Palm Sunday 2005 (March 20th)
Texts: John 11:17-48, Ezekiel 37: 1-14 & Romans 8:6-11
The stupendous events of Easter were precipitated by the developments surrounding the raising of Lazarus from the dead—which we read about in John 11. Specifically, we should note that Ezekiel 37 was fulfilled in this incident and that witness. Both friendly and hostile insured that this event would not pass unnoticed. The friendly witnesses include the gospel writer who views the events positively as a demonstration of Jesus’ full divinity: ”I am the resurrection and the life
. . . he who believes in Me shall live.” (v. 25) The centrality of faith, of saving belief, could not be more clear. It is by faith that God’s Spirit comes to dwell in the believer resulting in resurrection life which is eternal life effective now and never ending. The raising of Lazarus is a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy—in this case, that of Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones. The specific promise is that through the impartation of the Spirit (“I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live . . . Then you shall know that I, the Lord have spoken it and performed it.” v. 14) the dead will be raised. There can be little doubt as to the Messianic claim embedded in the raising of Lazarus; it also doubles as a claim to divinity: I, the Lord have spoken and performed it. (v. 14}
Romans 8:9-11 expounds the necessity of being in the Spirit and explains how the resurrection prophesied occurs. The Spirit of God is in view here and it is equated with the Spirit of Christ. This is the same indwelling Christ referenced in Rev. 3:20 where we read, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with me.” And this verse connects with John 17: 21-24 where Jesus prays that we may be one, as He and the Father are one—that we may be one with them. He also prays that we share His glory and perfection in addition to place. What is in view here is the complete and perfect unity of love between Father, Son, Spirit and us, those who have life by virtue of our faith, our saving belief! Romans 8 mediates between the Old Testament prophecy (Ezekiel) and the gospel fulfillment in John 11—where the grave is opened (John 11:39 “And Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ “this parallels Ezekiel 37:13 “You shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves . . . and brought you up from your graves.”) We also read in Matthew 27:52-3 “and the graves were opened; and the bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many,” an even more explicit connection with Ezekiel’s prophecy. The saints are the “holy ones” which some equate with the patriarchs and prophets of antiquity who were released from their state of suspension (“sleep”? or lying in the bosom of Abraham) now that the Christ had been fully revealed in Jesus—manifesting a mini-resurrection, a foretaste of things to come. (Those who die in faith now go to be with Jesus and await His return in a marvelous conscious condition of spiritual communion. So they shall remain until the Lord brings soul and body back together—at the resurrection—and then by His Spirit ushers all the saints into eternal life with Him, body, soul and spirit.) So, we have a word prophesied in Ezekiel 37, that same word performed in John 11 and that word explained in Romans 8
That fulfillment of prophecy, that confluence of things is precisely what causes the council to be convened (v.47) between the chief priests and the Pharisees. It is the report of this miracle that leads them to believe that Jesus must be eliminated—to preserve their place of religious prominence and the existence of the nation itself. It became expedient for Jesus to die “for the people,” but hardly in the sense that Caiaphas meant it! He meant that what was in the peoples’ best interest was for things to remain the same—and ironically, he spoke prophetically as the current high priest. Purportedly, their fear was that of a popular uprising, something that the Romans would view as an insurgency, or uprising/revolt. We understand this as an inference from the charge of sedition although it is not explicitly stated in Scripture.
