17On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. 21″Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” 23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” 25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27″Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”
Christians remember that the Jesus who testifies to the contents of the book of Revelation promises, ‘Yes, I am coming soon,’ and the church replies, ‘Amen. Come, Lord Jesus’ (Revelation 22:20). Christians live in the light of the End. Much of what we believe and much of the suffering we are prepared to endure derive their meaning from the prospect of vindication and resurrection. Without that prospect, without the reality that that prospect anticipates, Christianity does not make much sense, and neither do major planks in any Christian perspective on evil and suffering. ‘If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all others’ (1 Corinthians 15:19).” (DA Carson, How Long O Lord, 117)
Jesus ‘found’ that Lazarus had been in the tomb four days, but there is also more than a little hint that he knew how long Lazarus had been in the tomb. Here Jesus is met by the grieving Martha. She is the first one he will console at the loss of her brother Lazarus. She comes to him, no doubt weeping, face patched with red. She is undoubtedly very emotional, extremely fragile. I have, in the course of my years as a preacher, buried not a few dead people. I have seen the range of emotions that accompany the grieving. Tears flow freely. Wailing happens loudly. It is quite an emotionally charged atmosphere at a funeral. The way I understand it, those who lived in the days of Lazarus, Mary, Martha and Jesus, there were ‘professional mourners’ who would accompany the family in their grief with their own tears and wailing.
But Martha was no professional mourner. Martha was Lazarus’ sister; her grief was deep, and real. “If you had been here,” is, I suspect, Martha’s quiet rebuke: Lord, why didn’t you care enough to come right away my brother would still be alive. Is she angry? Is she grief stricken? Is she overwhelmed by her emotion and speechless? But she doesn’t stop there, and like Thomas, seems to have at least a modicum of faith or belief in Jesus, or maybe it’s a little deeper: “I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” I think she really believed that. Even though Jesus had ‘let her down,’ maybe he could make up for it now by asking for something special? Did Martha believe in Resurrection? Did she believe Jesus could, would, do something beyond the ordinary?
She, like the disciples, didn’t get what Jesus was saying. The disciples thought Jesus was talking about ‘sleep’, she thought he was talking about the ‘end’. When Jesus said, “Your brother will rise again,” it doesn’t appear that she had any idea whatsoever that Jesus had intended all along to raise Lazarus from the dead. She probably took these words, at this point, to simply mean something like, “Death will not have the last laugh in this life. Your brother will not remain forever in the grave. A Time will come when he will escape its hold.” I think this is evident by her response, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Martha was no Sadducee, but Jesus was about the change her outlook on exactly what Resurrection and Life means. Let’s look at it phrase by phrase.
“I am the Resurrection and the Life.” There is no Resurrection or life apart from Jesus. Full life, complete life, is possible only with Jesus.
“He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.” Death does not have the last word. More, we will not only live then, but if we believe we live now. Our eternal life has already begun. Those who believe cannot help but live and be full of life. This is why Paul says in Thessalonians that we do not ‘grieve as the rest of the world who have no hope’ (1 Thessalonians 4:13). This is why we do not fear death, this is why death has no grip on us. Those who believe are not just looking forward to life in some eschatological sense, we are living; we are already resurrected.
“…and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” Somehow our lives must be in concert with our belief. Whoever believes in Jesus will never die. Never. Jesus. I am all for hope, but this verse is actually very exclusive and does not leave much hope for many because many simply refuse to believe in Jesus. Jesus was either telling the truth and the life is very limited, or he was lying and there are a bunch people who are deceived and deceiving. Jesus said elsewhere, “Broad is the road that leads to destruction and many find it; narrow is the road that leads to life and few find it” (Matthew 7:14). He is saying: If you want to live, I am the only way that it can happen.
“Do you believe this?” That’s the key, right? Unfortunately, sadly, mysteriously, there are many, many people in this world who simply do not, will not believe. They don’t believe Jesus can deliver. They don’t believe he told the truth. They don’t believe there is any imminent threat from death that they need to head off in the power of Jesus. I wish that everyone believed. I wish that all people on earth would believe in Jesus. What is beyond me is this: Why would anyone turn down the free offer of life? Perhaps there is someone out there reading who will assume it’s true that Jesus can fulfill his words, and tell me why they have chosen to reject life.
Now remember Martha? She is the one who ran out to greet Jesus when he arrived on the scene four days after Lazarus had died and been buried. She went out to Jesus in her tears, in her grief, in her mourning, in her sorrow. I suspect she went out to him expecting to be consoled with a hug, or words of comfort, a quotation from the Psalms or the Prophets. But Jesus does none of that. He doesn’t quote Scripture. He doesn’t hold her. He doesn’t say something to make her forget about her grief or her brother. He doesn’t do any of those things that we would typically associate with grief counseling. Instead, notice what he does: He turns her eyes upon himself. That’s right. Essentially Jesus says, “Martha, in your grief: Look to me!”
We should do that more often. I understand that psychologists and psychiatrists have, in their infinite wisdom, devise a plan of action for grieving individuals. They have it all mapped out the way we should grieve, the steps we should go through, the path we should take so that we grieve properly, so that we don’t make a mistake and miss a step in the grief process. Personally, I think all of that is a bunch of nonsense, but who am I? (Evidently, according to evolutionist, I’m wrong on where I came from; according to atheists, whether there is a god; according to homosexuals, whether being sexually perverted is a sin. So I’m willing to concede that I could be wrong about the grief process.) Still, we should do this more often: Point people to Jesus. This is why we don’t grieve like the rest of men who have no hope. Our hope is in Jesus. Our hope is in resurrection. Our hope is that no matter how much the body whither away, no matter how much it decay, no matter how much it dies: We will not taste death even though we die. We have thrown all our eggs, so to speak, in the basket of Jesus. We put all our hope in Him and therefore have nothing to lose.
But if what Jesus said is true, then Christians are the most blessed of all people and unbelievers are to be most pitied. I actually feel for the atheist who doesn’t believe. He is dead already. Not so the Christian: He is already Alive.
If you are reading, and haven’t trusted Jesus, can you say the same? Can you say that you have any hope beyond the grave apart from Jesus?
Soli Deo Gloria!
16Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, NIV)