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Monday, February 24, 2014

Martha, Mary and Lazarus

        The first sign Jesus performed in the Gospel of John was to show His transforming power at the wedding in Cana. His last sign before His own death and resurrection was raising Lazarus from death to life.  All signs Jesus gave throughout the gospels pointed to this: Jesus gives spiritual life by dying in His flesh for all sinners.  We gain spiritual life also by allowing Jesus and the Holy Spirit to put our flesh and its ways to death, so we walk in newness of life in Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It is through His transforming power that we are raised from the death of our fleshly ways and sin to new, resurrected, spiritual life in Jesus Christ.


      The next time Martha and Mary are mentioned in the Gospel of John is when their brother Lazarus died. Jesus will use this situation to bring glory to God and give those involved deeper revelation of Him. This time, Martha ran to meet Jesus first, but Mary stayed in the house. (John 11:20) Martha has obviously learned from her past correction from Jesus. There were many mourners in the house whom Martha would be serving, but now her focus was on Jesus. She dropped everything to go to meet Him.  Martha has grown spiritually.
          When Jesus heard the news that Lazarus was sick, He proclaimed , “this sickness will not end in death. No it is for God's glory , so that God's Son may be glorified through it.” John 11:4 Jesus delayed going to Lazarus for two days. He informs His disciples that Lazarus has fallen asleep. Death in scripture is often called being in a “deep sleep.” Jesus says, “but I am going there to wake him up.” John 11:11 Lazarus was not only physically dead (asleep), he was spiritually dead (asleep). Jesus will give Him a spiritual awakening. Jesus' disciples thought He was talking about natural sleep, but Jesus was talking about Lazarus' death—both physically and spiritually. Lazarus had not come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Lazarus was Jesus' friend, but he did not believe in Him as the Son of God yet.   Lazarus did not sit down at table with Jesus until after he was resurrected. His sisters, Mary and Martha, believed in Jesus before their brother Lazarus.
         Thomas, one of Jesus' disciples,  was so distraught that Jesus was going near the place where His enemies were plotting to kill him that he said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.” v16   Jesus responded, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” v14 Jesus will use Lazarus' death to show them that He is the resurrection and the life and has the power over death and the grave. He is also showing them what is about to happen to Him in His own death and resurrection.
        Jesus didn't go to Martha and Mary right away. He waited two more days then came to them. A day is as a thousand years with the Lord. These two days symbolize the age of grace when Jesus is gathering a Bride full of His resurrection life. After two days, Jesus said to His disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.” When the age of grace is completed, Jesus will return to Judea to the city of Jerusalem and usher in the millennial age of peace. Jesus will reveal Himself to the Jews and rule and reign over the earth.
       By the time Jesus and His disciples arrive close to the house of Martha, Mary and Lazarus, four days have passed. First, Jesus comforted the mourners who loved Lazarus. The Jews believed that the soul hovers over the body for three days. After this, there is no hope for revival, and decay has set in. So they are without hope for their friend and relative Lazarus.  Jesus gives hope to the hopeless.  He will demonstrate His resurrection power over death using His powerful Word and the power of the Holy Spirit within Him.


