This morning, the message will be a bit different in its focus and how it unfolds…It’ll actually be a bit more like a bible study session. It will have, I hope, significant, take home information that affects your faith journey in a positive manner…We’ll see, I guess 🙂
The account told in John 11 is an important one; this is the climax of Jesus’ ministry and mission as told by John; the raising of Lazarus from beyond the grave is the reason that Jesus is openly pursued and brought to the authorities. It is here that Jesus spells out his mission and confronts the reality of human death head on.
It is also the focus of the start of one of the most interesting mysteries in the new testament –at least according to me…Lazarus, Jesus’ friend; the one whom he loves; the one whom he resurrects from death, is last heard from by name in this episode…his final appearance seems to be as he emerges from the tomb, trailing the wrappings used to prepare him for his eternal rest.
One of the ways that Jesus is best known or learned about in John’s gospel is through his relationships with those who appear in this version of events. I think if this event in chapter 11 is the climax, then Lazarus should be an important player in Jesus’ unfolding journey. He would, one can assume, be pretty integral in defining for others what Jesus has been and will be up to. But; he disappears. Where does he go? What does he do? The story told in John from here through Palm Sunday, the last supper, the Passion, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus never refers to Lazarus again…Or; does it?
Another interesting piece of the puzzle involves the emergence of a character in this story JUST AFTER Lazarus disappears. In Chapter 13 the reader is introduced to this mysterious person referred to only as “the one or the disciple whom Jesus loved”. To most students of the Bible this person is known as the Beloved Disciple. Although this Beloved Disciple doesn’t control any scene in the fourth gospel, and is only mentioned sporadically in passages no longer than a verse or two—after chapter 13, he is identified by scholars as a major character in this story. Traditionally, throughout the early years of Bible scholarship, commentators identified the Beloved Disciple as John, son of Zebedee—the apostle. This is also the person who historically is said to have authored the Gospel of John. While more modern experts have concluded that this John—the disciple—is not the author of this gospel, there is widely held assumption that the Beloved Disciple—an actual eyewitness to Jesus– had a major influence on the author through writings and stories that were shared verbally.
Here comes the bible study part of this message…Let’s look at the passages that refer to the Beloved Disciple and see what evidence or insight about this person’s identity they provide…
People from meeting will read and report on:
John 13:23-26, John 19:25-27, John 20:1-9 (Specifically, verses2, and 4-5), John 21:1-24 (Primarily verse 2 and verses 20-24)
John 1:35-41, John 18:15
There are a number of ideas about who this Beloved Disciple might be…a book called The Beloved Disciple by James Charlesworth runs about 700 pages and highlights at least 8 possibilities that runs the gamut from the traditional view that it was the apostle John, to someone who was actually a fictitious or symbolic figure, to a person who actually existed and is named in scripture…
A couple of the more interesting theories include that the Beloved Disciple was possibly the rich young ruler (Mt, Mk, Lk)who asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life primarily because it says in Mark 10:21 that “Jesus looking at him, loved him…” The rich young ruler also supports an idea scholars have that the BD was connected with the Roman aristocracy and perhaps wealth. However, as Charlesworth says, this man DOES NOT follow Jesus, he goes away sorrowful.
And then of course there is the claim that Charlesworth wrote his whole book to support; that Thomas was the Beloved Disciple. Thomas, according to the book, is the one disciple who could have asked to see Jesus’ hands and side, because he had seen the spear used at the crucifixion, which is information only the Beloved Disciple would have had because he was there.
It is probably clear to you by now that I believe that Lazarus is the person who evolved into the Beloved Disciple…he, after succumbing to an illness, dying, and being entombed, is brought back to life by Jesus. As he responds to the voice of Jesus, and leaves the tomb and death behind, he exemplifies the behavior of the good sheep described by Jesus. In John 10:27-28, Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me, I give them eternal life and they will never perish.” Notice that this sheep illustration is just about the last thing in John before the Lazarus event.
Proof that supports Lazarus being the Beloved Disciple includes that Lazarus is the only individual (besides the Beloved Disciple) who is singled out as being loved by Jesus in the Gospel of John. In verse 11:3, Jesus is told that “he whom you love is ill.” It is repeated in verses 5, 11, 35-36. Jesus loves Lazarus just as Jesus loves the Beloved Disciple.
Also, the story of Lazarus happens just before the first specific mention of the Beloved Disciple. This is a technique that could have been utilized by the author so that readers would understand that Lazarus is to be understood as the Beloved Disciple . This highlights the transition that Lazarus makes; developing into the Beloved Disciple based on his experience of rebirth and obedience to Jesus.
A third point the text gives—that Lazarus lived in Judea, close to Jerusalem—supports him as the Beloved Disciple who could have hosted the Last Supper, the one who could take care of Mary, and the one who would have access to the courtyard of the high priest.
Although Lazarus is never called a “disciple” this can be understood in light of how disciples are perceived in the Gospel of John. The group of 12 named men in the other gospels has a more minimal role in this account, and the disciple group often includes more than just twelve folks in John. According to the author, it is more important for the reader to understand what it means to be a true believer; to be able to identify attributes rather than name names…it is Lazarus who hears Jesus’ voice and responds to it. It is the unnamed Beloved Disciple who continues to follow Jesus through crucifixion and beyond; who witnesses the Christ’s gift to all humankind.
SO; why does any of this really matter beyond the mystery that has made interesting work for Bible scholars down through the years?
I think Lazarus’ example as he evolves into the Beloved Disciple gives believers an important understanding about what it means to follow Jesus. As he undergoes that transformation from death to life, his relationship with Jesus takes on new depth and meaning. After he is raised from the dead he assumes the identity of the Beloved Disciple in order to highlight and emphasize the actions that are his response to the love of Jesus. He is significant only because of his relationship with Jesus, not because of his own identity, thus he becomes unidentified or nameless. The person who is Lazarus transformed into the Beloved Disciple provides a real life example of an ideal disciple. By this example we are to understand that one’s daily life is an opportunity to hear, respond to, and then live out the love of Jesus. All of us—ANY OF US– who are friends and followers of Jesus can also obtain our deepest identity and fulfillment in being linked and responding to Christ… We too, like Lazarus, have firsthand experiences of Christ that can lead us into discipleship.
SO: Whatever happened to Lazarus? Lazarus is; I am; you are; we all are Beloved Disciples.
As the next two weeks continue to tell the culmination of the story of Jesus, let us take the opportunity to listen closely—to listen as for the first time; because being overly familiar with it deadens us to its power. Let us work to discover our identity within it; as those who are lost without the love and redemption in a relationship with Christ. Let us work to hear Jesus’ voice and respond to it. And then let us live as those who have a valuable message of grace, and forgiveness, and peace, and eternal life. Let us live as Beloved Disciples…