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Lazarus: A Matter of Life and Death (John 11:1-45)

By Rev. Susan L. Gleason

It was a matter of life and death! Lazarus was very ill, and Martha and I had done everything we knew to help but to no avail. So, we sent for Jesus. We knew that if Jesus laid His hand upon our brother, he would be made well. We knew because Jesus had healed others in miraculous ways. Lepers were made clean; the blind were made to see. He was a wonderful healer! And He loved Lazarus. He loved all of us really. And we loved Him. Sometimes, He would come to our home to share a meal with us and to teach us. He revealed the meaning of the law and the prophets to us. I could sit at His feet for hours and listen. My sister, Martha, would grow impatient with me and complain because I was so engrossed in listening to Jesus that I wouldn’t help her to get the food prepared and on the table! So when Lazarus grew ill, we called upon Jesus, certain that help was on the way.

But our certainty soon turned to despair. Lazarus died, and we laid him in his tomb--and there was still no sign of Jesus. I was so sure that Jesus would come. Confusion mixed with disappointment. Why had He ignored our need? Wasn’t He the one who said, “Ask and you shall receive?” Well, we had asked! I didn’t understand then what I’ve come to know since. Jesus does hear and answer, but the answer may not always be what we expect, when we expect it! He did come eventually. By then, Lazarus had been entombed for four days. Everyone knew that after three days the soul departed from the body.  There would be no bringing Lazarus back. Why had Jesus waited so long?

In a way, I suppose I was being selfish in expecting Him to come. After all, it was a dangerous thing for Jesus to return to Judea. Only a short time before Lazarus became ill, there were those who had tried to stone Jesus to death because He had told them that He and the Father were one. But, despite the danger, Jesus did come, and many of His followers came with Him. It was brave of them all to make the journey, especially since Jesus told them that Lazarus was already dead. But Jesus had said that Lazarus’ illness was to bring God glory, and Jesus always did what He knew would give glory to God and taught His followers to do the same. Once Jesus had made it clear that He was, indeed, coming to Judea despite the threats, I’m told that one of the disciples, Thomas, said to the others, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Those who truly loved the Lord were willing to die in order to follow Him. There are some even today I’m told, who take such risks.

By the time Jesus arrived, we were deep in mourning. Friends and members of the community in Jerusalem had come to the house to comfort Martha and me and to share our grief. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet Him. She went to Him and said what was in both our hearts, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Those words were an affront in some ways but also a statement of faith. And Martha continued to have faith, even though Jesus had disappointed us by not saving Lazarus from death. She said to Jesus, “But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of Him.” Sometimes, it’s hard to remain faithful when you’re hurt and angry, but Martha held on to her belief in the Lord.

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