Lazarus: Historical Jesus or Cosmic Christ

If you aren’t familiar with the story of Lazarus, you can find it in John 11. Lazarus was a friend of Jesus who had died. Jesus shows up at Lazarus’ tomb a few days later and all the mourners are there along with Mary (Lazarus’ sister) and many of Jesus’ friends and disciples.  The short version is that Jesus weeps for a moment and then reminds people that he is the resurrection and the life and even though we die, if we believe, we shall live again.

My point isn’t to exegete the story. My focus today is to demonstrate that there are two common assertions that emerge within the story.

The first assertion is the historical aspect which details how Jesus’ disciples would have believed and how it would have impacted them. Most bible teachers are working to put us back into the story by way of leveraging the story as an imperative or directive for how modern people should believe. The idea is that if we can make our belief system like those in the past, then our experience will be more orthodox (right belief).

This approach creates a tension however, between an historical belief and a future resurrection. By focusing almost exclusively on a narrow point in history, many Christians miss the wider assertion and thus miss its implications for living. Proving historical accuracy is the only means to resolve this tension, and this creates problems.

The second assertion is the cosmic aspect of Christ. In this miraculous story, the power of Christ works through Jesus the man of history.  This teaching is indicative rather than imperative. It’s describing a reality rather than prescribing a way to live. For example, what does it mean for us to “Rise up, and come forth?” Just look around you and notice all of those whose lives have emerged from a state of brokenness or suffering or loss. Everywhere we look, on every continent, in every people group, in every religion, race, social class, and strata of life, we see story after story of people who have risen out of their adversity. What should have been a grave or a form of death became the birthplace of life. All of whom are having a Christ experience in the cosmic sense even if they do not define it that way.

This cosmic assertion means we don’t have to wait until one day to rise up or resurrect. It frees us to live. It calls us out of a deep slumber and wakes us to really live despite the worst of circumstances. It gives us a new disposition, yes a new life in the midst of the life we already have. This wide angle lens allows many modern people access to the resurrection language because it can be seen within our lives and it doesn’t constrain us to only see resurrection as a post-death event that remains unproven in modern minds.

These two assertions use the bible in very different ways and both are acceptable. However, the historical assertion ultimately truncates access to Jesus by requiring a historical experience to be imported into ours.

The cosmic assertion allows us to see Jesus in a new way rather than an historical way. It allows us to see the cosmic story being played out in our lives which makes it very real and immediate.

This is how I have come to recognize that even though a person can struggle with or even deny the idea of the historical Jesus, they can still very much believe and experience the power of the cosmic Christ. This profoundly widens the view of those who are a part of his Church and it makes the story very inclusive to all comers.

In the end, none of us alive today really have anything but a cosmic belief in Christ. None of us have ever seen Jesus in the flesh. If we are honest, it is the power of the cosmic Christ that ever really touched any of us. This should allow us a ton of grace towards others and hopefully allow us to see this cosmic work in ways that may ordinarily be diminished or even denied

Lazarus is all around us. We are all called out of our tombs into a bright world where we can shed our grave clothes and really live.