The story of Jesus raising Lazarus gives us a glimpse into Jesus’ dual identity as the “God-Man”—his humanity as one of us and his divinity as the revelation of God. A healthy and vibrant faith involves embracing both Jesus’ humanity and divinity—his humanity gives us permission to express our feelings and identify with the suffering of others, and his divinity enables us to receive God’s unconditional love for us and freely share it with others.
Speaker: Pastor Stephen “Tig” Intagliata
Main Bible Passage: John 11:1, 17-44
How many of you know who Shohei Ohtani is? He’s a baseball player who can bat well and also pitch well, so he goes both ways. He’s like the reincarnation of Babe Ruth, only some say he’s better than Ruth. Ohtani is so unique that some say he’s mythical like a “unicorn”.
In a way, Jesus is a unicorn kind of like Shohei Ohtani. Like Ohtani, Jesus plays two roles, roles that seem opposite to each other. I believe that the scriptures show us that Jesus is both fully human on the one hand and fully divine on the other.
Jesus is, as one theologian called him, the God-Man. This theologian’s name was Anselm of Canterbury, and around 1100 Anselm wrote a paper that in Latin was called Cur Deus Homo. Translated into English it would be something like “Why God Became Man” or “Why the God-Man”.
Anselm’s purpose in this paper was to explain his understanding of the atonement, the “at-one-ment”, how Jesus makes it possible for sinful humans to be “at-one-with” or reconciled with a holy God.
Volumes have been written about atonement theory, and how we understand it is important for us as Christians, but it’s not our focus right now, and I can recommend some good resources to you if you’d like to explore it.
What we are going to look at today is this idea of Jesus as the God-Man, his identity as both fully human and fully divine. And the story of Lazarus death and Jesus raising him from the dead gives us a good look at this dual identity of Jesus.
Now God taking the form of a human being is one of those paradoxes, mysteries in the Christian faith. We can’t fully comprehend it with our finite human mind, but I think we still can embrace it with faith and with confidence.
And that’s my hope this morning, that we will both see and embrace the dual identity of Jesus as both God and human, in such a way that it draws us closer to God, and also impacts our relationships with others and with the world around us.
I believe that a healthy and vibrant faith as a Christian has a lot to do with having a balanced and robust understanding of Jesus’ identity as both human and divine.
Before we look at the story of Lazarus, I want to point out how John begins his gospel, because in the first chapter we see how he sets the tone for Jesus’ identity as God coming to earth as a human.
We’ll just read vs. 14, because that one verse captures so beautifully Jesus as the God-Man, Jesus as the human revelation of a divine God.
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
If there’s one verse that perfectly describes Jesus the God-Man, this could easily be the one. There’s so much beauty and truth to what John says and how he says it. The original word for ‘dwelt’ can be translated ‘pitched his tent’. God has descended from the heavens and in Jesus pitched his tent right here in our midst.
That’s the incarnation right there. We often say, “Jesus is like God”, and we can also say “God is like Jesus”.
Now to the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. The title of my sermon is Resurrecting Lazarus the man and Jesus the God-Man. Now I’m not going to try and literally resurrect Jesus; we’ll leave that up to God and celebrate it in a couple of weeks on Easter.
But in the story of Jesus and Lazarus, I’d like us to reflect on how we see Jesus’ identity, and see if there are aspects of our understanding of Jesus as both human and divine that need resurrecting:
Like, do you embrace Jesus as God, but have trouble seeing his humanity, as a human being like you and I?
Or do you find it easy to embrace Jesus as a great human being, but have trouble believing in his divinity, that he is God, in all his power and glory?
My guess is that among us here, some of us lean more toward a human Jesus, and shy away from the divine Jesus, and others are the opposite, we lean more toward a Jesus who was God but downplay the humanity of Jesus.
Which part of Jesus’ identity needs to be resurrected in your life, and in the life of the Church today?
