“Death be not proud,” begins a famous Holy Sonnet by poet John Donne, “though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so.” Donne addresses Death as a person, saying it has no real power, but is rather “slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men.” He compares it to rest or sleep, even as pleasurable. In the end: “One short sleep past, we wake eternally, And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.”
Like Donne, we can say that death has no real power, for the Lord Jesus has conquered it once and for all! As Jesus told Martha in today’s reading, “I am the resurrection and the life” (v. 25). We’ve already seen that Christ is our Risen Lord (Dec. 9), and that He’s the “firstborn from among the dead” (Col. 1:18). Today’s narrative builds on these truths.
When Christ heard that His friend Lazarus was sick, He deliberately delayed in order to bring God greater glory (v. 4) and to strengthen His disciples’ faith (v. 15). He knew exactly what would happen. Of course, no one else had the foggiest notion. The idea that death could be reversed was so outside their paradigm that even when responding in faith—as Martha did in her powerful confession (v. 27)—they didn’t see it coming. They believed Jesus could have healed Lazarus if He’d come sooner. They believed Lazarus would be raised in the future. But now? After he’d been in the tomb four days? No way.
The fact is, though, that even prior to His death and resurrection, Jesus was Lord over death. He is life and source of all life. He brought Lazarus back to life with a simple command (v. 43), a miracle that brought many to faith in Him (vv. 42, 45). Lazarus presumably died again at a later date, for Christ was the first to be resurrected with a glorified body.
I’ve given some thought to the Scripture passages, music, and poems I’d like used at my funeral—not because I’m morbid, but because I want to tell others about my faith in Christ. One item on my list is the John Donne poem (quoted earlier). How about you? How would you like to testify of your faith in Jesus?