I read the story of Lazarus again today, and it kind of struck me with more power than I think it ever has before.
So John 11 opens as Jesus receives word that Lazarus was sick.
The first thing I noticed was how Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus. They sent for Jesus, because they knew that He loved their brother.
Do we know that? Really? Are we totally convinced of God’s love… enough to expect that, out of all the crowds calling for His attention, He’ll come and answer our request?
The next thing I realized was how Jesus immediately made the decision to wait for two days before He left. He said then, at the very beginning of the story, that Lazarus was going to die and that He would raise Him from the dead. He reaffirmed this knowledge two days later when they left, when He said that Lazarus had already died.
I wonder how the disciples felt? Were any of them filled with anticipation over what just might be the most spectacular miracle of their career? It doesn’t seem so. John wrote that they they tried to keep Him from going to Bethany, because Bethany was only two miles from Jerusalem, and Jerusalem was filled with people who wanted to kill Jesus. In fact, Thomas’s response to Jesus’ insistence in going was, “All right, then! We’ll all go with you and die together!” (Thomas may have been a doubter, but he wasn’t a coward.)
So Jesus goes to Bethany. Martha meets Him first and professes to believe that Jesus can do whatever He wishes… although she thought, when Jesus first said that Lazarus would rise, that He was referring to the end resurrection. But Jesus asked her if she believed in Him. She replied that she knew He was the promised Messiah.
I wonder… why did Jesus choose that moment to ask for her declaration of faith? Perhaps this was a crisis moment for her… her beloved brother had died, and perhaps their situation was such that they would then be homeless and their home would pass into the hands of the next male relative. I’ve never really thought about how terrible of a ‘storm’ Mary and Martha were going through that week. But suppose their world was literally falling apart. Perhaps Martha needed a chance to reaffirm to herself exactly what and who she was holding onto through it. Because Jesus didn’t ask her if she believed He could raise Lazarus from the dead. He wanted to know whether she believed in who He was.
Then Mary came, and the first thing she said was the same as her sister… that if Jesus had been there, Lazarus would not have died. That’s how sure they were of Jesus’ power and His love for their brother. They knew Jesus… both His love and willingness to help their brother, and His power. But what I think they didn’t see, perhaps, was His willingness to help them. They kept repeating that He loved their brother… but did they doubt that He loved them, too?
How often do we do the same thing? We find it easy to think that God loves those that we love, but we find it hard to believe He loves us.
John then tells us how Jesus saw Mary weeping… and He wept. Almost everyone knows this tiny verse, but most of the time people seem to think the same thing that the people there did. They saw Jesus crying, and they said, “Look how much He loved Lazarus!”
But that’s not why He was weeping! At least, I don’t think so. Why would He weep for Lazarus? He knew He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead! And He certainly wouldn’t have wept for His own loss for the same reason.
No, the only reason I can see that He wept is because He simply saw someone He loved in pain, and He felt that pain. That’s all. He loved them! There was Jesus… knowing that their brother would soon be restored to them… yet still weeping… simply because of the pain they were currently going through.
Finally we get to Lazarus’ tomb. Jesus tells them to roll it aside. Martha says through her tears, “Wait, Jesus! He’s been dead for four days. It’s going to stink really badly in there!”
Jesus turns to her, and I think He smiled as He reminded her that she was about to see the glory of God. He knew what was about to happen. He’d known it for days.
I wonder if Mary and Martha had any inkling of what was about to happen. I mean, what else could Jesus have possibly been up to, other than raising their brother from the dead? Yet… He hadn’t raised anyone from the dead before then, so perhaps it seemed so far outside of the realm of possibility that it never even entered their minds. Perhaps they were totally confused as to what in the world Jesus was up to. I have to admit, I’ve been there!
So they removed the stone, and the smell came rushing out. I wonder if people staggered away and gagged and threw up. Maybe they held their noses politely and tried to pretend it wasn’t bad for Mary and Martha’s sake. Somehow I doubt Jesus made a big deal out of it, though.
Instead, He raised His face toward heaven and prayed something that I find kind-of funny. “Father,” He said, “Thank You for hearing Me.” Then He added, “I already know that You always hear me… the only reason I’m even praying this is because these people here won’t believe You sent me unless I do.” And that’s the extent of His prayer!
But then comes the power. This rather ordinary-looking man stood there facing the tomb. He drew on the power that He knew He had… the power that created the universe, breathed the stars, and formed man to begin with… and He raised His voice and called to Lazarus… into the tomb, through the wrappings, and beyond the power of death itself.
Think about it! The power of His voice reached through the veil that separates the living from the dead, and it found Lazarus and issued a command.
And Lazarus did!
I honestly have no idea how, because it says his feet were bound, too… and every mummy I’ve ever seen certainly couldn’t have walked… and he definitely couldn’t see where he was going if his face was bound. It causes me to wonder exactly when Lazarus ‘came to.’ Did he remember waking up in the tomb and wondering what this supernatural power was that was lifting his body and propelling it from the tomb? Or did he remember nothing until they were unwrapping him?
I would have wanted to ask all those questions. But even more, I would love to see God’s perspective that day. Sure, what the people saw was spectacular. But God saw the power that Jesus’ voice carried — a great rending of the barrier between two dimensions. The power of death suddenly dismantled.
I wonder what else was happening in the spiritual realm? Were demons screaming in horror? Were angels watching in awe? And was God smiling smugly at this tiny demonstration of power? Or was He filled with grief because of those who still refused to believe?