[Based upon chapters 19-24 of SISTERS OF LAZARUS: Beauty Unveiled]
From “Beauty Unveiled” Chapter 23
*Intro to the story: Despite the physician’s medicines, Martha’s care, and everyone’s prayers, Lazarus died in Abigail’s arms. For days, their prayers and cries have gone up, hoping that Lazarus’ spirit might hear and return to his body. As the sun rose on the fifth day, their hopes died. It was too late; Lazarus’ spirit had gone to Abraham’s bosom. Mary and Martha are at their home when their uncle Joktan announces that he is now their near kinsmen and will take charge of their wealth, their possessions, and even their lives. At this point, Simon brings word to Martha: Jesus is coming. Martha rushes out to see the Teacher.
“None of this would have happened had Lazarus lived.” She paused, thinking. “Where is the Teacher?” she asked.
“The messenger, who brought news of his arrival, said Jesus was coming from the Jordan River. He is heading towards the tombs.”
She started walking again. They passed through the marketplace; there were a few booths opened and a handful of people buying and selling, but she knew everyone else were at the tomb. “Then we will meet him there.” She set her mouth. Lazarus was Jesus’ friend. We opened our home to him and his disciples, here and in Capernaum. We sent him money. She lifted the hem of her tunic and hurried down the street. After all we’ve done for him, I have to know why. Why didn’t he come earlier?
They turned towards the Mount of Olives. In the distance, coming from the west, was a small group of men. Martha didn’t need to count to know that their number was thirteen and she didn’t need to be closer to know that the one at the front was Jesus ben Joseph.
“Simon,” she touched his forearm, “I need to speak with the Teacher alone. Please?”
He looked at her for a moment and then nodded. He crossed to a large rock on the side of the road and sat down. “I’ll wait here for you.”
As Martha took a step towards Jesus, she remembered Lazarus as a boy, running through the streets of Bethany, along the shore in Capernaum. She took another step; she remembered him as a mischievous youth and a generous young man, who wouldn’t hesitate to invite thirteen strangers to his home. Another step; he was a wise and loving brother who never shied away from being responsible for two emotional women. She picked up her pace; she saw him smiling whenever he spoke Abigail’s name. He was respectful of Rabbi Nicodemus. He rejoiced when old friends returned. She started running; she remembered overhearing him promise Abigail he would return. She remembered him wan and thin and writhing in pain. She remembered him retching and tossing and shivering with a fever that burnt to the touch.
She was a few feet away from the Teacher; she remembered hearing that horrible, gut-wrenching shriek when Lazarus – her sweet, kind, loving, wonderful brother Lazarus – died in Abigail’s arms.
Opening her arms wide, she threw herself against Jesus’ chest. She felt a broad shoulder – a shoulder made rock hard from years working in a carpenter’s shop – beneath her head. She felt a hand, callused and rough, holding her head while she wept. She felt the feather touch of his breath on her cheek as he murmured soft words of comfort.
“Lord!” she wept, “if you had been here, Lazarus would not have died!” Those were the words she had planned to say, but suddenly the statement seemed lacking. Then, in a heartbeat, other memories came; listening to Jesus teach on the coming kingdom; healing a lame man; giving sight to the blind; restoring Simon, restoring her life. “But even now,” she added, “I know that Yahweh will give you whatever you ask.”
Jesus held her at arm’s distance. His dark eyes searched hers. “Your brother will rise again,” he said.
A thrill rushed through her body. Lazarus will rise again? But wait; it had been four days – too long – his spirit had already gone. She responded with the lesson she had learned at her mother’s feet. “I know he will rise again, when all those who are dead rises on the last day.”
“I am the resurrection and the life,” his voice resonated. “Whoever believes in me, even though his body dies, yet he will live; and whoever lives and believes in me will never taste eternal death. Do you believe me?”
The resurrection and the life. Never taste eternal death. That means that I will see Lazarus again. Believe? Do I believe?
“Yes, Lord. I believe that you are the promised Messiah, the Chosen One Yahweh sent into the world.’
He looked into her eyes for a moment longer, a gentle smile tugging the corners of his mouth. ‘Where is Mary?’
[Story interlude: At this point, Martha and Simon return to bring Mary to Jesus.]
Some of the mourners were returning from the cemetery when Mary and Martha rushed through the town. They called to them, wanting to know if they were going to the tomb. When neither sister responded, the mourners followed.
Jesus was in the same place where Martha had met him. Seeing him in the distance, Mary lifted the hem of her robe and ran to him. Dropping to her knees, she spread her arms wide and lifted her head to the skies as a moan rose from deep within, erupting from her lips as a sobbing wail. She remained kneeling at Jesus’ feet, the wind carrying the sounds of her grief down the slopes of the Mount of Olives to the cemetery. She cried the same thing her sister had, “Lord, if you had been here, Lazarus would not have died!”
She felt hands grasp her forearms and lift her up.
Jesus gazed into her eyes. Dust and fatigue covered his face, but there was something more. Something radiated from his penetrating eyes. “Where is his tomb?” he asked.
