Jesus has these three friends whom he loves, Mary, Martha and their brother, Lazarus. Lazarus gets sick, so they send word to Jesus. “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”
No problem says Jesus, “this illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
The story continues:
“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.”
Wait. What? Jesus does not go straight to Lazarus and heal him?
Apparently that’s not how this story goes.
Jesus waits two more days and Lazarus dies. By the time he arrives on the scene, Lazarus has been in the tomb for four days, his sisters grieving for his loss.
Martha is the first person he meets.
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now, I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”
Even now, in the midst of the worst case scenario. Even now, steeped in death, grief, suffering. Even now, although Jesus could have stopped it, changed it, made it better.
Even now, Jesus is who he says he is.
What even now are you in the middle of?
The current climate of the story was death. Grief was real and painful, agonizingly so. It was for Jesus, it was for Lazarus and his sisters and it is for us. We are invited to take up our cross and be crucified with Christ; we are buried with him in baptism and share in his sufferings. He himself was a man of grief and acquainted with sorrow.
Jesus does not ignore this aspect of the sister’s experience, but identifies with them in their suffering, foreshadowing the way he will identify with us in our sin and suffer with us, for us.
But even though death is Jesus’ experience, it is not his identity.
“Jesus said to Martha, ‘Your brother will rise again.’
Martha said to him ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’
Jesus said to her ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’
She said to him ‘yes Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
Jesus IS resurrection, he IS life.
Death is an experience Jesus goes through, but it is not the place he stays. It doesn’t define him. It’s not the end of his story, or Martha’s story, or our story.
And it is not just eternal resurrection at the end of the age that Jesus is talking about. Martha’s faith is exemplary. She puts her hope the promise of eternal life, as should we all. But Jesus also has something a little more immediate in mind. Lazarus, Martha, Mary and the whole community are about to get a pre-taste of resurrection life.
And the good news? That pre-taste is on offer to us as well.
The outstanding nature of God’s glory is beyond words and beyond our wildest dreams. It caused the Apostle Paul to suffer the loss of all things, and count them RUBBISH, if only he could somehow gain this resurrection life.
The radiant glory of God caused Jesus to suffer the cross and despise its shame for the anticipation of what lay beyond it. The incredible glory of God caused Jesus to wait for two more days before going to see Lazarus. He knew what lay beyond that too.
And he knows what lies beyond our “even now” moments and the seasons when we travel through the valley of the shadow of death, where all seems sorrow and suffering. He knows these times are necessary.
And he knows the promise of what will come.
“We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed but not driven to despair; persecuted but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed; always carrying around in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies…
…so we do not lose heart… for this slight and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”