What does it mean to be brave? The Merriam-Webster dictionary tells us that to “be brave” means having the mental or moral strength to face danger, fear or difficulty: having or showing courage. For most of us the concept of being brave has probably changed over time. My 8 year old told me that being brave means being courageous and doing things that we are scared of doing. He is a dare devil, and reports that he isn’t currently scared of anything... So it’s pretty easy to be brave! My younger son was a little more concrete with his answers. He agreed, that being brave means not being scared, but added that he was brave enough to swim in the deep water and to do Kung Fu against the bigger kids in his class.
What does it mean to be brave once we’ve learned to be brave enough to swim or sleep during a lightning storm? What do we have to be brave enough to do?
We’ve just read the story of Lazarus. You’ve probably heard it before. Maybe many times, but it’s not a story we typically associate with bravery. We might think of David or Joshua being brave, or Peter walking out into the water to follow Jesus. But Lazarus was dead in the tomb, Jesus showed up and brought him back to life. Not a lot of bravery there, right?
From the very beginning, this is a story of bravery. When Jesus hears that Lazarus is sick, he said to the disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.” But the disciples are like: NO WAY. “Didn’t they just try to stone you in Judea?”
Jesus answers with what seems like a throw away comment. Jesus’ disciples express their fears about going back to Judea and Jesus answers, “Are there not twelve hours in the day?”
Disciples: Hey, Jesus we have concern for your life. Jesus: Hey, we have twelve hours of daylight.
How do those two statements compute?
Jesus was probably speaking about the natural order of things – night and day, light and dark.
When the earth is illuminated by the sun, you can walk and not stumble because you can see… This is the natural order of things, perhaps Jesus is simply saying, that his time had not yet come, so the disciples should not worry for his life.
But I think it’s also more than that. On the one hand, Jesus sets aside the anxiety of the disciples, by directing their attention to the fact that his time is not yet expired, he is safe from the apprehended dangers. On the other hand, Jesus is reminding them that He must make use of the time apportioned to Him before it comes to an end. He must walk by the light that has been given to him, not wasting his time worrying about what is to come or about stumbling on the roadblocks that will inevitably come.
If this is true for Jesus, it must be true for us. The day of Jesus’ work is illumined by heaven’s light. Christ’s disciples are given the same heavenly confidence. We must bravely live by heaven’s light.
Scripture even calls all of Christ’s followers children of the light. Ephesians 5:8-9 “For you where once in darkness, but now you are in the light of the Lord. Live as children of the light…”
What does it mean to live as children of the light? Surely it doesn’t mean that we won’t stumble. But, living as children of the light does mean that we cannot live in the shadows – whether they are the shadows of our own insecurities, fears, and doubts, or the shadows of injustice, poverty, and violence cast by society. Living as children of the light means we are called out of the shadows to do hard things, to follow Christ into the dark places in the world, bringing His light of hope, justice and peace.
As Christ followers, we have been thrust into the light, but we don’t go alone. We go with a trustworthy God: a God who parted the Red Sea and brought the Israelites out of Egypt; a God who provided manna when there was no food to be found; a God who brought the walls of Jericho crumbling down and brought his people into the promised land.
A God whose history has shown us that we can bravely rely on Him, is the same God who went with Christ into Judea, and is the same God who goes with us. The disciples may have been scared to go back to Judea, we might be scared to face our own dark places, but Christ never brings his people into any danger. He does go with them in it, when it comes.
There area two aspects to being bold in this story –
The first part of being bold means to care deeply. Jesus cared deeply for his friend Lazarus and for Mary and Martha. Jesus wept for Lazarus. The Jewish leaders mistook Jesus’ deep emotion for his inability to perform miracles. But it wasn’t that he couldn’t perform the miracle, it is that he stopped long enough to grieve - long enough to care about what was happening around him. When Jesus saw Mary weeping, he was deeply moved.
When we are bold enough to open ourselves up to the vulnerability of loving others, we are not immune to grief, but we are living out God’s desire for our lives. 1 John 4:17, “This is how love is made complete among us, that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: in this world we are like Jesus.” If we are to be like Jesus, we must boldly live into real life, in the messy and the imperfect parts. We have to acknowledge the hard parts, the parts of life together that bring us grief, and we have to go there… knowing that we are going to be moved to tears.
The second aspect of being bold that we see in this passage is being bold in prayer. Before Jesus raised Lazarus; before Jesus did anything, he prayed. And he boldly prayed! You’ve already heard me, Father, I know this. Every time I pray, God, you hear me. In every situation, God, you hear me.
