17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’ 23Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ 24Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ 25Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ 27She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world,” John 11:17-27 New Revised Standard Version
Lazarus had a problem; he was dead. Jesus had a solution; He would make him alive again. This is the good news of Scripture. The issue in our society is not are you a good person, but, are you alive. Many people believe that being good should give them a pass into heaven, but being good isn’t relevant, but what is relevant is, are you alive? Paul makes this point when writing to Timothy, “Whereas she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives,” 1 Timothy 5:6
Notice Martha’s understanding of death in her conversation with Jesus. She says, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” She looks at death from a practical human point of view. “If you had been here,” in those few words she acknowledges that Jesus could have healed her brother if He had gotten there in time, but now it is too late because he is dead. For Martha Jesus had the power to heal, but to resurrect someone after four days was beyond her comprehension.
However, Martha was not a woman without faith because in verse 22 she states, “But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of Him.” What she means by this is not clear because Jesus comforts her by stating, “Your brother will rise again” and yet she answers, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day,” (v. 24). If she had thought He could have resurrected her brother right then and there she would not have mentioned the resurrection of the just at the end of time, but instead would have said, “let’s go do it.”
For Martha, her brother’s life was in the past or in the future, but for Jesus life was present. “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this,” (v. 25, 26)? This is the central core of John’s gospel; Jesus gives life and that life is eternal for all who believe.
While Martha believed that life ends and someday at the resurrection starts again, Jesus made it clear that He had power over death because He is the resurrection and the life. The question Jesus asks Martha is the question we all must answer, “Do you believe this?” Do you believe that Jesus gives you life right now when you accept Him by faith as your Lord and Savior? Do you believe that faith in Jesus means that the grave will never hold you? Do you believe that in Jesus, though we are dead in sin, we are alive through grace?
Martha answered Jesus with a theological truth, “Yes, Lord, I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” This is a great statement of theological correctness, but the reality of what her statement meant in the real world hadn’t sunk into her heart. She believed these things about Jesus, but she didn’t grasp that she needed to let go and let the grace of God flood into her heart and experience the resurrection joy that He was offering her on behalf of her brother.
Too many Christians believe theological truths about Jesus but, He is not real in their lives. They don’t know Him, only about Him. They haven’t experienced His presence in their lives that comes through knowing Him and trusting Him in all aspects of their lives. Martha believed if Jesus had arrived earlier He could have saved her brother from death, but now that he was dead there is nothing more that can be done until the resurrection at the end of time. She missed the wonderful truth that Jesus, the resurrection and the life, had come to restore her brother to life.
Let’s pick the story up at the tomb of Lazarus. “Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb; it was a cave, and a stone lay upon it. Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to Him, ‘Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God.’ So they took away the stone,” John 11:38-41a.
If we want to see the glory (the goodness) of God then we need to believe. Jesus it doesn’t matter to Jesus if Lazarus had been in the grave four minutes or four years because He had power over the grave. There is one thing I would like to draw to our attention before I end this post; belief is not passive. Martha’s faith called upon her to do something, and that something was to move the stone. When Jesus works in our life He calls us to respond (I am not talking about redemption here), as a response to His grace. Jesus was saying to Martha, “You believe in Me then go and roll back the stone.” Put your trust in me into action.
After Jesus prayed (v. 41-42) He “cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out.’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with bandages, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go,’ ” John 11:43, 44.
I will guarantee you that Martha was glad she had the stone rolled away. And on that resurrection morning three days after the crucifixion when the women went to the tomb of Jesus, the stone had been rolled away and the tomb was empty. Jesus had risen and in that resurrection we have the assurance that we also have life and have passed from death into the world of the gift of eternal life.
* Please remember to pray for the Christians that are suffering under persecution for their faith in many countries around the world. Some of their stories can be found at http://thebeggardanced.com/nine-oclock-club/