       Martha shows her faith in Jesus by saying, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” v21 Martha knew that Jesus had the power to heal her brother if He had gotten there on time. Humanity cannot dictate when Jesus will respond to a cry for help. We are to humbly make our need known through prayer and then trust Him to do what needs to be done in His timing. Martha's faith is further emphasized by her next statement. “But I know even now that God will give you whatever you ask.” Martha has grown spiritually. She knows the power and authority of Jesus and His Word. Jesus told Martha that her brother would rise again. Martha didn't quite understand this. She says, “I know He will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” v24 Most Jews believed in the resurrection of the dead at the end of time because of scripture. (see Job 19:25-26; Psalms 16:9-11; Isaiah 26:19) Martha is talking about the Day of the Lord at the end of the age. But Jesus wants her to know that His resurrection life starts right here on earth now. Jesus breathes new spiritual life into those who are dead in sin when they come to Him as their Lord and Savior. Spiritual rebirth is offered to every human now. Once we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we live in the Spirit, and when we die physically, we will live on forever in the Spirit and our spiritual body just as Jesus did.
      Jesus sees Martha's faith in Him so He takes Martha even deeper. He tells her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” v25 At this revelation Martha speaks the same words that Peter spoke in Mark 8:29, “I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” v27   Martha came to believe that Jesus was not just her friend, but is the Christ (Anointed One) and the Son of God. Both Martha and Mary had to understand His Lordship. Notice that Martha did not ask Jesus to resurrect her brother, nor did Mary. They trusted this decision to Jesus. They were submitted to His will and authority.
      All humans are spiritually dead in sin. Without Jesus there can be no resurrected life. Jesus' resurrected life is for now, as well as eternity. Jesus could not only heal Lazarus, He can raise him from death to life. Jesus is about to show Martha, Mary and all of those who mourned Lazarus' death that He indeed is the resurrection and the life. First Jesus spoke His Word; then He performed His Word. In the beginning at creation, God also spoke His Word and then performed His Word. Since Jesus is God, He does the same.
       Martha didn't criticize Mary this time. She ran to tell her that the “Teacher (Master/Rabbi) is here and asking for you.” The jealousy and envy in Martha toward her sister has gone. Martha probably referred to Jesus as “Teacher” to Mary because Mary is the one who sat humbly at Jesus' feet to learn of Him and His Kingdom. When Mary heard that Jesus was asking for her, she got up and ran quickly to Jesus. She met Him in the same place that Martha had met Him.  Jesus meets us right where we are at in our spiritual journey.  


        Mary was deeply grieved over her brother's death. Many Jews were with Mary trying to comfort her in her grief. When they saw how quickly Mary went somewhere, they followed her thinking that she was going to the tomb. Mary was not going to the place of death; she was going to the place of life! 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.” Mary's quickness in coming to Jesus brought all of these Jews to Him also.
      Mary approached Jesus in a different way than Martha. Mary humbled herself and wept. Both Mary and Martha believed in Jesus' ability to save, but Mary added humility, reverence, compassion and worship to her faith. Mary said the same thing about her brother as Martha did. They were both women of faith who knew Jesus could have healed their brother if He had gotten there on time. Mary's humility, love and sorrow moved Jesus to act.
       Jesus wanted Martha and Mary, as well as their family and friends who were mourning with them, to know Him in all of His power and glory. He would use Mary and Martha's brother's death to show His power to bring new life to the dead. He would also use it to show what He Himself would go through soon – death and resurrection. Jesus did in the “natural” what soon would take place in the “supernatural.”
       God had a plan and a time. If Jesus had come sooner, these Jews would not have been gathered around Martha and Mary to console and comfort them in their loss. Lazarus' death brought these Jews to Jesus. He would show them the glory of God through the resurrection of Lazarus. When things looked hopeless, Jesus showed up. He would demonstrate His power over death and the grave. They would witness His miraculous resurrection of Lazarus. The weeping and grief of Mary and the Jews who came with her moved Jesus in spirit and troubled Him. Jesus is so close to His own that He feels our pain and sadness.  
       Jesus asks, “Where have you laid him?” v34   “Come and see,” they replied. Jesus wept. Mary and the Jews with her will lead Jesus to their dead brother and friend. Christians are to bring those who are dead in sin to Jesus. Jesus felt the pain and sorrow of Mary and the others and wept with them. He probably also wept because of the unbelief of the Jews present as well as Lazarus. Jesus knew that these Jews who came to Him with Mary needed Him. The fact that some of God's chosen people did not accept Him troubled Him. Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem for the same reason. The love and compassion of Jesus and the Father toward lost humanity causes them to weep.  Those who love and follow Jesus also sometimes weep over those who are dead in sin.
        Some of the Jews said, “See how He loved him!” But others criticized Him. The Jewish critics said, “Could not He who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” v37   They questioned Jesus' power, criticized His timing and perhaps even questioned His heart. We have to trust Jesus and His timing over every circumstance. He has a plan and a purpose that we may not know about. Those who love and follow Jesus will always have both encouragers and critics.  We must, however, keep our eyes on the goal--Jesus and His ability to resurrect life in those who are dead in sin. 
        Lazarus had to die before he could be resurrected. The same is true with all of humanity both in the present and for eternity. Followers of Christ have to allow Jesus to put our flesh to death so we will walk in the Spirit and His resurrected life.


