On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there. When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” – John 11:17-42
It is not often that we get a glimpse of the soul of God, but I think that is what we are given in this passage. Jesus, the Messiah, “the resurrection and the life” is visiting Mary and Martha who have just experienced great earthly loss. Lazarus has died and Jesus is here to be the resurrection and the life for him and for all those who are there to witness the event. In previous chapters (John 11:14-16) Jesus has told the disciples that this spiritual squall is meant to be a sign for them to believe that He is not only the Messiah but the Son of God with power over life and death.
The passage begins with Martha going out to meet Jesus while He is still on His way to Bethany from Jerusalem, apparently a two-mile walk. Martha go out to meet Jesus while He is still on His way with great faith in Jesus’ ability to help in a seemingly helpless situation, “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” I am not sure what she thought He could do but she was hopeful none the less.
Jesus responds “Your brother will rise again.” Martha, knowing that her brother is dead, places her hope in the future resurrection that Jesus has talked about many times before. Her understanding of who Jesus is and what He is on earth to do is about to get much bigger. Jesus says “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Martha, still thinking that any resurrection from the dead is in the far distant future, responds “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” Although technically correct, her view of Jesus was still not big enough. Martha returns to their house to fetch Mary so she can go to Jesus too. Mary also finds Jesus while He is still on His way but she is distracted by the recent loss of her brother Lazarus.
She is confused and conflicted, she says to Jesus “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Perhaps she was wondering how this Man who claimed to be the resurrection and the life could allow her beloved brother to die. Lazarus was also a good friend to Jesus and He is apparently moved to tears by this loss “Jesus wept”. His soul was laid bare by this loss of a friend and the impact this had on his sisters. The crowd, and perhaps inwardly Mary and Martha, question why His ability to heal others was not used to prevent Lazarus from dying. Jesus knew that Lazarus was dying and allowing his death and resurrection was part of a bigger plan, just like His own death and resurrection which will come in a short time, at least as we humans measure time.
The same compassion and love that Jesus showed for Lazarus is what will lead Him to the cross to accept crucifixion for everyone else. God loves each and every one of us deeply and with the same intensity that He loved Lazarus. He weeps for us too, especially when we choose to remain separated from His love.
Lazarus’ death and resurrection serves as a sign for those who witnessed it, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” The act of raising Lazarus from the dead was a miracle to be sure, but the main target of this demonstration of divine intervention was not Lazarus. It was for Jesus’ disciples, all those who witnessed the event, and those who read about it later like myself.
Of course we know the end of this story is that Lazarus emerges from the cave alive and well. The reality is that God is still in the resurrection business for all those who are willing to be born of the spirit. We can all step out of the cave and experience the Light of the World. In order to have this eternal life and rebirth all we need do is die to our selves and be willing to drink in God’s living water drawn from the wells if salvation.
Prayer: God You offer all of us new life in You. Help us to walk out of the darkness and experience the new life that you offer.