The gospels are a fascinating study in stubbornness.
Most of the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees, the Scribes, the Chief Priests, and the Elders of the Jewish Nation obstinately refused to listen to Jesus. They were nonplussed by His astounding miracles. So determined were they, to cling to their little sphere of power, that they ignored the voice of the only one who could save them.
The apostle John records for us the death and resurrection of Jesus’ friend Lazarus in John chapter 11. This revealing account shows the power of God, the persistent faith of those who loved Jesus, and the appalling foolishness of the Pharisees.
Lazarus was dead.
Four days he laid in a tomb, dead and decaying.
Not four minutes.
Not four hours.
Human decomposition begins approximately four minutes after a person dies. The cells, suddenly deprived of oxygen, begin to fall apart. Eventually, rigor mortis—the stiffening of the body—sets in. Within the first 72 hours, the organs decompose. Within 3-5 days, the body bloats, with foam and blood leaking from the mouth and nose. Putrefaction causes the body to stink.
The body of Lazarus was in this stage of decomposition.
Several people witnessed his lifeless body being put in the tomb. Many more came to mourn with the bereaved sisters. Jesus arrived four days after Lazarus’ death, to the disdain and grief of some who said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” Beneath the gaze of both the believing and the cynical, Jesus performed a miracle proving beyond a shadow of a doubt who he was. Jesus spoke life into the lifeless. He brought the soul of Lazarus back into his body and restored his decaying flesh. Lazarus walked out of the tomb, without the aid of a defibrillator. He wasn’t rolled out on a gurney or assisted by a nurse.
Jesus spoke, and there was life.
This miracle reaffirmed the faith of the faithful. It gave joy to the grieving. It pulverized the cynicism of the scoffer. Most who witnessed this event believed in Jesus and He was glorified. A few went to tell the leaders.
There should have been no denying Jesus’ power at this point, but sometimes what is missing from the story is more revealing than what is told. Nobody asks the witnesses to verify that Lazarus had actually died. It went uncontested. Nobody questions whether or not this was some sort of hoax. The truth was incontrovertible. There were too many witnesses, and far too much evidence to deny the legitimacy of this miracle.
The Jewish leaders should have fallen down at Jesus’ feet, ready to follow Him wholeheartedly. Instead, like stubborn children, the leaders metaphorically clapped their hands to their ears and sang at the top of their lungs to drown out the message. The text tells us they gathered together and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 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.” (John 11.47-48, ESV)
The real question is, why don’t they believe? Why aren’t they listening?!?!
Jesus’ divinity and power was devastatingly obvious, but they refused to listen or believe. They plot to kill Jesus first, and then conspire to kill Lazarus for good measure.
I shake my head pityingly at their recalcitrant behavior.
Are there times I am guilty of the same? Do I stubbornly ignore the voice of the Lord?
Do I read His Word selectively, skimming over the parts that make me uncomfortable?
Do I ignore or minimize commandments that would force me to change a certain habit?
Do I stubbornly refuse to analyze passages that don’t seem to fit neatly into the square of “church doctrine?” Do I refuse to compare “what I’ve always been taught” with what God’s Word teaches to see whether they are actually in alignment?
Do I witness God’s providential care in my life, but cling desperately to the small shreds of control I think I have?
We have the Word of God, preserved for us through the ages. In spite of all attempts at destruction, there are more manuscripts of the old law, the prophets, the gospels, and the letters from the apostles than any other historical document on record. The Holy Spirit inspired men to write, guiding them to speak the truth. We possess this exquisite library of books within a book, teeming with life-giving knowledge, but do we read in such a way as to be changed by it? Are we hearers but not listeners?
God has spoken, but are we actively listening?