“Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.”
(Thomas Chisolm, Great is Thy Faithfulness)
Some people were closer to Jesus than others. Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus were in that category. We don’t know how they met, but we see Jesus in their home and at the same gatherings, with them in good times and bad.
These are friends of Jesus, true friends that he sought out, and I get the impression it’s because he liked their company.
You would think that being a friend of Jesus would mean he’d always be around when you need him. That wasn’t the case with Mary, Martha and Lazarus. They found that in one of their darkest hours Jesus wasn’t there.
Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” (John 11:1-3.)
This passage has promise. Lazarus was sick, his sisters got word to Jesus even though he was out of the area, and they are probably confident that once he hears he’ll drop everything to come help. After all, Lazarus is someone Jesus loves, and that sentence about Mary and the perfume shows that Jesus has a special relationship with this family.
He didn’t drop everything.
When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.” (John 11:4-7.)
The sickness won’t end in death – so far so good, and the reader expects Jesus to go to his friends as quickly as he can because of the love he has for “Martha and her sister and Lazarus.”
But he doesn’t. Instead Jesus stays right where he is for a couple more days. This is love?
Perhaps love takes an unexpected turn here, foreshadowed by Jesus’ assurance not only that the sickness won’t end in death, but is for God’s glory. We’ll have to read on and see.
After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”
His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.
So then he told them plainly, “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.” (John 11:11-15.)
Seriously, Jesus? You’re glad he’s dead? What kind of a friend says something like that?
Mary and Martha know what Jesus’ absence means, and they pull no punches when he finally shows up:
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.”
Mary soon follows her sister, and Jesus gets no gentler reception:
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.” (John 11:20-21, 32.)
Who can withstand this type of grief and not feel moved? Not Jesus, that’s for sure.
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. (John 11:33-35.)
He weeps, but can he do anything about Mary’s and Martha’s grief, anything besides cry alongside them? Where is the glory of God that Jesus promised would come form all this. What happened to his promise that Lazarus wouldn’t die?
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?” (John 11:38-40.)
So Jesus hasn’t forgotten, God’s glory is still to be revealed in all this. The people around him know that Lazarus is as dead as dead can be, though, and he stinks because of it.
Jesus knows something more.
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.”
When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. (John 11:41-45.)
There is the glory: many came to faith in Jesus. And now we know what Jesus meant in saying that Lazarus’ illness would not end in death. He didn’t mean Lazarus wouldn’t die; he meant that death was not the end.
When people say “It ain’t over ’til it’s over”, they’re wrong. Even the most final experience we can think of – death – doesn’t end things.
More is yet to come.