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.”
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.”
“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”
Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”
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.”
Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
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.
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.”
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. (New International Version)
Here’s a Captain Obvious observation:
what God wants, and what we want, is not always the same thing.
Today’s Gospel story centers around a man named Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha. The disciples were familiar with them since they were committed followers of Jesus.
Their friend Lazarus became deathly ill. Christ and the disciples caught wind of it. Everyone believed Jesus could do something about this. But Jesus stayed put. He didn’t make a move to go to his sick friend.
After a few days, Lazarus died. It was only then, that Jesus made his move.
The religious authorities in Jerusalem had it out for Jesus. But Jesus decided to go to Bethany and Jerusalem anyway. This made no sense to the disciples. Lazarus was lying dead in Bethany. Going there would put everyone at risk – which is why Thomas uttered the defeatist and dramatic statement, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Yet, they all went. And once they arrived, Christ and his disciples found the grieving sisters. Mary and Martha believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah who would come and save the people. They didn’t understand why Jesus stayed away and didn’t come sooner.
If Jesus had been there, he could have healed Lazarus. He healed other people, so why not a friend and a brother?
The death of Lazarus seemed to be the end. No one was happy with how things shook-out. Lazarus died. The disciples’ plans were dead. Mary and Martha’s expectations died…
but death is exactly what it takes in to have resurrection.
There’s no such thing as a painless miracle. Death isn’t a pleasant affair. I have been with countless people at the end of life, and I will tell you that, although it’s possible for a death to be peaceful, it’s still ugly business.
It’s also painful to watch carefully laid and prayed over plans die. It hurts to see a long sought after dream just go up in smoke and die. To see anything or anyone we deeply care about die is gut-wrenching. Yet, in order for a resurrection to occur, there must first be a death.
There cannot be a new life unless there’s an old one.
Jesus did the impossible by raising Lazarus from death and giving him new life. And the resurrection of Lazarus pointed to an even greater truth: Christ’s own death and resurrection was coming, and it will change everything.
Whenever what we want dies, then we are in a position to ask: So, what does God want?
God wanted something better than what everybody else wanted. By allowing ourselves to be consumed with what God wants, it turns out to be the very best thing for us, even if it does not quite jive with what I want.
Everyone’s expectations needed to die, along with Lazarus, for the resurrection to become reality. Only then did Jesus act by rising Lazarus from death.
Jesus pointed to himself as the one able to bring life to all that is dead among us. Sometimes:
- dreams must die so that Jesus can resurrect them to new life, with outcomes far more glorious than you and I could ever imagine
- plans have to be dead and buried before Jesus will breathe new life into them, making those plans so much more than they could ever have been in our hands.
- ministries, even churches, need to be dead as a doorknob so that Jesus can resurrect them and give them new life, invigorated with spiritual resurrection power.
If we desire to see the miracle of resurrection, we must die to ourselves – take up our crosses and follow Jesus into the grave so that he can transform our lowly expectations into a glorious new existence. Death does not have the last word because Christ’s resurrection makes it possible for us to have new life. Again, I ask:
What does God want? God wants to raise the dead to life.
Do you believe this? Yes, I believe. Help me in my unbelief.
Follow the path of what God wants and watch what the Lord will do for you.