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Our intellectual tradition makes it difficult for us process contradicting statements without making one or both of them false. We weight ideas out on a balance instead of placing them on a wider canvass. Seeing truth requires an elevated perspective. Earthbound, our view is myopic and often incapable of escaping impossibilities and paradoxes. But with God, nothing is impossible.

John 11:1-4
1 Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.
2 It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.
3 Therefore the sisters sent to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.”
4 When Jesus heard that, He said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” NKJV

This sickness is not unto death. It is as clear a pronouncement as one can imagine. Put yourself in the room. You are there with John, Thomas, and the rest of the boys. Someone knocks on the door. Peter opens it. “Yes?” he says.

“I have news for the Master,” the young man at the door says.

“Let him in, Peter,” Jesus invites. “What news? Tell us.”

“Martha and Mary of Bethany wanted you to know that the one you love is sick.”

Jesus nods, a slight smile gracing his face. “This sickness isn’t unto death, but for God’s glory and that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

Forget for a moment that you know the end of the story. If you were sitting there, what conclusions would you draw? I know what conclusions I would have made.

  1. Lazarus isn’t going to die.
  2. Jesus is going to heal Lazarus.
  3. Lazarus’s healing will be miraculous, not a natural recovery.
  4. As with other public miracles, this one promises to make their life more difficult. Any time Jesus gets more press about his glorious miracles, moving around becomes harder.
  5. If he is going to heal Lazarus, there is a real possibility that they may need to venture near Jerusalem. Being thronged by people is difficult. Being near Jerusalem is dangerous.

John 11:5
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. NKJV

John has acknowledged the love of Jesus through the voice of one of the players in the narrative. But now John, the disciple whom Jesus loved,[1] goes out of his way as the narrator to point out that Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus.

I am convinced that much of what flies under the banner of a crisis of faith is really a crisis of love. We doubt God most when we believe in His love for us the least. When our prayers are not answered in the time or way expected, we accuse God of indifference. God is love. All His actions flow from a heart of love. When we assure ourselves of His love, which was painted in blood for the whole world to see, our faith will find no crisis. It can only lead us through the cross to victory and praise.

John 11:6
So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was. NKJV

Lazarus is sick, sick enough that the sisters felt it necessary to appeal to Jesus for his intervention. His response? He waits. He doesn’t send a messenger. He doesn’t leave town in haste. He doesn’t even call an all-night prayer session for his friend. He waits, silent and distant until Lazarus dies.

Have you ever howled to heaven while you watched a love one die of disease? Ever screamed to God for intervention and then screamed some more when the miracle didn’t happen? I have. I have thought my Father indifferent during my personal pain forgetting that He is the same Father who waited and watched as His Son suffered death—the death of the cross—because He loved me.

John 11:11-15
11 These things He said, and after that He said to them, “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.”
12 Then His disciples said, “Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.”
13 However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep.
14 Then Jesus said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead.
15 And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him.” NKJV

Lazarus is dead. We can sympathize with their confusion when Jesus said that Lazarus was sleeping. He told them from the start that Lazarus’s illness would not end in death. They were as aware of their idioms and euphemisms as we are of ours. If one of our children is sick and I ask my wife how the child is doing and she says “sleeping;” I say, “Good, let them rest and recover.” I would never jump to the conclusion that she was saying the child was dead.

But what are they to do with “Lazarus is dead.” I don’t think they were much better intellectually equipped than we are to absorb the contradiction or resolve the paradox. What truth to believe, Lazarus won’t die or Lazarus is dead? The answer, in classic Jesus fashion, is yes.[2]

His next comment is just as challenging, but on an emotional level. Imagine a trusted mentor calls you and says, “Listen, you need to know your friend is dead. But I’m happy for you.” Happy for me? In what world is losing a dear friend to death a cause for gladness? In Jesus’s world.

John 11:20-22
20 Now Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house.
21 Now Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.
22 But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” NKJV

Many had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them. Their hurt, however, went beyond the loss of their brother. They felt neglected. Jesus was more than just the miracle working rabbi to them. He was the miracle working rabbi that was their friend, that frequented their house and ate at their table. Where was he in the hour of their need? “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

I admire Martha. She is honest. I can’t read her statement without hearing the pain in her voice. But it is not a faithless pain. She is not grieving like the heathen who have no hope.

“But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give it to you.” Would that we were all like Martha in the face of loss and calamity. I have persevered in prayer for the sick on multiple occasions, but I have rarely continued asking for healing and life once they’ve been pronounced dead, let alone when they’ve already been buried. But this is exactly what Martha does. “You’re late,” she says, “but because it’s you, I know God can still make it right.”

John 11:23-24
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” NKJV

“Your brother will rise again.”[3] The canvas is getting wider. Jesus begins to unfold the truth that death is not the end. Martha acknowledges this and proclaims her faith in the resurrection of the just for surely this must be what Jesus is referring to. But He no more allows her to stay confused as to His meaning than He let the other disciples remain lost on what it meant for Lazarus to sleep.

John 11:25-26
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.
26 And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” NKJV

“He that believes in me shall never die.” Never die, spoken to a woman whose Jesus-believing brother is stone cold and rotting in a tomb. It is like when He told Jairus, “She is not dead, but sleeping.”[4] Lazarus’s body is dead, but Lazarus is not. He belongs to Jesus and Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life.

John 11:43-44
43 Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!”
44 And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go.” NKJV

Death cannot overcome the love of Jesus. No grave can hold down His beloved. He spoke, we believed. Death has no hold on us.

[1] John 19:26; 20:2; 21:7; 21:20
[2] 2 Cor. 1:20.
[3] Another common phrase that in the context could be misconstrued. If I asked you what time you got up today, you would know I was asking what time you woke up. This is the language being employed. The idiom of “getting up” was also used for resurrection. But Jesus’s use of it is more accurate than Martha’s. Lazarus coming to life was a resurrection, but not the resurrection. Jesus said he was going to Bethany to wake Lazarus up. That is exactly what he promised here and what he did.
[4] Luke 8:52.