Life After Darkness
By Anthony Casperson
It’s a common enough storytelling practice that I’m sure you can see your favorite version of this in your own head. The main characters of the story are in trouble. They need help. Darkness surrounds the heroes. The enemy (whatever it is) strikes. Death. Pain. Suffering. The heroes lose hope as they’re swallowed by the darkness.
At just the right moment (sometimes, literally when the light of the sun peeks out over the horizon and light floods into the situation) that person the heroes have been waiting for arrives. Help has come. The tide’s turned. Hope surges as the music swells. People in the audience cheer. The enemy is defeated and the heroes rejoice in their salvation.
But what if the cavalry didn’t come when expected?
What if, in the moment of deepest need, help didn’t arrive? The darkness overwhelmed the heroes. Beaten, broken, battered. The heroes at the mercy of the enemy, some already slain.
No story would do that. Hope can be lost. The situation grim. But never would a story go beyond recoverable loss (even if they had to turn to time travel changes, or showing it to all be a bad dream).
But life has a way of writing darker stories.
In the fifth “I Am” statement of Jesus found in the writings of John, a darker story is written. A story where hope didn’t arrive “in time.” Hope was beyond lost. The sun rose over the horizon, but darkness remained in control.
It’s found in John 11:25, but a large chunk of the chapter needs to be taken in context. A man named Lazarus lay on his deathbed. His sisters, Martha and Mary, sent for Jesus. They were dear friends whom he would visit when he was in their general area. So, they could expect Jesus to come and possibly do the miraculous things that he’s done before.
But there was a problem. You see, they lived in Bethany, a town close to Jerusalem in the south of the land of Israel. Jesus spent much of his time in the northern part of the country, in the area called Galilee. He would travel the about-a-day journey toward the house of these three siblings when he was going to Jerusalem. This trek being performed but a few times a year.
Jesus wasn’t on his way down to Jerusalem. The person who gave him the news would have to travel the distance, find him travelling from town to town in the northern parts of the country, and then finally deliver the message.
Lazarus was about to die, time as much an enemy as death itself.
If we look at the timeline shown in the chapter and add in the day’s travel to get to Bethany, Lazarus was likely dead before news of his illness even reached Jesus. The request sent in time, but events surrounding it moved in such a way that help couldn’t arrive before he died.
But what does Jesus do when he hears that his friend is on his deathbed and might be dead right now? Does he rush off immediately, dropping everything to go? No. He says that the illness is not to death and will be used to give God glory and reveal Jesus’ power.
And then he waits two days!!!
Martha and Mary sat over their dying brother, praying, hoping for Jesus to come cure him. Darkness crept in, stealing the breath of Lazarus. The sisters watched the sun rise, but the shadows reigned that day. Hope was still there. Jesus had raised the dead before.
They gently wrapped their brother in death cloths. Tears in their eyes. Hope in their hearts that Jesus would come. Some have said that the spirit lingers three days around the body. As long as Jesus arrived in that time, he could connect the two back together. He could still raise Lazarus.
The sun rose a second time since their brother’s death, but the light remained aloof. And then the third sunrise came…and hope left them that day, when no help came.
On the fourth day after Lazarus’ death, Jesus arrived. He was too late. The Light of the World didn’t defeat the darkness in time to save Lazarus. Jesus even told his closest followers that Lazarus had died. They didn’t understand at first. Jesus had said it wasn’t going to be a lethal illness. How could Jesus have been wrong? And how did he know the man was dead?
The sisters heard word that Jesus drew near. So distraught, Mary didn’t even get up to greet him. Martha met Jesus. Her faith was still strong in him. She said that if Jesus had gotten here in time, he could’ve saved her brother. She still believed that God would work through him, but it was too late for her brother.
Jesus tells her that Lazarus will rise again. And the woman knows enough to understand that the people of God will rise on the last day. Her hope a future one.
And this is where we see Jesus make his statement. “I am the resurrection and the life.” Whoever believes in him, even if they die, will live. He asks if Martha believes this. And she does.
She goes to get Mary to hear the words of encouragement from the teacher. Mary’s reaction is similar to her sister’s, though she falls at the feet of Jesus to say similar words. At the sight of this suffering woman at his feet, Jesus is moved to tears.
Death is an enemy that he came to this world to defeat. And it had hurt those whom he loved. It moved him to action. The things that move a person to tears are the things that move them to act. They are the things worth fighting for.
Death had just called Jesus to a duel.
Storming the gate of Death, Jesus stood before the tomb of his friend. Before the stone covering the tomb was rolled away, the reminder came that it had been four days since Lazarus had died. The jeers of Death gloating at Jesus that he was too late.
With the aid of the Father, in one blow, Jesus sends Death running. He calls for Lazarus to come out. Deafening silence from the shadows. And then from the darkness, life emerges. Lazarus alive and well, if not a bit uncomfortable in the death cloths.
Jesus was not too late.
He might have come long after anyone had hope left. He might not have come before the darkness overwhelmed. But he came at just the right time to show the power of God. The power that he as God enfleshed in humanity contained.
There are times in our own lives when we question where God is amidst the darkness. We’ve prayed. We’ve pleaded. But no answer has come. The job that we desperately needed was lost. We lose our house. We have a mysterious illness that leaves us in pain and agony and no answers give us the cure. We struggle with depression and anxiety, wanting to be happy, but the darkness will not flee from our minds.
We feel like God is too late, unable to arrive in time. The sun rises, but shadows still reign. We want help to arrive as the light shines over the horizon. But day after day, it doesn’t come. We might still have faith that Jesus can do many things, but we think that it’s too late for us.
But life can come after the darkness.
Why does Jesus wait? To help us grow in faith in him and to show his glory and power. If God always came at just the right moment, we’d never know how powerful he is. He’s able to come after the “right” moment and still make life happen.
That is resurrection in action. Not just in bringing a dead person to life, but bringing hope out of darkness, joy out of depression, peace out of pain, love out of hate. Resurrection isn’t just a future hope for those of us who follow Jesus. Our bodies will come back to life on the last day, but it’s so much more.
It’s the defeat of Death. Even the death-by-inches that happens as we dwell in the darkness of this world. Our losses, our struggles, our pains, our depression, our hate, they all drive us ever closer to death. That is what Jesus defeated when God raised him from his own grave.
“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” Do you believe that it’s never too late for Jesus to bring life after darkness?