Today’s selected reading continues in the New Testament gospel account of the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ as written and recorded by the apostle John. More specifically, today’s passage begins with the forty-fifth verse of the eleventh chapter and continues through to the eleventh verse of the twelfth chapter. When you come to this particular passage of scripture you will find the resurrection of Lazarus having already taken place and the instruction of Jesus to loose him and let him go. The first forty-four verses of this chapter describe this man from Bethany called Lazarus becoming sick, and that sickness ultimately leading to his death. What makes this particular passage so incredibly Lyn intriguing is the fact that within we find both the sickness and death of Lazarus in the context of the love which Jesus had toward both he and his sisters. If you take the time to read the words which are found and contained within this passage you will quickly notice that almost immediately after the apostle John writes about this man named Lazarus coming sick—both he and his sisters were those who Jesus loved. In the third verse of this chapter you will find the apostle John emphatically writing and declaring how Jesus loves both Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha, and how yet even in spite of and even in the midst of that love Lazarus still became sick. As you read the words found within the narrative of Lazarus you will find an incredibly interesting description of love, for when you would think love would, should and even could show up it didn’t. Upon reading the words which are found within this passage you are almost immediately gripped with and by the fact that Jesus loved Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus. What you will also find, however, is that even when his two sisters sent word unto Jesus that the one whom He loved was sick, Jesus chose to remain and abide where He was. What’s more, is that the apostle John doesn’t simply write that Jesus abide where He was, but He did so for a full two days. This is actually quite curious when you take the time to think about it, for you would think that love would show up when it’s immediately appealed to and called. You would think that love would immediately respond when it receive report and hears the news that someone close to it is suffering and in need. We have been trained and conditioned to think and believe that when love is called and when love is appealed to it immediately responds and it immediately drops everything in order to come to the rescue. We have been programmed to think and believe that love automatically guarantees that one will respond when they are called—this being true in absolutely every situation and circumstance. More often than not we have believed the report and teaching that love always responds immediately when it is called, and it immediately comes to the rescue of those who are in need.
Nicole C. Mullen—contemporary Christian recording artist—wrote and sang a song not too long ago which bore the title “When I Call On Jesus.” THR group Desperation Band based out of Colorado and led by front man Jared Anderson wrote a song which bore the title “Rescue.” Popular contemporary Australian based worship group Hillsong United wrote and sang a song which bore the title “Came To My Rescue.” The point and underlying premise of these songs is that when we call upon Jesus and when we call upon the name of the Lord He immediately comes to our rescue. What’s more, is that these songs almost seem to suggest that when we call out to Jesus He immediately drops everything and responds to our cry for help. Please note that I firmly firmly believe that when we call upon the name of the Lord we are saved, and that the name of the Lord is a strong tower and refuge, and that those who run into it are saved. I do believe the words which David the psalmist world concerning his calling on the name of the Lord, and the Lord hearing from His holy hill and answering and responding. The opening portion of the eighteenth chapter of the book of psalms is all about David being in distress as he was assault, assailed and surrounded by his enemies, and how he called on the name of the Lord, and the Lord heard from heaven and responded. I am fully aware of the account of Simon also called peter who stepped out of the boat onto the water in the midst of the wind and the waves, and so long as he kept his eyes on Jesus, his faith and trust in the One who was before him in the midst of the waves, he would continue walking upon the water. When, however, he took his eyes off of Jesus and began looking at the wind and the waves he began sinking. When Jesus saw him beginning to sink beneath the wind and the waves, He stretched forth His hand and rescued him from waters which in that moment were greater and stronger than he was. Please understand that I firmly believe that when we call upon the name of the Lord He can in fact choose to respond immediately and decisively within our situation and circumstance and come to our rescue. The entire purpose and premise of the songs I mentioned above is that when we call out to Jesus and when we call upon the name of the Lord we are immediately rescued from every situation and circumstance we face. While these songs do an amazing job at appealing to our emotions and pulling at the strings of our heart, I would dare say they only tell half of the story. I would dare present to you that these songs only present half the picture concerning the reality of the living God whom we serve, and the eternal son we walk with and follow, and the Spirit we experience as the manifest presence within our hearts and lives.
