When Jesus heard Lazarus was really sick, he stayed two more days where he was, because, the Bible tells me, he loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus.
Does that sound wrong to anyone else? Wouldn’t you go immediately to the house of a good friend who was at the point of death?
Sometimes we get so wretchedly familiar with the events of the Bible that we miss out on how absurd and tragic and pointless some events must have seemed to the participants. Where is Jesus? Why hasn’t he come? Doesn’t he care?
When Eve stood trembling with lies, distrusting God, and then Adam, too, God stayed where he was. When Joseph was thrown in a pit, sold as a slave, accused of attempted rape, and thrown in jail for years, God stayed where he was. When the Hebrews became slaves for years, for decades, then for centuries, God stayed where he was. Abram and Sarai were desperate to see God’s promise fulfilled. Years had gone by. Childbearing years are long gone for me, but Abraham might still have a chance. Hagar. Take her into the tent. And God stayed where he was.
Most of us know all the stories. But do we know, really know as a gut-level knowing, the central theme, that shimmering thread that runs through all the biblical events? Resurrect.
Why does God wait until all is dead and empty, until wombs are dried up, until there is no water, until chains of slavery cut past wrists and necks into the deepest parts of the heart? Why does he stay where he is, until we lose, lose, lose, until supple dreams harden like clay, into granite, and then crumble into dust?
I more than suspect, after forty-some-odd years of my own ups and downs as a believer, that there is a core reality that he wants us to know – that his Life in us is greater than any outer death. The one who believes, who trusts, who relies on Christ is a partaker of that same Life. You are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if the Spirit of God dwells in you, says the Apostle Paul. I am the resurrection and the life. I am the Vine; you are the branches; apart from Me you can do nothing, says Jesus. Christ in you, the hope of glory, I no longer live, but Christ lives in me, and his energy works dynamically within me, says the Apostle Paul.
I’ve been through a few of my own death-resurrection experiences. An early one: mom remarried a widower with six kids when I was seven. I embraced life with those four new sisters and two new brothers, and they embraced me. I was in. Johnny was my age, and for four years we did nearly everything together.
Four years later, one bright morning, not long before I turned eleven, my Mom and stepdad had a misunderstanding. Mom tried to change his mind, but he was stubborn. I learned all of that ten or more years later, when I was in my twenties. My stepdad told his six kids to get some of their things together and get in his Studebaker pickup. I felt confused, and wasn’t sure what it was all about. But he looked at me, said, “Take care of your Mom,” and walked out the front door. My brothers and sisters quickly joined him.
As the Studebaker started up, with three in the cab and the rest in the back, I felt nothing because it didn’t seem real. They drove ten feet and the truck blew a tire. My stepdad got out, frustrated, and our neighbor Don joked, “The Lord works in mysterious ways.” My stepdad said he didn’t think that was funny, and bent down to jack up the truck. No one offered to help him. The rest of us stood around together, and my step-siblings got out of the truck, talking, but something was cast over us now, like a funeral service for someone with a once-bright future. We talked, but in hushed tones.
The spare was soon on, and the truck was running again. They all got back in, and the Studebaker lurched and revved in first gear. Our narrow little street was short, maybe five or six houses long before it hit Mooney Flat Road and the road dipped down a hill just before it got there. The last house on the row had a small and faded red barn.
I watched my stepsiblings watching me as they dipped out of sight. A moment later I heard the gears crunch at the stop sign. The engine revved again, the clutch popped, and I listened to that white Studebaker shifting up the road until I could hear nothing but the breeze, the birds, and a bee. The top-knot chickens in the back yard went on clucking.
I went into the house and sat with my back against the wall at the back of the boys’ bedroom. I felt empty, blank. And God stayed where he was. I didn’t see them again for twenty years; it took longer than that to process it.
Unless a seed falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.
Forty years later I can see eternal and temporal reasons for that seed falling into the ground and dying. Without it, I wouldn’t have moved at thirteen to my Dad’s house, or worked at his music store, or played music for a living. Without music I wouldn’t have met my wife, or had our two children. Would I have learned to run again and again into God if I had felt my life was good, full, and enough?
The Father is more focused on our eternal, long-term benefits and character than our short-term, temporal enjoyment. Jesus had temporal desires and realities nailed to his cross. “It is finished.”
Did God make my stepdad leave? Peter says to the men of Israel, “Jesus…being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.”
“You have taken…and slain…” My stepdad did what he did. God didn’t do it. But Jesus could not be held by any kind of death. With that same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead living in us, neither can we.
Resurrection is in the very nature of God, because he is Life. We get that. But what we sometimes miss is that same nature resides in us by the Holy Spirit, and we are alive with that same life. 2Peter 1:4 says we are “partakers of the divine nature” through knowing Christ, that we have everything we need for life and godliness in him who called us to glory and virtue.
It’s not simply being saved from God’s wrath, and hell, but, as Paul puts it, “….do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:2-4)
For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. (Romans 8:3b-4)
The Resurrection, for the believer, means a redefinition, a renaming of ourselves, a reorientation. It means life comes out of death. It means we know there is eternal life in us, life in this seed that is planted again and again in dark, muddy ground. Life in us will always spring up out of death, again, and again, and again, until the day there is no more death.