If Jesus stopped to pray, to recall that God has heard his every prayer, how much more do we boldly need to pray? Without ceasing and in every situation. Father, I thank you that you have heard me, that you always hear me…
Like Jesus, we can affirm that our prayers are heard. We can say with the Psalmist: “On the day I called, you answered me; you made me bold with strength in my soul” (138:3).
And so it doesn’t matter what we are facing. Jesus tells us to pray. What are we afraid of? What are we being called to face? Pray. Maybe it seems hopeless, maybe we can’t find the right words. It doesn’t matter, God has already heard.
Maybe you’re feeling trapped and unable to pray. I think of Jonah, in the belly of the whale, praying: “In trouble, deep trouble, I prayed to God. He answered me. From the belly of the grave, I cried, ‘Help!’ You heard my cry. You threw me into ocean’s depths, into a watery grave, with ocean’s waves… Crashing over me. I said: ‘I’ve been thrown away, thrown out, out of your sight. I was as far down as a body can go… Yet you pulled me up from that grave alive, O God, my God! When my life was slipping away, I remembered God, and my prayer got through to you…’”
In the belly of that fish, in that deep dark pit, Jonah boldly prayed. When he thought all was lost, he reached out to a God whose hand was not too short to save (Isaiah 59:1). Was Jonah’s life perfect and easy from that prayer on? I don’t think so! He was vomited up by that fish and still had to go do the job God had sent him to do that he was trying so unsuccessfully to avoid.
But it was after that prayer that Jonah brushed the seaweed off and did the job that needed to be done. Our prayers are holy conversation with the God who already knows what we need, and what this world needs of us. Prayer is both a bold witness to the God who hears us, and it is the underpinnings of our faith in action. Our prayers in private result in boldness in public to live out the hardest parts of our faith.
We already know the end of this story. Jesus raises Lazarus from the tomb to new life. “Them bones” were dead and dried up, but somehow He told them that they could live.
Think about Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones. There was nothing living there, and out of nothing the Lord attached tendons to bones and flesh appeared on them. Even though they were dead and gone, the Son of Man could breathe life into them. Where there was no hope, life still came. It wasn’t too late for the Lord to save them.
It wasn’t too late for Jesus either. Lazarus had been gone for days but it wasn’t too late. Jesus stood at the edge of the tomb, and called out to Lazarus: “Lazarus come out.”
With three words, Jesus brought decaying bones back to life. Lazarus come out. Lazarus had to be brave enough to take that first step out of the tomb. Maybe he was shaking on his feet. Maybe the light was so bright for him because he had been in darkness so long. But it wasn’t too late. Lazarus come out.
Have you ever felt like Lazarus? Have you felt trapped? What are you scared to let go of? What tomb can’t you seem to step out of? So many times the reality of our brokenness is that we prefer the hell we know, to the mystery we don’t. But it isn’t too late for a brave new beginning.
Maybe you feel afraid and hopeless, stuck – in a tomb. But we don’t need to be stuck. Our fears are false and they hold us in the pit. We don’t need to be in that pit, and we don’t need to climb out of it on our own. Jesus died on the cross and went to the pit so that we don’t have to. He lifts us out of the pit to new life, and he beckons us to come out and claim it.
He was buried in the tomb for you. He was resurrected out of that tomb for you. There is nothing that you have done, nothing that you will face that can keep you in the darkness of this world’s tombs. You cannot be held captive in a tomb because you are free in Christ. And by His victory over sin, death, and the darkness of every tomb, we can bravely step into new life that he has set before us. We are free to love boldly and bravely live.
Christian bravery is really hope cloaked in the courage of Christ on the cross. Christian hope looks at death and says, “we know you haven’t won.” So in all those dark places: in every pit, and in every valley of dry bones where we need hope to step out... This is where we need Jesus, and my friends this is exactly where he is…with us, standing where the world’s darkness meets his radiant light. Jesus is there. Jesus is calling us out of the tomb to new life.
I don’t know what you need to be brave enough to body face. I don’t know what kind of pit you might feel trapped inside of: are you at the bottom of the pit of a broken relationship? Are you suffering in the darkness of the tomb of a terrible work situation, difficult parenting, an addiction… Are you a tired caregiver, are you lonely? Are you trapped by your unwillingness to forgive, your broken dreams or inability to dream?… Whatever you are facing, Jesus is calling you into new life, he is calling you by name to come out of the tomb. He is beckoning you to come and to be your most authentic self in the light of his forgiveness and his salvation. He is calling you, today, to new life. Come out of the tomb.