THE SONGS ONLY TELL HALF THE STORY! As I sit here this morning I can’t help but be gripped and captivated by the reality that the songs which I mentioned—perhaps even many of the songs we sing when we engage ourselves in worship within our houses of worship—only tell half the story and present half the picture. When you read the account of Lazarus you will find that he was a man from Bethany who became sick, how he had two sisters named Mary and Martha, and how it was this marry who anointed the feet of Jesus with sweet perfume and wipes them with her hair. What’s more, is that the apostle John reveals the truth and reality that Jesus did in fact love Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus. Even more than this, the apostle Hohn writes and records how when their brother became sick, Mary and Martha sent word unto Jesus concerning their brother. This was not uncommon during the life and public ministry of Jesus the Christ for there were countless times when individuals came unto Jesus from various places entreating Him that He come with them and heal the one in need. There was the case of the Roman centurion who entreated Jesus to heal his servant who lie at home sick and possibly dying, and ultimately Jesus merely spoke the word concerning this man’s servant, and he was healed. There was another instance when the ruler of the synagogue called Jairus came unto Jesus in behalf of one who was in need, and how Jesus spoke the word concerning his child and they recovered that very same hour. There is another instance when a father came to Jesus on behalf of their child which lie at home sick and and on the verge of dying, and how Jesus went with him to where their child lie. While on the way they were met with a report that the child had died and there was no need to trouble the Master any longer. Jesus would declare unto the man that he needed only believe and everything would be okay. Ultimately, Jesus would arrive at the home of this man where their child now lie dead upon the bed, and casting all out of the house but the parents, Peter, James and John, Jesus spoke the words that brought this child back to life and restored life unto her. There are instances within scripture when word and report was sent unto Jesus, and even when Jesus spoke a word of healing concerning those who were in need. On this particular occasion we find Mary and Martha sending word to Jesus concerning their brother and the one whom they loved being sick, and you would think that Jesus would have left where He was, dropped what He was doing, and would have immediately gone to the place where Lazarus lie sick and upon the bed. The truth of the matter, however, is that while it was true that Jesus did in fact love Lazarus, that love didn’t compel Him to immediately come to the rescue of Lazarus and heal him of the sickness that consumed his body. Even though Jesus did love Lazarus and loved his two sisters, He chose not to immediately respond to the urgent message and request of his two sisters. What’s more, is that we find that instead of immediately coming to the rescue of Lazarus Jesus chose to abide and remain where He was, and did so for a full two days.
I sit here this morning considering the account of Lazarus, and I am not only gripped and captivated with and by the fact that he had become sick, but also that Scripture records how Lazarus was one whom Jesus did in fact love. What’s more, is that we must understand from Scripture that not only did Jesus love Lazarus, but Jesus also loved his two sisters Mary and Martha. This is quite interesting and has the ability to radically and dramatically shape the narrative of Lazarus, for we would think and even expect that because Jesus loved Lazarus He would have immediately left where He was and made the journey to the place where Lazarus lie sick and possibly on a bed. What’s more, is that you would think that the love which Jesus had for and towards Mary and Martha would have compelled Him to immediately drop that which He was doing in order that He might come to the rescue and come to the aid of Lazarus who lie sick and most likely in bed. The truth of the matter, however, is that not only did Jesus not leave where He was to make the journey to where Lazarus was, but the apostle John writes and records how Jesus remained and abode where He was a two full days after receiving report that Lazarus had grown and become sick. This is quite the interesting and intriguing concept to think about it, for we would think and even expect Jesus to leave everything He was doing and immediately rush to be bed side of Lazarus. Think about those parents who perhaps haven’t seen their child in quite some time hearing that they are sick, and how they immediately rush to the side of their child. Consider how that child, or perhaps even those children who hear that their parent or parents are sick, and how they immediately leave where they are in order that they might come unto the place where their sick parent(s) lie. Consider how many times you have seen family members beside the bed at home, or perhaps even the bed within the hospital when one whom they love is sick, and how sometimes they don’t leave that bedside during and throughout the time that individual lies upon that bed—whether that individual recovers, or whether that individual ultimately loses the battle and eventually dies. Consider how many times we have seen love rush to the hospital in order that it might appear at the bedside of one who has grown sick and is in a desperate place within their lives. Pause for a moment and consider how we have seen countless scenes on television shows, and countless scenes in the movies when love and when loved ones rush to the beside of those who are sick in order that they might show support, encouragement, hope, love, affection, tenderness and compassion toward that one who is lying upon the bed in desperate need and in a desperate place. We have been conditioned—both through entertainment, as well as real life experiences—to think and believe that love always responds when someone close to it is in need and is in a desperate place. The truth of the matter, however, is that within the account and narrative of Lazarus love didn’t drop what it was doing, and love didn’t immediately respond to the cry for help and the cry of desperation.
