Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “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. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11 After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
17 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20 So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
28 When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”
38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odour, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
The Death of Lazarus
Let’s pretend we have never read this story before. Let’s pretend we don’t know the ending and see that, “Oh yay, Lazarus is back to life!” Let’s pretend that we see what is going on for the first time. When I was a child I had never seen anyone die. I have seen a few deaths now. You sit by helplessly as a person you love slips away from you. You watch them suffer as their body slows down and shuts down never to start again. Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus because their brother was slowly slipping away from them. They asked Jesus to come and he refused. Mary and Martha watched the light fading from their brother’s eyes and it cut them deeply. When they meet with Jesus and ask him questions there is a mixture of grief and confusion in the air. They know that Jesus loved their brother, but he did not come. They know that Jesus could have saved their brother, but he did not come. They know that Jesus can ask for anything from his Father, but he did not ask. Jesus has healed many. Jesus has touched people with life-giving hands. Jesus did not save his friend from dying.
However, the focus of Jesus’ life is not about these friends. The focus of Jesus’ life is on his service to the Father. The Father’s plan is to allow people to die. We are so much of this earth that we don’t understand how death can be good. We don’t see how suffering can be in the plan. “To live is Christ; To die is gain” said the apostle Paul. Death has lost its sting, we are told. Yet Jesus weeps. He feels grief. In the limitations he has placed on himself, he experiences loss. He allows himself to enter into the suffering that his faithful service of God the Father has caused.
Lazarus is dead. Martha weeps. Mary weeps. Mourners weep. Jesus weeps. They all seem to accept that this is the way it is meant to be. They all seem to submit to God. Yet they weep.
We see your plans carried out, Father, and they are beyond us. We see pain in the act of living. We often see more pain in the act of dying. We experience loss. We experience grief. A chasm opens up between us and the departed. We trust you and we question you. We coil up and we find nowhere to rest. However, we learn to submit because you are God. We wait in silence because you have laid it upon us. You may act. You may not. You are God.
- Why does Jesus delay?
- What do Mary and Martha want? What do you think Lazarus wanted?
- How do you feel about Jesus choosing to allow someone to die?
- When have you found it difficult to see the good in the circumstances around you?
- How do you walk forward through life when you are in grief or loss?