‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 17. Crisis, Triumph & Uncertainty
Jn 11:44-47 Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.
Context : Now we covered the incident involving Lazarus in Study No.6 “Uncertainty when Jesus Delays”, but now we are going to revisit it, not so much in respect of that uncertainty but the uncertainty that it brought, I suspect to the minds of the disciples. I think it is very difficult for us, having the rest of the Gospels showing us what then went on and how it all worked out, to catch the feelings of the disciples who were there, part of it, watching all that was happening, and all they felt about Jesus.
The Disciples: I think it would have been impossible to have been travelling with Jesus and not be almost overwhelmed by the wonder of what was happening on what seemed like a daily basis. In the previous study we observed the amount of healing that went on, much of it very spectacular and, we also noted, they had been witness to the miracles Jesus performed. I don’t think we can grasp what they felt about Jesus in the light of all this. Yet there are those that suggest that his otherwise very ordinariness might have lulled them into complacency. They remind us that Isaiah prophesied, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him,” (Isa 53:2b) and thus it is possible that really the disciples were surprised by all he did.
Preparations to Leave: The fact that Jesus spent a number of weeks in Galilee with them after his resurrection, where he, “spoke about the kingdom of God,” (Acts 1:3) and telling them about the coming Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4,5) rather suggests, that despite having taught them extensively at the Last Supper (see Jn 13-16), he nevertheless had not focused in further detail on the years following when he would not be with them. That had been partly spelled out at the Last Supper, as we’ve noted before – see Jn 14:2,3, 18,19, 25,26, 28-31, 15:26,27 – where numerous times he had been trying to warn them he would be leaving them. And then as we saw in the earlier study he set his face towards Jerusalem and started telling them how bad it was going to be – without them taking it in!
The Lazarus Incident: And then while they are in the area to the east of the Jordan the news comes about Lazarus, they eventually go, Lazarus dies before they get there, and so after the body has been dead for four days Jesus raises him back to life. There is no doubt about this, this is a ground-breaking miracle. That is Jn 11 but from what follows and reading Luke’s account of Jesus in Jericho, it would appear that they left Bethany, went to Jericho and then came back, when we read, “Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honour. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” (Jn 12:1-3) We tend to focus in this story on the thing about Jesus being anointed with nard but perhaps what is even more important is the setting for soon we read, “Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him.” (12:9-11)
So Lazarus has become somewhat of a celebrity, the man who had come back from the dead, and it is perhaps because of this that the other three synoptic Gospels, written much earlier, don’t mention him, in order to give him peace and not have to put up with sightseers. But the event of Lazarus being raised has ongoing repercussions: “Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him. So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!” (12:17-19)
So we’ve seen that this miracle has, first of all, so stirred up the temple priesthood (12:10) that they were not only were planning to kill Jesus but Lazarus as well, because his presence alive was giving credibility to Jesus. Now also the Pharisees, who had always been opposed to Jesus, were also reaching despair over Jesus (12:19).
The Disciples Again: Now one cannot help wondering if the disciples were living in blissful ignorance, but I think that is unlikely because there would have been so much chatter in the general population about all that was happening and rumours would be leaking out of the Temple and among the Pharisee watchers among them. Remember Jesus has told them at least three times that in Jerusalem he would be arrested and killed, but the accounts tell us, as we’ve seen, that they just couldn’t take it in. I have a feeling, and I may be wrong, that if I had been one of the disciples at this time I would be feeling slightly uneasy if these things were coming to our ears, and maybe I might even have felt, raising Lazarus from the dead this close to Jerusalem and this close to the Passover when so many people are starting to gather there, wasn’t such a good idea, in the light of the effect it has had on the authorities.
Worrying Conflicts: As I said earlier, I think it is difficult for us to comprehend what they were feeling but I suspect confusion and uncertainty may have been lurking in the background. On the one hand there has been an amazing impact on the people after Lazarus has been raised, and when we come back from Jericho we can’t help bathing in the celebrity status that surrounds Lazarus. Moreover the crowds are looking to the Master to do even greater things at the coming feast.
But on the other hand, there is this growing black cloud of hostile opposition that is coming from the Temple authorities (who are mostly Sadducees) and from that powerful conservative force who hold sway in the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees. And in the background will be the Roman authorities watching out for any potential trouble that might boil over at such a nationalistic event as the Passover, which celebrates the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, the people of God being delivered from heir oppressors. The swelling crowds who are buoyantly getting more and more enthusiastic about a possible Messiah being here, are adding to this growing sense of unease. We have, I suggest, because the raising of Lazarus was relatively soon before the coming feast, and yet sufficiently earlier that it allowed the news to spread and rumours to build, a caldron waiting to boil over. As a disciple, I’m starting to feel increasingly uneasy about this, especially as the Master doesn’t seem concerned about it. (The Last Supper warning are yet to come).
And Us? I think there are times when things go wrong in the Christian world, where leaders fall off their pedestal or the media give Christians a bad time. There are times in our own life circumstances when things suddenly blow up, apparently without any warning. The important thing in any such times is to remember the Lord knows all about it, saw it coming and is not phased by it. Somehow he will weave it into his will in such a way that a good picture will emerge on the other side, when all we can see are the hanging threads at the back of the picture (tapestry).
Remember the promise: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28) When he called us it was for a purpose that is in his heart (Eph 2:10) but he doesn’t promise that it will all be smooth going, that it will never seem to be going pear-shaped. Jesus was working to a plan as he approached Jerusalem for that final time but as far as the often-confused disciples were concerned that was often seen through a filter of uncertainty in their minds. Wait until we get to the other side, and don’t panic in the meantime.