Scripture Lesson: John 11:1-42
Today’s moment with Jesus is a combination of three people. We know these people and have heard about them before this text. In Luke 10:38-42 we can read about a time that Martha invited Jesus to their home. In this encounter, Martha is busy making preparations and Mary sits at the feet of Jesus listening to what he said. We see Martha as the “get it done” kind of woman while Mary seems laid back focused on Jesus. Jesus tells Martha in that story that Mary has chosen the better way.
We don’t hear again from these sisters until now in our text from John 11. As the scenario begins we are told that the relationship between Jesus and this family must be close because when the sisters send word about Lazarus being sick they say, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” This makes me think that maybe Jesus visited them more than once. The scholar, Ben Witherington points out that although there were followers who left everything behind to literally follow Jesus as he moved through the country, there were others who were followers and believed in Jesus ministry but did not move about. The family of Martha, Mary and Lazarus are one such family.
The moments we are going to examine today are set up in the beginning of the text when we read that Lazarus is sick and the sisters send word to Jesus in the hopes he will come. Jesus doesn’t drop everything and run back. In fact he waits two more days before going back to Judea.
This story is evidence that Jesus knows all and uses situations to help people believe. Jesus did not make Lazarus sick nor does he kill him but he allows Lazarus to die before going back. Why? Well as he told his disciples, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” So they may believe? Believe what? Let’s look at the rest of the story and get some answers.
As Jesus and his disciples are nearing Bethany, where the family lived, Martha hears they are coming and she went out to meet them.
I think we have to remind ourselves of the situation. We can all understand what Martha and Mary are feeling. Their brother has just died. They are mourning their loss and now the One who they had seen perform all kinds of miraculous healing was finally coming to them.
Maybe you have experienced something similar. A loved one of yours was sick and you found the doctor that everyone has told you is the best in his field and had helped others to fight this illness successfully. This doctor was the only hope for your loved one but when you called to make an appointment he was out of town and could not see your loved one until he came back. Meanwhile your loved one gets sicker and sicker and succumbs to the disease. You went through the process of mourning, the calling hours, funeral and burial. You are back at home surrounded by family and friends and you receive a call from the doctor who has just come back. How are you going to feel towards that doctor? What would you say?
The scripture tell us that Martha goes out to meet Jesus. Can you feel Martha as she heads to meet him? What is she feeling? There must have been some anger, some disappointment in this man who supposedly loved them. When I read this I feel Martha walking out with an intensity and exasperation toward this man who could have saved her brother. She says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” This is a sorrowful sister speaking but then in the same breath, she speaks as one who believes in Jesus, “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
What does this say about Martha? Does she still think that Jesus can heal Lazarus? What is she thinking? “Even now God will give you whatever you ask.” This sounds like a believer but listen to the rest of their conversation.
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
The Old Testament book of Daniel speaks of the resurrection on the last day. Daniel 12:2 “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth[a] shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” This most likely the reference that Martha is speaking of but it is not comforting because the last days are not comprehendible and so at this time she is just thinking of the loss she is feeling.
Jesus then tells her something that is also incomprehensible. 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
Does she really understand? Can she? She has never heard of this idea of never dying before. How can it be? Yet she believes that Jesus is the Messiah and that is what she puts her focus on.
Martha’s moment pauses here and goes back to get Mary.
Mary has been in deep mourning with her family and other mourners. When she is told that Jesus is there she goes to him and does what Mary does…. she fell at his feet. Mary worships Jesus bows before Him in reverence and awe. Her faith like Martha’s leads her to proclaim, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
The scripture goes on the say, 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
And then the famous two word verse, “Jesus wept.”
The Greek scholars point out that in verse 33 where it says that “Jesus is deeply moved in spirit and troubled” is pointing to his indignation that after all he has done; all the miracles and promises they still do not understand. He knows his ministry is coming to an end and yet has he made clear to the people who He is and what He offers. Yes, Jesus wept but not over Lazarus’ death but over the lack of understanding His followers still seem to have.
We are now at the tomb of Lazarus and Jesus directs them to “Take away the stone.”
Martha has another moment, and in this moment we see that her understanding of Jesus isn’t quite where it needs to be.
Martha comes to Jesus and says “But, Lord, by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
It was important that it had been four days because the ancient belief was that the soul of a person would linger with the body for three days and then left, removing any hope of resuscitation. There was also the fact that the only embalming that took place then was to anoint with spices and oils. These would certainly not mask the smell of a decaying body after 4 days.
40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
41 So they took away the stone.
Then Jesus looked up and prays, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 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.”
This prayer is not for him but for all the people around to hear and possibly understand.
43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Lazarus gets his moment. Jesus called him by name and he is risen from the dead. The only problem is he is still shrouded in the clothes of death. He is given a new life and needs to shed all that binds him.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
Lazarus is alive and free!
These moments today speak to us of those who believe but who don’t fully understand. Also, those who know Jesus but still cannot comprehend that He is the resurrection and life – right now – in the present tense. There is no waiting for the last days when you believe in Jesus as the Christ. Like Lazarus, when we die to this world, Jesus calls us out from the dead, to live again with Him – without the things that bind us to death. When we believe in Jesus as our Savior, we are separated from the sins that lead to death and are resurrection to live forevermore with the One who loves us and gives us life.
Who are you in this story?
Do you believe that Jesus is the Messiah but still cannot grasp the power He has?
Do you believe and worship Him but still mourn and grieve as though there is no life everlasting?
Do you believe and have answered Jesus call to come out of the death, yet try to live in the clothes of the dead?
As we head toward Easter may you believe, worship and live freely in the life of the resurrection that Jesus has given.