If the Christian goal is to go to heaven, why did Jesus resurrect Lazarus?
I recently posed this question on Facebook as a way of getting my thoughts out on a Scripture read at worship. It reminded me that it is all too easy to make the Gospel small and into something it isn’t. That is the type of Gospel given to me but not the Gospel I have found.
Maybe you have heard it too.
When you first hear the Gospel (or maybe you still hear it this way), it sounded something like this.
You are sinful
Jesus died to pay for your sins
Believing in Jesus means forgiveness and when you die you go to heaven
Help others go to heaven
For me, the struggle was real. I sinned that very same day I asked Jesus into my heart (yes, heart, even though it says nothing in the Scriptures about him residing in my chest cavity). Because if this, I thought he left, and I had to ask him back again. I did this over and over and over. Jesus is good and sinless, so he can’t be with sin. Because I sin, he leaves and comes back when I confess.
Sound familiar to anyone? A good case of discipleship is what I needed.
I lived with this version of the Gospel for some time. Indeed, this is the Gospel that is preached widely across North America and sadly, wherever we have sent missionaries, this has promulgated as well.
Like a mosaic, I was only looking at one tile, believing it was the entire piece of art.
If this whole life is just to meet Jesus, get forgiven, help others to get forgiven then go to heaven, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.
There are major assumptions that have to be in place for that to even work.
You would have to assume a particular reading of Genesis. You have to assume a very specific understanding of end-times. You have to assume things about the role of the Holy Spirit. You have to assume that much of the Theology before the Reformation was wrong (that’s 1500 years!). You have to assume a limited understanding of what it means to be human. I suppose I could go on, but believe I've made my point.
During the late 1800’s we had the Holiness movement. Among other things, it gave us a particular reading of end-times which, according to the tradition in which I was groomed, says if we preach the Gospel to all nations, Jesus will return.
It is important to note that I have deep respect and admiration for this tradition. It has added much value to my life and the countless lives of others. If I am casting dispersions, it is not on the whole but only in part.
Some of the questions I would ask of this read of the Gospel passage are…
Are Nations political boundaries or people groups?
Does that mean within each people group, every person hears? What about mortality and birth rates? Those alone would make this impossible.
Is Jesus waiting for us to “finish out job” before he returns? Is he that limited by us?
If so, what conditions were “ripe” enough for the incarnation?
Given this understanding of Christ’s return, in order to preach the Gospel to all nations, we must make it into some that that is bite-sized, which the Gospel certainly is not.
I look at people like Billy Graham and Bill Bright. Again, I have tremendous admiration for these men and the movements they have spawned. The Gospel you hear from them sounds like the Gospel I believed. A bite-sized piece.
The Four Spiritual Laws are a perfect example of this version of the Good News.
1. God loves you.
2. Humanity is sinful.
3. Jesus died to take away your sin.
4. You have to receive Jesus.
Churches and pastors would (and God forbid still may) say things like, “you bring ‘em, we’ll save ‘em.” To be sure, this made converts, but not necessarily disciples.
And therein lies the problem.
Matthew 28 tells us to go and make Disciples of all nations. Disciples, not just converts. The Church has been attempting to make disciples by making converts. They are simply not the same thing. In the Gospels, there are those who were with Jesus like the crowds. There were people like the 72, and there were the 12. Many liked what Jesus said, did and promised. Few followed.
It is because the actual Gospel, the Good News, was that Jesus is Lord. It wasn’t Rome or Caesar, not money, not reputation, not affiliation, not their lives, not their desires, but Jesus, who is Lord. Lord meaning ruler of all; ruler of all of life, all of Death, the breaker of sin, the restorer of Covenants, the destroyer of hell and all her powers.
Saying yes to this Gospel meant and means saying no to you. It meant giving up everything.
Further, they were called to participate in what he was doing. In Christ, God is at work, redeeming the Cosmos, not just humanity. He poured out the Holy Spirit, not so that they and we can avoid sin (which is important to be sure) but that they and we may have the power to live the life he has called us to live. Namely, to Re-Present Jesus to the world and embody what it means to be fully human.
Their job wasn’t simply to wait to go to heaven but to help bring about His Kingdom here and now. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray he said “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done. On Earth, as it is in Heaven.” They were caught up in the redemptive purposes of God and given a ministry of reconciliation.
When Jesus raised Lazarus from the grave, he was doing many things. He was glorifying God, showing his power and helping people believe. He was also revealing what His Kingdom looks like. In His Kingdom, death has no authority. In His Kingdom, sorry and sickness don’t reign.
He was foreshadowing his own resurrection and by this showing that the Day of the Lord was at hand. He was ushering in a new way of life, and Lazarus was experiencing a part of what that meant. Lazarus would now participate in His Kingdom in a different way.
Each of us has the same opportunity.
What it means to be alive to Christ and dead to sin, chosen, redeemed, forgiven and adopted isn’t merely a ticket to heaven when we take the big dirt nap. It means full participation in His Kingdom, by His Spirit right now!
This is the Good News! Jesus is Lord and allows us to participate with Him!
In the same way it cost many their lives (and still does today), it costs us our lives.
IF there is a version of the Gospel that allows for anything less than the Lordship of Jesus in all of our lives, then it is no Good News. Imagine hearing, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him with 50% of their lives will not perish but have eternal life.” It doesn’t make sense.
And this eternal life isn’t our lives eternally. We don’t just go on living forever with all our loved ones, pets, comforts we didn’t have here but can have in heaven. It is eternal life, not life eternal. It is a different quality of life and a different way of living. It is imbued with power from the Holy Spirit, and if you are a Christian, it is the life you are called to live in the here and now!
This life in Christ means slowly allowing Christ access and authority in every area of our lives. Jesus is Lord of All. All meaning All. Lord of our hopes, dreams, plans, loved ones, careers, bodies, desires and money.
As we do this, we more fully represent what it means to be human and to more fully Re-Present Jesus to the world. The extent to which Christians bask in the Lordship of Christ is largely the degree to which the world will know Him.
Jesus brought Lazarus back from the dead to glorify God, show his power, help people believe and to reveal a new Kingdom. One in which Lazarus was invited to participate for the rest of his life. One which cost him his very life and one which costs us no less. One that is worth giving everything for and that is Good News.