Read John 11:17-45.
Discomfort With Death
I have friends who are losing their ability to function. It’s something that will happen to all of us (unless we die young). Our loss of physical and mental capability is a reminder of our mortality. Our decline serves as notice that we’re going the way of all the earth. Death is approaching.
When Jesus came to Bethany near Jerusalem, his young friend Lazarus had already died. In fact he had already been dead and in the tomb for four days. Lazarus’s sister Martha was grieving and before Jesus even made it into town she went out to meet Jesus. Her first words were, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” She went on to say, “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”
Jesus said, “Your brother will rise again.”
Jesus was talking about the here and now, but we see in Martha’s next words that she reverted to theology. She said, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
How Your Focus Determines Your Fears
It’s at this point that Jesus makes this great statement of truth. He says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
These words are so encouraging to me. Sunday evening, during the halftime break of the NBA finals, my dad told me about a time a friend of his with a terminal illness asked him what he thought heaven was like. “I told her that I’ve had times in my life when I was euphoric, but I knew it couldn’t last. It was a euphoric moment because of the situation. But in heaven I think we’ll feel euphoria, and it will last.”
I shared my perspective too. I said, “We’ll be in the presence of God and Jesus. So you know the feeling you have when you’re in the presence of someone you really love? I think it will be like that only multiplied by a million.”
Whatever heaven will be like, I love Jesus’ words because they address my fears about death. Like Martha I can have a tendency to revert to theology, but when Martha did that, Jesus brought her back to a focus on Jesus himself. He said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” The answer to my fears is the person of Jesus. When I’m focused on him my fears fade.
Who he is, is a source of strength for me, but so is his truth. “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,” Jesus said. That means as a Christ follower, we’ll survive our physical passing from this earth. I’m encouraged because we’ll be in a place where our body parts don’t wear out, and where our hair doesn’t fall out, and where our energy doesn’t give out. We’ll be in a place where we won’t fall into decline. And we’ll be in a place where we can enjoy the people we love forever. They won’t leave us because they won’t die.
And He will be there.
And He won’t leave us.
No wonder Paul said, “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory”
“O death, where is you victory?”
“O death, where is you sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)
After Jesus directed Martha away from theology and toward himself, Martha responded to Jesus with all the faith she could muster. She said, “Yes Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
After Martha said that, she went to her sister Mary and told her privately that Jesus was calling for her. So Mary went to him quickly. And when she saw him she fell at his feet and said the same thing Martha had said: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved. He asked where Lazarus’s tomb was, and then Jesus himself wept.
I’ve often written on this blog about how the disciples asked Jesus to show them the Father and he replied, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:8-11) Here in our text about Lazarus we see God’s compassion. Jesus is not impersonal, and God is not impersonal. Jesus feels for us and so does your Father. When Jesus was traveling through the towns and villages healing and helping people, he saw the crowds and he had compassion on them because of the harassment they endured and because of their helplessness. (Matthew 9:35-38) Isaiah said “. . . the Lord longs to be gracious to you. And therefore he waits on high to have compassion on you.” (Isaiah 30:18) Speaking of the two blind men, in Matthew 20:34 we see that Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Psalm 103:13 says, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort . . .”
Jesus wept for Lazarus and for those grieving for Lazarus. He was moved by their pain and he is moved by your pain too. He’s compassionate toward you. He loves you.
Jesus’ Reminder (Didn’t I Tell You?)
After weeping, Jesus comes to the tomb (which is a cave with a great stone in front of it). At the tomb, once again he’s deeply moved. And he tells them to move the stone away. But Martha protests. She says, “Hang on, he’s been dead for four days. He’s been decomposing, by this time there will be a stench.”
In response, Jesus reminds her of his words, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”
There’s a powerful application here. When you’re feeling anxious about what God is allowing to happen in your life, when you’re feeling shaky, let Jesus remind you of his words. Read your Bible and be reminded of the great compassion he has for you. Read your Bible and be reminded of Jesus’ love for you. Let God’s words build your faith and quell your anxiety. Be reminded.
After Jesus reminds Martha of his words, they take the stone away. And Jesus lifts up his eyes and says, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always heard me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” Then he cries out,
“Lazarus, come out.”
And as if to verify what he said to Martha about how “whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,” Lazarus comes out–with his hands and feet wrapped in linen strips.
And many of the Jews who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him.
(You might also like: Why Did Lazarus Have To Die? (And why do I have to suffer?))