38Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
Walking with Mary and Martha, Jesus came to the tomb. It was a cave carved from the rock, with a large stone lying against it – to seal it from wild animals. Jesus told them to roll away the stone. Martha, the always practical one, says you know he’s been dead 4 days; there is going to be a terrible stench! Before the days of refrigeration and embalming bodies were wrapped and anointed with aromatic spices to help, but would soon smell. (Although the Egyptians were expert at embalming, it was not a practice common to the Jewish people, and, in fact, would have been forbidden. The Law required a person to be buried within a short time of death.) However, Lazarus’ body had not begun to compose – Jesus had known the moment that he had died, and had already intervened from the distance to prevent that. Jesus tells Martha that he had told her she would see the glory of God, and now she really would! And so, they took away the stone that had been placed over the opening.
Jesus prayed. How often do we read that Jesus prays? In every gospel, we see prayer a constant in Jesus’ life. Occasionally, as here, the writer tells us what he is praying. He begins by thanking God for hearing him – he knows that God always hears him, but he says this for the sake of those standing around him, that they may see the greatness of God and believe that it was God who sent Jesus.
And after he prayed, Jesus called for Lazarus to come out. Notice, Jesus prayed first, then acted. How often do we get that backwards? How often do we decide on a course of action, embark on the action, and then ask God to bless it? But the next thing that happened was truly amazing: Lazarus walked out of the tomb – this was not some “zombie” but it was really the man who had been dead, with the grave clothes still wrapping him. And Jesus commanded them to set him free. Lazarus was restored to life, resuscitated back to his living, physical body.
This is vastly different from what would happen with Jesus. When Jesus died he would be truly dead; he would not be resuscitated to this life, he would be resurrected into a new life. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, “42 So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. 43It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. 45Thus it is written, ‘The first man, Adam, became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. 47The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is* from heaven. 48As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. 49Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will* also bear the image of the man of heaven.” With Jesus, we too can have eternal life.