Recently, I finished reading through the gospels. Someday I may write highlights of the many lessons I learned from that study, but for now I will share just this one. Not too long ago, I shared it with a friend as we sat together at my kitchen table, talking, praying, and weeping over her impossible situation. I don’t have the answers to her problems, but I have Scripture, and so does she, because we are sisters in Christ.
Before his own death and resurrection, Jesus displayed His resurrection power in the life of a dear friend. In John 11, the familiar story of Lazarus is told. This is a beautiful story of death and life, but the problem with its familiarity is that we can easily skim over the details. Rereading it, I discovered truths that I had not noticed before.
The story begins when Jesus receives word in Jerusalem, where he had been staying to celebrate the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah), that Lazarus, “the one You love,” is sick.
Upon receiving this urgent word, Jesus responds by doing nothing.
He stayed in Jerusalem two more days. A good friend was sick, and He didn’t go see him.
Then, seemingly out of the blue, Jesus suddenly announces that it’s time to go to Bethany, where Lazarus lives. The disciples remind Him that the Jews were just recently trying to stone Him there. Jesus seems unconcerned by their protests, and instead twice tells them that Lazarus will not die from his illness, even though Lazarus did die before they even left. After some further discussion, Jesus finally tells them directly what He’s going to do, because they’re not following Him on the whole sleep/death metaphor.
We are so slow to follow.
As a side note, the infamous “Doubting Thomas” is the one who rallies the rest of the disciples and boldly proclaims that they should all go to Bethany and die with Christ, if it would come to that. Thomas had a crisis of faith when He doubted Jesus after His resurrection, and that’s all we remember him for. Nobody remembers that Thomas was the one in this story who was ready to die with Christ. Why don’t we ever call him “Fearless Thomas?”
This is why I refuse to define people by their worst moments. We all have them. Thomas’s timing may have just been the worst in biblical history. Poor guy.
When Jesus finally arrives in Bethany, His friend had already been dead four days.
The Jews believed that the spirit hovered over the body for three days, and that sometimes people could come back to life in that period of time. But by the fourth day, the deceased was officially dead, and there was no longer any hope.
This is exactly when Jesus showed up: WHEN THERE WAS NO HOPE.
Bethany was only two miles from Jerusalem. Mourners came from Jerusalem to comfort Mary and Martha before Jesus did. It would have been easy for them to wonder why He wasn’t showing up when these other people had come.
It doesn’t even take an hour to walk two miles.
It seems they did wonder, because Martha and Mary both told Jesus that they knew if He had been there Lazarus would still be alive. Jesus could have healed Lazarus. He loved Lazarus.
He wants good things for those He loves.
Jesus was planning to do a greater work in Lazarus, but Lazarus had to die for it to happen. If Jesus had gone before Lazarus had died, only the three siblings would have witnessed the miracle. But because Jesus waited, and the many Jews had come to mourn his death according to their custom, lots of people got to see a much greater work than healing.
They got to see a dead man brought back to life.
God is not far off, dear friend, and He is always right on time. He is doing a greater work in your life, but you might have to let something you love die in order for Him to do it.
This is a hard truth.
And this is why I wept with my friend at my kitchen table. But you know what? When Jesus stood outside the tomb of his dead friend, Jesus wept, too. He wept, even though He already knew He was about to do a marvelous thing: to return a brother to his mourning sisters, to bring back His own dear friend, to show His power as the God-man, and to glorify His Father.
Despite all these glorious truths, Jesus wept. He wept over the loss of Lazarus. He wept over the grief, the loss, and the separation that death brings. He wept because it wasn’t supposed to be this way. He didn’t create us to die.
He created us to live.
As you stand at the tomb of whatever you have lost, or are about to lose, remember that Jesus stands with you, and He weeps with you, because death is so hard. But even in the weeping, you can know, as Jesus did, that resurrection is coming. Resurrection may not be a returning of exactly what was lost, as it was in the case of Lazarus, but God always brings new life out of death, because He has promised,
“Behold, I am making all things new.”
Some time after Jesus brought Lazarus back to life, He hung on the cross, storming the gates of Hell–conquering sin, pain, and death. And because God raised Him from the dead, you can be raised, too.
Happy Good Friday, dear one. You will not mourn forever. It may be dark now, but Sunday’s coming.