Procrastination and the Raising of Lazarus from the Dead

08 Apr photos of objects

Photo by stockarch on Morgue File.

Tell us your tried and true techniques for focusing when that deadline looms and you need to get work done. In other words, how do you avoid wasted days and wasted nights?

Put quite simply, my tried and true technique is to get the job done before it is due. I know this sounds rather pedantic, but it is the truth. It is not to say I do not know how to procrastinate. Procrastination seems to be one of those traits that comes naturally to most of the race we call human.

One issue is that I am not a worrier by nature. I am not someone who is naturally filled with anxiety or stress over these sorts of things. I judge how long any given job or project should take and I make allowances for it.

I prefer to take my time and do it right, then rush it and then have to go back and do it over again.

Have there been times I have had to rush to get something done before the deadline, sure. It is a frenzy. You work around the clock, drinking as much coffee as possible, until you have finished. What I have found after doing that a time or two is I really didn’t like it. So, I decided I would try a new approach, an approach that actually had me completing the assignment before it was due. I found I liked this new approach far better than the former. It caused me to have far less stress, much more restful sleep and less coffee intake. (Though, for me, the problem with coffee is that I can drink two cups and then go fast asleep!)

There is though a difference in waiting and procrastinating. This goes beyond the question of the prompt, but it is something I have been thinking about lately. I spoke at a Brotherhood breakfast this past Sunday morning at seven o’clock. In case you do not know, a Brotherhood breakfast is a meal where men come together to cook, eat and then a speaker is asked to come and share a message from the Bible. I was the speaker.

As this is Lent, my mind has also been on the last weeks and days of Jesus’ earthly ministry. As I have thought about these two things, waiting/procrastination and Jesus’ final days, I found myself reading and studying again the eleventh chapter of the gospel of John. In this chapter we are told of the miraculous resurrection of a man named Lazarus by Jesus. This event is important on several levels. It comes at a pivotal time in the life and ministry of Christ.

In the previous chapter, John 10, the Jewish religious leaders picked up stones to kill Jesus because of his claims. When Jesus asked them why they were going to stone him, they replied because he committed blasphemy by claiming to be God. For all those who claim Jesus never claimed to be divine, you will have to argue with his opponents on that one!

Following John 11, Jesus will enter his final two weeks of life. The Passover was only a few days away and Jesus would soon enter Jerusalem on a donkey−this Triumphal Entry would set in motion the events that would lead to his betrayal, arrest, mock trial and eventual crucifixion.

So then, John 11 comes at a strategic time in Jesus’ life. But, the chapter is more than compelling just on its own merits. There are several dynamics at work in the chapter.

We are told Jesus and his disciples receive word that Jesus’ good friend Lazarus is very ill; in fact, he is gravely ill. Mary and Martha, the two sisters of Lazarus, have sent word to Jesus to alert him to his friend’s declining health and potential death. The messenger reports it to Jesus in a succinct manner: Lord, he whom you love is ill (Jn. 11.3). It is interesting to note that there is no request in this message for Jesus to hurry down to Bethany (where Lazarus lived) to heal his friend. Now, it could be the request was made and simply not recorded for us in this account. Or, as is likely, it could be that this request is implied in the message. Either way, Jesus does not hurry off to Bethany, as we may suppose he would. In fact, he does the exact opposite . . . he waits.

It is important to note that Jesus is not procrastinating, rather he is waiting. We procrastinate about things we do not want to do. We procrastinate about things we could do now, but choose to put off until later, The philosophy of the procrastinator is, why do today, what you can put off until tomorrow? Jesus is not procrastinating here. It is not that he is tired and does not want to make the long journey down to Bethany.

Instead, he is waiting. He is waiting intentionally, he is waiting purposefully. What is he waiting on? Quite simply, he is waiting for Lazarus to die! You mean, this man he loves so much, he wants him to die? We may protest that this seems a bit unfair, even cruel, to put Lazarus and his two sisters through such an experience.

Jesus even says that, this illness does not lead to death (Jn. 11.4). Some may say, well that’s all wrong too, because Lazarus does in fact die. As one commentator noted, the illness will lead through death, but not to death. Jesus seems to be stating the obvious here, Lazarus will die, but death will not get the last laugh, it will not have the final word. But, some will protest, death always has the final word! This is what makes death, death!

Lazarus does in fact die. When he does, Jesus tells the disciples it is time to make the journey down to Bethany. Jesus states the situation very simply, Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him (Jn. 11.11).

Jesus’ deadline, no pun intended, was not to rush to Bethany in the eleventh hour and miraculously heal Lazarus just as he was about to draw in his final breath; rather, it was to wait for Lazarus to die and then raise him from the dead. If it had been the former, Jesus would have procrastinated, and that too long; but, because it is the latter, he waited and when everything was in place, he went to Bethany.

Jesus does raise his friend from the dead. Mary and Martha experience the joy and thrill of seeing their brother alive and well again. Jesus makes it clear that all this was done for the glory of God, it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it (Jn. 11.4).

Though Lazarus went through the travail of death, he experienced the glory of God by being raised from the dead. Though Mary and Martha had to experience the sorrow and grief over losing their brother, they experienced the joy and amazement at seeing their brother alive again.

Who else has power over death? As humans, for all our ingenuity, advancements, inventions and breakthroughs the one thing we have never been able to solve or cheat or eliminate is death. It is the last enemy. But Christ, being God incarnate, had power over death. When he commanded Lazarus to come forth, death had no choice but to loosen its grip on him. Jesus displayed the glory of God, the same glory that would be evidenced only a few days later, when Jesus himself would be raised from the dead.

We sometimes, like Lazarus and Martha and Mary, must go through uncertain times. We must endure times of pain and sorrow. But, I am thankful that Christ is with us in the midst of such trials. I am thankful that he can so work in us and our situations so as to bring glory to God.

Christ came to destroy sin and death. He never minimized death. He never said we should not grieve over the loss of loved ones. In fact, in John 11 Jesus reacts against death. The verb usually translated he was moved in himself, actually seems to mean something very different. It is a verb that typically has to do with indignation or anger. What would Jesus have been angry about? Martha and Mary mourning their brother? No. The mourners making a fuss? No. He would have been outraged, as one scholar has put it, by death and its effects. Death is the very antithesis of Christ, who is the Life.

So, Jesus destroyed it. By dying himself, he defeated death. He met it on its own terms. He entered its shadowy realm, into its dark domain and crushed its power. As John Owen put it, it is the death of death in the death of Christ. That is why the apostle Paul can exclaim, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? (I Cor. 15.54-55) Christ has given us the victory through his perfect, sinless life, his vicarious death for us and his resurrection from the dead.

When we put our faith in Christ and live faithfully for him, we too behold the glory of God.



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8 responses to “Procrastination and the Raising of Lazarus from the Dead

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