Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
40th Day of Lent/ Lazarus Saturday
Volume 6 No. 337 March 16, 2016
After 40 days of Lent, like Jesus did in preparing for his public ministry, we have come to the holiest week in the entire Christian Life, the Passion Week. The Great Lent was meant to prepare us to participate in this experience when Jesus Christ died for us on the cross in Calgary on Good Friday and then defeated the death by resurrecting on Easter Sunday when we can proclaim to the world, "He is Risen."

As we complete the 40th day of Great Lent we recall the Temptation of Jesus Christ. Jesus underwent temptation at the end of this fast by Satan. So, we will be tempted too. On Saturday, we recall the last miracle of Jesus Christ prior to his passion, viz., the Raising of Lazarus. This is one of the most important miracles. It is the occasion that features the shortest sentence in bible, "Jesus wept (Cried)." Yes, our savior cried with his friends when he approached the tomb of Lazarus. Isn't it wonderful that Jesus provides us a shoulder to lean on when we are going through those troubles and tribulations in life. No other religion can provide us such a Savior, the Son of God. And then the promise, the most important "I am" statement in my opinion - "I am the resurrection and Life."

The conversation John 11: 21-27 with Martha is very enlightening.

21 Now Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You."

23 Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again."

24 Martha said to Him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day."

25 Jesus said to her (Martha), "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. 26 And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die."

Jesus asked Martha, "Do you believe."

27 She said to Him, "Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world."

This is a great moment. We often highlight the fact that it was Peter who confessed the faith statement that "Jesus is the son of the living God."

There were four statements of faith in Bible that Jesus is the son of God. One here by Martha. One by Nathaniel as mentioned in John chapter 1 when Philip introduced Jesus to Nathaniel:

Nathanael answered and said to Him, "Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!"
John 1:49

The statement by St. Peter as described in Matthew 16:16

15 He (Jesus) said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"

16 Simon Peter answered and said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

17 Jesus answered and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.
Matthew 16:15-17

The last, statement came from St. Thomas after Jesus' resurrection as described in John 20:28

24 Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples therefore said to him, "We have seen the Lord."

So he said to them, "Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe."

26 And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, "Peace to you!" 27 Then He said to Thomas, "Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing."

28 And Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!"

29 Jesus said to him, "Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."
John 20:24-29

We know what Happened soon after Peter's confession and Jesus gave him "keys" to his church. Jesus had to rebuke Peter because Jesus thought Satan had got into him.

After Martha gave the testimony, she was also tested for her true faith. Let us skip to verse John 11:38.

38 Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, "Take away the stone."

Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, "Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days."

40 Jesus said to her, "Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?"

It has been four days since Lazar was buried in the cave. The Jewish tradition is to bury the dead man without embalming like we do in Kerala. So, the body, under normal circumstances, will start decomposing in 24 hours. So, after 4 days, it will be well into the process of decomposition and decay.

Martha knew that. When Jesus said, "Take away the stone" Martha is horrified.

"Lord," she says, "already there is a stench because he has been dead four days." One commentator puts it this way: "The statement of Martha . . . in its dreadful realism no longer betrays a scintilla of faith" (Haenchen, John 2:67).

Jirair Tashjian, grandson of Billy Graham, explained the dilemma further:

How is it that moments earlier she (Martha) made her great confession that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God and now she protests having to remove the stone from the entrance to the tomb? But doesn't Martha's response demonstrate how difficult it is to believe in such a miracle, not only now in this scientific age, but in any age? How can one imagine God doing that which is inconceivable?

Jesus never rebukes Martha, neither should we. We are all like her. The text recognizes the legitimacy of Martha's sentiments. Who has ever heard of someone being restored to life after the body has begun to decay?

There were many instances Jesus rebukes the disciples for their lack of faith. For example, when Peter wanted to walk on water and got afraid when he saw the big waves. Another time, they wanted to heal someone and could not and Jesus said it was due to their lack of faith. Jesus did not chastise them for that. He simply pointed out their lack of faith. Jesus knows that faith is something that has to grow in you. After you see and experience the miracles, the faith, from the size of a 'mustard seed' will start growing in you.

Jirair Tashjian continues:

In the Gospel of John, Jesus does not reprimand sincere people who desperately want to believe but find it difficult to believe because human rationality cannot comprehend how God works. A prime example is Thomas who refuses to believe that Jesus is resurrected unless he has the opportunity to touch Jesus with his fingers. Jesus grants his request. Thomas is not rebuked. The Gospel of John does not demand that rationality be set aside. Faith is not superstitious credulity. In fact, Jesus himself is the logos of God, the Word, the truth. Jesus is not a negation of rational thinking.

The Gospel of John does not expect people like Martha and the rest of us to have an easy time with miracles just because we have confessed Jesus as Son of God. But it also invites us to be open to all that God might want to do even though it may not quite fit our preconceived notions and paradigms. So Jesus says to Martha, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" (v. 40).

Soon Martha, her sister Mary and the assembled Jews see the glory of God being manifested. Lazar walks out of the tomb! If Jesus asked Martha now "Do you believe?", the answer would have been "Yes Rabbi." No doubts, absolutely.

In case of St. Thomas, Jesus again made sure that his doubt is converted to faith.

29 Jesus said to him, "Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."
John 20:29

Jesus knew that only very few people will have the opportunity to experience firsthand the miracles performed by him and to believe, others like us has to believe without 'seeing' after hearing their testimony. So, it is important that so long as Jesus is with them the last iota of doubt be removed so that they can confidently go and preach the New Testament to others who have physically seen Jesus. Jesus' reinstatement of Peter (with the question, 'Do You Love Me?') after Peter's  denial of Jesus three times, is an example of Jesus' attempt to solidify their faith.

The raising of Lazar is one of the great miracles performed by Jesus. It also was the occasion when Jesus gave one of his "I am" statements as well as the occasion of Martha's faith statement. This miracle also hastened the resolve of Jewish temple authorities to kill Jesus because they felt that with the resurrected Lazar walking with Jesus, they will lose the control over the people.

By observing this miracle on the day before Palm Sunday, we do not pay attention to the importance of this day. I do not remember attending church on any Lazarus Saturday. So, even if you don't attend church on that day, please meditate and read on the significance of this great miracle.

Dr. Jacob Mathew
Malankara World


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