The Day No One Celebrates

This is the day no one in Christendom celebrates.

 

This, the Wednesday before Palm Sunday, is the day the church forgot.

 

Search as I might, I could find no denomination, no sect, no faction of Christianity that celebrates–or even makes a note on their church calendar– that this is the day that Lazarus died.

 

Now, there are millions of Christians in Russia, Armenia, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopa, Sudan, and parts of Asia and India that celebrate Lazarus Saturday.  Traditionally, this was when hermits would come out of their solitary abodes and venture to the monastery for Holy Week observances. In Greece and Cyprus, they even bake special bread called “lazarakia” shaped like a man wrapped in grave clothes to be eaten on Lazarus Saturday.

 

It’s certainly understandable that people would want to celebrate the day that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. It was an amazing miracle.

 

Lazarus had been dead for four days. When Jesus finally did arrive in Bethany where Mary and Martha and the former Lazarus had lived, and He ordered that stone be rolled away from the tomb, they warned Him that was going to stink. (John 11:39)

 

Some translations mince their words and say “there will be an odor” but the Greek word is ὄζει (ozei) and it means an offensive, putrid stench.

 

But Jesus called a rotten, stinking, dead corpse out of the grave and back into life. Jewish custom held that a person’s soul resided in or with the dead body for up to three days, but by the time a person started to rot, the soul had long departed the body. No one could deny that this was a miracle only God Himself could accomplish.

 

But see, no one knew that was going to happen back on Wednesday. No one knew that, on the day that Lazarus died, God was setting in motion a chain of events that would change the world more than any other event in all the history of the world.

 

When Lazarus died on that Wednesday, it looked like Jesus had failed. Lazarus and his sisters loved Jesus. They believed He was the Messiah. They were sure of it. Jesus had completely changed their lives. I’m certain Mary and Martha were not just hurt, but absolutely devastated when their brother died. 

 

The depth of both Martha and Mary’s grief is obvious. Both of them say if Jesus had only been there with them, Lazarus would not have died. (John 11: 21 & 32) I’m sure they both felt this was not supposed to happen. Why hadn’t Jesus been there? Didn’t He know all things? He had done many miracles in their presence. Why would He allow this terrible thing to happen?

 

So it’s understandable that we don’t celebrate the death of Lazarus. I get that. 

 

But the death of Lazarus is such an amazing example of how God works things out for His glory.

 

Yes, everyone involved grieved when Lazarus died. Even Jesus wept. It was a devastating event.

 

But a man who had been a stinking, rotten corpse standing alive among his friends and neighbors and family is a miracle that cannot be denied. Yes, water turned into wine, a storm at sea miraculously calmed, the lame made to walk and the blind granted their site are amazing –but a dead man come alive is irrefutable.

 

That’s why there was such a procession into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Lazarus was among the crowd marching into Jerusalem over the Mount of Olives. 

 

Many in the crowd had seen Jesus call Lazarus from the tomb, raising him from the dead, and they were telling others about it. That was the reason so many went out to meet him—because they had heard about this miraculous sign. John 12: 17&18 (NLT)

 

Prior to this, the Pharisees and religious leaders had tried to claim Jesus was a nut case or a blasphemer or demon-possessed or anything but the promised Messiah. But a living, breathing Lazarus made them very, very nervous indeed. When they learned what had happened, they could no longer afford to be cautious. They had to take action.

 

Then the leading priests and Pharisees called the high council together. “What are we going to do?” they asked each other. “This man certainly performs many miraculous signs. If we allow him to go on like this, soon everyone will believe in him. Then the Roman army will come and destroy both our Temple and our nation.” John 11:47&48 (NLT)

 

They were afraid they would lose their wealth and their political power. Jesus was a threat, not just to the traditions and the routine of Jewish life, but to the ruling political class in all of Israel. The plot to kill Jesus was a political necessity to them.

 

Then, when Jesus came riding into Jerusalem on a donkey in fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy written in Zechariah 9:9 complete with a crowd shouting His praises and hailing him as King, AND the dead man raised to life in the crowd with him, they could take it no more. 

 

When all the people heard of Jesus’ arrival, they flocked to see him and also to see Lazarus, the man Jesus had raised from the dead. Then the leading priests decided to kill Lazarus, too, for it was because of him that many of the people had deserted them and believed in Jesus. John 12: 9-11 (NLT)

 

Palm Sunday was the last straw. 

 

Jesus –and Lazarus– had to die.

 

And none of Palm Sunday would have happened if Lazarus hadn’t died on the Wednesday before.

 

Yes, today is the day no one celebrates. And we so easily forget that even when the times are dark and it seems like all is lost and nothing will ever be good again, God has a plan.

 

In the midst of our sorrow and our grief and heartache, God has a plan. 

 

And I cannot help but imagine what it was like to talk to Lazarus for the rest of his life on earth. 

 

In terms of “witness,” I can imagine no one other than Jesus Himself as more powerful, more compelling, in that regard. 

 

But the thing is, we are all Lazarus. We have all been raised from death to life. We were all once dead in our sins, but have passed from death to life in Him. 

 

We were all once stinking, rotten corpses who now live and move and have our being in the author of life, the one who raised the dead to life, Jesus Christ.

 

So, while we may not celebrate this day, let’s remember our brother Lazarus on this day –for we are more like him than we know.

 

Today’s Praise

Come on and rise up, take a breath, you’re alive now!
Can’t you hear the voice of Jesus calling us?
Out from the grave like Lazarus!
You’re brand new, the power of death couldn’t hold you!
Can’t you hear the voice of Jesus calling us!
Out from the grave like Lazarus!

 

(Lyrics from “Rise Up” by Cain –currently playing on Kinship Christian Radio)

 

(Photo of Church of St. Lazarus in Larnaca, Cyprus, by Dimitri Svetsikas)

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