We've been traveling together through John and we come upon certainly the greatest of the miracles He performed, the raising of Lazarus from the dead. We decided to park here for a few weeks, and today we want to look at the second and, really, three messages we're going to have on this event.
We have already seen that Jesus had left Jerusalem after giving sight to the man born blind. The Pharisees' reaction to the attraction Jesus received was to stone Him. And Jesus evaded that. He escaped. He left and went to a place called Bethany, but a Bethany up by Galilee, a place called Bethania or Bethabara, some three to four day journey from Jerusalem.
In the meantime, Lazarus has come down with an illness that will lead to his death. Mary and Martha send a messenger to Jesus. They know where He is with His disciples, and they simply tell Him, "The one whom You love is sick. He is going to die." Jesus sends back word that this will not end in death. And the messenger comes back, and Lazarus dies. He dies and in the Jewish custom, he's not embalmed. He's entombed on that first day, and the family then begins to mourn.
Now just as we have burial and funeral customs we participate in as a society, so too did the Jews, and one of them was that you were to hire at least two flute players and one wailing woman to be a professional mourner. That sounds strange to us, but that was their culture. And so during the days that immediately followed the burial of Lazarus, the home of Mary and Martha was a scene of grieving, a scene of wailing. Some of the wailing was from the family perhaps and some was generated by this professional mourner.
Now as we look at Mary and Martha and we look at the events surrounding their home, there are a few more things we're going to discover about this family. For one, they're a prominent family. We know that because of the phrase that many Jews had come from Jerusalem to Bethany. Now this Bethany where Mary, Martha, and Lazarus lived was just a little less than two miles from Jerusalem. Fifteen stadia is the King James term. In fact it's the Greek term and a stadium was an eighth of a mile, so it's just an eighth of a mile short of two miles away, and so they're able to travel. And the fact many Jews came was a sign of the prominence of this family, that they were fairly well known.
Also we have the event John will record in the next chapter but that has chronologically occurred previously, of Mary anointing Jesus with this very valuable perfume she breaks open in order to use for her anointing of Christ. Another indication of the prominence of this family. So rather than just having one professional mourner, there seems to be a lot of people gathered, perhaps several that are hired for the purpose and then all of the friends whom they have known who have come.
It is in this setting, some four days or the fourth day now since the burial of Lazarus, that Jesus arrives on the scene. He comes to the edge of Bethany. He doesn't go into the home of Mary and Martha, not just yet. But He comes to the edge of town and apparently, He calls for Martha. The Scriptures don't really say that, but that seems to be the indication because Martha is going to come and visit with her Lord.
We find this in John, chapter 11, in a message today that I've entitled "I am the Resurrection" because of that powerful statement that Jesus makes for us there. In verse 17 of John 11, it says, "So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles away. And many of the Jews had joined the women around Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother. Now Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house."
You know, it's interesting to see just this little glimpse of the profile because already we have seen with Martha and Mary that Martha is the one who is busy about work. She's the one who is moving around and trying to prepare a meal at a banquet, where Mary is just sitting at the feet of Jesus and worshiping Him. It seems Mary is the more contemplative one. Martha is the more busybody one. She's the one more active and even here, it's Martha who gets up and goes to see Jesus while Mary, perhaps, just remains there quietly in her home, grieving the loss of her brother.
It says in verse 21 Martha comes to Jesus there at the edge of town and "Martha said to Jesus, 'Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.'" Martha is a great example of what goes through all of our hearts at times of loss. And I know the Lord…though we're chronologically coming to this story today… the Lord has intersected this story today with some of you who are in the midst of going through loss. It may not be the death of a loved one. It may be the loss of a relationship, the loss of something so tender and valuable that it has left you conflicted. You love the Lord. You trust Him and yet, you're grieving, and you're wondering, and you're questioning.
And that's really where Martha is. The statement she makes here is not a statement of ridicule. Notice it again. She says, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died." She's simply saying, "Lord, I know if You had been able to get here before he died, You would have healed him, and he would have lived." She also knows, even while the messenger is away, the time has run out, that when he gets back and Jesus has not returned, she realizes there is just not enough time. And so, she's not rebuking Christ as much as she's just lamenting the fact. She's showing her faith. She's showing she understands He has the power to do this if only He had been here in time.
