John 11:23-24 – Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
At the conclusion of our last post, Martha left her house and ran to meet Jesus on the outskirts of town. There, she reveals her innermost thoughts – if Jesus had not tarried, he could have healed her brother; his death could have been avoided.
We noted that her conversation with Jesus revealed both faith and doubt. She had an incomplete understanding of Jesus as it relates to resurrection. But by the end of the day, Martha is going to have a full understanding of who Jesus really is, and what he plans to do.
In response to Martha’s passionate and emotional statement, Jesus comforts her with a promise. He assures Martha that her brother would rise again.
Martha understood him to mean the future/final resurrection at the end of this age, when Christ returns to earth for judgment (John 5:28-29).
The doctrine of a general resurrection at the end of this age is not a new concept. Job, one of the earliest of the Old Testament books, speaks of the general resurrection of the dead as does the prophet Daniel:
Job 19:25-27 – For I know that my redeemer lives, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin is thus destroyed, yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another; though my heart be consumed within me.
Daniel 12:2 – And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
But was Jesus actually referring to the final resurrection when he said those words? Or is it possible that his statement could refer to both Lazarus’ imminent resurrection as well as the final resurrection?
Actually, it is very likely that Jesus chose his words to convey just such a dual meaning.
Remember, Martha’s unbelief consisted of two main things:
- Jesus could only heal her brother if he was bodily present (verse 21).
- Jesus did not raise people from the dead; God did. However, according to Martha, God would do whatever Jesus asked of him (verse 22).
So Jesus begins to draw her out. He wants to take her from the position of her unbelief into a sure and certain knowledge that he (Jesus) is the source of all life. And because Jesus is the source of all life, there can be no such thing as death for a Christian. The separation of our spirit from our flesh is merely our transition from this life to eternal life with God. This is the spiritual truth he wants Martha (and us) to understand.
The resurrection of Lazarus is a sign to believers in every age. It demonstrates that the power/life of Christ is well able to conquer death. Death could not hold him in the grave and because of him, it can’t hold us either!
John 11:25 – Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live… “
When Jesus says ‘I am the resurrection’, what does he mean?
He is saying that all power to restore, impart and maintain life is found in him. Therefore, he is the author or source of resurrection.
Martha already believes that if Jesus asked the Father he could have anything, but Jesus wants her to understand that by the power and authority of his own word he could do anything.
Likewise, Martha believes in a general resurrection on the last day, but Jesus wants her to understand that his power/authority to impart life is already present. While he will eventually raise up an entire world of men that have been dead for ages, he can also raise a single person on any given day of his choosing. In other words, he could raise her brother to life at any time. It could (and would) happen on the very day they were having this conversation. It didn’t have to wait until the end of time.
Here is more good news – those who believe in Jesus will live, even though they are dead. What does that mean?
All of us are subject to both physical and spiritual death. It entered the human race hand-in-hand with sin.
Romans 5:12 – Therefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:
In the physical sense, belief in Jesus will not prevent our flesh from death. Each one of us will experience it (Hebrews 9:27). But those who believe in Christ will be resurrected and receive a new body, fit for eternal spiritual life in the kingdom of heaven (I Corinthians 15).
Stop and think about that for a while – a new body, fit for eternal life. No pain, no disease, no flaws, no aging, no deformity. It will be you, just the way God always designed for you to be!
In the spiritual sense, you were dead the moment you were born, because you were born in sin. But when you trusted in Christ as your Savior you were passed from death to life (John 5:24). Your spirit is alive because even now it is in communion with God/Jesus/Holy Spirit, the author of life itself.
Stop and think about that for a while – a spirit that is no longer a slave to sin. A spirit that can stand/live in the presence of God. A spirit that can experience and explore different facets and depths of God forever and ever, without ever knowing them all!
Those who are safely under the authority of Christ will never spiritually die – we will just pass from abundant life here to a perfect life lived in the presence of God!
John 11:26 – “… and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
Why is Jesus concerned about Martha understanding this lesson?
