Lazarus Becomes Sick
It was raining as Lazarus rode from Jerusalem to Bethany late one afternoon. Signs of spring could be seen in the valleys below, but winter still gripped the Judean highlands. Many of his friends had left the Holy City during this time of year, preferring the warm sun of Jericho and the luxury of hot mineral baths. A shoulder of the Mount of Olives hid the low valley where the Teacher was, but in another month he would be returning to Jerusalem for the Passover and there was sure to be trouble again between him and the authorities.
When Lazarus rode into the courtyard, Mary ran to meet him. The rain had stopped temporarily, but his robe and headscarf were soaked and his body already so chilled that his teeth chattered. He gave the mule to a servant and walked slowly to the house.
Bring me a hot drink, it will warm me more than anything else, Lazarus called from his room as he changed into dry clothing.
After he finished dressing, Mary came in carrying a cup of hot spiced milk sweetened with honey and he hurriedly drank it.
The evening meal Martha had been preparing was ready and Lazarus followed his sister into the room. While they ate, wind still howled outside and rain drummed occasionally against the shuttered windows. But Mary had some good news, A traveler stopped here today and he had word of Jesus. He said people beyond Jordan were flocking to hear the Master and many have already believed.
Lazarus spoke with a tired voice, Im thankful hes able to continue his ministry in safety. This nation certainly needs a Savior. In fact, Im not feeling well, and wish he were here with us right now. He got up and slowly walked to his sleeping pallet.
Martha was the first to realize something was wrong when she went to his room to see if he was improving. She lit a candle from the coals of the cooking fire and set it beside his pallet. The light revealed her brother breathing in quick gasps while sweat broke out on his forehead from the agonizing pain in his chest. There had been sickness in parts of Jerusalem and she was sure his illness and fever came from someone in the city. The ride in the rain had further weakened him.
At once, Martha called her sister to bring a servant. She quickly sent him to the Holy City to bring their family physician, Benjamin. He was also doctor and friend of Nicodemus, and a follower of Christ.
An hour later when the doctor returned, he examined Lazarus with a look of anguish on his face.
Martha read it, You believe our brother will die, dont you.
I have seen few develop fever as quickly as he did, and live. It is beyond our scope of knowledge and I cant do anything for him. Only God can save him now.
Mary spoke through her tears, Jesus is our friend. If he were here he could save my brother.
Benjamin did not question her statement. More than once he had seen people cured by the miraculous powers the Healer possessed. If any man ever needed these powers, it was Lazarus. Do you know where Jesus is?
We had word yesterday from a traveler. He is in Perea, beyond Jordan about a days journey.
Send word to the Master immediately, hes our only hope!
Immediately Martha sent for another trusted servant. Find the teacher of Nazareth, she directed, and tell him Martha sends this message: Lord, your friend is very sick.
While the hours passed, the sisters saw their brothers breathing grow shallow as his fever burned higher. Friends and relatives gathered to help and comfort them while Lazarus lay dying. They all prayed the messenger would find Jesus in time, but it seemed futile even if the messenger found him right away. Before midday, their brother ceased to breathe. Lazarus was dead.
As soon as their physician confirmed it, Martha called in women relatives and they prepared his body for burial. According to custom it was washed and then anointed with many spices, including myrrh and aloes. Next it was dressed in a favorite garment and then wrapped with winding sheets of cloth. A napkin of finest linen was bound about the head.
The family tomb was a cave hollowed out of rocky hillside at the opposite end of a large garden on their estate. Lazarus family was well respected in the area and the funeral procession was accompanied by many friends and relatives, including Nicodemus and Benjamin. Upon arrival at the burial site, everyone witnessed the placement of the body on a niche carved into the wall of the cave, and a great stone rolled across the entrance. Then they all returned to the house to console Martha and Mary.
Now a mourning period of thirty days began. During this time, relatives and friends would constantly be coming and going, and Martha found some respite from her own grief in greeting the visitors and providing for their comfort. Mary, however, went directly to the upper chamber.
As she worked, Martha could not keep from her mind the thought that if Jesus had been there, Lazarus would not have died.
