The word for today is “sign.” Today the Orthodox stand at the doorway to Holy Week. At this threshold is the story of the raising of Lazarus John 11:1-45. Most of us have gone through so many observances of Christ’s passion that the events of this week might have lost their edge. However, if we take a second look at the story of Lazarus, we will learn to participate in the events as if we were there following the Lord to His Cross and the the appearance as the Risen Christ for the first time. At every step, the Lord speaks and acts in surprising ways. The Scriptures foretold everything that was to occur. And yet, from our point of view, the Lord works in ways that confound our natural human understanding.
A Sign That You May Believe
The surprises begin when Jesus hears that his friend Lazarus is sick. Instead of rushing to heal Him, the Lord waits for two days. He finally announces that He will see his friend only when it seems too late, for Lazarus is dead. He says, “And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless, let us go to him” (NKJV John vs. 15). We might ask why would He not show kindness to His friend? Why put his sisters through the grief of the loss of their brother? Why put himself through the anguish that he showed when He wept before the tomb?
His reason is “that you may believe” (vs. 15). We should pause to ask, “Believe what?” To answer, we note that John presents seven major miracles. This series of acts that show Jesus’ divine power begins with the turning of water into wine at the Wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11). Each of these works are “signs,” that is, manifestations of the Lord’s divinity. The Gospel writer put their purpose this way, “This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him (NKJV John 2:11).
John’s comment teaches us that the “signs” that Jesus performs are meant to manifest His “glory”. That is, they are intended to be visible evidence of His divine Sonship. And this revelation is to foster disciples’ “belief in Him.” The word “believe” in Greek comes from the idea of being persuaded. Thus, the “signs” are to evoke faith. They are to persuade the disciples enough so that they put their entire trust in him (Strong’s #4100).
The Sign of the Lord’s Power Over Death
In the final “sign of our reading,” the Lord manifests His power over death. The drama of the manifestation is gripping. The Lord weeps before the tomb. He orders that the stone in front of the tomb be rolled back to open the burial place. Martha, the practical sister of Lazarus, warns that there would be an odor. Jesus is not deterred. He stands before the open tomb and shouts a command as if He were God Himself at the Last Day, “Lazarus,” he says, “come forth!” And Lazarus comes out of the tomb, still wrapped in his burial clothes but very much alive.
We can consider this striking incident a preview of the climax of the week to come. Angels will roll away the stone from the tomb. But only to reveal that the Lord is not there. He rises not by any command but by His own power. And He leaves His grave clothes behind. He goes forth to appear to His disciples as irrefutable proof that His power of death now will raise to eternal life all who believe in Him.
In summary, in the service of Vespers before Lazarus Saturday, we hear these words from the Lenten Triodion: “O Lord, wishing to give to Thy disciples an assurance of Thy Resurrection from the dead, Thou hast come to the tomb of Lazarus and called to him by name.” Thus, the foreshadowing of the Resurrection in the raising of Lazarus proves and assures us of the Lord’s power over death, the devil, and the grave. In this way, each event of this blessed week is framed, not with a sense of gloom, but with the firm assurance of the victory ahead.