Summary: Lent 5 (A) The Christ of the resurrection of the Last Day is one and the same Christ who is on the road of life with us now. He will not only bring us out of the grave then, He is on the road to the cemetery with us today, as we face the challenges, the losses, and yes, even the deaths, of today.
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be acceptable in Thy sight,
O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen. (Ps. 19:14.)
“The Cemetery Road”
Today we read of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Lazarus was the brother of Mary and Martha, the two sisters of kitchen fame. You are familiar with this account. Lazarus is gravely ill, and they send for Jesus. Jesus waits for two days, and after Lazarus has died, He comes. In the end, He goes to Lazarus’s tomb, prays, and tells Lazarus to come out. Lazarus is resurrected and comes out of the tomb. The people unwrapped the burial clothes off of him, and set him free.
The chief point is that Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. Jesus is victorious over death and the grave. Were this all there were to this episode, that would be more than enough. Yet, that is not all. Lazarus’ resurrection happened at the tomb. But there is much that happened on the way to the tomb. And that is what we are going to talk about today, what happened on that road, on the way to the tomb.
Jesus and his disciples set out on their way to Bethany, which is two miles south of Jerusalem. They had left Jerusalem in the last chapter, and crossed the Jordan River into what is now the kingdom of Jordan. It is likely that they had headed north, to the upper part of Israel known as Galilee, and received the word of Lazarus' illness there. The Jewish leaders by this time had had more than their fill of Jesus, and were plotting to kill him. So when Jesus says to the disciples, “Let us go to there, to Lazarus,” Thomas, not one to miss an opportunity to doubt, retorts, “Yes, let’s go there to Lazarus, so that we, too, may die (ie be killed) there with him.” Thomas and the disciples lack trust and confidence. Jesus said he was glad that this had happened so that they might believe. Yet, in the midst of their doubtful faith, they go with Jesus and follow Him.
Jesus comes near to Bethany. Mary and Martha’s house was full of guests. They were having visitation. Visitations lasted for a week, such is still a Jewish custom to this day. Martha goes out, down the street, perhaps even to the edge of town, so that she might greet Jesus when He arrived, away from the crowd of mourners. Martha says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Martha is not scolding Him. She is expressing regret. The regrets we express, “If only this ….,” “If that had not happened, then …”. Unlike Thomas, Martha states her faith in the midst of the tragedy, “I know that God will give whatever you ask Him.” Jesus tells her Lazarus will rise again.
Martha is thinking of the Last Day. Even before Christ, the Jews knew that on the Last Day there would be a resurrection of the dead. “Yes, I know he will rise on the Last Day,” she sighs. It is a statement of truth, a statement of some comfort. But it is a truth for later, and not so much a truth for now, or at least that is how it looks and feels to her. Jesus replies, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in Me will never die. Do you believe?” And Martha makes a declaration of great faith. She does not merely reaffirm the truth of the Last Day, but proclaims, “Yes, I believe that You are the Anointed One, the Son of God.” Then Martha leaves to get Mary.
She came into the house, and, away from the guests, tells Mary that Jesus is here. Martha now stays with the guests, and Mary goes out to see Jesus. Some of the guests think that she is going to the cemetery, and so they follow, to visit the cemetery with her, in respect, in sympathy and support. Mary sees Jesus and falls down at His feet. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” The same words that Martha had spoken. And she bursts into tears. The crowd, too, begins to cry. “Surely this man who gave sight to the blind man, could have stopped Lazarus from dying.” Jesus is moved and troubled. “Where is he?” he asks her. “Come and see” Mary replies. And Jesus, weeps, too.
John does not say why Jesus is weeping. The crowd might have thought that Jesus was having regrets, that Jesus could have stopped Lazarus from dying but can’t do anything now. Some of them thought that Jesus was missing Lazarus, “See how He loved him.” Perhaps, Jesus knowing He was about to raise Lazarus, was sad. He knew the Lazarus was in paradise, resting in the bosom of Abraham, and that Jesus was about to call him back. Or He may have been sad because while they believe He could have stopped Lazarus from dying, they did not yet believe that He could raise him from the dead.