21 Now Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.
22 “But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.”
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.
26 “And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
This is one of those days when I hate writing, and yet I know that I must. Once again, the specter of death has reared its ugly head over someone close to us, and I remember how much I hate death. God hates death, too–or, to be more precise, God is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) God gave us His only begotten Son to bring us eternal life. (John 3:16-17) Jesus told us, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10) The gospel is all about sin, repentance, and LIFE, and that’s what makes death seem like such a burden sometimes.
We don’t always know why a life is torn from us. We don’t know why a beloved wife commits suicide, why a youth dies in a car crash, nor why a child is hurt and lies in a hospital hanging onto life by a thread. We just don’t know. Atheists and agnostics would point to such tragedies and ask, “Where is your God? Why would He let such a thing happen?” However, I think that even as they ask such a question, their unspoken question is, “Why am I still here while someone innocent is dead or dying?” The simple fact is that we don’t know why death comes to the innocent before the wicked, why God calls some home long before others, why tragedy befalls us at all. We know that death entered into the world through sin (Romans 5:12), and so physical death is the inevitable result of every human life until Jesus returns to judge the world and raise some to eternal life. (Hebrews 9:27-28) Nevertheless, even as we see death lurking at every corner, as believers we can look forward in hope to that resurrection and that life.
Lazarus’ sister Martha had such hope, even though she had no proof that it would ever happen. She knew that if God had so willed, then her brother would not have died. That is the simple, childlike faith Jesus always asked for and rarely saw, even among His apostles. If Lazarus had been healed, it certainly would have been hailed as another sign of Jesus’ divine authority. But God had another thing in His plan, something so amazing that all the other healings would pale in comparison.
When Jesus heard that, He said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
Looking back as we do now, knowing that Lazarus is to be called forth from his tomb after four days, we have a jaded view of death. We hear about miraculous healings throughout history, and we pray and pray and pray for one in our lives. When my beloved wife lay before me, seemingly dead already, I prayed for God to bring her back to us. It’s a natural reaction. Martha certainly felt the same way, because she had asked Jesus to come before Lazarus died. But the Lord waited so that Lazarus’ resurrection would be more than just another healing, so that this brief resurrection into mortal life would be a sign of things to come, a hint of the full resurrection into eternal life.
And so, to be sure that Martha understood fully just what the resurrection was and Who was its agent, Jesus told her that He is “the resurrection and the life.” (v.25) In other words, this resurrection unto eternal life could only happen by God the Father through Jesus the Son. And we grasp that gift of God’s grace through our faith in Jesus Christ. There is no other way. (John 3:16-17, John 14:6)
“Do you believe this?” Jesus asked her. (v.26) I think in that moment that Martha believed in the bodily resurrection more than the apostles who walked with Jesus every day. Why? Because she WANTED to believe, because she needed that faith, because she was in a spot where her grief collided with her faith and her faith had won.
We don’t always know why some should die and others live, why some face calamity while our lives sail smoothly along. We have hints here and there of God’s grace and mercy, and we have the gospel accounts and centuries of miracles performed in Jesus’ name that show us the reality of Martha’s faith. Signs and rumors, prophecies and revelation, they are all incomplete, never fully revealing God’s plan for our lives. As Paul wrote, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12) Until such time as all things are completed, we just have our faith and our hope and our love for God–and the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)
I don’t have all the answers. No one does. But I do have faith that if God so wills, then a miracle of healing will take place. What was more important to Jesus when He came to raise Lazarus: the healing of His friend or the faith of Martha and others who watched? So, will we see a physical healing on a small child? Or will we see a spiritual healing of the faith of a whole family as a child is called home to God? I cannot say. But I can say that God was willing to let His only Son die, to be killed on our behalf, to bear the burden of our sin. And God also raised Him again on the third day to His eternal glory. That I know, and to that I cling. When all else seems darkness and doom, I look toward that empty tomb and I have hope again–hope that I will see my beloved wife again, that I will play cribbage with Grandpa again, that I will hug my little Grandma again, even as we all sing praises to the glory of our God and King. Do you believe this, too?
I will let the apostle Peter close for us today:
1 Peter 5:10-11
10 But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.
11 To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.