The shortest sentence in the Bible is, perhaps, one of the most powerful. Not just because of the emotion these two words evoke, but because of the context of the narrative contained in the Gospel of John, Chapter 11.
Four days earlier Jesus had received a message from Mary and Martha that His best friend, Lazarus, was very sick. The disciples traveling with Jesus were very concerned, but He reassured them saying, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God that the Son of God might be glorified, thereby.” (v.4) The disciples misunderstood Jesus’ words, assuming that Lazarus was merely in a deep sleep and that their Master would awaken him from slumber. When Jesus clarified His remarks, Thomas said to the other disciples, “Let us return so that we may die with our friend, Lazarus,” evidence of the profound affection all the disciples had for Lazarus.
It was a two day journey by foot back to Judea, and Bethany, located on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, approximately two miles from Jerusalem, where Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha, lived. By the time Jesus and His disciples arrived, Lazarus was dead and buried in the grave for four days.
When Martha heard that Jesus had returned, she ran out to Him and admonished her good friend saying, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know, that even now, whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Jesus reaffirms that He is the resurrection and the Life and that whosoever believes in Him will never die and asks Martha if she believes Him. She responds that she believes Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that her brother will rise again in the resurrection, in the last day.
Martha leaves and tells her sister, Mary, about her encounter. Mary rushes to see Jesus, followed by a crowd of people. She falls down at His feet, weeping, and says the same thing Martha said, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” When Jesus sees the depth of her pain and loss, as well as the weeping of those who accompanied her, Scripture tells us that “He groaned in the Spirit and was troubled” (v.33) and asked where they had laid Lazarus.
The crowd of Jews who had followed Mary muttered, “See how He loved Lazarus!”
Anyone who has spent any time in the Bible knows the rest of the story. Jesus stands outside the tomb and commands Lazarus to “Come forth . . .” Of course, he does, in miraculous fashion, much to the amazement of the unbelieving crowd.
This is a familiar Bible story that most Christians, and many non-believers, have heard about. But I would like to suggest that there is a significant, and much deeper, scriptural meaning being communicated, above and beyond the stunning demonstration of Jesus’ Resurrection Power.
When Jesus was informed of Lazarus’ sickness, He was not concerned at all. In fact, He intentionally tarried for two days before starting back to Bethany. (v. 6) Now, keep in mind that Jesus spent more personal time with Martha, Mary, and Lazarus than anyone else, except, perhaps, His twelve disciples. He loved Lazarus and his two sisters deeply. When Martha comes out and confronts Him, she is clearly making a bold statement in subtext, “Why weren’t you here when we needed you most? You’ve fed the five thousand, healed the sick, and raised others from the dead. Yet, your best friend, and my brother, lies dead in the grave because you were not here to save him.”
Mary behaves similarly.
Jesus challenges their belief in Him as Messiah, and we know that Martha openly acknowledges Him as such, and affirms her belief in His power of resurrection. However, there is a qualification—at the last day.
Why is this important?
Jesus was effectively saying, “Martha, you’ve seen all the miracles I perform. You’ve spent a great deal of time with Me, even sitting at My feet and washing them with your hair. You know how deeply I care for you and Mary and Lazarus. You believe I am the Messiah and have the power to raise up your brother in the last day. But what about right now? What about Resurrection Life today? In this moment ? In this hour? Martha was essentially saying, “I believe you are who you say you are—the Son of God. I believe in the Resurrection. But, as for today, well, you should have been here four days ago!”
At this point, Jesus is overcome, but not by His grief because Lazarus is dead. No, He groans in the Spirit and is troubled, because of Martha and Mary’s unbelief. They know Him as Mashiach. Messiah. Christ. The Anointed and Prophesied Holy One of Israel. They have sat under His teaching and witnessed His many miracles. Yet they can’t quite bring themselves to believe that His Resurrection Power for Lazarus is for today.
At the last day, but not today.
Four days ago, but not today.
Before you are quick to chastise Martha and Mary in your heart, think about this. Much, if not most, of the believing Church lives the same way. Many of us who profess and acknowledge Jesus as their Savior believe in the theological concept of resurrection in the last day, but in our heart we do not believe that resurrection power is for today. If we did, our lives would be vastly different.
Jesus taught and discipled twelve men who changed the world, literally overnight. They believed and walked in Resurrection Power on a daily basis. What would the world be like if more Christians truly believed in Resurrection Power for today and not just at the last day?
At the end of the story, Jesus commands all those standing around the grave to “loose Lazarus and let him go.” Jesus was involving spectators in the resurrection. He was saying to them, “I want you to put your hands on this miracle so that you will believe in Me, and in the power of My resurrection in you--today.” Many did believe, but some went to the Pharisees to complain. Instead of rejoicing, they were worried about their power and influence. It was at this time that Caiaphas comes up with, and voices, the idea that it would be expedient for one man to die for the people in order to preserve the status quo.
The greater narrative is not just about resurrection, but about unbelief in general. I’d like to challenge you today with this question: “What would your life be like if you truly believed that Resurrection Power is available on a daily basis, and not just for the raising of the dead?
In closing, I’d like to leave you with this thought from the Apostle Paul:
But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. (Phil.3:7-11)