We’re now in the third part of a five part series on the Lazarus event in the Gospel of John. Jesus, out of love for his friends has come back to Bethany after waiting for Lazarus to die. He knows that by being there his life is in danger. Martha and Mary both confront Jesus as he approaches the town. In the last section we read that when Mary runs out to Jesus, others follow. In her mourning, Mary leads other mourners straight to Jesus. Jesus asks that they would lead him to Lazarus’ tomb. But seeing the sorrow and the pain around him, the despair at the death of one of his own friends, Jesus is vexed and he breaks down crying.
Mary, Martha, and the other mourners bring Jesus to this cave with a stone covering the entryway. When Jesus sees the tomb, he’s greatly moved again. The sorrow, the loss, the pain over the death of his friend swells up inside of him. Then he tells them to move the stone. And Martha—Lazarus’ sister—doesn’t want to. She says, “Lord, by now there’s going to be a stench. He’s been dead for four days.” It’s not as if Jesus came with oil to anoint Lazarus’ body. What’s he going to do? Open it up? Air it out so that everyone can smell the odor and hear the flies buzzing and swarming all over Lazarus?
What was Martha expecting?
It begs the question: what was Martha expecting? She just told him in the previous section that she believes that whatever Jesus asks of God, God will give to him. There’s nothing really that Jesus can say or do to console Mary and Martha at this point. They’re hurting, and he’s hurting too. So, what were they expecting him to do?
I think that we go to God in this same way sometimes. When we face difficult or uncertain times, we don’t know what to expect. And therefore, we also don’t know how to react. I think that the last few months—especially the last few weeks—have been a great example of that. From panic to dismissal everyone reacts to the brokenness of this world differently, because nobody knows what’s really going to happen. If we’re honest with ourselves, we have to admit that nobody really knows how this whole thing will end, and that’s a scary notion. I think that one of the great fears in all of this is the question, after all is said and done, looking back on my own actions and decisions, how will I be viewed? Will I be viewed as cavalier and reckless or a panicking fear monger? It puts us into an insecure and uncertain place. We don’t know what our society is going to do, what our neighbors are going to do, what God is going to do.
What if, during this time, we spoke the words of Jesus into a culture that is so lost it has nothing to hope in? What if we ourselves—trusting in the love and promise of Jesus—went beyond our own comfort zone to minister to those in need? What if we needed to see how broken this world really was—to see the chaos, the despair, and the dismissal—to realize that this world desperately needs Jesus? It’s easy to forget that sometimes.
They’ll know we are Christ’s disciples by the way that we love one another. They’ll know we are Christ’s disciples by the way that we care for those around us. They’ll know we are Christ’s disciples when we go to him even in times of distress, even when we don’t know what he will do next, especially when we don’t know what he’s going to do next, because we know that he reigns over all things, and nothing is more powerful than his word. As Isaiah writes, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”
As Jesus stands there with Martha and Mary—with all those other people who have followed Martha and Mary to Jesus in their mourning—even as he himself mourns, Jesus has his mind on something greater than anything that they could have expected. And he tells Martha, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” Martha, you’re going to see something that you never thought was possible.
Jesus shows us the impossible
So, they listened to him. They must have suspended everything that they believed about the world—everything they knew to be true. They moved away the stone. At that time, John doesn’t go into details about what it was like to see Lazarus lying there in front of his sisters and fellow villagers. John writes nothing about the thousands of buzzing flies or the stench. Instead the Gospel writer directs his audience to Jesus. John writes, “And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 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.’” Jesus’ actions are going to change the life of those around him forever. His actions at that moment will have eternal significance for everyone there. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. He takes us out of darkness and into his light—dead in our sins, we are forgiven and made alive in God, in his Spirit.
And so we see Jesus standing in front of this open tomb. John writes, “When Jesus had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ 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 power of Jesus’ words—Jesus’ voice—is incomparable. The voice of Jesus is capable of things that we never thought probable or even possible.
The question that we need to ask ourselves now is what is Jesus capable of doing in and through his church at this time? How is he capable of using us to share his love to a community in crisis? How might God be glorified in us? We might be surprised at what Jesus is capable of doing.