When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had been buried four days before. Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Judeans had come to see Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother’s death.
When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “If you had been here, Lord, my brother would not have died! But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask him for.”
“Your brother will rise to life,” Jesus told her.
“I know,” she replied, “that he will rise to life on the last day.”
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me will live, even though they die; and those who live and believe in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
“Yes, Lord!” she answered. “I do believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”
John 11:17-27 (GNT)
Jesus was concerned not only about the faith of His own disciples, but also about the faith of Mary and Martha (John 11:26, 40). Each experience of suffering and trial ought to increase our faith, but this kind of spiritual growth is not automatic. We must respond positively to the ministry of the Word and the Spirit of God. Jesus had sent a promise to the two sisters (John 11:4), and now He would discover how they had received it.
The event recorded in Luke 10:38-42 makes it clear that Mary and Martha were quite different in their personalities.
Martha was the worker, the active one, while Mary was the contemplative one who sat at the feet of Jesus and listened to His word.
Jesus did not condemn Martha’s service, but He did rebuke her for being “torn apart” by so many things. She needed to have priorities and center her activities on the things that God would approve.
After Martha said this, she went back and called her sister Mary privately. “The Teacher is here,” she told her, “and is asking for you.” When Mary heard this, she got up and hurried out to meet him. ( Jesus had not yet arrived in the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him.) The people who were in the house with Mary comforting her followed her when they saw her get up and hurry out. They thought that she was going to the grave to weep there.
Mary arrived where Jesus was, and as soon as she saw him, she fell at his feet. “Lord,” she said, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died!”
Jesus saw her weeping, and he saw how the people with her were weeping also; his heart was touched, and he was deeply moved. “Where have you buried him?” he asked them.
“Come and see, Lord,” they answered.
Jesus wept. “See how much he loved him!” the people said.
But some of them said, “He gave sight to the blind man, didn’t he? Could he not have kept Lazarus from dying?”
John 11:28-37 (GNT)
We would expect Martha to rush out to meet Jesus while Mary sat in the house, weeping with her friends. Since Mary later echoed Martha’s words of greeting (John 11:32), it is likely that the sisters often said these words to each other as they waited for Jesus to arrive. While there may have been a tinge of disappointment in the statement, there was also evidence of faith, for nobody ever died in the presence of Jesus Christ. “If” is such a big word! How futile it is to imagine what might have been, if—!
Martha was quick to affirm her faith in Jesus Christ (John 11:22), and Jesus responded to that faith by promising her that her brother would rise again. He was thinking of the immediate situation, but she interpreted His words to mean the future resurrection in the last day (Dan. 12:2-3; John 5:28-29). Here is another instance in John’s Gospel of people lacking spiritual perception and being unable to understand the words of Jesus.
Our Lord’s reply is the fifth of the I AM statements. It is important to note that Jesus did not deny what Martha said about the future resurrection. The resurrection of the human body is a cardinal doctrine in the orthodox Jewish faith. But in His great I AM statement, our Lord completely transformed the doctrine of the resurrection and, in so doing, brought great comfort to Martha’s heart.
To begin with, He brought the doctrine of the resurrection out of the shadows and into the light. The Old Testament revelation about death and resurrection is not clear or complete; it is, as it were, “in the shadows.” In fact, there are some passages in Psalms and Ecclesiastes that almost makes one believe that death is the end and there is no hope beyond the grave. False teachers like to use these passages to support their heretical teachings, but they ignore (or misinterpret) the clear teachings found in the New Testament.
After all, it was not David or Solomon who “brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10), but Jesus Christ!
By His teaching, His miracles, and His own resurrection, Jesus clearly taught the resurrection of the human body. He has declared once for all that death is real, that there is life after death, and that the body will one day be raised by the power of God.
He transformed this doctrine in a second way: He took it out of a book and put it into a person, Himself. “I am the resurrection and the life”! (John 11:25) While we thank God for what the Bible teaches (and all Martha had was the Old Testament), we realize that we are saved by the Redeemer, Jesus Christ, and not by a doctrine written in a book. When we know Him by faith, we need not fear the shadow of death.
When you are sick, you want a doctor and not a medical book or a formula. When you are being sued, you want a lawyer and not a law book. Likewise, when you face your last enemy, death, you want the Saviour and not a doctrine written in a book. In Jesus Christ, every doctrine is made personal (1 Cor. 1:30). When you belong to Him, you have all that you ever will need in life, death, time, or eternity!
But perhaps the greatest transformation Jesus performed was to move the doctrine of the resurrection out of the future and into the present. Martha was looking to the future, knowing that Lazarus would rise again and she would see him. Her friends were looking to the past and saying, “He could have prevented Lazarus from dying!” (John 11:37) But Jesus tried to center their attention on the present: wherever He is, God’s resurrection power is available now (Rom. 6:4; Gal. 2:20; Phil. 3:10).
