Summary: In spite of death, the eleventh chapter of John gives us a better hope. This hope is found in no one else but Jesus.
February 19, 1999
How do we cope when a loved one is suddenly taken from us? How do we react when a young mother with two young children is suddenly overtaken by death? How do we take the sad news that Sister Marva Farrel is no longer with us? No longer with us to share her laughter, no longer with us to share her pains and sufferings, no longer with us to share her dreams and desires. No longer with us to share her love for her Lord.
Here in the eleventh chapter of the Gospel of John, we find three varied examples on how people react when someone or a loved one is taken away:
A. Hope for God’s Intervention
In verses 17-22, we find that when Jesus finally arrived at Bethany, Lazarus has already been in the tomb for four days. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet Him, but Mary stayed at home. “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
When my youngest brother passed away few weeks ago, my first reaction was similar to that of Martha’s. I said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would have not died.” “Lord, if you have been here, things would have been different.” “Lord, if you had been here we would not see our loved ones dying before our very eyes.” “Lord, if you had been here we will not experience the pain and sorrow of separation as a result of death.” “Lord, if you had been here, sickness and diseases, cancers and heart problems, ulcers and hypertension, and all other physical dysfunction would have been cured.”
At the surface, it seemed that Martha was blaming Jesus for not arriving early in order to save Lazarus. As we know in verse 6 that Jesus deliberately delayed His return to Bethany in spite of the sad news that Lazarus was sick. But as we read verse 22, we find that her statement was more than just a statement of pointing the blame to Jesus, it was a cry for God’s intervention. It was a cry for God’s action, a cry that somehow God would intervene in the situation. “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
B. To Hope in God’s Promises
In verse 23, Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” In verse 24, Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” In the initial conversation between Martha and Jesus we find that Martha hoped that Jesus would had come earlier to intervene in the situation. But here in the second part of their conversation, we find another reaction of Martha concerning the death of her brother—to hope in God’s promises. Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
Martha probably knew from the book of Daniel, chapter 12, that in the last day when Michael will rise, those whose name is found written in the book will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.
She probably also remembered God’s promises in the book of Isaiah, chapter 65, verses 17-19, which reads: “Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and crying will be heard no more.”
She perhaps remembered the first promise given by God to our first parents, going back to the book of Genesis, chapter 3 and verse 15 which reads: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” And now Martha is face to face with the promised offspring of Adam, a descendant of Abraham, a seed of David, and the Son of God, who was not only anointed to crush the head of the serpent by His death and resurrection, but also to destroy our last enemy, which is death. And because Jesus died and was risen, we, like Martha, could have hope in God’s promises and say, “We know that in the last day those who have fallen asleep in Christ will live again.”
In the same token, we could say with Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 15 and verses 51-58, when he wrote: “Listen, I tell you a mystery: we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed in victory.” “Where , O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”