Our journey through the Bible continues to focus on the gospel of John, the most theologically oriented of the four gospel accounts. Today's reading includes the story of the raising of Lazarus, which demonstrates that Jesus not only has power to forgive sins and heal diseases, but that he has dominion over death itself. The gospel of John, more than the other three gospels, seeks to demonstrate that belief in Jesus is truly a matter of life and death. The most famous verse of the bible, John 3:16, states that God's love for the world is revealed through his Son, who came that all who believe in him should not perish, but have eternal life. Jesus is the one who holds the power of life and death in his hands. Jesus himself said that he came that we might have life and have it abundantly (10:10).
The eternal life that Jesus offers is indeed the promise of a future existence after our physical death, but we begin to live into the meaning of that promise in this present life. In other words, eternal life begins the moment we come into relationship with Jesus, continues throughout our earthly life, and is perfected after our death, when we will abide completely in the presence of Jesus. This is precisely the point that Jesus is making to Martha, the sister of Lazarus. When Jesus speaks of Lazarus rising again, Martha immediately assumes that Jesus is referring to a future event. What she doesn't fully realize is that the embodiment of resurrection life is standing in front of her. Jesus declares that the promise of resurrection is not something relegated to the distant future, but is rather a present reality in our lives through his abiding presence with us. Therefore, according to John's gospel, the rejection of Jesus is not only the rejection of eternal life after death, but it is the rejection of what it means to be truly alive and human in this present life.
Finally, a word about Lazarus. Although we refer to the raising of Lazarus, scholars are quick to point out that what happened to Lazarus is markedly different than what happened to Jesus. For Lazarus, his life was extended for a period, but he ultimately died (physically) again. The resurrection of Jesus was a permanent change of state. Jesus was dead, but is now alive and will be alive forever. For us as Christians, our hope is in the resurrection of Jesus. Our hope is that we will someday share in his resurrection and abide with him in God's new creation. But I will talk more about that on Saturday!