Mary, Martha, and there Brother Lazarus were close friends to Jesus. Jesus had a deep affection towards them and they loved Jesus and responded to Him. The sisters had the grace of hospitality in their hearts. We read in the Gospel of Luke, (Luke 10:38-42) the story of Mary and Martha. They befriended Jesus and invited Him into their home. Martha was busy about preparing the meal that they would share together and became anxious that her sister Mary had sat at the feet of Jesus listening to His words. Martha complained to Jesus but He rebuked her saying that Mary was paying attention to the more important thing. Mary and Martha live in the small town of Bethany which is just east of Jerusalem on the southeast slope of the Mount of Olives.
Jesus was still east of the Jordan River when word came to Him from Mary and Martha that their brother Lazarus was sick. Having a friendship with Jesus does not protect us from human sorrows but it does give us the assurance of His sympathy and relief. When Jesus heard this news of Lazarus’ sickness he responded, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” By His response Jesus did not mean to say that Lazarus would not die or that the purpose of Lazarus’ sickness was for the working of a miracle of resurrection. What Jesus was saying is that the result of the sickness would not be the continued victory of death, but the manifested glory of God, in the triumph of resurrection and life. The purposes of God are beyond our relationships and suffering in this world is a mystery to us but for those of us who place their faith in Jesus, the result of our pain and suffering will be of some eternal good, some manifestation of “the glory of God.”
There is another lesson that is hard for us to understand. When we petition the Lord we expect an immediate response or answer. Our waiting can be a test to our faith that God does answer our prayers. We of finite minds cannot know the correct timing of events in life but God does. It is better for us to wait on the Lord to act and trust Him for the right answer to our prayers. After hearing the news of Lazarus Jesus remained two more days east of the Jordan ministering there. Jesus was not waiting there for Lazarus to die as he was already dead and buried before the message of his illness had reached Jesus.
Neither had Mary and Martha asked Jesus to come. They knew the dangers for Jesus to return to Judea where the Pharisees were planning to kill Him. Mary and Martha did not send a second message once their brother Lazarus had died. For them it was enough that Jesus knew of their troubles. They certainly desired for Jesus to come but they left everything to His decision and were confident of His love.
With a possibility that His return to Judea would result in the sacrifice in His life, after the two days Jesus told His disciples that they should return to Judea. The disciples warned Jesus that the Pharisees had tried to stone Him and that they wanted even now to kill Him. Jesus gave an answer that they did not fully understand at this time. “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. “But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”
Jesus is asserting here that He has a duty to perform the will of the Father. If we walk in the light of the day we are able to see the stumbling blocks in our path. Jesus is the light of the world and if we follow Him He will direct our path to accomplish the good work He is doing through us. But if we walk in the darkness of this world we will not be able to see the stumbling blocks in the path before us. When we step out of the will of the Father we are walking on ground that may have hidden pitfalls that will cause us to stumble.
Jesus then tells His disciples that their friend Lazarus has fallen asleep. This further confused the disciples as they thought Jesus meant literal sleep. They felt that Lazarus would recover without Him. Jesus then plainly told them that Lazarus was dead. Jesus also said that He was glad that He was not there when Lazarus died so that now He could demonstrate the power of God by raising him from the grave. Their witness of this would be a great aid in their belief in Him. It would not be much longer before Jesus too would be dead but by seeing Him raise Lazarus from the dead they would also believe He could raise from the dead also.
In verse sixteen Thomas showed more courage than he is often given credit for. Thomas is better known as doubting Thomas but here he is saying that all of them should go to Judea with Jesus and die with Him.
When Jesus was near to Bethany of Judea Lazarus had been in the grave four days. Bethany was one days travel to where Jesus was east of the Jordan and Jesus remained there two more days after hearing of the Illness of Lazarus. Then Jesus and His disciples traveled one day to Bethany which means that Lazarus had died the day that Jesus had received the news about him.
