Dead Men Walking
John 11: 1-54 "Dead Men Walking"
The title of the movie Dead Man Walking comes from one of the final scenes as a prisoner is being taken from Death Row to the room where he will receive a lethal injection. He is taken from his cell and marched, between two guards, through the prison. To announce his process through the gaol the officer in charge calls out `Dead Man Walking'. A man on his way to death, as good as dead.
In John 11 we see more than one dead men walking. We see one man bound, but the order is "take off the grave clothes and let him go". There is one Dead Man Walking. But we also see the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Council, so heart dead from self-protection that they have become political collaborators with their oppressors; so mind dead that they can't see the absurdity of their position in plotting to kill a man who raises the dead (talk about killing the golden goose!!!); so God dead that they can't see His glory despite the abundance of signs Jesus provided. Two lots of dead men walking. One, formerly a rotting, reeking corpse, becomes a walking parable of the power of Jesus' word to raise human beings from death to life. The others, walking parables of the death of unbelief - dead men waiting to die.
I sense in Jesus a great excitement. He sees a great opportunity for developing faith. Despite the grief, despite the awful reality of death - this is God's opportunity. "This sickness won't end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it."(11:4) "Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I wasn't there, so that you may believe."(11:14). For Jesus this is a terrific opportunity for growing faith. While this miracle is extraordinary in its power to draw our focus to Jesus and bring glory to God, I'm mindful that we so often look to God for relief when His focus is His glory and our good. Jesus, motivated by love, waits an extra 2 days when he hears the news. His passion for God's glory and his love for this family stalls his action so as to maximize the benefit. Jesus calls us to such a paradigm shift in our thinking about life's down side. Jesus takes the waste products of life, suffering and death, and turns them into our servants for God's glory and our good.
We find 3 further paradigm shifts in this chapter. The first is in Jesus' interaction with Martha. Jesus jolts Martha from a vague hope about a resurrection some day to an intensely personal confidence in him. The resurrection isn't so much an event as a person. "I am the resurrection and the life". The doctrine, the truth, that a day will come when the dead will rise is no longer a vague hope, here is the person who will do it! Jesus as the Resurrection is spelt out at the end of v25 while Jesus as the Life is spelt out in v26. And just as Jesus not only provides bread he IS THE LIVING BREAD, so Jesus not only gives life he IS LIFE. A paradigm shift from vague hope to personal confidence.
The next paradigm shift takes place with Mary. Here the NIV doesn't help us to see the emotional tension in Jesus. We see empathy and compassion expressed in tears. But the NIV's `deeply moved in spirit' fails to get across the mix of anger, rebuke and outrage of the Greek word. Jesus is outraged! But what at? Two schools of thought are; 1. The awful intrusion of sin and death and its impact in emotional and relational havoc. 2. The unbelief of those whose grief is verging on despair. Not being one who likes to take sides, I think there is room for both. Jesus empathy for the grieving (people he knows and loves dearly) and outrage at both the cause (sin and death) and the effect (belief choked by despair and unable to perceive God's glory) are all present here. Remember Jesus is excited at God's opportunity here. His mind is so focused on the glory of God, God disclosed, that he loses patience with those who will not make the paradigm shift even in the face of grief and death. Is there no hope? Is there no resurrection? Can you not believe that I am who I am and can match even this?
Carson has an interesting thought on this; "... the same sin and death,
the same unbelief,
prompted his outrage, also generated his grief. Those who follow Jesus as his
disciples today do
well to learn the same tension - that grief and compassion without outrage
reduces to mere
sentiment, while outrage without grief hardens into self-righteousness and
The final paradigm shift is Jesus' whole view on life. While we think life ---> death. Jesus thinks death ---> life. "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life." John 5:24 Jesus gives the irresistible command and we see a Dead Man Walking. And this a pale imitation of what is yet to come. When Jesus gives the final irresistible command graves will burst open like seed pods releasing new life. Neither plastic containers nor marble tombs, metal nor wooden caskets, rose beds nor lawns, the earth nor the ocean, will be able to contain us, restrain us, from answering his call. Pagan, saint, indifferent; all meeting the Truth, the Life, the Resurrection.
In the meantime, today is the day of resurrection. Today is the day to make the paradigm shifts in our thinking, shifts from `death-thinking' to the `life-thinking' of Jesus. Today is the day to hear the voice of Christ and come out from the death of unbelief to the resurrection life found in him.
Woonona Presbyterian Community Church
7 Gray St Woonona 2517 AUSTRALIA
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