This Sunday is the Sunday before Palm Sunday. We will end our Lenten journey talking about the resurrection. The prophet Ezekiel wrote this message during the Babylonian exile. The spirit of the People of God was broken. All hope for a future nation was lost. It appeared to them that they would fade away into Babylonian life, never to return. This message of Ezekiel offers them hope. It also offers us hope, when our future seems bleak.
- The Lord transports Ezekiel to a desert valley. A war had been fought there, and the remains of the fallen were all around. There was nothing left but dry bones. (vv. 1-2)
- The Lord asks Ezekiel if these bones can live. The prophet is wise, and redirects the question back to the Lord. The Lord answers by commanding the prophet to prophesy to the bones, telling them that the Lord will bring them back to life. (vv. 3-6)
- Flesh came upon the bones, but there was no “breath” in them. (The word in Hebrew for “breath” also means “spirit”.) The breath-spirit is blown into them, and they live. (vv. 7-10)
- The Lord then announces to Ezekiel that this vision has been a metaphor for the house of Israel. Israel believes that they are washed up and dried out. But the Lord has other plans. He “will place his spirit within” them, and they shall live. (vv. 11-14a)
- Best news of all is that He will place them on their own soil! (v. 14b)
Like Israel in exile, we may also feel like those dry bones—hopelessly lost and forgotten. God promises to breathe new life into us—breathe his spirit into us, renewing our spirit.
The first part of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome is devoted to making the point that everybody is a sinner, and we cannot save ourselves. Our only hope of salvation is a free gift, obtained by our belief in Jesus as God’s Son. Now, Paul talks about our new lives in the spirit, contrasting it with our old, former lives “in the flesh”.
- We have a choice to live “in the Spirit” or “in the flesh”. This is a life or death choice; it is one or the other. If we do not focus on living our lives in the Spirit, we are turning our backs on God. There is no way to please Him. (vv. 6-8)
- Paul lifts the reader up now—“but you are not like that, you are in the Spirit”. God dwells in us. Oh, by the way, all those others who are not in the spirit do not belong to him. (v. 9)
- While verse 9 emphatically states that we do live in the Spirit, Paul now uses the word “if” several times. I suggest reading these passages twice, once as-is, and second time substituting “since” for the word if. You’ll feel the full impact of the words. “If/since” we are now in the Spirit, our old bodies are dead because of sin. But because we are raised with Christ into life in the Spirit, we experience a sort of rebirth or resurrection. (vv. 10-11)
We live in the flesh when we serve our own selfish interests. Life in the Spirit involves self-giving, rather than self-serving. We should die to our old selfish ways, and daily strive to live our lives in the Spirit, giving of ourselves to others. In this passage, Paul lifts Jesus us as our superhero of self-giving. We need to strive to keep Jesus in our hearts, rather than our self-serving desires.
This is the story about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. It can be considered one of the high points of the gospel of John. It also marks a turning point in the gospel narrative, shifting from the stories of Jesus’ signs or miracles to Jesus discussing God’s glory. In today’s passage we have both. We also get a glimpse of Jesus’ tender side. He loved this family, perhaps more than any other. That is also clear in this reading. But the real question for you and me is what God wants us to understand about Jesus through this story. This is a long story. Let’s get started.
- It begins with a little refresher as to who this “certain man” Lazarus was, as well as his sisters. There was a pre-existing relationship between them and Jesus. Now, Lazarus is ill. They send word to Jesus-the-healer, identifying Lazarus as “he whom you love”. Yes, they were close friends indeed. (vv. 1-3)
- Jesus sort of shrugs off the call to come and heal his friend, stating that God had bigger plans. This must have seemed quite confusing to those around him! (vv. 4-5)
- Surprisingly, Jesus dilly-dallies two days before heading to Lazarus’ aid! Finally, he tells his disciples they’re going. A discussion ensues. They know that going there is dangerous for Jesus. But Jesus has a mission, and nothing will deter him. (vv. 6-10)
- He confuses is disciples by saying that Lazarus has “fallen asleep”. He clarifies this, which confuses Thomas into saying something rather silly. (vv. 11-16)
- By the time they got there, Lazarus has already been dead four days. A large crowd had gathered, even some from Jerusalem. Martha, hearing that Jesus was on his way, came to greet him while he was still far off. (This was a customary practice of the day.) Mary stayed at home, which you may recall was her custom. (vv. 17-20)
- Martha tells Jesus that if he had been there while her brother was still alive, that he might have been able to do something. I sense that she was not very happy with the situation. They talk about Lazarus rising again. Martha expresses her belief in resurrection on the last day. But Jesus has something different in mind. (vv. 21-24)
- Next, we have the key verses of this passage. Jesus makes one of the “I am” statements that appear throughout John’s gospel*, and this is a biggie. He is the resurrection and the life. Those of us who believe in him will never die. (vv. 25-26a)
- Then, Jesus asks her if she believes what he just said. (v. 26b)
- Now, it is her turn to make a profound statement. She says yes, and furthermore calls him the Messiah that they’ve been waiting for. (v. 27)
- Now, she and Mary trade places. Mary also expresses frustration in Jesus’ not being there to heal her brother. (vv. 28-32)
- Seeing Mary weep causes Jesus to weep. There is no doubt that he loves this family! Even though he knows what he is about to do, it must have broken his heart to put them through all this agony. (v. 33)
- The scene shifts quickly to the site of the tomb. Many are there. Many share Mary and Martha’s frustration and confusion. He orders the stone to be rolled back, in spite of the stench. Jesus prays aloud, not so much to ask his Father for assistance, but to demonstrate to the crowd where Jesus’ power originates, and that they might believe. (vv. 34-42)
- You know the rest. He shouts to Lazarus to come out of the tomb, which he does. Orders are given to care for the living Lazarus. (vv. 43-44)
- The passage concludes with an important note. Many of “the Jews” (I suspect that these were of the school of “doubting Jews”) were moved to believe in Jesus.
According to John, he wrote his gospel so that the reader might come to believe in Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. (John 20:31) In this story, a woman (not a man!) proclaims Jesus as just that. On these last days of our Lenten journey, it is fitting that we remind ourselves that Jesus truly is the resurrection and the life. He is God’s Son, our brother and savior.
The “I am” statements in the gospel of John:
- Bread of Life (6:35, 48, 51)
- Light of the World (8:12, 9:5)
- Door of the Sheep (10:7, 9)
- Good shepherd (10:11, 14)
- Resurrection and the Life (11:25)
- Way, the Truth, and the Life (14:6)
- True Vine (15:1)