Within the narrative of Lazarus we are not only confronted with the fact that Lazarus had grown and become sick, but word was sent unto Jesus who loved Lazarus and his two sisters Mary and Martha. What we find in this passage of Scripture, however, is not what we would expect, for we neither find Jesus sending word back to Mary and Martha that He was on His way, nor do we even find Jesus leaving where He was once receiving the report that Lazarus was sick. What we have before us is a description of one whom Jesus loved being sick, and how instead of sending word unto these two sisters, and instead of leaving where He was in order that He might make His way to the beside of Lazarus, he chose to remain where He was a full two days. Pause and consider this reality for a moment, for it has the ability to dramatically alter and shape how we view love, for we would expect love to show up when it was called, and we would expect love to drop everything it was doing in order that it would come to the rescue of one who was in need. We would expect love to respond quickly and decisively when it hears and receives report of one who was sick, or receives a report of one suffering, or even report of one who is in a desperate need. When we read the narrative of Lazarus we would expect love to show up when it was called, and we would expect that love would compel Jesus to come to the rescue of Lazarus upon hearing and receiving report that he had become sick. The truth of the matter is that not only did love leave where it was, but love chose to remain where it was for a full two days after receiving report that Lazarus had been sick. What we must understand is that just because Jesus chose to remain where He was a full two days after receiving report that Lazarus had grown sick—that doesn’t mean that Jesus loved Lazarus any less. The fact that Jesus chose to remain where He was a full two days after hearing and receiving the report doesn’t mean that He loved Lazarus’ two sisters any less. There would be a strong temptation to read the words which are found within this passage and to think about and consider the fact that simply because Jesus didn’t immediately respond to the report of Mary and Martha, and just because Jesus didn’t show up when He was called, that meant that He somehow loved Mary and even even Martha less. Furthermore, it would be very easy to think about and consider the fact that because Jesus didn’t show up while Lazarus was sick, and because Jesus didn’t show up while. Lazarus was still alive, He somehow loved Lazarus less than what Scripture actually presents us with in this place of Scripture. There would be those who would read the words found within this passage of Scripture and would automatically and immediately believe the lie that because Jesus didn’t show up when He was called He somehow loved Lazarus and his sisters any less. There would be those who would read this narrative and would think about and consider how Jesus chose to remain and abide where He was a full two days after receiving report, and even question whether or not Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters at all.