When Martha heard the He was coming, true to her nature, as we read in Luke 10:38-42, Martha was the first to act. While Mary sat in the house Martha went out to meet Jesus. Martha greeted Jesus with these words, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” This was not a rebuke towards Jesus for not coming immediately but word of regret that Jesus had not been there during Lazarus’ sickness in order to prevent him from dying. Martha then added the following, “Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” This should be seen as a request made in complete faith in Jesus as the Messiah. This statement also implied that Jesus might secure the return of her brother to life. Although Martha’s faith is not perfect as the implication suggested that Jesus, as a man, might make a request to God. This overlooked the truth that Jesus operated in the spiritual realm and not in the physical realm only.
Jesus answered, “Your brother will rise again.” This promise from Jesus did not comfort Martha as seen by her answer, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Martha sees Jesus’ answer as a general resurrection and remote from the present day. Martha was probably thinking of the teaching found in Daniel 12:2-3 where those who sleep in the dust will rise again to an everlasting Life. The Prophet Isaiah also spoke of the New Heaven and the New Earth where God’s People would spend eternity together. (Isaiah 65:17-25) Her friends from Jerusalem about a mile away had come out to comfort her and Mary in this time of loss. They too must have been speaking of those days of resurrection from the scriptures of Daniel and Isaiah in an effort to comfort Martha and Mary.
Words of consolation so often fail to comfort the loss of a loved one in this world. The heart of man craves for something of comfort in the present and promises of distant reunions offer little peace to a hurting heart. That peace can be found in the person of Jesus Christ and for those whose perspective is born of the hope found in the promises of Jesus. The essential message of this entire chapter is personified in the promise of Jesus. “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” Jesus does not need to ask that Lazarus’ life be restored. Jesus does not bid Martha to wait to some future day, as Jesus Himself is the source of life giving power. Our comfort is given to us by our relationship to a present, divine Lord. Our spiritual relationship with God through Jesus Christ is our basis and pledge of a bodily resurrection and an eternal reunion with our Christian family. Physical death is but an incident in the course of an endless spiritual life. Those who accept Jesus as their Lord and Savor have a spiritual restoration through Jesus with God. While our bodies are perishable and die Jesus will resurrect our bodies as imperishable. (1 Corinthian 15:42)
Is Martha able to believe such a marvelous revelation? Her answer shows the strength of her faith and the clearness of her spiritual perspective. All of Martha’s hope is centered on Jesus. “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.”
The Writer of this Gospel, John, does not say but it is implied that Jesus called for Mary to come out where He was. When Mary receives the word that Jesus is calling for her she quickly leaves her home and goes out to where Jesus is. The friends who had come from Jerusalem who were in the house to comfort Mary supposed that she was going to the tomb to further weep for her brother and followed her. When she arrived to the place Jesus was Mary fell at His feet and repeated what her sister Martha had said. “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” Mary makes no further request of Jesus but when Jesus saw her and the friends who had come with her weeping in sorrow He was troubled in His spirit. Jesus then asked to be shown the place of burial and then He wept.
Jesus had offered words of hope in the promise that Martha’s brother would rise again but now to Mary Jesus offered His sympathy. Even though Jesus knew that the life of Lazarus was soon to be restored, and joy to fill the hearts of those who mourned, the thought of the suffering that Lazarus had endured, and of the present anguish of Mary and Martha, Jesus expressed in tears the sympathy of His loving soul.
In our own time of sorrow for the loss of a loved one, as we fall at the feet of our Lord and Savior, we are in need of the hope we have through Him and the comfort of His caring heart. Even as we believe in the future resurrection which will reunite us with our loved one, we may be in less of the need for instruction that was given to Martha than of the tender personal sympathy that was given to Mary by our Lord Jesus.
