Summary: It is knowledge about Jesus that gives eternal life; it is Jesus Himself that is life and that is the resurrection for His child.

JOHN 11:17 26



“When Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.’ 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.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’”

At first the sisters thought their brother had caught a cold, or maybe it was the beginning of a flu—the symptoms were rather nondescript. None of them knew the reason for the sudden illness; they only knew that he did not feel well. His forehead burned when one of his sisters checked; he was feverish. He said he was feeling nauseous and doubted that he could eat anything. Finally, he could no longer continue working; he was forced to lie down. Every effort seemed only to drain him of energy. And the brief rest until he felt a little better had turned into an evening of lying abed, and the evening of lying in bed had extended into the following day.

Since he grew progressively worse during the next several days, it was evident that this was something more serious than a simple cold or flu. He was not improving, and that knowledge worried the two sisters. Where could they turn for help? They had consulted an area physician who was willing to come to the little village, but he had been unable to do anything to turn the ravages of whatever strange invader was even then raging through his body. With a sigh of resignation and with hands turned palm upward in a gesture understood throughout the entire world the physician had uttered what has become timeless wisdom for man confronted with the inevitable, “We can only pray.” But though the words are offered as a source of hope, they are universally recognised as a statement of hopelessness.

However, when the sisters heard those words, and when they realised the serious nature of his illness, they thought of Him who was their friend. Motivated by a confusing array of emotions they felt compelled to act. There was no question that they loved their brother, and it grieved them to see him suffering as he did. There was also the gnawing fear of their own futures. They were single women living in a culture that frowned upon women working. And having been dependent upon their brother’s income for such a long time, how would they now provide for their own needs? They were also angry—angry at the spectre of death hovering over one who was only recently strong and vigorous.

How could they simply surrender without a struggle? So they hurriedly sought out a young man, instructing him to go find their Friend to deliver a message, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” “It will be enough,” they thought. “When He learns of our distress He will come, and He will know what to do.”

He would be easy to find, for He was so well known throughout the whole of the land. His Name was known to everyone and His presence created a stir wherever He went. So the messenger did not have any difficulty discovering that He was then in the region of Perea, east of the Jordan and south of the Decapolis region. There, near where He had begun His ministry after He had been baptised by John, He was informed of the need in the little home in Bethany.

The message was delivered, but His reaction seemed strange and unnatural. He had said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” [JOHN 11:4]. And then, as though He was utterly unconcerned, He had continued doing what He had previously done for two more days. The disciples did not think this strange since they were well aware of the threats to His safety from religious leaders in Judea. It was not that many days earlier that they had attempted to stone Him.

I am always startled by John’s account of Jesus’ response to the concern of the sisters. “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when He heard that Lazarus was ill, He stayed two days longer in the place where He was” [JOHN 11:5, 6]. The words sound so contradictory, so incongruous. The Master was not in a hurry, though He surely knew that Mary and Martha were anxious because of Lazarus’ condition. There is no question but that they reacted as any of us would have reacted—love and concern cloud our confidence. Oh, that on every occasion I could say with the Psalmist:

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