Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus,
‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’
But when Jesus heard it, he said,
‘This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’
Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples,
‘Let us go to Judea again.’
The disciples said to him,
‘Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?’
‘Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.’
After saying this, he told them,
‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.’
The disciples said to him,
‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.’
Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly,
‘Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’
Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow-disciples,
‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’
When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus,
‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’
Jesus said to her,
‘Your brother will rise again.’
Martha said to him,
‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’
Jesus said to her,
‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’
She said to him,
‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.’
When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately,
‘The Teacher is here and is calling for you.’
And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him,
‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said,
Where have you laid him?’
They said to him,
Lord, come and see.’
Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said,
‘See how he loved him!’
But some of them said,
‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’
Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus 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 for four days.’
Jesus said to her,
‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’
So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said,
‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. I 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.’
When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice,
‘Lazarus, come out!’
Scientists believe that the Universe is self-consistent, that is, that every event which occurs does so in accord with a set of rules commonly called the Laws of Physics or Natural Laws. At any point in history, we may not know all the rules and some rules may be probabilistic so that more than one outcome is possible. But rules are rules. When something comes along that seems to violate these rules, the scientist needs to consider whether or not their understanding of the rules is correct, or if a new set of rules needs to be formulated to resolve this violation. That’s how quantum mechanics came about in the early 20th Century for example.
Occasionally, an extremely unusual, possibly unique, event occurs which might be difficult if not impossible to explain within the current framework of natural law. Depending on its nature, some people may refer to the event as a miracle, especially if the event is one of healing or some such. However, the scientist may eschew the word miracle, agreeing with philosophers like Hume that as a matter of principle miracles cannot occur, so that all such events will ultimately be explicable in rational terms.
Thinking about miracles is at present an active field of study in science and religion circles, with scientists and theologians seeking to shed light on the subject. Believer scientists may seek to invoke the somewhat spooky world of quantum mechanics as the vehicle for divine action and theologians like Pannenberg and Nichols suggest that miracles happen when God chooses to act in the world but that this action is expressed in the context of faith and prayer.
Bringing Lazarus back to life is an event which may be described as miraculous. The focus of faith and prayer is Jesus himself through whom the miracle is mediated. The nub of the passage is then Jesus’ firm emphasis on the glory of God and not the act itself.
Focussing our lives in prayer and on the glory of God revealed in Jesus may result in miracles, although they may be less spectacular!
(pause for reflection between each line)
Wonderful God open my eyes to the everyday miracles in life. Focus my life on Jesus that I too may be a mediator of your action today.
The Rev’d Ron Reid is a retired minister in the Mersey Synod serving as Link Minister at Rock Chapel, Farndon. He is a member at Upton-by-Chester URC.