We want our beliefs to be what we say, or what we think, or what we do on a good Sunday morning when we’re all dressed up and in a fantastic mood.
What we believe is what comes out of us when our status quo has been challenged.
This text references John 11:1-45, the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.
Setting the Stage
- Jesus knew Lazarus was sick, but he didn’t go to see him. Jesus also knew he was dead before they got there. This wasn’t an impulse decision; Jesus was planning on raising him from the dead the whole time. (John 11:4,14)
- The disciples, as usual, were a little confused. At first, they though Jesus meant Lazarus was actually sleeping, so Jesus had to explain that he meant he was dead. In addition, the Jewish leaders were very anxious to see Jesus killed. Bethany was close to Jerusalem and the disciples feared this would do them in. They were devoted to Jesus and decided it was better to stick with him and die. (John 11:8, 16)
- Mary is heartbroken over her brother’s death. She didn’t even get up to meet him when he came to Bethany. Many people have come to commiserate with Mary and Martha and Mary chooses to stay with them. She didn’t leave to see Jesus until he specifically asked for her. This in contrast with her earlier behavior of a lavish love for the Lord that she wiped perfume of his feed with his hair. (John 11:2,20,29)
- Martha went out to meet Jesus as soon as he came in. She epitomizes a follower of Christ who loves him and believes his teachings. (John 11:20-27)
- The other mourners who have come to visit have come along to see as well. (John 11:31)
The Beliefs of the People
- The disciples’ first reaction was one of self-protection. They were worried for Jesus, of course, but probably also themselves.
- Martha was in a place of acceptance. She didn’t fight what had happened and she held deeply to what she understood about Jesus’ teachings.
- Mary was upset with him and trying to find understanding. Her first reaction to Jesus was a belief in his power, but not in his sovereignty.
Now we get to the tomb. I imagine this scene looks something like this: there’s a large group of people gathered at the tomb. Jesus stands closest to the tomb, with the exeption of those who will move the rock away from the entrance. Martha is next to him, but is anxious of what we’re about to see. Many scholars agree that this family had money, and Martha wouldn’t have normally had to deal with death close up. Mary would be close, trying to stay near to Jesus, who she loved, but not too near, as she was confused and hurt by his lack of healing for her brothers. Around them are scattered the disciples. They are concerned and worried, anxiously scanning the crowd to see if any face looks like it will be the one to turn them over to the officials.
In this scene filled with many characters, Jesus says, “Take away the stone!” Martha, the practical one, checks the intention of Jesus. She can’t understand the point of breaking into a tomb now. Jesus tells her that it’s for the glory of God. He then prays and says loudly, “Lazarus, come out!”
Imagine if this scene had frozen right in this moment. We know how this story ends and we know that Lazarus comes out of the tomb, but the people surrounding Jesus that day had no idea what would happen next. Perhaps the disciples wondered if this was another sign of craziness, like his willingness to walk into a city where he was at risk of getting arrested. Perhaps Martha thought he was mocking her and her belief that she had to wait until the day of the resurrection to see her brother again. Mary, wrapped in the sorrow of her mourning, would she have been able to bring up the smallest amount of hope in her heart? The crowds surrounding them, how many of them mocked and laughed at what seemed an absurd command?
Unfreezing the moment, we can now look at what came next. Lazarus had his hands and feet bound, so he probably had to shuffle or hop out of the tomb he was in. There was probably a delay between Jesus’s command and the appearance of the formerly dead man at the tomb entrance. What happened in the intervening time? I wonder if the shock of seeing him there was so great that no one dared move, prompting Jesus’ next comment to unbind him.
What Can We Learn
As we see each person’s approach to loss and hardship and miracles, we can gather some input into what we might potentially be doing to limit our belief in Jesus.
- Minimizing risk (the disciples)
- If the disciples had let their fear overtake them and not come with Jesus, they would have missed out entirely on a powerful miracle that Jesus worked. By minimizing your risk and staying in your comfort zone, what are you missing out on?
- Not looking for answers in our current situation (Martha)
- Martha completely accepted the situation she was in. In some ways, this was due to the faith that she did have. Sometimes, we have to look beyond a situation in life to see the potential glory and seek for the beautiful.
- Letting our lack of answers affect our view of God (Mary)
- Mary let her lack of understanding impact her relationship with/view of God. It was a difficult situation and no one could blame her for being upset. Instead of running to Jesus, however, she chose to stay with the people who were telling her what she wanted to hear. Do you let negative results and unanswered prayers taint your view of God?
- Not going to the Lord, requiring him to come to us (Mary)
- Mary sat at home until she was asked for. We are so blessed to be loved by an awesome Father who loves us and comes after us when we are stuck in our own hurts. What kind of relationship could we develop with the Lord if we run willingly to him instead of hiding out until he finds us?
 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Jn 11:1–44). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.