It’s because God can only work in our lives according to our faith (Matthew 9:22, 28, Matthew 13:58, Matthew 17:20). If Martha doesn’t believe in Jesus as the Redeemer who has power and authority to give life both now and forevermore, how can she receive the miracle of her brother’s immediate resurrection?
When we are in the midst of a time of affliction or trial, it’s a great time to examine our own faith. Do we believe in the promises of God? Have we spent enough time in study and prayer to even know and understand what God has promised to us through his word (Romans 10:17)?
If we study and meditate on his word, our faith will increase and we can be prepared to receive all that God has for us, in every situation.
John 11:27 – She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
Now Martha gives a full and complete confession of her faith. It has often been compared to the statement Peter gave in Matthew 16:16.
She believed Christ to be the Messiah who was promised/prophesied by the Old Testament saints. She believes he has come to bring redemption and salvation to the world.
Thus we find that Jesus was successful in helping her to reach a higher level of understanding and faith – she is now fully persuaded of his divine nature. Her faith has risen to the point where she can receive a miracle.
John 11:28 – When she said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.”
Rather than personally going to the family’s house, Jesus remains where he is and instructs Martha to go home and speak privately with Mary. Why all the secrecy?
One reason may have been that Martha wanted to keep Jesus’ presence in Bethany a secret because she feared for his life. There were most likely some influential people and religious leaders at her house who were still hostile towards Christ.
For his part, Jesus had no such fear. We have already seen that Jesus was not afraid to go where Holy Spirit led because he was ‘walking in the light’ and performing the will of his Father. Nevertheless, he allowed Martha to have her way.
John 11:29-31 – And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were with her in the house consoling her saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there.
When we last saw Mary, she was sitting on the floor in an inner room of her house, surrounded by others as she mourned and grieved the loss of her brother. As soon as Martha gives her the news that Jesus is in town, she immediately gets up to go in search of him.
The other mourners who were with her thought she had decided to go to the grave to weep, and in a spirit of compassion they rose and went with her.
But they did not understand her motivation. She had heard the call of Jesus; she knew he was near. The minute she realized Jesus was near, she did everything in her power to connect with him. She did not ask her friends and neighbors for their opinion. She did not stay in the house trying to fulfill the social decorum of mourning. In fact, she didn’t even politely ask to be excused by those around her. She simply answered the call of Christ.
What can we learn from Mary’s example? When we hear the voice of Jesus calling to us, let’s do everything possible to connect with him. This may include skipping some social events, changing our normal routines or even giving up some entertainment. Some of our friends and family might not understand what we are doing. They might be critical of our decisions. But in the end, the only thing that matters is being with Christ.
As Mary pursued Christ, she led/took many other Jews with her. If we follow her example, we too can expect to lead others to Christ.
In fact, we cannot help but notice that God is precisely arranging everything and everyone so that the approaching miracle can have its greatest impact – Jesus is waiting near the tomb, Martha’s faith has been increased and Mary is now leading God’s impartial eye witnesses to the scene.
John 11:32 – Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Mary’s instinct is to fall at the feet of Jesus and pour out the sorrow in her heart. It is interesting to note that Mary sat at the feet of Jesus to hear about the kingdom of heaven (John 11:33); now in the day of trouble, she is there to receive a different kind of comfort from him. She is correct in doing so, for all we need is found in Jesus.
She makes a confession of faith in Jesus even though it was different in form from that of her sister. She is surrounded by Jews who either don’t care about Jesus or despise him. But in front of them all, without hesitation, she falls prostrate before Jesus just as an ordinary citizen would do for their earthly king. She was not ashamed to acknowledge Jesus as Lord in front of her community.
Her cry is word-for-word the same as Martha’s, which shows that they had said this very thing to themselves as they lamented over the death of Lazarus. Apparently, she says nothing else, but is overcome with emotion and grief. Her tears said it all and Jesus was able to understand it.
Psalm 61:2 – From the end of the earth will I cry unto you, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
Sometimes, we too are overwhelmed with grief or trouble. In those instances we can follow the leading of Mary and fall at the feet of Jesus. He is our rock/foundation that will never fail us.
