Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea…”
On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” –John 11
Jesus loved everybody, but he also had friends who held a special place in his heart. Three of his closest friends were Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha. One day, Lazarus got sick… really sick. He was close to the point of death. But Mary and Martha weren’t worried. They knew that as soon as Jesus heard, he would come and help them. He loved them, after all.
But Jesus did something shocking. When he got the news that Lazarus was dying, he didn’t run down to their house right away. He waited. In fact, he waited several days. In fact, he waited so long that Lazarus died. Why in the world would Jesus do that? Didn’t he love his friends?
Yes, he did—more than they knew. And in fact, even though they didn’t understand it yet, he waited because he loved them, not in spite of it. That’s what the story says: “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was for two more days.” He stayed because he loved them. He let Lazarus die because he loved them.
Why? That doesn’t make any sense. If you love somebody, you want to help them, right? That’s right, but in this case, Jesus wanted to help them with something even more important than healing their brother. He knew that the most important thing in the world was for them to understand who he really was. And so he waited until Lazarus had died, so that he could do something even more amazing than just healing him. He wanted them to not just see what he could do, but who he was.
By the time he got to Mary and Martha’s house, Lazarus had been dead and buried for four days. Have you ever seen something that’s been dead for a couple days—maybe a deer on the side of the road that got hit by a car? If so, you know that after four days, things start to get gross and smelly. Dead bodies start to decay pretty quickly. Jesus had raised dead people before—remember the little girl?—but nothing like this. Lazarus wasn’t just mostly dead; he was full-blown dead-dead, rotting in the tomb. Nobody, not even Jesus, could fix this. Right?
When Jesus arrived, Martha came out to meet him and fell down at his feet weeping. “Jesus,” she said, “If you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”
“Your brother will rise again,” Jesus responded.
Well, Mary knew that, but she thought Jesus was talking about heaven, and the final resurrection on the last day. “Yes, I know I’ll see him in heaven one day, I know he’ll rise in the resurrection at the last day,” Mary responded. “A lot of good that does me now,” she probably thought.
“Mary,” Jesus said gently, “I’m the resurrection. I’m the life. Whoever believes in me will live forever, even if they die. Do you believe that?”
What he meant was, “Mary, don’t just put your hope in some future event. That future event is me. I’m the resurrection. I’m the future you’ve been waiting for. The resurrection has arrived.”
And just to back up that outrageous claim—to prove that he really was who he said he was—Jesus walked over to the dead man’s stinky, rotting tomb, and called out, “Lazarus, come out!” And immediately, death started working backwards: the decay disappeared, cells knit themselves back together, brain and heart and muscles zapped to life, breath filled the dead man’s lungs, and he came walking out of the tomb.
One day, this scene will happen all across the world. The Bible promises a day—the final day—when God will call every person who has ever lived out of their graves. Every dead person will rise. Graveyards will burst to life, dust will reassemble back into bodies, breath will fill long-gone lungs, and every human who has ever lived will live again and stand before God. God will remake the whole world to be a perfect home for his children and will roll back all decay and sin, and everyone who loves Jesus will live in the remade world with him forever.
That will happen one day. That’s the future that God has promised. But for a little while, that future came early, in the person of Jesus. Wherever he went, that future came bursting in early, as death and decay and sin and sadness started working backwards and turning into life and beauty and hope and joy. He gave us a glimpse of that that future life will be, because he is that Life, the Life that lasts forever.