The political climate in Judea was getting dangerous for Jesus and His followers, so He moved His ministry back to Galilee. Only a few weeks had passed when a messenger arrived from Judea.
“Teacher!” Rock called as he entered the house where Jesus was sitting. “We just received a message from Martha in Bethany!”
“What does she say?”
“All that’s written is, ‘Lord, he whom You love is sick,’” Rock answered.
“She means Lazarus,” Andrew added.
“It must be bad if she went to the trouble to send us a message about it,” John concluded.
All of them knew well the love and support that Martha, Mary, and Lazarus had given them over the last two-and-a-half years. Jesus looked around at the concern on their faces. “Don’t worry. This sickness will not end in death for Lazarus. The Father intends to use it for His glory and that the Son of God may be glorified as well.”
After saying this, Jesus then announced that they would be traveling to a couple of nearby villages to teach.
“What are we doing?” James whispered to Rock as they left Capernaum and headed north. “I thought the Teacher would be calling out some miracle to heal Lazarus from up here in Galilee.”
“I don’t understand it,” Rock answered in a low voice. “Jesus loves Lazarus and his sisters like His own family. Maybe He’s already healed him and didn’t tell us.”
It was two days later that Jesus called His disciples to Him and announced, “We are going back to Judea.”
“Lord, you can’t go back!” Phillip exclaimed. “The last time we were there the Jews tried to stone You!”
“Phillip, aren’t there twelve hours in the day?” Jesus asked. “If anyone travels during the day, he won’t stumble because he sees the light of this world. If a person travels during the night, they will stumble because they don’t have the light. Who’s your light, Phillip?”
“You are, Lord,” the humbled disciple answered.
“And the Father is Mine,” Jesus added.
Turning to the others, Jesus said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going to wake him up.”
“If he’s asleep,” Matthew pleaded, “then he’ll be fine. There’s no need for You to go down there and put Your life at risk.”
Looking into the disciples’ anxious faces, Jesus announced, “Lazarus is dead.”
“What?” they all gasped.
“Yes,” Jesus continued, “he is dead, and I’m glad for your sakes that I wasn’t there.”
“Why, Lord?” John asked, still shocked at the news.
“So that you may believe,” Jesus answered with a smile. “Come, let’s go to him.” After saying this, Jesus began walking south. The disciples, stunned not only at the news about Lazarus but also at the thought of walking back into a life-threatening situation, seemed paralyzed.
Finally Thomas, who they called the Twin, said, “Let’s go, guys. I’d rather die with Him than live without Him.”
On hearing his words, the rest jumped to their feet, quickly grabbed what they would need on the road, and hurried after Jesus.
Two days later, as they neared Bethany, they found out from someone they met on the road that not only was Lazarus dead, but he had been in the tomb four days. Lazarus and his sisters were well known in the area, and numerous people were coming daily to console the sisters. Many from Jerusalem, which was only two miles away, were coming as well.
A table had been placed outside the home of Mary and Martha, and a large pot of water with a dipper for any thirsty visitors to quench their thirst was placed there. Martha was checking to see if more water was needed when a friend came running up to her.
“Martha, Martha, I just saw the Teacher and His disciples coming into town,” the woman said breathlessly.
“Where?” Martha asked anxiously. The woman, still breathing hard, pointed to the west. Without responding, Martha hurried up the street toward the west end of town. Fresh tears streamed down her face when she reached Jesus.
“Lord, my brother would not have died if You had been here.” The words burst from Martha’s aching heart. Then realizing that she sounded like she was blaming Jesus, she quickly added, “Even now I know that God will give You anything You ask for.”
“Your brother will rise again,” Jesus answered, holding her trembling hands.
“Yes, Lord, I know that on the last day he will rise again in the resurrection.”
Jesus gently squeezed her hands until she looked into His eyes. “Martha, I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
“Yes, Lord,” the woman said, smiling through her tears, “I believe that You are the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God Who the Father sent into the world.”
“God reveals His glory to those who believe,” the Teacher added. “Where is Mary?”
“She’s in the house with the mourners. I will tell her You’re here.”
Leaving Jesus and the disciples, Martha hurried back to the house. Stepping inside, she whispered into her sister’s ear, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you. I left Him at the west end of the street.”
As soon as Mary heard these words, she sprang to her feet and rushed to meet Him. Surprised by her sudden departure, the mourners who were consoling Mary thought she was going to the tomb to cry and hurried to follow her.
Mary was sobbing when she reached Jesus. She fell at His feet and exclaimed, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died!”
Her intense grief and the tears of those who followed her touched Jesus’s heart, and He was deeply moved. “Where have you laid him?” the Teacher asked with His voice cracking.
“Come with us,” one of the mourners said, “and we will show you.”
As Jesus lifted Mary to her feet, her grief seemed to increase, and Jesus’s heart broke. They wept together as they made their way to the grave yard.
“Look at how hard the Teacher cries for His dead friend,” one of the mourners said to his companion. “He really loved Lazarus a lot.”
“He opened the eyes of the man born blind,” the companion returned. “Couldn’t he have done something to keep this man from dying?”
When they finally stood in front of the tomb that contained his friend’s body, Jesus cried again.
The tomb of Lazarus was actually a cave with a large stone rolled in front of the entrance. After several minutes Jesus said, “Remove the stone.”
Martha was shocked. “That’s not a good idea, Lord! He’s been dead four days. By now there will be a stench.”
“Didn’t I say that if you believe you will see the glory of God?”
Martha’s eyes grew wide and the little hairs on the back of her neck began to stand up as it suddenly dawned on her what Jesus was about to do.
“REMOVE THE STONE!” she cried. “REMOVE THE STONE!”
Jesus took a step forward, looked up to heaven, and said, “Thank You for hearing Me, father. You always hear Me when I talk to You. I know that. I only said it because of the people standing around Me. I want them to believe that You sent Me.”
After praying, Jesus looked intently at the open tomb and shouted, “LAZARUS, COME OUT!”
Everyone stared into the dark opening. There was a movement in the shadows, and suddenly the dead man wrapped head to foot in his burial clothes came shuffling out. Mary gasped and stumbled backwards into Andrew’s arms. Martha grabbed Jesus’s arm to keep from falling.
“Unwrap him and let him go!” Jesus said with a laugh. When those of the mourners hesitated, Rock and James rushed forward and removed the napkin from Lazarus’ face and began unwrapping him. Lazarus blinked in the bright sunlight.
“Hey, Lazarus!” James said excitedly to their once-dead friend. “We missed you!”
“James! Rock!” Lazarus exclaimed as he saw the two disciples. “I…I think the Lord wants me. I heard Him call.”
“He did!” Rock returned laughing. “He’s standing right over there. Let us get these grave clothes off you, and you can talk to Him.”
Looking down at the rapidly disappearing wrappings, Lazarus said, “Uh, Rock, could you or James let me borrow a robe before you take ‘em all off?”
James started laughing. “You don’t have anything on under there, do you?”
“Just my undies,” their friend confessed as he looked at the large crowd of people staring at him.
Rock stood up and began taking off his robe to give to his friend. “Well,” he said, “we sure don’t want you dyin’ of embarrassment right after the Lord raised you back to life.”
Many of those who had come to console the sisters and who had seen this amazing miracle fell on their knees, confessing their faith in Jesus as the Messiah. Some from Jerusalem hurried back to the city to tell the Pharisees what Jesus had done.
By Alan W. Harris
(Inspired by John 11:1-46)