But then, she makes another statement, an incredible statement in the next verse. And she says, "But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You." It is with this statement, I think, that we come to the loss, to the paradox, to the confusion, to the conflict that goes through your heart in times like this. You love God; you know God has power and deep down in the midst of your grief, there is still that hope. It's hope battling with despair. The darkness of despair battles with the light of hope. Her hope is, "I know that even now, whatever You ask of God, He will do, that even though in human terms, death has come and death is the end, with You, oh God, anything is possible. And I know that even now, you can ask something of God and He'll do it."
Now Martha is conflicted because she received Jesus' words from the messenger. You remember what the messenger brought back to her in chapter 11, verse 4. The messenger comes back with these words from the Teacher to Martha. While Lazarus, perhaps, is laying there dying, the messenger says that the Master has said this, "This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it."
Martha, no doubt, rehearses that statement over and over again, even as she sees her brother pass away. Even as they take him to the tomb and they seal the rock over the tomb, she keeps hearing the words of the Teacher, keeps hearing the words of the Messiah: "This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it."
It's the equivalent of us going to a verse of Scripture, a verse that promises hope, that offers hope in the midst of sadness and loss and grief and despair. And it's that hope that verse will ignite, but we just don't know how it's going to play out. We don't know how to apply it. We don't know enough about the ways of God to understand how He can fulfill His promises in us.
We often go to Romans 8. It says that "all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." We realize that while God doesn't bring evil, He can take the evil and turn it to good. And we want to camp on those verses. We want to realize that even in the midst of sorrow and sadness and despair, God can turn this out for good. But we don't always know how because we're human. We look at death as the end. We pray; we do everything we can to prevent death.
And so for Jesus' words not to have yet applied, for her brother to have died and been buried and now the fourth day since then, it makes it awfully confusing. What in the world did the Teacher mean? How can this be true? And I don't want you to despair when you see the promises of God in Scripture, and you find yourself asking that very same question…God, I love You. God, I trust You. God, I depend on You. And yet, here I am, in this situation and circumstance and I'm confused, God. There is a hope based on Your Word, and there is the despair of the reality that's behind it. And I don't understand, oh God, how You can reconcile this.
You're in good company because that's where Martha was. You're not just a person of little faith. You're not just a person who needs to study more. You're not just a person who is not a super saint. You're just a human, a believer who doesn't know all the ways of God.
And so, Martha says even now, "I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You." "I don't know how it will work out, but I have enough faith to know God will help." So "Jesus said to her, 'Your brother will rise again.'" Now Jesus is saying that, and that evokes in her something she knew from Scriptures. She was a believer in the resurrection on the last day. Now there were those… for instance, the Sadducees…who did not believe in resurrection, but she had been taught from childhood that there would be a resurrection on the last day. And so when Jesus says this, she goes back to her Scripture knowledge. She goes back to what she understands about that word resurrection.
"Jesus said to her, 'Your brother will rise again.' Martha said to Him, 'I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.'" "I know that's true and I'm looking forward to that day. I realize that is going to happen, but it somehow doesn't ease the pain I'm going through right now."
"Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?'" Jesus gives her a two-part answer. It's not two different answers, but it's two parts to the same thing. He says, "I am the resurrection" and He says, "I am the life."
Just as when Jesus would say, "I am the bread of life." Jesus says, "Not only am I the author of resurrection, not only am I the One empowered to bring about resurrection; I am the resurrection. I am the resurrection." And He explains that in the next statement, "He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live." To believe in Christ means death is not the end. It means even though you die as Lazarus had died, you'll live as Lazarus lives, that even though you come to what the world says is the end of all things, it's not the end because "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die."
"I AM the Resurrection, but I am also the giver of real life. And if you live and believe in Me, you never die. You never die." The fear, the darkness, the despair that comes into our lives at loss is mitigated if we understand Jesus is the resurrection and He's the life, that rather than trying to fix things up, rather than trying to chase things down, rather than trying to mend everything on our own, rather than questioning so much, If I had done this or if I had done that…Instead, what Jesus is telling Martha is to look to Him. What He's telling you is to look to Him. What He's telling me is to look to Him.
