again, the author makes this claim through the words of John the Baptist: “This is the one of whom I said, he who comes after me, ranks ahead of me, because he was before me” (Jn 1:15 & 30). John the Baptist says it twice. 

Finally, we are given a personal witness to Jesus’ status as the Second Person of the Trinity by Lazarus and his witness changed my worldview.It begins when Jesus says: “Lazarus come out!” (Jn 11:43). This starts a chain of events that end with the realization that the bad thing is never the last thing.

Let me explain. There they stand at the tomb of Lazarus; Jesus, Mary and Martha, with others, many others wailing and mourning the death of Lazarus…and Jesus says: “Take away the stone” (Jn 11:39). Martha, the practical one, suggests that after four days it isn’t such a good idea…you know, Lord, it stinketh. (That is the King James version.) 

But Jesus overrules her protest, and the stone is rolled away. Then “he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’” (Jn 11:43). “The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to the crowd, ‘Unbind him, and let him go’” (Jn 11:44).

Now what we see here reflects, as a mirror image, the description of what thousands upon thousands of people who have died and then returned from the dead have described their experience to be. They died. They saw a light. They heard their name called by a familiar voice, with love. They go towards the voice and the light, and there they are met by people who love them, in the presence of God, and they are liberated, freed from that which bound them in their mortal days. Maybe you heard something like that at some point in your life?

Well, we see the same thing with Lazarus, but here it is a movement from eternity back to mortality.  He is reanimated by the power and intention of God. The stone is rolled back (now imagine this from Lazarus’ perspective) and through the cloth that is covering his eyes, he sees the light. He hears his name called out, called in love by a familiar voice. He stumbles toward the voice and the light, and then is met by people who love him. They unbind him and set him free. 

And this experience is exactly the same experience he had when he died the first time, and was received into eternity: the light, the name called, the unbinding, and then, seeing, the eternal person of Jesus, face to face: there in eternity and now back again in mortality. Jesus in both places: Jesus, the 2nd person of the Trinity, the Son of God.

There is a little-known theory that I have heard, that Lazarus is the author of the Gospel of John, and also known as The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved. And through my study of John, I have come to believe that this is true.

If you would like to hear my extended defense of this theory, you can find it by going to the front page of our website which will connect you to YouTube Epiphany Seattle, Lazarus – The Author of the Gospel of John.

Suffice it to say, that it makes sense to me that a man who died and saw Jesus, and then was resuscitated from the dead and saw Jesus again, had the unique capacity to open the Gospel of John this way: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning and all things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. And what has come into being through him is life, and the life was the light to all people ” (Jn 1:1-4). 

Jesus gives us life. Jesus is our light. Jesus is with us here, in this time of coronavirus, and Jesus will be with us when we die. I believe that to the core of my being. And we will die. We all will die. Some deaths will be more complicated that others, and suffering is terrible…and that topic is for another sermon.

Though I am reminded of what the Apostle Paul says about suffering: “Suffering produces endurance, endurance produce character, character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us” (Rom 5:3-5) For what do we hope? Paul continues on: “because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Rom 3:5). Then Paul adds for good measure: “For while we were still weak (like we are right now) Christ died for you and me” (Rom 5:6).

Jesus died. And then he rose again…and it is because Jesus rose again that we are souls stamped by the imprimatur of resurrection. We are people of the resurrection.  And so, we know, that the bad thing is never the last thing as people of resurrection.

This is what is revealed to us through witness of Lazarus–Because of Lazarus–I believe that there is no place we can go, even to the grave, that separates us from the love of God. For God never puts an end to anything that God loves. And God loved Lazarus; and God loves me; and God loves you; and God loves those you love.

And so, I invite you to study my claim that Lazarus is the author of the Gospel of John; and, I pray, you will see what I have come to believe to the core of my being, that Jesus is God, the Second Person of the Trinity, present in the world for the glory of God.

You may have many questions like: Why did Lazarus name this Gospel the Gospel of John? Why isn’t Lazarus in other Gospels? Why was his authorship hidden? See my teaching on YouTube. 

But what I want you to take away today, what I want you to know is in this time of the Great Timeout – is that while there is death, death is not the end, it is an event, and whether we are on this side of death’s curtain or that side of death’s curtain, Jesus is there.

And so never fear or be downtrodden, we are Christians we are people of the resurrection, and so, we know that even when the world looks its worst, the bad thing is never the last thing.