By Sam E. Stone
Matthew, Mark, and Luke are known as the “synoptic Gospels.” These three accounts of Jesus’ life follow a similar outline and record many of the same events. The Gospel of John, written some years later, supplements our knowledge of Christ’s ministry in a wonderful way. While John recounts many of the same things as the other three, he also includes other significant teachings and events not previously recorded. Today’s lesson is one of them.
Near the end of his three-year ministry, Jesus returned to the Jerusalem area. One of his favorite places to visit there was the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in nearby Bethany. In this instance, however, Christ was called there urgently by the two sisters when their brother became very sick. “If only Jesus were here!” they must have been thinking. They had seen his miracles in the past. Jesus delayed his arrival, however, allowing Lazarus to die.
When Jesus and the apostles arrived, Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. The Jewish practice was to bury the person on the day he died (compare Acts 5:6, 10). Many Jews had come from nearby Jerusalem to express sympathy. Traditionally there were seven days of mourning (1 Samuel 31:13). Upon hearing that Jesus was coming, Martha went out to meet him, but Mary remained at home. Their reactions were not unexpected from what we learn about the sisters elsewhere (Luke 10:38-42).
“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” No doubt the sisters had repeated this remark more than once. Mary said the very same thing when she saw Jesus soon afterward (John 11:32). Surely the one who had healed so many would have healed their brother. “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” Nothing is too difficult for God.
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha nodded, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” She affirmed the ultimate day of resurrection. All Jews (except the Sadducees) believed this. She had dared to hope for something more.
“I am the resurrection and the life.” This is another of the seven great “I Am” statements in the Gospel of John (see 6:35; 8:12; 10:9; 10:11; 14:6; 15:5). To all who trust and obey him, he promises not only the resurrection of the body, but eternal life (Acts 3:15; Hebrews 7:16). “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” Jesus encouraged Martha to declare her personal faith.
“Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” Like Peter, Martha made a magnificent declaration of her personal belief in Jesus. Whenever this affirmation is made with understanding, it “embraces all that is true and discards all that is false.” The verses that follow make it evident that her faith was justified.
In verses 28-40 (not in today’s printed text) we find that when Mary learned Jesus was there, she quickly went to him. Others followed her, thinking she was going to the tomb to mourn there. When Jesus saw her weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. He asked, “Where have you laid him?” They replied, “Come and see, Lord.” Then follows the shortest verse in the Bible—”Jesus wept.” When Jesus told them to remove the stone from the tomb entrance, Martha was hesitant, fearing a bad odor. He reminded her that, if she believed, she would see the glory of God.
Jesus then prayed aloud to his Father, so that all would know this was done through his power. His purpose in every miracle was “that they may believe that you sent me.” He then called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” and Lazarus did! With his hands and feet still wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face, he made his way to the tomb entrance. “Take off the grave clothes and let him go,” Jesus ordered. Who can imagine the thrilling reunion of family and friends, the awe of everyone in witnessing such a miracle, and the glorious hope that extends from this moment for all ages?
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.