Summary: God's love. The human side of Jesus. Relationship. Death and life eternal. Evil from even the well intentioned.
In May 1897, the great American humorist, novelist and social critic Samuel Clemens — best known by his pen name, Mark Twain — was in London. It was one of the stops on a round-the-world speaking tour he’d embarked on in 1895. He hoped to use the fees from speaking engagements to pay off the considerable debts he owed in the United States, due to a series of unsuccessful investments and publishing ventures. While Twain was in London, someone started a rumor that he was gravely ill. It was followed by a rumor that he had died. According to a widely-repeated legend, one major American newspaper actually printed his obituary and, when Twain was told about this by a reporter, he quipped: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated. ”
Our text today is infamously known for having the shortest verse in the Bible. But, when you look beyond the brevity of one verse, you find deeper meaning and insights. Death always brings about a myriad of emotions and reflection. And Scripture reminds us, “…everyone must die once and be judged” – Hebrews 9:27 NCV.
In our society, we have sanitized death. Funeral directors go to great length to make death pretty – with embalming, cosmetology and flowers – but death is never pretty. 1 Corinthians 15:26 states that, “The last enemy to be destroyed will be death.”
Our text today is one of the most important explorations on the subjects of life, death, and resurrection found anywhere in Scripture . The key figures in this encounter with Jesus are, Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus. These three were very close friends of Jesus. Others even commented on how Jesus loved Lazarus. Their home in Bethany was often a getaway retreat for Jesus.
The story begins with Lazarus being very sick and the sisters sending word to Jesus to come quickly. Many of you have received one of those calls to come quickly to the bedside of one you love, so you know the intensity involved here. Despite sending word, Lazarus dies.
And we see that Jesus had other plans – plans that came from the Father in heaven rather than the plea from his friends. Jesus intentionally delayed going to Bethany in order to bring glory to God. The events that unfold is a marker event in the ministry of Jesus as well as the history of the world.
Jesus knows that there will be sorrow as the story unfolds, but he knows that God will use this painful life situation to reveal his glory to those who believe. After deliberately waiting, we find Jesus telling his disciples that it is time to go to Bethany after waiting two days.
So, on the fourth day after Lazarus has been dead, we find Martha rushing to Jesus when she sees him and expresses faith as well as scolding him for not coming sooner. And then just moments later we find Mary encountering Jesus and says exactly the same thing. Two sisters and exactly the same words. But, notice that Jesus’s response is remarkably different.