When Jesus, Mary and Martha, and the many Jewish people who had come with Mary arrived at the tomb Jesus was still deeply troubled. Jesus summoned the people to remove the stone covering the entrance to the tomb. Martha protested because Lazarus had been dead for four days and decomposition had already started. This would cause a stench to come out of the tomb and Martha was worried about that. The Jewish people believed that the spirit of the deceased hovered above the body for three days. Then when the body began to decompose the spirit would depart. Because of this there could be no doubt that Lazarus who had been in the tomb four days was dead. Jesus had resurrected others but known had been dead four days. (Matthew 9:18-26 Mark 5:42-43 Luke 7:11-15 Luke 8:40-56) Jesus reminded Martha of what He had said at an earlier date. If she would but believe she would see the glory of God. They were still not expecting to see a resurrection.
Once the stone was moved Jesus offered a prayer of thanksgiving to the Father for Him hearing His request. Jesus did not offer this prayer for His sake because He knew that the Father always heard Him. The prayer was for those who were witnessing the events about to happen. Coming right after Jesus’ prayer to the Father no one could deny that it was the power of God that brought Lazarus back to life. Then in a loud voice Jesus called out to Lazarus and commanded him to come out, which he did still in his grave wrappings.
There are three things to note here about this sign of Jesus. First it was an actual resurrection, one that could not be explained away as a case of mental healing, Lazarus had been dead four days. Second there was no questioning what had happened as all there had witnessed the event. Even those who were hostile towards Jesus would have to admit that Lazarus had been resurrected. Thirdly it is a declaration by our Lord as no other sign to be given with the purpose of producing faith. Could a careful reading of this testimony from the Gospel of John lead to any other conviction than Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God? We must also rejoice in the promise of the deeper meaning which it gives to faith, a life which robs death of its sting and the grave of its victory.
As usual this sign caused a division among the Jewish people. Some believed in Jesus, they were the ones who came with Mary from the house to meet Jesus. They saw what God had done through Jesus in raising Lazarus from the grave. Others did not believe and they went right away to the Pharisees to report what had happened. They could not deny the sign that Jesus had preformed. What they did not believe is the claim that Jesus had been sent from God and He acted in the power of God.
The result of the unbelieving testimonies was the deepening hatred in the hearts of the rulers. The Pharisees and the chief priest who were Sadducees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was the ruling body of the Jews. The purpose of their meeting was to decide what to do about Jesus. Jesus was performing so many signs and was convincing so many people that the Sanhedrin was worried that much of the Jewish population would follow Jesus.
This presented two problems for the Sanhedrin. If what Jesus taught about God and His relationship to God was right, then they were wrong. Their whole system of Jewish government could collapse with the people turning to Jesus. Also if the people believed in Jesus and the messianic expectations ran to high, there might be a disturbance. Such a disturbance could bring the Roman authorities in to intervene. At present the Romans allowed them free rein in matters of their religion unless trouble broke out. If the Romans moved in to quell any trouble amongst the people the Sanhedrin could lose their privileged position. At the bottom line of either argument self-interest was evident.
Caiaphas, the high priest, spoke out in an unconscious prophecy. “You know nothing at all, nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.” Caiaphas’ meaning in this statement was that it would be better to murder Jesus than to allow their place and nation to be in danger from the Romans. His motive in saying this was selfish and his council diabolical. Caiaphas’ words contained meaning which he never dreamed of.
It is true that Jesus was to die for the people; He was to be the sacrifice for the sin of the world. John the Baptist had proclaimed Jesus to be the Holy Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus was not only to be sacrificed for the Jewish nation but for all the nations of the world. The result of Jesus’ death would be the formation of a new nation, the church, the gathering of the Children of God from all the nations. Caiaphas’ prophecy is being fulfilled but not according to the thoughts of Caiaphas. As a result of the death of Jesus the very state Caiaphas wished to save was destroyed by the Romans. “So from that day on they planned together to kill Him.”
Jesus withdrew to the safety of Ephraim where He and His disciples remained until the Passover season.
Luke 10:38-42, Daniel 12:2-3, Isaiah 65:17-25, 1 Corinthian 15:42, Matthew 9:18-26, Mark 5:42-43, Luke 7:11-15, Luke 8:40-56