Hanukah was the celebration of the rededication of the Temple after the Maccabean Revolt in response to its desecration by the Seleucid—Greco-Persian—king, Antiochus IV Epiphanes. During this time of persecution and subsequent revolt in the 160’s BC, the Maccabees began better to understand the salvation of God differently than before. Many of them died horrendously violent deaths, but, in the midst of it all, they knew that their faithfulness would be vindicated. They spoke of a time that God—their Creator—would raise them back to life for their faithfulness. The resurrection would take place when God returned to bring about the restoration of all things. Of course, not all Jews believed this, which was also the case by the time of Jesus.
Before the Lazarus episode, Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Hanukah celebration, during which time he healed a blind man. Escalating arguments between Jesus and the people there over that healing eventually led to them wanting to kill him. So, he left. We read last week that Jesus heard Lazarus was sick and waited for him to die. Then, even though his own life was in danger, Jesus’ unstoppable love moved him to turn back to Judea and raise Lazarus up from the dead—an act which would bring glory to his heavenly Father.
Jesus and Martha
John writes that by the time Jesus shows up to Bethany—which is only two miles from Jerusalem—Lazarus has already been in the tomb for four days. Many of the residents of Jerusalem had come down to Bethany to console Martha and Mary. These are the same people who wanted to kill Jesus, why he fled Jerusalem during the Hanukah celebration in the first place. When Martha finds out that Jesus has come and is just outside of the village, she goes out to him. She says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.” Lord, where were you when we needed you most? Have you ever asked that? She continues. She says, “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”
Like the disciples, Martha doesn’t know exactly what Jesus can do, but she does know that he can do extraordinary things, because she trusts in her heavenly Father. After Jesus assures her that her brother will be raised again, she confirms that she also believes in the end time resurrection of the dead as did many Jews at that time, but Jesus corrects her. He says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” You can almost picture it. He looks her in the eye and says, “Martha, do you believe this?” Do you believe this, Martha? Do you believe that God is creator of the whole world, that he spoke all things into existence, and that I am that very Word in the flesh? The one who brings life. The one who is life. She says, “Yes. Yes, Lord! I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
Jesus and Mary
So, Martha goes back to the house where Mary is, and she tells her, “he’s looking for you.” Mary gets up and runs to him, and he’s still outside of the village where Martha left him. Of course, everyone there mourning the death of Lazarus thinks she’s leaving the village for another reason—to visit the tomb. So, they follow her to comfort her, but—to their surprise—she leads them to Jesus. And she falls before him and weeps at his feet. She says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.” She says the same thing as Martha. Remember, that when Lazarus got sick, they sent someone to Jesus to tell him to come back. He’s the one they wanted to see, but now it was too late, because he took his sweet time.
John writes that Jesus looks at her, and he sees her weeping. And he sees everyone else with her weeping—mourning the death of Lazarus—distraught, hopeless. John writes that Jesus “was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.” Then he asks her, “Where’ve you laid him?” They all respond, “Lord, come and see.” It’s almost like Jesus said, “let’s go visit him together. Let’s go see your brother together.”
At that moment, John writes, “Jesus wept.” Jesus wept. Jesus sees the people in their sorrow. Jesus sees Martha and Mary, and something inside of him changes. He’s shaken to the core, and he just can’t take it. On the way to the tomb, knowing fully well what he is about to do, surrounded by so many mourning the death of Lazarus, crushed by what has happened, Jesus finally just loses it. He loses it.
When we go to Christ in our mourning we lead others to home as well. He walks with us—mourns with us—even while he is preparing to make all things new.
And all the people there looking on watching this very unexpected event say, “See how he loved him!’” But even some of them said, “Couldn’t he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” I can’t imagine what might have been going through Jesus’ mind as these things were happening.
Yet, the words of Martha, Mary, those in the crowd who question Jesus’ own timing in this situation, do you think that those words stopped Jesus from doing what he came to do? Did he rebuke them? Did he scold them for pushing back against him as they ask, “Why, Jesus?” “What took you so long?” Where were you?” No, he didn’t. Instead, he cried alongside of them and walked with them to the tomb. When your heart is troubled, bring it to Jesus. When you’re upset, bring it to Jesus. When you’re angry, bring it to Jesus. When you’re confused and you just don’t understand why God would allow something to happen, bring it to Jesus. You don’t have to face it alone. Bring it to Jesus first, so that you can face it together. It’s ok if you don’t know what to say; tell him anything. God might not appear when you want him to, but that doesn’t mean he’s not there. He’s there. He’s here. Even now. Jesus told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life.”