Jesus affirmed that believers would one day be raised from the dead (John 11:25). Then He immediately revealed the added truth that some believers would never die (and it is a double negative, “never never die!”) (John 11:26).
How is this possible?
The answer is found in 1 Thessalonians 4:13, 18. When Jesus Christ returns in the air to take His people home, those who are alive at His coming shall never die. They shall be changed and caught up to meet Him in the air!
Martha did not hesitate to affirm her faith. She used three different titles for Jesus:
- Christ (Messiah), and
- Son of God.
The words “I believe” are in the perfect tense, indicating a fixed and settled faith. “I have believed and I will continue to believe!”
Our Lord dealt with Martha’s faith; now He had to help Mary.
Why did Martha call Mary “secretly”?
Possibly because of the danger involved: they knew that the Jewish leaders were out to arrest Jesus. When Mary arose to go to meet Jesus, her friends misunderstood her actions and thought she was going to the tomb to weep. They wanted to weep with her, so they followed along. Imagine their surprise when they met Jesus!
Mary is found three times in the Gospel record, and each time she is at the feet of Jesus (Luke 10:39; John 11:32; 12:3). She sat at His feet and listened to His word; she fell at His feet and poured out her sorrow; and she came to His feet to give Him her praise and worship. Mary’s only recorded words in the Gospels are given in John 11:32, and they echo what Martha had already said (John 11:21).
Mary did not say much because she was overcome with sorrow and began to weep. Her friends joined in the weeping, as Jewish people are accustomed to do. The word used means “a loud weeping, a lamentation.” Our Lord’s response was to groan within and “be moved with indignation.”
At what was He indignant?
But at the ravages of sin in the world that He had created. Death is an enemy, and Satan uses the fear of death as a terrible weapon (Heb. 2:14-18). No wonder Jesus was indignant!
The mystery of our Lord’s incarnation is seen by His question in John 11:34. Jesus knew that Lazarus had died (John 11:11), but He had to ask where he was buried. Our Lord never used His divine powers when normal human means would suffice.
“Jesus wept” is the shortest and yet the deepest verse in Scripture. His was a silent weeping (the Greek word is used nowhere else in the New Testament) and not the loud lamentation of the mourners.
But why did He weep at all?
Our Lord’s weeping reveals the humanity of the Saviour. He has entered into all of our experiences and knows how we feel. In fact, being the perfect God-Man, Jesus experienced these things in a deeper way than we do. His tears also assure us of His sympathy; He is indeed “a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief “(Isa. 53:3). Today, He is our merciful and faithful High Priest, and we may come to the throne of grace and find all the gracious help that we need (Heb. 4:14-16).
We see in His tears the tragedy of sin but also the glory of heaven. Perhaps Jesus was weeping for Lazarus, as well as with the sisters, because He knew He was calling His friend from heaven and back into a wicked world where he would one day have to die again. Jesus had come down from heaven; He knew what Lazarus was leaving behind.
The spectators saw in His tears an evidence of His love. But some of them said, “If Jesus loved Lazarus so much, why did He not prevent his death?” Perhaps they were thinking, “Jesus is weeping because He was unable to do anything. They are tears of deep regret.” In other words, nobody present really expected a miracle! For this reason, nobody could accuse Jesus of “plotting” this event and being in collusion with the two sisters and their friends. Even the disciples did not believe that Jesus would raise Lazarus from the dead!
Lazarus Is Brought to Life
Deeply moved once more, Jesus went to the tomb, which was a cave with a stone placed at the entrance.
“Take the stone away!” Jesus ordered.
Martha, the dead man’s sister, answered, “There will be a bad smell, Lord. He has been buried four days!”
Jesus said to her, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believed?”
John 11:38-40 (GNT)
The one person who declared her faith was Martha (John 11:27), and she failed at the last minute, “Open the tomb? By now he smells!” Jesus gently reminded her of the message He had sent at least three days before (John 11:4), and He urged her to believe it. True faith relies on God’s promises and thereby releases God’s power. Martha relented, and the stone was rolled away.
The Walk Of Faith
A key word in John’s Gospel is “believe.” Faith is important to our understanding of Scripture and to the Spirit’s activity in our lives. Faith, like love, evidences itself in obedience. Faith approaches God boldly to receive from Him.
Understand that the glory of God is revealed to those who believe.
DECLARATION OF FAITH
This is my resurrection and my life. All that I am, in spirit, is found in Him and although I may die in the flesh [after living out the fullness of my days in this earth], I will live on in the spirit for all of eternity.
Jesus is deeply moved with compassion towards me.