So I’m going to go through the story and point out the parts that reveal Jesus’ identity as God, specifically through the power to raise a man from the dead,
And also point out the parts that show Jesus as a human being like us, particularly through the human emotions that he displayed in the story.
Then I will talk about bit about my own journey towards embracing and resurrecting Jesus’ full identity as both human and divine.
OK so let’s take a look at the Lazarus story: I’ve bolded the parts that pertain to Jesus’ humanity or divinity.
3 So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” (H)
5…Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, (H)
Like the rest of us humans, Jesus felt love for people. John felt it, Mary/Martha/Lazarus felt it.
4But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” (D)
Jesus is foreshadowing that through God’s power, death won’t have the final word with Lazarus.
11 …“Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep” (H)
Just like you and me, Jesus had friends. He shared life with people just like we do. Later on in John’s gospel, he tells his disciples “I no longer call you servants, but friends”.
13 Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death. (H)
Jesus experienced the reality of human death like we do, and his death by being nailed to a cross was the most humanly painful death someone could experience.
21-23 “Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now, I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” (D)
25-26 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (D)
27 She said, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” (D)
Jesus’ conversation with Martha reveals his divine nature as God:
28 (Martha) told (Mary) privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” (H)
Among Jesus’ many titles was “Teacher” a very human title (though we could make a case that teachers border on divinity status; at least we could call them super-human!
33-36 When Jesus saw Mary weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see”. Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”. (H)
Here we see Jesus’ humanity in full force with a wide range of emotions- “disturbed”, “deeply moved” (“deeply troubled”), “weeping”, showing the deep love he had for his dear friend Lazarus.
42 “I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me. When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out! The dead man came out…” (D)
Here we see God’s power at work to resurrect Lazarus from the grave.
45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, 46 but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”… (D)
53 So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. (D)
The religious and political leaders knew that this was no mere mortal they were dealing with. Jesus was someone who manifested the power and authority of God.
This story shows Jesus’ humanity through his emotions of weeping, of being distressed and disturbed- and his divinity, the power to raise Lazarus from the dead which only could have come from God.
Now I want to get a little more personal and share from my own spiritual journey of how my understanding of Jesus as the “God-Man” has been resurrected,
And what impact it has had on my life. I’ll start with my upbringing in the Catholic Church.
I have a deep appreciation for my Catholic upbringing, and on one hand it instilled a belief in an all-powerful and all-knowing God who was watching over the world. There is a sense of awe and mystery about God that showed me that this is a higher power beyond ourselves that deserves our worship and adoration.
And the way that Jesus was depicted in pictures of Bible stories was always with a bright halo around his head, signifying his divine nature as God.
Now in my upbringing there were definitely images that showed Jesus humanity, and most of those images were of him in pain and suffering—
Every cross I saw had Jesus hanging from it, whether it was the large crucifix in the sanctuary, or the little crucifixes that people wore around their necks or were attached to the rosary beads.
It is good to remember how much Jesus suffered for us, but he was so much more than that.
Now in the Bible story pictures I saw, Jesus had no expression on his face; he had what some people would say is a good poker face. So the impression I had of the Jesus I grew up with was that he was suffering and in pain, and if not, then he was stoic and unfeeling.
He didn’t seem like someone that I as a human being could relate to in any personal way. And I didn’t think he cared about having a relationship with me.
My view of Jesus’ humanity needed a literal face lift, it needed to be resurrected, and thankfully that took place when I was in college. I think I shared about this in my first sermon here 2 ½ years ago, so I won’t go into as much detail. (But every once in a while pastors are allowed to repeat something, right?)
At UCLA, I was involved with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and once a year or so we’d go to these retreats up in the mountains outside of Los Angeles.
And one of the speakers at these retreats was a guy named Gene Thomas. Gene Thomas had a big smile and he spoke with passion when he talked about Jesus, and I think that’s because that’s the way that he saw Jesus—joyful and passionate.