What we find in the narrative of Lazarus and his two sisters is a strong contrast between love not showing up when it was called, and love showing up when it appears to be too late. There is this strong dichotomy found within this passage of Scripture concerning love, and how love should have showed up when it was first called, and love should have showed up in life—even when that life was racked and bound up with sickness. There is this strong juxtaposition within the narrative of Lazarus between love not showing up when it was called and love not showing up in sickness, and love finally showing up in death. I would dare ask you who are reading these words how you reconcile this within your heart and mind. How do you reconcile within your heart that instead of love showing up in the midst of sickness, love chose to remain where it was and show up in the midst of death? How do you reconcile within your heart and mind love not showing up when it was called, and showing up in its own time and of its own accord? There is within this passage of Scripture an incredibly intriguing concept that love doesn’t always operate on our time table, and love doesn’t always operate according to our own needs, our own wants, and our own desires. We think and even expect love to respond when we want it to, and perhaps even how we feel and believe it should respond, and yet the truth of the matter is that this simply isn’t the case. If there is one reality which is found within this passage of Scripture, it’s that love doesn’t always respond to our desperation, and love doesn’t always respond to our cries and pleas for help. If there is one thing the narrative and account of Lazarus proves and reveals, it’s that love operates outside of our time table, and love operates outside of the borders and parameters we seek to place upon it. If we had written this particular narrative we would have love showing up immediately when it was called and immediately providing healing in the midst of sickness, thus preventing death from taking place. What’s more, is there are two sides to the coin in this passage of Scripture, for on the one side of the coin we understand that love could have prevented Lazarus from growing and becoming sick in the first place. On the other hand we find that love could have shown up when and while Lazarus was sick, and could have prevented death altogether simply by healing him. The truth of the matter is that even though it is and was true that Jesus loved Lazarus—the love which Jesus had for and toward Lazarus neither compelled Him to prevent Lazarus from becoming sick, nor did it compel him to prevent Lazarus from dying. Even if Jesus didn’t prevent Lazarus from becoming sick, He could have very easily prevented Lazarus from dying simply by showing up when He was called and healing him of the sickness which had consumed his physical body. What we must wrestle with in this narrative is a Jesus who not only did not prevent Lazarus from becoming sick, but also with a Jesus who did not prevent Lazarus from dying. Even though Jesus spoke and declared unto His disciples that “this sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby,” Lazarus would ultimately and inevitably die. Even though Jesus emphatically declared unto His disciples that this sickness would not lie in and result in death, Lazarus did ultimately die and was buried in the grave for four days before Jesus even showed up.
I am firmly convinced that what we find surrounding the narrative of Lazarus is this dichotomy, this contrast, this juxtaposition between love not showing up in life and in the midst of sickness, and love instead showing up in the midst of death. Essentially, what is present before us is love showing up when it appears that all hope was lost and there was nothing left to be done. If you read the narrative and account of Lazarus for the very first time you might find yourself growing and becoming somewhat offended by Jesus—not only for now preventing Lazarus from becoming sick, and not only for not preventing Lazarus from dying, but for staying where He was a full two days more, and not showing up until Lazarus had been in the grave for four days. To our natural minds this simply does not make sense, for we would think and even expect love to show up when it was called, and we expect love to respond quickly and decisively. The truth which we find within this passage, however, is that the exact opposite is true, for not only did Jesus not prevent Lazarus from becoming sick, and not only did Jesus not show up while Lazarus was sick, but so also did Jesus not prevent Lazarus from dying. What’s more, is that the narrative brings us face to face with the reality that love and at times show up when all hope seems to be gone, and when it appears that it is too late for anything to even be done. The narrative and account of Lazarus as written by the apostle John presents us with a picture of Jesus who not only did not show up when He was called, and not only did not show up to bring healing in the midst of sickness, but so also did Jesus finally and ultimately show up in death. We would think and even expect that Jesus would have shown up when He was called, and we fully expect that Jesus would have come to the rescue of Lazarus when He received the report from Mary and Martha that Lazarus had grown and a become sick. The truth which we must come face to face with reading the words within this passage is that not only did love not show up when it was called, but when love finally did show up, it possibly wasn’t even desired anymore. What do you do when you call upon love in a moment and hour of desperation and crisis and love doesn’t respond to your call, and love doesn’t show up when you need it? What do you do when you have had to come face to face with the fact that love didn’t show up when you needed Him the most, and when it was too late to the natural mind for anything to be done, there was perhaps no desire within your heart for love to even show up at all? It’s actually quite interesting to find within this passage that when Martha heard that Jesus had drawn nigh unto Bethany, she immediately and hurriedly rushed out of the house in order that she might enter into the presence of Jesus, and voice her complaint that had Jesus shown up her brother would not have died.