     Jesus went to the tomb. Wealthy people were buried in a tomb. The poor were buried in a common grave. So Lazarus, Martha and Mary were a wealthy family. These tombs were sealed by rolling a huge rock across the entrance. In other words, a rock was between life and death. Jesus is that Rock.   Jesus told those present to “Take away the stone.” The stone had to be rolled away for Lazarus to have resurrected life. Jesus could have rolled away the stone but He told the others to do it. In other words, “Remove the barrier.” The barrier for humanity is sin. Each of us have to willingly allow Jesus and the Holy Spirit to remove the barrier of sin in us so we can walk in new, resurrected spiritual life in Jesus the Rock. In order for Lazarus to have resurrected life, the stone barrier –the seal of death--must be rolled away. Jesus wants to roll our sins away.
       Jesus had knowledge that those present couldn't see. Soon He would be crucified and placed in a tomb sealed by a rock. Those who witnessed the resurrection of Lazarus may remember and believe when Jesus is put to death and resurrected. Jesus also illustrated during the resurrection of Lazarus that it is the powerful Word of God anointed by the Holy Spirit of God that calls us out of spiritual death to spiritual life.
      After Jesus died and was put in a tomb, on the third day God caused the earth to shake and sent an angel of the Lord to roll away the stone that sealed the entrance to the tomb that held Jesus' body. Jesus too was buried in a tomb of a wealthy man. A messenger of God rolled the stone away, just as God wants those who know and love Jesus to roll the barriers of sin away.  Jesus, God's Supreme Messenger, rolled away the seal of death for the whole world. He is our Rock that bridged the gap between sin and death, heaven and earth. He took away our sin which brings spiritual death. In Christ, we have new, resurrected life. Our flesh will die, but our spiritual body in Christ will live forever.
          Lazarus' dead body has been in the tomb for four days. Martha is concerned with the stench of decaying flesh. Flesh without life decays and stinks. When we are spiritually dead in sin, we stink. The longer we hold on to our sins, we are decaying and getting stinkier. We are spiritually dead and asleep in the grave of our sin. Jesus wants us to come to Him so He can remove our sin and decay. Lazarus was not only in the darkness of death and the tomb, he was in spiritual darkness. Jesus will call Lazarus by name and give him both restored physical life and eternal, resurrected life. He will overcome the corruption of Lazarus' flesh body by His powerful Word and the obedience of Lazarus. He will also remove the doubt in His disciples about His power and might to breathe new life into others.  Believers of Christ are called to bring new life to those who are dead in sin. We are to use the power of His Word and His Spirit to do this. Even greater than this is to live His Word and show others who Christ is by example.
         Jesus answers Martha by reminding her of His Word. “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” John 11:40  In other words, “have faith in Me and My Word.” We must remember God's Word in all circumstances, and believe that God will perform all that He has spoken in His Word and to us personally. No matter how bad the stench of our sin, Jesus can set us free, cleanse and heal us.
       In His flesh body, Jesus was totally dependent upon His Father in heaven. As soon as those present obeyed Jesus' command to roll away the stone, Jesus prayed to His Father. He called God “Father” showing the intimacy between the Father and the Son. Because of Jesus, we too can call God “Father” in the same close and intimate relationship. Jesus proclaimed earlier that Lazarus would live. Because Jesus is fully God in the flesh as well as fully Man, His proclaimed Word will come to pass. Jesus knew that God hears Him and will perform His Word, so He didn't ask God to resurrect Lazarus. Instead, Jesus thanked God that He heard Him and always hears Him. Jesus, God's Son, is righteous. The Bible says that God hears the prayers of the righteous who do His will. (see John 9:31) Jesus is righteous and does His Father's will so He had no doubt that His Heavenly Father would perform His Word, and Lazarus would rise from the dead. He and the Father work in absolute unity and harmony.
          Jesus saw beyond death, hell and the grave. Jesus “looked up” and saw through the eyes of the heavenly realm. As Jesus was the obedient Son who carried out the will of God on earth, Jesus wants those who love and follow Him to emulate Him and be a channel of His love, truth and salvation to others. Jesus prayed His prayer out loud “for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that You sent Me.” John 11:42 Jesus wanted those present to know that He knew His Heavenly Father would perform His Word. There was no doubt. Jesus knew, but the people in front of Jesus didn't know that God hears and answers the prayers of the righteous, so Jesus prayed out loud for their benefit. Everything Jesus did as He walked the earth was designed for the glory of God.


