In John chapter 11, John recounts the story of the death of Lazarus, a dear friend of Jesus. Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha, were also great friends of Jesus. By the time Jesus arrived Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days, even though the sisters had sent word to Jesus before Lazarus died that he was ill. Did they know that death is not the end for the followers of Jesus?
The text does not specify that the sisters sent for Jesus to heal their brother, except to record sister Martha’s words in verse 21, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” But now that Jesus had finally arrived, her hope was renewed as she shows in her next words, “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask,” which infers from the surrounding text that she knew Jesus could turn to God the Father to raise him from the dead. She knew death is not the end and that prayer changes things.
When Jesus tells her Lazarus will rise again, she thinks He is talking about the resurrection of the dead on the last day. She has her theology and her faith in place, knowing she and her brother would be reunited someday yet she still grieved for him on that day, for his physical presence in her daily life, as we do with our loved ones even when we know death is not the end.
Weeping May Endure for the Night
She calls for Mary, who comes and is followed by the mourners who assume she is going to the tomb. When she reaches Jesus, she repeats her sister’s words through her tears, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” She and everyone with her are brokenhearted and weeping, but did they know death is not the end? That this is our light and momentary afflictions? They don’t know what Jesus knows of what will happen in the next few moments, but even so Jesus is moved by their grief and also begins to weep. The text says He was “deeply moved in spirit.”
Do you think Jesus doesn’t know how we feel? Jesus knows how we feel. When Jesus comes to Bethany after Lazarus has died he weeps even though He knows He will raise him from the dead. Jesus wept for the death of his friend. It’s a picture of the resurrection and the grief here. We weep for now even though we know Biblical wisdom tells us death is not the end and Jesus will raise them again momentarily, in the last day.
Even though the sisters both believed that Jesus could have prevented Lazarus’ death, had He come before, only Martha indicated belief that He could raise Lazarus from the dead now, but if not now, then on the last day, but even in the Old Testament the Bible promises that death is not the end. Her faith was such that she left the decision to Him, even the decision He had already made to delay His coming, since she indicates that the result would be the same if He were “willing,” to raise Lazarus from the dead. This is a common theme throughout the ministry of Jesus. It is recorded that many said this to Him when they asked for a miracle.
Martha said, “If you had been here…” “But even now…” “in the resurrection at the last day.”
Mary said only, “If you had been here.” And the mourners echoed or perhaps confirmed the sentiment as they noted Jesus’ tears by saying, “’See how much he loved him!’ But some said, ‘This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?’” (John 11:36-3)
Look to Eternity
Jesus is the Name above all names. Jesus raised Lazarus in his body, but all sincere believers will be raised on the last day, because death is not the end, and that will answer the question of fidelity to the Lord. Every day people ask the same question the mourners asked on that day. They wonder why God does intervene when He can. They ask why He allows sickness and death and they doubt His goodness, yet we should be like Martha and put it all in the Master’s Hands to heal, raise, or resurrect. It’s all part of His plan.