Messenger Finds Jesus
Christ was teaching the crowds outside a village, about a days journey north of Bethany beyond Jordan. Just as he finished, his disciples noticed a man running toward them, waving his arms to get their attention. He seemed desperate as he approached, stumbling as he reached them. Out of breath, he gave the short message as he had been instructed by Martha two days ago, Master, Lazarus is very sick!
The Lord replied, This sickness is not to end in death; through it Gods glory is to be revealed and the Son of God glorified. When the messenger received his answer, Jesus already knew Lazarus was dead. Though he loved his friends, he still continued two days where he was, finishing his work; but they were for him days of sorrow. His friends were suffering greatly, and he had to withhold his help. What majestic calm, what self restraint of human affection and sublime consciousness of divine power in this delay.
Finally after two days, he said to them, Let us go to Judea.
The Sanhedrin seeks to destroy you, Philip pointed out. Why go there again?
Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Jesus asked him. As God has appointed daylight hours for the laborer, so does the Son have his appointed hours to minister. I can make the trip without danger; my twelve hours are not yet ended and I must finish my work while it is still light. Again he reproved them for their lack of faith. Whatever waited in Judea was Gods will. If they walked as they should in the light of their faith in him and his Father, they could not stumble. Then he said, Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going to awaken him.
Peter, John, and James were silent and understood. But the other nine thought he was referring to natural sleep. Andrew commented, If he sleeps, that means he is recovering.
Lazarus is dead, Christ told them plainly. I am glad for your sakes that I was not there; for it will lead you to believe. Let us go to him.
Even then, their whole attention was so absorbed by the certainty of danger to their Master, that Thomas had only one thought, Let us also go and die with him. As they all set out together for Bethany in Judea, so little had the apostles understood the figurative language about the twelve hours on which Gods sun shone to light them on their way; so much did they need to be taught the lesson of faith in the raising of Lazarus.
Fourth Day Man
His friend had been dead four days when Jesus reached Bethany. When Lazarus became a fourth day man, according to Jewish belief it meant his body was beyond resurrection. This was the reason why he had waited. The coming event would be a sign of the Messiahs resurrection power.
Martha and Mary were in the house with many friends from Jerusalem who were trying to be of some comfort. When they heard that Christ was coming along the road beyond the village, Mary was too stricken to leave, but Martha got up at once and went to meet him before they reached the house.
Dropping to her knees before him, she cried out in her grief, Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. Then she looked up in his face and saw there a strength and majesty that both awed and calmed her. When the Healer had visited Bethany before, he had come as their human friend who loved them; but now he came not only in love, but in power; not only as friend but as the Resurrection. She made her confession of faith, I know, that even now, whatever you ask of God, he will give it to you.
Taking her by the hand, he lifted her up with assuring words, Your brother shall rise again.
Martha replied, I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day. She was thinking of a future event and not in the immediate power of Christ.
But he loved whatever faith she had and respected her most deeply at this moment, for he chose her out of all the women in the world to hear for the first time those great and ringing words to which those in grief have clung ever since, I am the Resurrection and the Life; he who believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this, Martha? Jesus attempted to turn her eyes away from the future, and to help her see that he was the Resurrection and Life Giver in the present.
Yes, Lord. I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who should come into the world. She did not fully answer his question, but it was as far as her faith would take her.
Now he called for Mary. Martha hasted back to the house to deliver his message, although secretly. She found her younger sister sitting in the upstairs chamber with its melancholy tokens of mourning as was the custom, surrounded by many people who had come to comfort her. Mary was silent, with thoughts far away in that world of sitting at her Teachers feet.
She was startled from her reverie by her older sisters words, The Master has come, and calls for you.
Mary immediately went to him. When the mourners saw her leave so hastily, they assumed she was going to Lazarus grave to weep, and followed her.
When she arrived, the sight of Jesus made her forget all that was around. She fell down at his feet, sobbing out the same poor words the sisters had said many times to each other, Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. To Martha that had been the maximum of her faith; to Mary it was the minimum of her faith. The outpouring of her sorrow, absoluteness of her faith, and mute appeal of her tears deeply touched the Savior.