Mary looked at her sister and then at Jesus. “Come and see, Lord.”
The sisters and Simon, along with Jesus and his disciples, walked the short distance to Lazarus’ tombs, where Abigail, Nicodemus, Michael, Ruth and many friends stood, weeping and comforting each other.
Jesus looked around and then lowered his head and wept, tears filling his eyes and streaming down his cheeks to drop on the path.
“Look!” Mary heard someone whisper. “The Teacher is crying. He loved Lazarus so much.”
“If he loved him,” another said, “why did he not come and heal him? After all, he healed a blind man; couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”
Crossing to the tomb, Jesus extended a hand to touch the stone covering the entrance. “Roll away the stone.”
Mary’s eyes widened. She looked at Martha who shook her head.
Walking up to Jesus, Martha said, “Lord, Lazarus died four days ago. His spirit has already left this area for Abraham’s bosom and his body has begun to rot.”
Jesus turned to look at Martha. “Do you remember I said if you believe, you would see Yahweh’s glory?”
For a minute, Martha looked at the Teacher. Then she turned to Simon. “Please move the stone.”
The crowds gathered as Simon, along with Michael and some of Jesus’ disciples rolled the large stone away from the tomb’s entrance. They gagged as the smell of rotting flesh mingled with perfumed oils permeated the air.
Jesus walked to the door of the tomb. Stretching his arms wide, he lifted his face to the grey sky. “Father,” his voice echoed through the rocky tombs, ‘I thank You that You heard me. I know that You always hear me, but I say this so that those standing here will hear and believe that You have sent me.”
Looking into the tomb’s darkened door, Jesus extended a hand. “Lazarus,” the words echoed, “come out!”
There wasn’t a sound on that slope as the mourners held their breaths. A minute passed as the wind whipped around the tombs with a moaning keen.
First one person, then another, turned to walk home, each pausing to touch Mary or Martha’s shoulder and whisper to them. Half of the crowd had reached the path to town, when Mary’s scream brought everyone running back.
Mary stood, pointing at the tomb where, in the doorway, Jesus stood with his hand on the shoulder of a linen wrapped body, the hands and feet bound with strips of cloth. Jesus reached up and removed the large white cloth covering the head.
Mary ran to the tomb, Martha a step behind. They embraced their brother, as Abigail ran up to them, with Michael following helping Nicodemus up the rocky path. They threw their arms around Lazarus, around each other. The mourners crowded around them, crying, laughing and shouting praises to Yahweh.
Over the cacophony of joy, Jesus spoke. “Here,” he said, removing his robe and unwinding his girdle, he extended his garments to Simon. “Take off his grave clothes and set him free.”
That’s a question that is often asked of God and it’s generally about hard challenges that we face. It was certainly true of people in the Bible.
“Moses returned to the LORD and said, ‘O Lord, why have You brought trouble upon this people? Is this why You sent me?’” – (Exodus 5:22)
“But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!’” – (Numbers 21:4-5)
“‘But sir,’ Gideon replied, ‘if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all His wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, “Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?” But now the LORD has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.’” – (Judges 6:13)
There are many more, “Whys,” in the Old Testament; it’s mentioned in 43 verses in the book of Job. In the New Testament, the most well-known questioning is not a, “Why?” but it carries the same question.
“‘Lord,’ Martha said to Jesus, ‘if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” – (John 11:21)
“When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw Him, she fell at His feet and said, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.’” – (John 11:32)
It’s easy to skim through the story in John 11 with excitement and anticipation; after all, we know that Jesus resurrected Lazarus.
But that’s just it; we know it, because it’s written in the Bible. But Mary and Martha didn’t know it. What they knew, what they had experienced was, despite all their efforts, despite all their prayers, God had not responded and their brother—who was a close friend of the Teacher—had died.
Ah, but God did respond; just not in the way they wanted. But when He did show up…
For Mary and Martha to receive their brother back, they had to lose him. For Lazarus to receive his greatest miracle, he had to die.
This might sound like I’m repeating this message, but it is a central message to BEAUTY UNVEILED, and it’s important for us to remember. Sometimes we must go through hard times—sometimes we must face not having our prayers not answered—to receive the greater gift.
What is that greater gift?
In some situations, it was God delivering the people. God providing for His people. God destroying their enemies. However, in other situations,
“Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” – (Hebrews 11:35-40)
Keep these people in mind as you read the verse that follows it.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” – (Hebrews 12:1)
For nothing else, our tests and our testimonies are so we might join that, “great cloud of witnesses,” so we can be used as an encouragement for others, to point them to the goal at the end of the race: our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Because, in the end, it’s not about us. Remember, “For God so loved the world…”
Pray with me?
Father God, forgive me when, in my weakness, I question You. Help me, even when I don’t understand, to remember that You have a greater plan, for the world and for me. Help me lift my head and run, knowing that many saints that have gone before are surrounding me, encouraging me to run the race that You have set before me. As a testimony for Your glory. Amen.
Harvest: “Because I Am”