This is not a guarantee that you will get what you want. It is a guarantee that Jesus hears you (Psalms 65:2), that he is aware of your situation (Psalms 139:1-3), that he will walk with you through all difficulties (Hebrews 3:15), and that all things will work together for your good and his glory (Romans 8:28).
Remember, one of the great lessons in this portion of scripture is that God is willing to allow suffering into your life if it is beneficial.
In the present case, the suffering of Mary and Martha is beneficial because it changes their faith. Martha grows from a flawed understanding of who Jesus is into a place where she recognizes and acknowledges his divinity. The suffering of the sisters also benefits all of the Jews who came to comfort them. They will witness the power of Jesus to resurrect a man dead for four days and it will convince them he is the Messiah. The suffering of Martha and Mary will result in eternal life for many people.
Let me ask you this soul-searching question: What would you be willing to suffer if it meant people coming to know Jesus as Savior and Lord?
John 11:33 – When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.
Does this verse seem odd to you in any way? If Jesus is about to raise Lazarus from the dead (and he undoubtedly knows he is), why would he weep? Why allow himself to experience such profound sadness?
We must remember that while Jesus is God, he voluntarily agreed to take upon himself the form of man (a human body). As a man he was subject to the same passions as we are. For example, he experienced temptation, hunger, thirst, weariness, joy, anger and sadness.
The writer of Hebrews confirms that the Messiah is touched with the feeling of our infirmities:
Hebrews 4:15 – For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.
Mary and Martha have an infirmity – brutal grief caused by the death of their brother. So it isn’t surprising that Jesus allows himself to be afflicted with the same distress his friends are experiencing. If he couldn’t experience the same suffering and grief that we know, then how could he comfort us?
Some scholars believe that his grief rose to even greater levels than we know. He may have been contemplating the general misery of mankind; as God he understood the full impact of sin upon the whole human race. After all, he knew why he had been sent into the world – to break the yoke of sin and free us from all its evil consequences.
One thing we can be absolutely sure of – Jesus was deeply moved and highly agitated by the results of sin in the lives of those he loved. And he loves you just as much as anybody!
Let me offer you some encouragement:
We see that Jesus was troubled when he witnessed the weeping of Mary, Martha and their friends. He had compassion upon them, sharing their sorrow. Did you know that as Christians, we are to do the same for others?
This can be a difficult thing to do. None of us relishes the thought of being sad or experiencing grief and pain. We often don’t believe that we have the right words to say to our friends who are grieving. If we are honest, many times we would rather walk away, or just offer some contrite condolences from far away.
But in Romans 12:15 Paul instructs us to “weep with them that weep”. By coming alongside those who are suffering, we can offer them comfort and hope. We can encourage them to trust in the Lord, because he not only walks with them through their situation, he uses it for good!
So let’s embrace the sorrow of those we know are hurting. If we do, Jesus will honor that!
Let me offer you some relief:
Fear often comes as a result of the unknown. In our society, many people fear death. In fact, they don’t want to think or talk about it because they are totally unprepared for it. I am sure Satan just loves that! If he can keep people in fear, they will continue to bury their heads in the sand and ignore their spiritual state.
Christians, however, do not need to fear death! Those who trust in Christ have already passed from death to life (John 5:24). The moment we leave this planet, we will be in the presence of God (II Corinthians 5:1-8).
Let me offer you some strength:
Sorrow doesn’t last forever. It is limited to this physical world.
More than one scholar has commented that Jesus wept at the grave not because Lazarus had passed from this life, but because he had to call him back into a physical body ravaged by sin, sickness and pain.
The resurrection of Lazarus was good because it forever demonstrated that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. But that resurrection actually resulted many more years of suffering under sin for Lazarus. He too suffered so that we could be encouraged in the Lord!
So when God allows you to suffer, don’t be discouraged or give up. Strengthen yourself in the Lord and look for an eternal harvest for the kingdom of heaven.