LORD IF YOU HAD BEEN HERE! LORD IF YOU HAD SHOWN UP! Have you ever found yourself in this place? Have you ever found yourself in the place where you expected that Jesus would show up, and yet what you found instead was that Jesus neither responded, nor did Jesus show up when you needed Him the most? What do you do when you’re in that place where you expected, longed for, desired, and even waited for Jesus to show up in your place of desperation and need, and yet instead of showing up, He seemed and appeared to be absent? What we find within this passage of Scripture is that not only did Jesus not respond to the word which was sent by Mary and Martha, but so also was He absent when they needed Him and when they desired Him. Oh dear brother, dear sister—what do you do when you find yourself in a place of great need and a place of great desperation and yet not only does love appear to be silent, but love also appears to be absent? That which we find within this narrative is an incredibly interesting picture of love not only being silent, but love also being absent in a moment of great need. When Jesus received report from Mary and Martha He did not send word back to them, and He did not show up, and instead chose to remain where He was a full two days. This very thought goes against everything we have been taught, and everything we have believed within our Christian circles, and within the churches we have attended. We have been taught that love immediately and automatically responds when it is called, and we have been taught that love always shows up when we need it—regardless of what we are going through and what we need. We have been trained and conditioned to think and believe that love should automatically show up when we think and expect it to, and we are greatly troubled, offended, and even grow bitter when it doesn’t show up when and as we expect it to. The narrative and account of Lazarus brings us face to face with the fact that not only did love not show up when it was called, but when love finally did show up, it showed up in death rather than life. WHEN LOVE SHOWS UP IN DEATH RATHER THAN LIFE! What we find ourselves thinking and believing when reading the words which are found within this passage of Scripture is that even when love showed up in death it showed up entirely too late. If you read this narrative for the first time you might automatically think and believe within your heart and mind that when love finally did show up, it showed up when all hope was lost, when it was too late, and when nothing could be done to change the situation and circumstance. It was true that Jesus did in fact show up in Bethany, but when he did show up in Bethany, Lazarus had not only been dead, but he had been buried in the tomb for four days. Oh please don’t miss this absolutely incredible reality and concept, for it is quite astonishing and remarkable when you think about. Within this passage we are forced to confront our own thoughts and understanding of Jesus, and even the ways of God, for love didn’t show up when it was called, but showed up what almost appears to be four days later after Lazarus had died and been buried in the grave.
The narrative and account of Lazarus is quite unique and remarkable when you truly consider it, for what we find within this narrative is love showing up in the midst of death rather than life, and both Mary and Martha complaining to Jesus that had He shown up in life death would not have even had to take place within the life of their brother. It’s interesting and worth noting that when Martha heard that Jesus had drawn nigh unto the village of Bethany, she immediately rushed into His presence to emphatically declare that had He been there their brother would not have died. After an exchange and dialogue between Martha and Jesus, she left His presence and sent word to her sister Mary that the Master was near, and that He called for her. When Mary found herself in the presence of Jesus, she too echoed the same words which her sister Martha expressed, and declared that had Jesus been there their brother would not have died. What you find within this narrative is that when Jesus saw and heard Mary, Martha and the Jews weeping in that moment, He groaned deeply within Himself. Even more than this, is when Jesus heard the words which were spoken concerning His being able to heal the blind eyes and yet not being able to keep this man from dying, he groaned within Himself even more. Ultimately Jesus would ask where they had laid Lazarus, and would ask to be brought to the place where his body had been buried. Once at the grave and tomb where Lazarus body had been lying, Jesus asked for the stone to be rolled away and removed. Once the stone had been removed and rolled away, He cried out with a loud voice “Lazarus, come forth!” Immediately Lazarus emerged from the grave bound hand and foot with grave clothes, and his face bound with a napkin. Oh, I can’t help but wonder what Mary and Martha thought in that moment when they saw their brother emerge from the grave after having been dead and buried within it for four days. I wonder what the Jews thought when they saw this one whom Jesus loved emerge from the grave very much alive. What’s more, is that when Lazarus emerged from the grave he was bound hand and foot with grave clothes, and his face was covered with a napkin. What was it like when not only did Lazarus emerge from the grave, but also his grave clothes were removed from his physical body, and all those present there were able to see and behold this one whom Jesus loved, and this one who had been dead and buried for four days? What we find in this passage of Scripture beginning with the forty-fifth verse is that when many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on Him. We aren’t given any insight into what went through the hearts and minds of Mary and Martha—at least not in the interim for there is nothing that was said concerning their thoughts and emotions in that moment when their brother was raised from the dead, and when he was rid of his grave clothes. What we are, however, given is a glimpse into their response to this set of events after the fact, for in the twelfth chapter—not only do we find a supper being made for Jesus, but we find Martha serving, we find Lazarus sitting at the time with Jesus, and we find Mary anointing the feet of Jesus with a very expensive perfume, and wiping His feet with her hair.