He described Jesus as someone who laughed and had a good sense of humor. (And his jokes were better than dad jokes, because he wasn’t a dad.)
Thomas talked about a Jesus who had this magnetic personality that made people want to be around him. He always drew crowds wherever he went, right?
He described Jesus as someone who had incredible love for people, all kinds of people, as someone who was willing to enter into the pain and the brokenness of people’s lives and give them hope for healing and putting their lives back together.
I wanted to know this kind of Jesus, and be like this kind of Jesus. It was a Jesus who was approachable instead of standoffish, and compassionate instead of coldhearted.
And this is the Jesus that we see in the Lazarus story. Jesus was right there in the midst of the pain and grief of his friends Mary and Martha, right there grieving the death of his friend Lazarus, and like a caring human being, he began to weep.
Jesus wept. It may be the shortest verse in the Bible but there’s a lot of passion packed into it.
Unfortunately, we live in a world where crying in public is often discouraged or repressed, especially for us men. Now I know that we’re all wired differently, and some people are brought to tears more easily than others.
And that’s OK. We don’t need to force it or fake it.
But men are sold this image of masculinity that equates empathy and shedding tears with weakness. About the only emotion that is acceptable for men to express is anger, which is seen as a sign of being tough.
In many churches, Jesus has been made into this tough guy, this John Wayne type, to be more appealing to men. But why can’t the Jesus who wept over his friend Lazarus also be a model for men to aspire to?
Why is it that so often when people, men or women, cry in public, that they say “I’m sorry?” What is there to apologize about? Jesus didn’t say “I’m sorry” when he cried for Lazarus, and I don’t think that we need to either.
This week was the anniversary of the murder of Archbishop and now Saint Oscar Romero of El Salvador, who was gunned down while saying mass because he spoke up for justice for the common people, and he was a threat to those in power.
Romero said, “There are many things that can be seen only through eyes that have cried.” May we have the eyes to see those things.
Time is short, so I want to close with one thing I’ve learned about the impact and the power of embracing Jesus’ divinity, and it’s that through Jesus’ divinity we can experience the unconditional love of God, the kind of love that God blessed Jesus with at his baptism, when a dove appeared over him, and he heard God’s voice say “You are my beloved; in you I am well pleased.”
I’m grateful that I have experienced this unconditional love in my relationship with Jesus, even though it’s a struggle at times to accept it in a world where we have to earn people’s love and acceptance, and playing by those rules so often leaves us coming up short.
Knowing that I am loved by Jesus unconditionally means that I don’t have to look for love in all the wrong places, as the song says, and I don’t need put demands on other people, or live my life as a people pleaser to earn their love or get them to like me.
Instead, I can freely receive the gift of God’s love to me, and freely share it with other people, without expecting anything in return.
And this unconditional, forgiving, grace-filled love of God is the most powerful force in the world. It has the power to bring comfort to people who are grieving and hurting, hope to those who are confused, lost, or scared,
It has the power to love and forgive people we hurt or who hurt us, it has the power to give us the courage to do what is right in the face of ridicule or persecution,
It even has the power to resurrect and bring new life out of what was dead and lifeless. And because of the power of this love that is out of this world, we can live with peace and with hope in this world.
I’d love to hear from you in the sharing time about how your experience of Jesus’ divinity and humanity has been shaped and resurrected.
I want to close with a quote from Henri Nouwen that I think sums up the Jesus we see in the story of Lazarus, Jesus the God-Man, who is both human and divine.
“The mystery of God’s love is not that he takes our pains away, but that he first wants to share them with us. Our of this divine solidarity comes new life. Jesus being moved in the center of his being by human pain is indeed a movement toward new life…
“God is our God, the God of the living. In his divine womb life is always born again…the truly good news is that God is not a distant God, a God to be feared and avoided, a God of revenge, but a God who is moved by our pains and participates in the fullness of the human struggle.”
– Henri Nouwen