This said, let’s journey deeper into John 11. We begin with Jesus’ late arrival. Late, I say, because Lazarus has died and the time expended in getting there means that Lazarus has been in the grave for four days. Mary and Martha are still surrounded by comforting friends, relative and, probably professional mourners—even in those days, there were funeral services to be had. So things are busy. Martha expresses her complaint to the Lord: if you had been here, all this wouldn’t have happened. We know, from vv. 4,15, that Lazarus’ death is permitted for “the glory of God” and for “belief,” saving belief, in Jesus. By this I mean that Jesus as the divine “I am” is indeed “the resurrection and the life”. Believing in Him means eternal life. Martha’s understanding of the Christ does not extend quite this far. At this point, Jesus is still outside the town limits. Martha fetches Mary and while she tries to slip away privately, the crowd follows here because they are concerned for her. They suppose that she is going to weep some more at the tomb. She is in the same space that Martha was when she first met the Lord; that is, she is in a place of unbelief. The raising of Lazarus, her brother, is aimed at correcting that spiritual deficiency in both sisters. The hope is that they will understand through the fulfillment of prophecy, through the miracle just exactly who He is. It has been suggested that Jesus’ inner turmoil here is directed either at this prevalent unbelief, or at the coming confrontation with death, the last enemy of mankind. Of course, it is true that Jesus loved Lazarus, but, knowing Who He is and knowing that He has not lost Lazarus at all, their surmise of Jesus’ grief is off the mark. Of course Jesus could have kept Lazarus from dying, but the Lord of life is about to reveal His divine nature to all! He is Lord of the dead and of the living!!
“Take away the stone.” That stone covered the tomb. It also allowed death to hide from Christ even if only briefly. The realism of the moment, “By this time there is a stench,” argues against this being made up! “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” Then Jesus prays both publicly and loudly—so as to be overheard. He declares something rather daring, “I know that you always hear Me.” He adds that this demonstration of unity of purpose with God is expressed so that they may know that the Father sent Him. Now the time is right, so Jesus commands, “Lazarus, come forth.” Please consider that Jesus is addressing a corpse—a dead man. Such an entity has no hearing, no consciousness. So, something has already occurred to make this miracle possible. Lazarus’ soul has been reunited with his body and by the Spirit he has been raised. He responds to the Lord. Now his entrance is far from normal, or natural for his body although alive is still bound head and foot. Therefore Jesus tells the people around to remove the grave-clothes, the wrappings which contained burial herbs and spices and to let him go.
The immediate result is that many believe in Him. But some did not. They departed to report what Jesus had done to the authorities. Note, please, they do not quarrel at all with the veracity of the events—that is, they take no exception. They do not claim that this was trickery, a sleight of hand—a faked decease and resuscitation. Now, when we read about the crowd crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord,” we know that Jesus’ messianic descent is claimed by some, believed completely by some. And if the descendent of David, He was then certainly a king. The hopes of a restored monarchy soared—of course, this was in the wrong direction; but it does make a certain sense. The political implications are inescapable. In this vein the religious authorities were on to something. Still, Jesus had spoken publicly and He did not set Himself up in opposition to Rome. His Kingdom was not of this world and the clarification before Pilate was not the first time that Jesus had refuted the charge of sedition.
If we leave things at this level, if we don’t attempt to move beyond the history of Easter, we will get little more out of this service than a refresher course. We need to ask: what is the significance of Palm Sunday for my life and work in today’s world? And this is my answer: pay attention to what happened to Lazarus. It doesn’t matter whether a person has been in the grave four days, or four thousand years, there is a time appointed when the Lord Himself will appear. He will command the stone to be rolled away, the sea to yield up, the winds to re-gather the dust, bits and fragments . . . the bones will be restored, refurbished and revived. But this time it will be different. When your body is re-organized, and reconstituted it will be for the life above, the eternal life. You will be remodeled, so to speak, for glory. It is important to state that Lazarus was restored to life but we have no record of that being a restoration to a glorified body. There are several reasons for this: the bible never describes either his translation, or his death (only his plotted murder (John 12:9-10)). Besides, the resurrection of the dead is to occur at the parousia, or the glorious appearing of our Lord and Savior. When He returns in glory to sum all things up, to exercise judgment upon the wicked and rewards for the righteous, when He comes we shall receive satisfaction for our longings and injustices, the vindication of all our sufferings and persecutions since the fallen world began, we shall enter a day of triumphant welcome! Palm Sunday is a preliminary, a little glimpse of the splendor yet to day—Jesus was hailed as king in His day, but He shall come as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Again, the question is will you be there? Will you have the saving faith, the belief that is required? When all the world will see that He is the true and living God, where will you be? What will be your reward?