And so we got to the tomb. A rock was fixed in place over the entrance of the cave to seal it. And there I saw him. No one else could see him except me. I saw the enemy himself.
Leaning on the gravestone, his hands folded, my foe stared at me through hideous eyes cold from millennia of nothing but darkness. He just stared at me, an ugly sneer playing at his lips.
“It appears we meet again, Son of God,” he said, sarcastically dragging that last part.
So this was the monster that had held man bound for years. The one whose lethal sting festered in the blood of men, bringing them slowly to the grave through sin. This was the one that had kept humanity in chains, in oppression because of sin.
“What do you think you can do here?” he hissed. “Too late to heal this one, so you want to take him out of my hands? Like you did in Galilee? What’s your deal? I have a right to keep them, and you know it. However, you’re too late. It’s been four days. This one’s spirit is long gone.”
Yes, this is the monster that I will defeat on a cross. The last enemy. A painful reminder of what is in store for me.
But I was not there for him. Not yet. I was there for Lazarus. My gaze was set on what lay beyond Death. I would not let him have the final say here. I would not engage him before his time.
I turned to my disciples. “Brothers, take that stone out of the way.”
Martha started at that. “Master, are you—? I mean … he’s … he’s been dead for days! Four days—“
“His spirit’s gone and I get it that you want some closure – I probably even get that more than you do – but … the stink! He’d be rotten by now.You don’t—“
“Martha, dear Martha … didn’t you hear me say you would see God’s glory if you believe?”
She stared at me, wondering if she should dare believe in what I was implying.
Yes, I dared her to believe, to expect the ‘impossible’. Let hope be rekindled in your dear heart. She stared at the tomb, her mouth agape.
“Go on,” I told my disciples. “Get the stone out of the way.”
They were already pushing the large rock. Behind me the crowd gasped in shock, some in horror. It was downright disrespectful disturbing the dead, they must have thought. To some I must have appeared like a hopeless rebel adamant to see my dead friend’s body one last time. The cold interior was opened. And, sure enough, the putrid odour drifted toward us. The others withdrew behind me. But I kept on staring into the darkness beyond, where my friend’s dead body lay.
“So that’s it?” Death scoffed. “You’re just going to ignore me now?”
Never again will death oppress those that believe in me, and those that will believe. The day will come when I will take all that Death has got for their sake, and dump it all on myself. I will die too, yes. But I will rise again. Death will lose its sting. The grave will lose its victory. That’s my Father’s plan.
“You do know that you are just a man,” Death growled. “All men eventually come to me. Men die. You may have taken three or so from my claws … but who will raise you when you fall into my hands, hmm?”
One man would die for all men to be saved. That would be me. It is all playing out as my Father had said. Death’s biggest mistake would be to take me, the one who is Life.
“I will maim you, and crush you, and destroy you before their very eyes, Son of God.”
See? The winner has already been decided. It is already written.
I lifted my eyes. “Thank You, Father! Thank You because You have heard me! Of course, I know You hear me always. I just said that for the people standing here, so they can believe that You have sent me.”
Some thought I had finally snapped. Death was furious, seething because I gave him no heed.
“I will deal you the worst death ever,” he said.
“LAZARUS!” I called out. “COME OUT!”
“You dare take him from my hands—?!“ But then, he vanished. No doubt, with vengeance in his heart.
Death was gone.
The crowd peered into the darkness from a safe distance. In the silence that followed, the passing breeze and the chirping of birds filled our ears. Heavy breathing echoed behind me.
And then there was a scream. Someone had observed movement in the tomb. But then she was not the only one.
“Look! There! Do you see it?”
“See what? Oh, wait … oh my! Oh my—“
“Where? What’s going on?”
“It’s a GHOST!”
But he was not a ghost. My friend bounded out of the tomb to their screams and cries for mercy. I’ll admit, it’s not every day you see a dead man come to life. He was still bound and wrapped up in strips of cloth so he could barely move. “Quick,” I said. “Someone, unwrap him. Get him out of those … clothes.” They hesitated at first, but then some of my disciples went ahead, the others too scared to come. The sisters held back, crying.
When the sheet from his face was removed we all saw him. Lazarus. Thank You, Father.
The sisters ran to embrace him, crying out loud. The screams of terror turned to cries of joy. The man held his sisters, joy streaming from them. The news was spreading, the grapevine already reaching the village: Lazarus is alive! So many people that doubted before believed now. They had now seen what my Father is capable of.
It was totally amazing as faith rose that day. I saw people trust in God again. Many who had given up on God’s saving power were now filled with faith. They could now see that God could do anything, that He was here for them, and that He had sent me here. They had faith in me. These people were getting set up for the days of the kingdom, after the final battle comes to pass, and is won. They will believe. They do believe.
It does not matter that they may not continue believing. My story is not done.
I will die. I will rise. All who believe in me will be filled with eternal life, and they will never fall into Death’s hands. Death will become my vehicle to victory, and theirs too.
It will be painful for me. Torturous and unearthly for me. So that you can be free.
And the result will be awesome. Everyone who believes in me will be filled with the Life that conquers Death. Yes, everyone— even you!
It surely is worth it.
‘Whoever has this hope in him purifies himself, just as He is pure’
1 John 3:3 (NIV)
In the recesses of the study in this palatial mansion, a group of men meet to discuss. They are leaders and priests, the top in the land. And the high priest sits with his fist on his mouth, deep in thought. A messenger has just arrived with the news.
“Are you certain?” one of them asks.
“Yes, sir,” the messenger says. “I saw him with my very eyes. The man lives.”
“BAH! There must be an explanation,” another says dismissively. “No man can bring the dead back to life.”
“He’d been in that tomb for four days, sir!”
“Do you expect us to believe that this demon-possessed Galilean – a chronic blasphemer– can raise the dead?”
“Well … I, uh—“
“It’s a trick, nothing more. A very costly one. There must be a logical explanation.”
“But his sisters mourned four days. We all saw them—“
“Even worse,” another puts in. “With such miracles – or rumors of miracles – this Jesus will have many more people believing in him. They’ll make him some sort of Deliverer. A … a messiah.”
“Some think he’s the Messiah.”
“That could be dangerous.”
“There would be an uprising. They will try to defeat the Occupation.”
“The Romans … they won’t take this lightly. There will be bloodshed. They’ll tighten their control—“
“And we’d be removed from our positions!”
“That … that would not do. For the sake of the people, of course.”
“We must stop this Jesus!”
A very deliberately audible groan from Caiaphas makes them all fall silent. His hand is on his forehead. “You’re all so stupid! Isn’t it obvious what we must do?” He stands, staring them down. “One man dies, and this uprising is no more. One man’s death, and our nation is spared destruction.” The priests warm up to what he’s implying. “He dies … and everyone is saved.”
Truer words have never been spoken, unbeknownst to him.
In the shadows, Death smiles.
It is all playing out as my Father said it would.
Now, more than ever…
…it has begun.
This story is inspired by the eleventh chapter of the account of John Bar Zebedee on the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ, the Son of God.