"The Resurrection and the Life"
Previously we established that all that was to transpire at the tomb of Lazarus was going to be done for the Glory of God--and that included the condemnation from the Pharisees that would follow, which was ultimately going to lead to the Crucifixion.
Today, we will see Jesus, coming to raise Lazarus and interacting with his sisters, showing very real emotions at their sorrow over losing their brother, and the ultimate miracle--the raising of a dead man back to life. It would be easy (and understandable!) to become awed by the miraculous and forget to examine the events leading to it--all of which are included in the Word of God for our benefit.
17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
Martha is often painted as the less devout of the two sisters, but as this portion of scripture indicates, Martha really did believe that Jesus Christ was Lord. She believed that He was full of power, and had faith in Him. What we often interpret as a lack of commitment was actually just a difference in personality--something that Jesus never rebukes Martha for--she was created the way she was, and even though her relationship with the Lord is different doesn't mean that it is any less valuable and sincere. She was obviously different than her sister and needed to be taught different lessons--but we never hear a bad thing spoken of the woman--she was constantly making herself of service.
We see Martha several times throughout scripture and in all of them Martha is actively engaged in work. Here, we see her meeting the Lord to greet Him as He approached, then turning around and fetching Mary, before once more going out to meet Jesus. In Luke 10:38-42, Martha is busy, running around distracted with preparations for the company (and quite possibly the poorhouse that she and her siblings may have been involved with). Later in the Gospel of John we will see Martha at work again--this time, serving a meal in Jesus' honor.
Moving forward in the story, we can see Mary's relationship with Jesus Christ highlighted--it is certainly different, and the contrast is an edifying thing to study:
28 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.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 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.
32 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.”
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
35 Jesus wept.
Where Martha comes in full composure, declaring what she knows to be the truth, Mary comes distraught, weeping. It is very interesting, though that each woman declares to Jesus the same revelation of His power--that He could have prevented the death of their brother.
The sight of Mary's tears, however has an effect on our Lord beyond that Martha's composed conversation--Jesus is moved in the spirit and troubled by her profound feelings, so much so that He weeps. He is truly a High Priest that is moved by our emotions and can fully empathize with our sufferings (Hebrews 4:15). Mary's emotion is not a weakness, nor is Martha's lack of it a weakness--but we see Christ willing and able to answer us according to our need. For Martha, it was a teaching moment, and for Mary is was reassurance that He was sympathetic to her trials.
We aren't told specifically why is was the Jesus wept, but we do get to see the Jews' reaction to it, and Christ's actions upon arriving at the tomb of Lazarus:
36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “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.”
40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 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.”
43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 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.”
The Jews see Jesus crying and automatically assume that He does so out of grief at the loss of Lazarus. That may very well have been the reason--Jesus was, after all, fully man and was deeply concerned for this family that he counted among his friends.
But perhaps--just maybe, Jesus's weeping was not for Lazarus. After all, He knew that Lazarus was dead well before this. He arrived and greeted Martha, discussed the death of Lazarus with her, and even declared His intent to raise Lazarus from the dead! It wasn't until he saw Mary, weeping and mourning the loss of her beloved brother that Jesus wept. Maybe, this weeping was not tears of sorrow, but of empathy.
If indeed that is the case, how truly blessed we are! Not only does our Lord know our struggles, He is compassionate enough to experience them fully as we do. As He approaches the Father on our behalf then, He comes to Him in the same condition we are. If we are filled with grief and sincerely, humbly confess our sins to Him, Jesus Christ likewise goes to the Father with a heavy heart full of grief, and full of sincerity. How could our requests ever be ignored with so righteous a petitioner pleading our case? How could our Heavenly Father behold His Son, who is in every way worthy, and deny Him forgiveness for sins to which he comes humbly to confess and repent of on our behalf?
Jesus comes to the tomb, and commands the tombstone be rolled away. Martha (always the practical one!) points out that the tomb will surely smell for the body had been decaying four days. Jesus does not scold her, but gently encourages her to have faith, for He is about to do a marvelous and glorious work.
The stone is removed, and Jesus prays, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me." Jesus may have meant His previous statements declaring His intentions to raise Lazarus. He may have meant simply His unspoken prayers during this ordeal. He may have meant that the Father heard His cries and His heart's desire to have Lazarus alive once more. He then says, for the express benefit of the congregants that this is being done so that, "they may believe," that Jesus was sent by the Father.
In a loud voice, Jesus calls for Lazarus.
Out of the grave he comes, still wrapped in grave clothes! I dead and decaying man, raised from the dead.
From this moment on, Jesus's message is clear and the path is cleared to the Cross. The hearts of his accusers are hardened against Him so thoroughly that even seeing His power displayed in this way is not enough, and it does nothing but cause them to grow more determined against Him.
It will not be long and the culmination of Jesus Christ's earthly ministry--the death, burial, and resurrection of the Messiah will take place. But before it does, Jesus has a few more things He wants His disciples to know.