|The Raising of Lazarus - Tissot|
They believed. They rightly believed. They rightly believed and they asked. They didn't hesitate. They didn't worry. They rightly believed and they asked. They believed. They asked. And their brother died anyway.
One of the things I enjoy about the Bible is that it is about real people in real places at real times. We throw around labels so easily. I suppose we label people because we long to simplify and save time. And, too often the labels are negative.
A number of preachers, including myself, have focused on Martha as the one who would have rather kept up appearances instead of spending real time with Jesus. But it is unfair to categorize someone based on a single instance. All of us have our good moments and our not so good moments.
It had been several days since they begged Jesus to come and heal his friend and their brother. But, he didn't come. And, he's been in the grave for four days. Four days. And when they heard that Jesus was coming, the one who tried to put on a three course meal went out to meet him and the one who chose what was better stayed home. The one who was exasperated to the point of barking at Jesus displayed extraordinary, rational faith.
I no longer give pablum, cliches and advice at funerals. We all grieve in our own way. To lose contact with a loved one is profoundly painful. I did not understand this until I lost Dad. I didn't want anyone to tell me that I would see him again. That he was better off. That at least he didn't live long enough to go senile. I didn't want to hear any of it. I no longer had any way of contacting my Dad and my pastor. All I wanted was silence. I wanted a chance to adjust.
And so for me to present Mary's or Martha's method of grief as right or wrong would be unfair to both of them. But, what I do know is how Martha behaved, in the face of such bewildering delay and indifference from the one they placed their faith in, is admirable. She hears he is coming. She goes out to meet him. "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."
"But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask."
There's extraordinary faith in that statement. A hint of desperation? Maybe. But, beyond a shadow of a doubt, she knew who Jesus is and what he is capable of doing.
Martha was quite right, if Jesus was there, Lazarus would not have died. How do I know? "Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I'm glad I was not there, so that you may believe."
Jesus always has the bigger picture in mind. There is much more at stake than the life or death of one man. There was something vitally important, they need to believe. What do they need to believe? "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?”
Jesus is the resurrection; the one who believes in him will live, even though they die. Jesus is the life; whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this? This is what we have to believe.
Solomon, the preacher of Ecclesiastes, performs the great experiment. What is the meaning of life? He tries many things luxurious, scientific and wisdom and finds that it is all vain pursuit. Why? Because everyone dies. Death is the great leveler. It renders all things hoarded, all achievements, all family endeavours as vain since it will all end and all be forgotten. Death and entropy is all natural, it is all enemy and it is all never meant to be.
But, as death entered through one man, Adam, life is being restored through one man, Jesus. Jesus is the chief minister working in His Father's embassy in the ministry of reconciliation. Just as we died when we decided not to walk with our Creator, Jesus gives the opportunity to live when we decide to walk with our Creator. We must be born again.
I cringe whenever I hear rationalist Christians say that everything about our faith must make sense. I value the intellect God has given to me. I like things to make sense. The Bible is more real to me because it deals in the realm of reality; in the world that I live in. But, what about the resurrection of the dead makes sense?
OK, I'm a sinner. Yes, that makes sense; when I'm honest, that makes sense. OK, I need to have a relationship with my Creator. Yes, that makes sense. I don't think it makes sense that life is random chance. And, if we are Created, it resonates that the one who created me, made me for a purpose and to have a relationship with Him. OK, Jesus is the lamb who took the punishment for my sin. Yes, this makes sense. Nobody had more power and had more authoritative teaching than Jesus and yet he clearly, willingly allowed himself and was given over to be brutalised and executed for no good reason except for what he told his disciples all along the way.
But, following Jesus means that all who are dead who put their faith in Him, whom He has judged as those who He knows, will rise from the dead. Really? Everyone? Those who have been dead for millenia? Those who are now dust? Those who have had their bodies scattered to the four winds? Yes.
Apparently, to Martha, this made more sense than what Jesus had in mind. She seemed to let Jesus know that she was paying attention to his teachings. Yes, Lord, he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day. But, Jesus wanted it to be clear to Martha, to Mary and all his disciples. The resurrection isn't just an event. The resurrection isn't just a day. He is the resurrection. And even after Martha's initial affirmation of her belief in the resurrection at the last day, Jesus asks her, Do you believe that I am the resurrection and the life? “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
Mary did not come to Jesus with her sister. But, she did come after her sister said Jesus was asking for her. She repeats her sister's statement of faith that if Jesus had been there, their brother would not have died. And, she was clearly more visibly upset than her sister. And when Jesus saw that she was troubled, he was troubled.
Make no mistake. Death was never part of the original plan. Death was never supposed to be. Death only came to be when we decided to walk a path apart from the Author of Life. Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless. Martha and Mary would not be able to speak with their brother again. They would not be able to care for him again. They would have to learn how to live without him in their own lives. Death is painful. Death is long term.
But, in Jesus, there's hope. But, even what he is about to do seems a bit much for even faithful Martha. When he asks her to remove the stone, she protests. But...But, he's been in there for four days. The perfumes would have worn off. Decay would have set in.
"Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?" The stone was removed. He prayed aloud that the people who were witnesses to this extraordinary event would believe that God had indeed sent Him. And, the dead man came out.
Believing is everything. Believing allows us to walk on a path. Believing allows us to sit on a chair. Believing allows us to marry. Believing allows us to study. Believing allows us to fix what is broken. Everything we do is the result of what we believe. But, just because we believe, doesn't mean we believe correctly. What do we believe in? Where is our hope? What is our reason for getting out of bed in the morning? What is our reason to love? What is our reason for acting as though our lives have meaning?
Jesus demonstrated with Lazarus, an extraordinary example of the glory that is to come, the table is cracked and death itself starts working backwards.
Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Do you believe this?