        Jesus called Lazarus by name and told him to come to Him. “Lazarus, come forth.” v43 The Word of God/Jesus woke the dead! The Word of God also wakes the spiritually dead today. Jesus used His powerful Word to call Lazarus out of the tomb of death to the One who has life. The Word of God is powerful. When Lazarus heard Jesus' Word (voice) , he obeyed and came out of the tomb of death to the life-giver Jesus. It is hearing and obeying the Word of God that brings us to new, resurrected life in Him. Jesus used His powerful Word to raise Jairus' daughter (young Jewish female), the widow's son (young gentile male) and Lazarus (elder Jewish man) from death to life. Jesus' resurrection life is for everyone – Jew and Gentile, male and female, young and old. Jesus had said in John 5 that “a time is coming, and has now come, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.” v25


       Lazarus came out of the tomb at the command of Jesus, but he was still bound in his death clothes (swaddling cloth). His obedience to Jesus' command brought Lazarus out of the tomb of death to new life in Jesus. The power of Jesus' Word took away the corruption and decay of Lazarus' flesh bringing him to new, resurrected life in Christ. Jesus told His disciples to “take off the grave clothes and let Him go.” John 11:44 The Law would not allow a Jew to touch a dead body or the grave clothes, but Jesus tells His Jewish disciples to take away the grave clothes. Jesus circumvented the Law because Lazarus is now alive.  Jesus gave the job of taking off the graveclothes to His disciples.  When people come to Jesus, they are born anew but they still are full of sin which brings spiritual death. Jesus gave His Word that resurrected Lazarus from death, but His disciples had a job to do also. They are to set Lazarus' hands, feet and the cloth around his face free from the grave clothes that bound and blinded him. Lazarus' hand represent his works. His feet represent his walk, and his eyes represent his spiritual vision. Jesus wants His disciples to teach Lazarus to walk as Jesus walked, do the works He did and help Lazarus put on the face of Jesus and remove the face of Lazarus. 
        When we come to Jesus, we are still bound by sin and our flesh's deathly ways. Jesus wants His disciples to help new converts and fellow Christians to be set free from the chains of sin that bind them. We do this through prayer, the teaching of the powerful Word of God, Christlike love and loving correction, and through example. Jesus must always be in the lead with His disciples behind Him. We are called to “follow Him” and His ways.


       Jesus gave life to Lazarus but He sealed His own death because of it. Many Jews believed in Jesus because of this miracle, but some of them went to the Pharisees to tell them what Jesus had done. The chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin Council. Caiaphas, one of the chief religious representatives, prophesied unknowingly of the significance of Christ's death: “You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” John ll:50   He prophesied that Jesus would die for the whole Jewish nation, and for the scattered children of God throughout the whole world to bring the Jews and the Gentiles together as one resurrected Body.  So from that day on, they (religious leadership) plotted to take Jesus' life.


     There are seven miracles of Jesus in the Gospel of John. This is the crowning miracle – resurrection life.  Jesus did in the natural for Lazarus what He would soon do in the supernatural for all of us. This miracle happened just before Jesus was put to death, and His dead body placed in a tomb sealed with a stone. But on the third day, Jesus was resurrected and is alive forevermore. Alleluia!

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