The Natural & Unnatural
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it.
—John 11:33-38 (Read John 11)
Have you ever done something that just feels natural? Eric Lidell, a Scottish Olympic runner and gold medalist once said, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” To Liddell, running was natural—a God-ordained gift.
If there is a natural, there is also an unnatural. Perhaps you see a homeless person down on their luck, a single mother struggling to feed her children and pay rent, a person who can't pay their hospital bills or a person of color that is being dehumanized. We notice these things and realize that something isn’t right. These things are unnatural.
This is what John 11:1-44, the death and resurrection of Lazarus, is all about: the natural and unnatural.
Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were dear to Jesus, for we often see him in their home having a meal with them. This family loved Jesus, and Jesus loved them. When Lazarus got sick, their relationship was strained. When hearing the news that Lazarus was sick, Jesus delayed his travel for two days, which probably seemed like a lifetime for Martha and Mary. We would love to see that Jesus grabbed the nearest horse or camel and rode off to their rescue. But he did the opposite: he stayed where he was!
Mary and Martha had to have been hurt by this, feeling as if Jesus was apathetic about the situation. The first thing they said to Jesus upon seeing him is, “Jesus, if only you would have been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.” Which is true. Jesus, the great physician, could heal Lazarus with a word. Instead, he chose to delay himself, for something spectacular was about to happen.
You may have heard it said that biblical repetition is God’s way of getting our attention. In verses 33 and 38, the phrase “deeply moved” is repeated. Often, when we hear these words, we think of compassion (which Jesus does have), but that is not what these words mean. The Greek word for deeply moved (ἐμβριμώμενος) is the same word used for the noise a horse makes when it gets angry. It literally means, “to snort with anger.” Jesus was angry.
Who was Jesus angry at? The crowd for their grief? Mary and Martha for their grief? I don’t think this is the case, for we see that Jesus also grieved (verse 35). So, what was Jesus mad at? Jesus was angry at death.
Have you ever wondered why we cry so hard at funerals? Why is this? From elementary school on we are told that both birth and death are natural part of lives. We are born, we live, we die. We are told it’s the circle of life. If so, then why are we caught off guard by death? Why do we experience the deep and complex emotions that we do? Some would say that it is because we miss and cherish that loved one. This is true, but I believe that we also cry at funerals because we realize that death is not natural.
Death was never part of the plan.
In fact, it was never part of the original creation (Shalom in Genesis 1), and we realize that. That is why we feel so uncomfortable. And Jesus, being God, knew full well that death was not natural! That is why he was angry. So Jesus dealt a blow to the unnatural. He walked up to that tomb (which was a no-no in Jewish customs), taking on the unclean to strike that blow. He told Lazarus to come out. And Lazarus did.
God made a world that was perfect for us, a world that was natural. It was very good. It was Shalom. Yet, the world has fallen (Genesis 3). It is now corrupt and evil. The unnatural has corrupted the natural. Yet Jesus Christ, having compassion for his creation, sacrificed himself on the cross to redeem us and start to restore the world to its natural, very good state.
Jesus himself dealt the final blow to death, to the unnatural, and rose again.
Jesus, our God, did the unnatural! He died, so that we might live. Now, he walks to the tomb of our cold, dark hearts, and brings them to life. Just like he did to Lazarus, he cries to us, “Come out of there! Come to me!”
—Andy Moore is a CCO Campus Minister in partnership with Bellefield Presbyterian Church’s Cornerstone College Ministry.