Two days had passed, two long days, since Lazarus’s servant stumbled to Jesus’ feet and panted, “Laz…a…rus… is very… sick… Rabi. P…please come… so that you might… heal him…. We fear… he won’t make… it much longer.”
I searched Jesus’ face, wondering what he would do. Lazarus and his sisters were like family to him. He loved them differently than he loved us disciples. It was more than a comradery. He loved them with a tenderness, much like an older brother toward his baby sister, only with much more intensity. I studied his face, but it remained calm and confident.
“Go home,” he instructed the servant. “His sickness does not lead to death, but to the glory of God.”
And that was it. The servant ran back home believing Lazarus was going to be just fine, and we went back to… well, what we always do… walk around talking to people, camping out under the stars, controlling the crowds as Jesus told stories.
But the last two days have been different. Every word he’s spoken has been tinted with a hint of sadness. When the crowds are gone, he’s quiet. I asked Peter this morning if he had noticed something was off.
“Ah, John,” he quipped, “It’s Jesus. He’s always a bit… well, different.”
When Peter brushed me off, I asked my brother James. I only got a shrug out of him and a quick, “hadn’t noticed.”
Maybe it’s because Jesus and I have a closeness that the others don’t share, or maybe it’s because I’m simply more emotionally sensitive. I don’t know, but apparently I’m the only one who had noticed anything different. That is, until Jesus suddenly announced, “Let’s go to Judea again.”
You would have thought Jesus was suggesting suicide. Everyone immediately began to protest. You could hardly hear one above the other. Finally. Peter boomed above the others. “Are you crazy?! The Jews are wanting to stone you to death, and you want to just waltz into the middle of them?”
Jesus held up his hand and calmly asked, “Are there not twelve hours in a day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”
None of us were sure what in the world Jesus was talking about. Peter looked at me and raised one eyebrow as if to say, “I told you he was different.” I sighed and stayed close to Jesus. Something wasn’t right, and I wanted to figure it out.
When Jesus saw that we were confused, he said, “Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I will go to wake him up.” He said “asleep”, but his face said so much more.
I put my hand on his arm and probed him further. “Lord, if he’s sleeping, that’s a good thing. He will recover quickly.”
He sighed, and simply stated, “Lazarus has died.” Several gasps circulated through the lot of us as he continued, “I’m glad, for your sake, that I wasn’t there, so that you may believe. But, come on. Let’s go.”
Thomas began to gather up his few belongings then. “Let’s go, boys! We shall die with him.”
And so here we are… nearing Bethany. And apparently we’re not the only ones. “Hey!” I called to a Jewish man passing me. “What’s going on? Why are so many Jews coming into Bethany?”
“Haven’t you heard? Lazarus died. They buried him four days ago. We’re going to comfort his sisters.”
Is it my imagination or did Jesus just wince at those words?
“Jesus! Jesus!” Martha ran toward us. She stopped a couple feet in front of Jesus, breathing heavily from her jog. “If you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died!” she accused. Jesus took her hand and looked compassionately into her eyes, and her tone softened. “But even now, I know that whatever you ask of God, He will give you.”
“Your brother will rise again,” Jesus answered.
Martha sighed in frustration. “I know he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
Jesus took her other hand into his and explained, “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, Martha?”
Martha nodded slowly. “Yes, Lord. I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
Jesus gave her a soft, sad smile. “Now, go get Mary. I wish to speak to her.”
We sat down beside the road and waited, and within a few minutes, we could see Mary walking toward the large boulder where Jesus sat. She practically stumbled to his feet, sobbing, “Jesus! Oh, Jesus! If you had been here…. If you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.” Her tears fell like rain as her body shook with sobs.
Jesus placed his hand on her head and swallowed hard. The mourners who had been with the sisters were beginning to gather around as well, weeping for their lost friend and for the loss of Mary and Martha. Jesus cleared his throat and blinked hard. “Where have you laid him?” he managed to ask before he too began to weep.
He pulled Mary’s head into his lap and leaned his forehead onto her head. His body shook forcefully. I have never seen a grown man cry so hard. I couldn’t keep it in any longer. I stood beside him, wrapped my arm around his shoulder, and cried.
The other disciples shifted awkwardly as the crowd began to whisper amongst themselves. “Look how much he loved Lazarus!” But some in the crowd accused him. “He opened the eyes of the blind! Couldn’t he have kept this man from dying?!”
Jesus lifted his head when he heard these words. With tears still streaming down his face, he gently lifted Mary to her feet, and stood himself up. Taking her hand, he led the crowd to Lazarus’s tomb.
“Take away the stone.”
Martha turned her head quickly toward Jesus in disbelief. “Lord, he’s been in there for four days. By this time, he’s really going to stink.”
“Oh Martha,” he answered. “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”
Several of the other disciples lined up next to the stone, but I stayed by Jesus’ side. He was hurting, and I wasn’t about to leave him when he needed me most. They pushed against the stone and it slowly began to roll from the opening of the cave.
Jesus looked up toward heaven and confidently said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” Then turning his face toward the tomb, he boomed, “Lazarus, come out!”
I nearly fell over backwards. Emerging from the tomb was Lazarus himself, still bound in burial cloths. Jesus nudged me. “Unbind him, and let him go.”
I hesitated, still trying to wrap my mind around what just happened. Jesus nudged me again, and I stepped forward. A huge grin spread across my face, and I ran to Lazarus. One by one, I unwound the cloths as his sisters and friends began to crowd around him.
After removing the last strip of cloth, I squeezed my way out of the crowd and found my way to Jesus’ side. “God feels. God cries. God understands. God is love.” I whisper these words, half to Jesus, half to myself. He smiles.
“God is love.” These words will stick with me for life. There is nothing so strong on earth as love. Nothing so exuberating… so edifying… so beautiful… and yet so painful as love. God came down from His throne to this humble earth. He allowed Himself to love… to feel it’s beauty and it’s pain. Why? So that we can believe. I will never forget this day… the day that God Himself sobbed uncontrollably because He loved.