It’s hard to pick a favorite story from the Bible. But years confirm the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead is my definite front runner. I come back to it often. And after the numerous times I’ve poured over this passage of Scripture, God continues to peal His heart back in new and life-giving ways.
The story remains mysterious. And even when the actions of Jesus are hard for me to reconcile, the story is laced with His comfort and love. It gets me every time.
John Chapter 11. Take some time to read it first if you can.
Verse 3 sticks out to me first. “So the sisters sent word to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” Talk about identity. Lazarus must have walked in a way that all those around him knew he was one of Jesus’ favorites, completely loved and adored by His creator! His sisters don’t even follow up with a name; they’re confident Jesus knows who they’re talking about.
Again in verse 5, Jesus wants to make sure we realize how much he loved these three siblings, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.”
Now here is where things get mysterious.
If you’re guessing what comes next after verse 5, you might think it reads something like this, “So Jesus rushed back to the town of Bethany to heal Lazarus.”
Vs. 6, “So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was.”
That’s not how I picture love. And do you notice the word “So”? That little, two-letter word literally means “as a result.” He stayed two days longer where he was “as a result” of His love for Mary, Martha and Lazarus.
Convicting. I am so Americanized in my view of love. Too often for me, love equals comfort. Love equals convenience. Love equals someone meeting my needs when I want them met. Jesus flips that concept upside down here.
We see a bit of Jesus’ purpose in vs. 14-15, “So Jesus then said to them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him.'”
Jesus finally arrives on the scene in vs. 17. In vs. 20 we see two different responses: “Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him but Mary stayed at the house.” I’m going to go ahead and lump myself into the Mary category. I can imagine Mary might be giving Jesus a bit of the silent treatment which I am all too guilty of doing. She knows He is God but she’s still mad and doesn’t quite know what to do with those feelings. She can’t quite reconcile what she knows to be true with how she feels.
And can we put ourselves in Jesus’ shoes for a second? If I arrived on the scene, the FIRST thing I would say would probably be something like, “Hey guys, nobody worry! I’m here and I’m going to raise Lazarus from the dead. You’re about to see quite a miracle!”
Martha tells Mary that Jesus is asking for her. Mary finds herself at the feet of Jesus, weeping, and says, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” How many times have I said the same sort of thing? Lord IF You had done this, IF You would do that, IF You were here.
And here’s where an even greater mystery takes place.
Jesus knew He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead. He tell us in vs. 4, in vs. 15 and in vs. 23.
But in that moment, He doesn’t tell Mary that. He lets her weep. He allows her to break.
And in all of His love, He joined her in her brokenness. Vs 35…”and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled and said ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to Him, ‘Lord come and see.’ Jesus wept.”
And here’s where the lines are drawn. Some bystanders see His love. Others question His goodness. Vs. 36, “So the Jews were saying, ‘See how He loved him!’ But some of them said, ‘Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man from dying?'”
Convicting. Again. Couldn’t He have stopped that storm? Couldn’t He make the pain stop? Couldn’t He heal him? Couldn’t He restore that relationship? Couldn’t He provide?
Do I focus on what I think Jesus could and should do or do I focus on how much He loves me?
But back to the story.
Jesus asks Martha and Mary and others to move the stone from the cave he was buried in. He asked them to move in their pain, within their weakness and trust Him completely. Oh the doubts that must have filled their minds! Martha voices one in vs. 39, “Lord, by this time, there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” She doesn’t want to relive that suffering and she for sure doesn’t want to come face to face (or nose to nose) with the stench of death and pain.
Vs. 40, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
Vs. 41, “So they removed the stone.”
God, help me to move the stones you ask me to move.
Vs.42, “I knew that You always hear me; but because of the people standing around I said it so that they may believe that You sent me. When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth.’ The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.'”
Without the mourning, the suffering, the brokenness, Mary and Martha and the people on the outside watching the story unfold, would have missed the greater miracle of life that Jesus wanted to display.
The miracle didn’t come how they expected. And it certainly didn’t happen when they expected it. But they had to trust who was in control.
I’m not going to assume I know exactly why Jesus decided to wait and raise Lazarus after death, but Scripture does give us at least one reason:
Vs. 45, “Therefore many of the Jews who came to Mary, and saw what He had done, believed in Him.”
Sometimes He trusts us with pain for the greater benefit of those around us.
And sometimes our pain brings us into a deeper level of love and trust in Him.
The real gift is sometimes found in the process of suffering. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God…. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.” – Luke 6:20-21. “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” – John 10:10. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to eternal.” – John 12:24-25
The process He was doing in Mary’s heart was far greater than temporary pain and suffering.
And immediately following this story in John 11 we see the beautiful result of brokenness and healing that happened in Mary’s heart in John 12. She finds herself completely free in her worship. Hair down, alabastar jar broken, weeping at the feet of Jesus, pouring out her love to Him.