SERVING AT SUPPER! SITTING AT THE TABLE WITH JESUS! KNEELING AT THE FEET OF JESUS! Oh, I would dare say that what we find within the twelfth chapter of this passage of Scripture is a wonderful and remarkable picture of these three whom Jesus loved, for at the supper which was made for Jesus each one had their own response. In the midst of the supper we find Martha serving, which was undoubtedly something she felt compelled to do in response to what Jesus had done on their behalf, and on behalf of their brother. In the midst of the supper we find Lazarus sitting at the table with Jesus, which might very well have been in response to Jesus raising him from the dead. At this supper we also find Mary—neither sitting at the table with Jesus, nor serving in the midst of the festivities, but rather at the feet of Jesus with a pound of ointment of spikenard and anointing His feet with this precious ointment. What’s more, is that we find Mary wiping the feet of Jesus with her hair after she had anointed them with what many have described as a year’s wages. Pause for a moment and consider the fact that immediately following the resurrection of her brother, Mary took what was the equivalent of a year’s wages and poured it upon the feet of Jesus. Immediately following the resurrection of Lazarus we find many of the Jews believing on Jesus, we find many of the Jews bringing report of these events unto the Pharisees, and yet we find Martha serving, we find Lazarus sitting at the table, and we find Mary kneeling and bowing at the feet of Jesus as she anointed them with a fragrant and expensive perfume, and then wiping them with her hair. How absolutely incredible it is to think about and consider the fact that these two women who both emphatically declared unto Jesus that had He been there their brother would not have died, and yet now with their brother very much alive and whole, they each responded in a different manner. Mary responded with worship at the feet of Jesus, and Martha responded by serving around and before Jesus. Perhaps the question that needs to be asked at this particular juncture is how do you respond when love shows up and resurrects hope within your heart and life? What do you do and how do you respond when love shows up in the midst of sheer and utter hopelessness and completely changes absolutely everything? Mary and Martha both emphatically declared unto Jesus that had He shown up their brother would not have died, and yet even though He showed up in death He not only resurrected their brother, but He also restored their hope, their faith, their trust and their confidence in Him. What we have before us in the narrative of Lazarus is love not showing up in the midst of sickness, and love not showing up when we think and believe it should show up, and instead it showing up in death and when we think and believe that all things are lost and hopeless. One thing we must understand is that there are times when certain things within our lives need to die, and love needs to show up in the midst of death in order that He might resurrect and restore those things which were dead, and in order that He might dramatically and radically manifest His glory, power and presence within our hearts and lives. It was true that love didn’t show up when Mary and Martha wanted it do, however, when love did show up—even though it showed up in death—it showed up and showed off as it turned back death, raised Lazarus from death to life, and raised him up completely whole without that sickness which had plagued his body. Even though Jesus didn’t show up while Lazarus was alive and with that sickness in his physical body, Jesus showed up in death, raised Him from death to life, and raised Him up completely whole without any trace of the sickness that had not only plagued his body, but also caused him to die. How absolutely wonderful it is to think about and consider this reality, for even though love did not show up in life and in sickness, love showed up in death, turned back death, raised that which was dead to life, and raised that which dead to life completely whole and without that sickness which had plagued and consumed then physical body of that one who was loved.