Just Like Heaven

This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics over the year. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This post’s topic is “Heaven.”

When Jesus finally got there, he found Lazarus already four days dead. Bethany was near Jerusalem, only a couple of miles away, and many of the Jews were visiting Martha and Mary, sympathizing with them over their brother. Martha heard Jesus was coming and went out to meet him. Mary remained in the house.

Martha said, “Master, if you’d been here, my brother wouldn’t have died. Even now, I know that whatever you ask God he will give you.”

Jesus said, “Your brother will be raised up.”

Martha replied, “I know that he will be raised up in the resurrection at the end of time.”

“You don’t have to wait for the End. I am, right now, Resurrection and Life. The one who believes in me, even though he or she dies, will live. And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at all. Do you believe this?”

“Yes, Master. All along I have believed that you are the Messiah, the Son of God who comes into the world.”

After saying this, she went to her sister Mary and whispered in her ear, “The Teacher is here and is asking for you.”

The moment she heard that, she jumped up and ran out to him. Jesus had not yet entered the town but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When her sympathizing Jewish friends saw Mary run off, they followed her, thinking she was on her way to the tomb to weep there. Mary came to where Jesus was waiting and fell at his feet, saying, “Master, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

When Jesus saw her sobbing and the Jews with her sobbing, a deep anger welled up within him. He said, “Where did you put him?”

“Master, come and see,” they said. Now Jesus wept.

The Jews said, “Look how deeply he loved him.”

Others among them said, “Well, if he loved him so much, why didn’t he do something to keep him from dying? After all, he opened the eyes of a blind man.”

Then Jesus, the anger again welling up within him, arrived at the tomb. It was a simple cave in the hillside with a slab of stone laid against it. Jesus said, “Remove the stone.”

The sister of the dead man, Martha, said, “Master, by this time there’s a stench. He’s been dead four days!”

Jesus looked her in the eye. “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

Then, to the others, “Go ahead, take away the stone.”

They removed the stone. Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and prayed, “Father, I’m grateful that you have listened to me. I know you always do listen, but on account of this crowd standing here I’ve spoken so that they might believe that you sent me.”

Then he shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” And he came out, a cadaver, wrapped from head to toe, and with a kerchief over his face.

Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him loose.” — John 10:17-44

In the midst of that passage is a verse that’s famous for being a trivia-question answer, the shortest verse in the King James Bible, “Jesus Wept.”

And I’ve heard people discuss that verse multiple times, and its relevance to us today. Just the other day, I watched a videothat used the verse to say that it’s OK to grieve when you lose someone, it’s OK to mourn, it’s OK to hurt. That you don’t have to listen to anyone who says you need to move on. After all, Jesus wept.

And I agree completely that it’s OK to be where you are.

But I’m not sure that’s why Jesus wept.

Did Jesus mourn Lazarus? That is, did He mourn his death? He didn’t miss him. He had just arrived, and soon as He did, He brought Lazarus back from the dead. He wouldn’t have had the chance to miss Lazarus any more than if Lazarus had been busy when He got into town.

And He knew what He was going to do. He had already announced it before He wept. He wasn’t crying because Lazarus was gone forever; He knew He was about to bring him back.

So why did Jesus weep?

I’ve long suspected He wasn’t weeping for Himself. He was weeping for Lazarus. He knew what He was about to do to him.

We read the story from this side of the undiscovered country. We read it like Jesus did a good thing for Lazarus. He was dead, and Jesus made Him better. Like healing a leper or something.

To Lazarus, it didn’t look like that at all.

I’ll interject here that I believe that our afterlife begins when we die. There are those who argue that we are asleep when we die until Christ comes again, and I respect that. One of the key arguments one way or another is the placement of a comma that doesn’t exist in the original language. So you’re free to disagree with me on this, but that’s what I believe.

And if you believe that, then Lazarus had begun a new life. A life without pain, without sorrow, without tears. A life beyond the challenges and difficulties that are inherent to our fragile forms on this fallen world. And Jesus brought Lazarus back to that. Brought him back to pain, brought him back to tears, brought him back to disease and infirmity and loss.

No wonder Jesus wept.

He had to do what He had to do. And I imagine Lazarus understood that. And I would imagine Lazarus was glad for Mary and Martha.

But Jesus wasn’t doing Lazarus any favors. He was doing the unkindest thing He ever did to a friend. And He knew He was going to, and He wept.

That’s one of the best reviews of Heaven we get in the Bible. Paul gives us another. God called Paul to a difficult ministry, and to equip him for that, God gave Paul a very interesting “gift.” He showed Paul heaven. At the beginning of the ministry, God brings Paul to heaven to train him for what he was called to do. This had two results. One, of course, was that Paul was crazy brilliant, arguably the faith’s foundational theologian. The other is that Paul no longer valued anything in this life. He writes more than once how glad he would be to give his life for Christ, and that to live for Him is the greater sacrifice.

Because Paul knows.

He know what’s at the end of the course; he knows the reward for running the good race. He knows where he’ll be when he completes his mission. And he knows — he knows — that there is nothing in this world that he could possibly hope for better than what that will be like. “To die is gain.”

And that’s heaven. I’ve written before about my lost daughter and my concept of heaven. But that’s just my guess. I have no idea. I’ve never seen it. I’ve never been there.

But Paul had. And he wanted to get back, more than anything in this world.

And Jesus had. And He wept to take Lazarus away.

So maybe there’s something to this heaven place.

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