So often we want to get caught up in the past, don’t we? We have a loss and we look back and we look for our mistakes. We look to see, Oh, if I had only done this! If I had only done that! And instead of looking to the past, instead of looking inward, we need to look upward and we need to trust that Christ is not only the author of resurrection. He's not only the author of life; He is life. He is the resurrection. He is where you can find the hope and you can find the reality that hope offers. It is in Christ. It is as you trust Him.
Martha doesn't quite understand that, so Jesus explains, "I'm not talking just about the resurrection at the last day. I want you to know I am the resurrection. I am the hope. I am the reality of all you long for. Do you believe this? Do you believe this?" He wants to call and reach down and have her draw out her faith at this moment. Through her grief, through her tears, through her loss, through her despair, He wants her to connect with a faith that is unshakable. And that's exactly what she does. In a beautiful statement of her faith in verse 27, "She said to Him, 'Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.'"
That word believe, in the Greek, is in the perfect tense. It could be translated I have believed. A word that's in perfect tense is one that is settled. It's one that has occurred and has continuing effect. It is a settled issue, in other words, with Martha that she believes He is the Son of God. "I believe You are the Son of God who is to come into the world, that You are the Christ," which is simply the Greek version of the Messiah. "Yes, I believe. I believe. I still cry. I still grieve. I still wonder how You're going to carry out Your Word, but when it gets down to it, I believe in You."
And my friend, in your loss, in your struggle, in your hopelessness or despair, I just simply want to point you to Christ. I want you to look back and see if you have that genuine faith, if you truly believe Jesus is the resurrection, that He is the life, and He is in charge and in control and empowered to get you through whatever circumstance you are in, that He is over the circumstance that has led to your despair, that He is over the consequences of what may be facing you today; that He was not absent at the death of your loved one, that He's not powerless at the loss of your relationship, but that He is the resurrection. He is the life. He is the Alpha, the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.
There is nothing that is outside of His power and control and what you need to do to rest your soul is to accept it and to believe it. It sounds too simple, but that's the problem with grace. Grace is given. It's not earned. It's not something we have to struggle through. It's not something we have to get good enough to receive. God desires to lavish it on us, to open the windows of heaven and to pour it down upon us. But He asks us, "Do You believe?" Because it is in faith that the power comes. It is in your faith in Christ that the power comes.
When the disciples were on the sea and Jesus is walking on the sea and they're scared, Peter gets out of the boat and begins to walk on the sea, but he gets scared and he sinks. Jesus picks him up. They all get into the boat and Jesus says, "O ye of little faith. You let the storm, you let the surroundings take your eye off of Me."
When we let the storms get a hold of us, we always get our eyes off of Christ. When the trauma hits, when the news breaks, we always grow fearful. But if we're believers, we need to remember He's the resurrection. He's the life. With Him, we never die. With Him, we really live. And let our little faith grow so we may put our faith in Him and our trust in Him, realize He's in charge, that we don't have to try to figure everything out, but that we can trust God. And that's what Martha does.
Verse 28, "And when she had said these things, she went her way and secretly called Mary her sister, saying, 'The Teacher has come and is calling for you.' As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly and came to Him." Martha goes to Mary and kind of pulls her to the side in this house that's full of people, all grieving and mourning, and tries to get a private audience with Mary and whispers into her ear, "The Teacher is here. He's at the edge of town, and He wants to see you." Obviously, Jesus, after talking to Martha, says, "Martha, go back and get Mary. I want to talk to her, and I'm going to stay here."
Why? Because Jesus doesn't yet want to go into that house. He doesn't want to go into all that busyness. He wants to talk personally and quietly with Mary, as well as with Martha. Isn't that wonderful, that our Lord seeks a private audience with us, that He longs to speak quietly to you? There are times when the best thing you can do is not try to figure out how you're going to get through all of this, but simply to draw aside and to be quiet, and to meditate, and to trust Him, and to let Him speak to you through His Word, let Him speak to you through the motivations He gives you.
Transcribed by Digital Sermon Transcription