“…and the old rugged cross made the difference.”
My musical tastes run wider than most people so I’ll understand if that line doesn’t ring a bell. It’s from a song called “The Old Rugged Cross Made the Difference”. The song speaks to how Jesus has changed everything about our lives. Jesus has even changed how we face death.
Here’s the third verse:
There’s a room filled with sad, ashen faces“The Old Rugged Cross Made the Difference”
Without hope death has wrapped them in gloom;
But at the side of a saint there’s rejoicing,
For life can’t be sealed in a tomb.
Gloria Gaither | William J. Gaither
© 1970 Hanna Street Music (Admin. by Gaither Copyright Management)
CCLI License # 73878
Jesus had received the news that Lazarus was sick and, eventually, Lazarus died (John 11:1-16). By the time Jesus (and the disciples) arrived, Lazarus had been dead for four days. When Jesus arrived, the grief of Martha and Mary was overwhelming. It shook them that Jesus had not arrived in time. The mourners were amazed at Jesus’ concern for Lazarus, but Jesus was frustrated by Mary’s and Martha’s lack of faith (John 11:22-35).
Everyone is at the tomb of Lazarus. The stone has been ordered out of the way. And in the midst of earthly, human frailty from Martha, Mary, the disciples of Jesus, and the mourners, we read in John 11:41-44:
So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
John 11:41-44 New International Version
Pause for a moment.
Jesus just raised a man from the dead! Literal death to literal life! This is AMAZING!
The greatest preacher that ever lived never preached a funeral; He raised the dead.
Death, the enemy of humanity, falls at the feet of the Sovereignty of Jesus, the Son of God, the Word of God made flesh. The heel of Jesus is on death’s throat.
The resurrection of Lazarus wasn’t just to “save the day”—that’s missing the point. It wasn’t just that Jesus was taking care of the pain of Martha and Mary because Lazarus wasn’t made immortal. Eventually, our friend Lazarus had to go through death again. Poor guy.
Jesus was proving Who He was. The primary emphasis of this entire chapter is not Martha’s confession—though it is inspiring. It’s not Mary’s doubt—although she had trouble seeing the eternal past the temporal. It’s not even Lazarus—he was dead for nearly all of the story! The point of the story is the focus of the entire Bible: Jesus, the Son of God.
Jesus is the emphasis in the story: His sovereignty. His power. His authority. His identity. We can grieve differently than the world because our grief is temporary. The raising of Lazarus foreshadows Jesus’ own resurrection on that Sunday morning when death was defeated but it also reminds us of the Great Resurrection of all the redeemed of all time.
Where is death’s victory over the believer in Christ? Where is death’s sting over a disciple of Jesus? Is your life marked with that kind of joy—the joy of the God of the living? He’s alive and so are you, disciple of Jesus. Even when we die, we are made MORE ALIVE than we ever were here. Truly, we are “asleep” now and when we die, we get to “wake up!”
For a disciple of Jesus, death is not our end. Jesus has conquered death itself. And for our loved ones who died in Jesus? We WILL see them again.
In an article titled “God’s Hand on My Life”, the late Evangelist Billy Graham said, “I am convinced one of the joys of heaven will be discovering the hidden ways that God, in His sovereignty, acted in our lives on earth to protect us and guide us so as to bring glory to his name, in spite of our frailty.