While Mary knelt crying at his feet, the friends who followed her began once more the wailing and lamenting for the dead. The very air throbbed with grief, and Jesus groaned in the spirit and was troubled. Knowing what he was about to do did not cancel his ability to share their grief. Miracles of the Son of God were not wrought by a simple word of power, but with a mysterious element of sympathy and unfathomed depth of fellow suffering which shook his whole inner being.
Where have you laid him? he asked.
Lord, come and see, and they brought him to the mouth of the cave with the stone in place.
Surrounded by the wailing people and facing that closed grave, Jesus wept. He wept for the sorrow of Mary and Martha, and in this moment he bore also the weight of grief of the world and grief of every one of us when we suffer in parting from those we love. He wept also for the dreadfulness of death that sin of humankind has brought into the world. And surely he wept too for his friend Lazarus, because it was the will of God that he should come back from the joy of paradise and again take up the burden of life on earth; and in a few years time the burden of dying once more.
People who were standing nearby said, See how much he loved him. But some said, This man healed a blind man. Why couldnt he keep Lazarus from dying?
Shocking them from their thoughts, Jesus commanded, Take away the stone.
There was a moment of horrified silence, and then the practical Martha came out with the brutal truth, Lord, by this time there will be a stench; he has been dead four days. The fourth day rule pierced her soul.
Christ answered her, Did I not tell you that if you have faith you would see the glory of God? Take away the stone! Would his human children ever learn that the death of Gods servants is not the irretrievable disaster that it seems?
There was no more wailing now. In a silence full of awe and fear, the mourners were all trembling as they watched the men move forward and lean their weight against the huge stone that covered the entrance. The only sound was a grating noise from the stone as it slowly rolled away.
Resurrection and Life
With that accomplished, there was total silence. The Son of God lifted his head and prayed to the Father aloud, his voice reaching everyone in the crowd, Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me, but I am saying this for the people who stand by, so they may believe it was you who sent me.
His glorious figure stood there before the black mouth of the grave in power and majesty as King, Friend, Priest, and Savior. The Man who wept, spoke as God. He cried with a loud voice to the decayed body within the cave, Lazarus, come out!
One loud command spoken into that silence, one loud call to that sleeper, one flash of Gods own light into that darkness, and the body was restored with the authority of the Life Giver. Almost instantly, Lazarus spirit reentered it in obedience, and the dead man made alive and whole came out of the dark tomb into the sunlight. He was still bound with the grave clothes and a napkin about his head and face so that he could not see, but everyone else could see him with perfect vision.
Then Christ said quietly, Loose him, and let him go.
Martha and Mary quickly removed the wrappings that covered his clothing so he could move around, and even those had no odor except for the lingering sweet smell of spices. There before all the people was their beloved brother, completely well and wondering what had happened. When he saw Jesus, he knew.
The great miracle reverberated through Bethany like a roll of thunder. Many of those who had seen the stone rolled away and heard the voice of God calling the dead to life again could only believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ of God, and they fell to their knees in worship.
However, there was a note of anguish in the Saviors words when he told them to loosen Lazarus from his wrappings. His own Passion was very near, and to prove he had the power to lay down his life and raise it up again, he made this tremendous affirmation of his dominion over death. Most literally he is the Resurrection and the Lifeand this new teaching was the object and meaning of the raising of Lazarus.
It marked the high point in the ministry of our Lord; a climax in a history where all is miraculousthe person, the life, the words and the work. It was the fullest evidence of his divinity and humanity; and to those who witnessed it, the highest manifestation of faith and unbelief. Here on this height the two ways met and parted.
A few slipped away to Jerusalem, eager to be the first to bring Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin news of what Jesus had accomplished within walking distance of the Templethe ultimate miracle of raising a man, four days dead. The final phase of conflict between Jesus the Messiah and the authorities at Jerusalem had begun, and its climax was inevitable. Gods redemption plan was to be carried out.
Jesus knew their hearts and made no more public appearances in Jerusalem until his last Passover, about thirty days away, and he withdrew with his apostles to Ephraim, an isolated town in Judea, twelve miles northeast of Jerusalem.