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Gems in the Gospel of John

Part 46 – John 11:1-44

Coloured glass?

This study cannot be called a gem, or a jewel of any sort. More like a piece of coloured glass but there is a necessary question to ask if we are going to be honest! Did it really happen? Did Lazarus rise from the dead? Was he really dead when Jesus called him out of the tomb? We might think this harder to believe than the resurrection of Jesus because Jesus was God-man while Lazarus was only a man. John makes this the culminating sign-miracle of his Gospel, more difficult, deeper, more challenging than any of the others.

Lazarus had been in the cave for four days when Jesus arrived. If we apply modern scientific thinking to this situation we ask whether he could have survived in a coma for that long, without any water and a linen cloth wrapped round his face. The answer is that it would be unlikely but not totally impossible. But Jesus said he was dead and we would incline strongly to accept his word for it.

The natural and the supernatural are in complete collision here. Of course, they are right through the Bible so this is only a situation that highlights the problem. The natural, which is all the scientist is prepared to look at, says he must have survived even although John does not record him wobbling when he came out of the cave, as he must have done, and says that Jesus told the onlookers to unwrap him when he would have wanted a drink of water above all else. The supernatural says that it was as John describes it. Lazarus was dead, and had been for four or five days. Jesus was either able to reverse the inevitable decay or on hearing of the problem many days earlier was able to stop the decay so that Lazarus could have his life force reinstated and step out of the tomb.

The fundamental question is then – does the supernatural exist? And is there any reason to think it pervades the scripture of the Bible from beginning to end?

I think it does exist and is evident in the Bible in a way that it is not anywhere else. Why? I don’t know what the ‘official’ answers to that question might be but I will advance this for you to think about. The underlying and over-riding principle of all of scripture is Love. It is consistently held up for our consideration as the highest of all the virtues. It is the prime attribute of God himself. Deuteronomy 7: 7 – 9 says of Israel, “The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.”

At a very different level it is love that brings a man and a woman together. Why do any particular pair fall in love? He could undoubtedly find a more beautiful and more intelligent wife. She could find a bigger, stronger, more handsome fellow. But they fall in love with each other. That is something the scientist cannot analyse. Their mutual attraction is supernatural – above and beyond what is natural.

In every other sign-miracle John records Jesus did not know the people involved before hand. But on this occasion he did. It says, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus”. No wonder he was able to do something far transcending the natural and carry out a supernatural action on this man Lazarus.

I hope you find that argument convincing. Love, the sort of love the Bible talks about, more akin to the love of a parent for a child than a man and a woman for each other, is the driving force of the Bible story from first to last. Learn to know it; to treasure it; to show it in your dealings with other people.

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