John (Part 40): Teaching the Truth – To Mary (ch 11)
When Jesus tells Martha he is the resurrection and the life, he tells her more than simply that he can cause Lazarus to live again. He is telling her that the means for bringing life—for bringing about resurrection of life from death—will be through his own resurrection, which means that he must die. This is the truth Martha learns.
And Martha does learn it. Jesus lifts the vision of this practical, narrow-focused woman of ministry to see the greater picture, the broad focus. She sees what the whole mission of salvation, redemption, restoration is all about in the Messiah—in Jesus! This end of death is through Jesus’ death and resurrection as it is revealed to and seen by and believed by the dead through faith. Martha realizes here that it is not just Lazarus who is dead. The greater picture Jesus reveals to her shows her that she is among the dead as well. She understands his death will end death not only for Lazarus, but for herself as well—and for Mary and for the world.
I’ve said a couple of times that Martha learns this—she understands this. How do I know that? I know that by Jesus’ pointed question and Martha’s answer to him. Jesus explains that his death and resurrection bring resurrection to all those who are estranged from God (dead) who believe. This is THE gospel truth. And those who believe will never die; they are resurrected in him—through faith—through their belief. And then he specifically asks Martha, “Do YOU believe this?” Look closely at Martha’s answer. There is depth here to her answer. She says, “Yes, Lord, I believe You are the Messiah, the Son of God, who comes into the world.”
If we consider her answer apart from everything else that is going on in this scene, we may be left a little disappointingly puzzled. She says she believes he is the Messiah? Didn’t she believe this before? Well, yes, she did. So…how do we know she progressed in belief with this new revelation? It is because her answer is not given as a declaration just as Jesus’ statement that he is the resurrection and life was not merely a declaration. These are responses. They respond to what the other is saying. By saying she believes Jesus is the Messiah sent by God for mission in this world—IN RESPONSE TO JESUS asking her whether she believes he has come to die and be the resurrection for all—she is showing that she understands the connection. She is bridging the progressive revelation of God from belief that the Messiah would effect salvation to the new truth of how he would effect salvation. Jesus says, “I am resurrection; do you believe?” And Martha, by putting together her “Yes” to this revelation with her previous belief that Jesus is the Messiah, completes the whole gospel message.
Notice she no longer needs to find out the when of Lazarus’s resurrection. It is no longer the important point in her thinking. She is no longer narrowly focused on the one event. She is overwhelmed with the revelation that Jesus is going to die to save the world!
This statement goes beyond Peter’s statement in which he says just about the same thing. When asked who Jesus was, Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” (Mt 16:16). That’s a tremendous answer, but it was short of what Martha has heard and believed. In Peter’s very next scene, he is arguing that Jesus should NOT die, displaying a lack of understanding as to how the Messiah would rescue. Martha doesn’t do that. She understands. She has connected the rescue by the Messiah with the death and resurrection of the Messiah. Here is the first real complete acceptance of the full gospel that we see in Scripture. And it is not by Peter, James, or John. It is not by one of the church-founding Twelve. It is by a formerly narrow-focused, manipulative woman that has put herself aside to see the glory of God.
Though not recorded, Jesus tells her to get Mary. Mary needs to know this too. So Martha returns to her house, finds Mary, and whispers to her that Jesus is has arrived and is calling for her. But Jesus has not come into the village. Why would that be? Perhaps, he doesn’t want to get involved with the mourning of the people at the house. He does have specific direction from the Spirit. And since the tomb is not in the village, but would be outside the village, it does make sense for Mary to come out to him rather than that he go in to Mary only to come out again.
There is also the possibility that he wants to avoid the possible danger of going into the crowd within the village. His hour still hadn’t come. The Sanhedrin did want to kill him. And this may be the reason that Martha delivers Jesus’ message to Mary “in private” (11:28). But there is also the figurative picture here of Martha, the first full gospel disciple, bringing the message of Jesus to Mary to be called out from the world (the mourning of death) to him and his resurrection gift.
Like Martha had done when she heard that Jesus was there, Mary goes immediately to Jesus. But unlike Martha, who went privately because no one followed her, Mary goes with an entourage. Again, this is probably due to the more emotionally demonstrative Mary who had a broad-vision of ministry and had touched the lives of all these others in a greater way.
Like Martha, when she arrives, says to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Again, it is not a complaint; it is a grief-filled wish that he had been because she also has the faith in Jesus that he, the Messiah, Son of God, could have healed Lazarus. But unlike Martha, Mary’s broader-focused emotion has her fall to the ground at Jesus’ feet without the “fix it by making Lazarus come alive now” attitude that Martha had demonstrated. Mary is completely distraught, weeping. Mary believes fully that it is too late. Mary believes fully that death has conquered. Death, the unstoppable, ultimate force, has taken Lazarus away—has torn apart relationship—and they all helplessly mourn because nothing can be done.
When Jesus sees her crying in this hopeless despair, along with the Jews mourning helplessly with her, he becomes angry. The word used for his anger is strong. The word connotes a snorting indignation at offensive, unjust insult. Many theories are given as to the reason for his anger. Some believe he is angry with Mary and Martha for their lack of faith; some believe he is angry with the crowd for their unbelief. Those seem not to fit the storyline at all. The anger within is intermixed with his compassion that he shows in this same scene at the same time. In two verses we read that Jesus weeps with them. If Jesus weeps with them in compassion and yet is angry, he must be angry at what is causing them to weep. That object would be death itself. It is death that has torn God’s created image bearers from that everlasting love relationship that he would have with them. It is the death judgment that has brought God into the world as a man to destroy. It is this overwhelming sense of loss dictated by death that hopelessly burdens these people whom Jesus loves. It is the truth about his conquering of death that he has already talked with Martha about and that he will demonstrate in just a few minutes. So, it is quite reasonable, natural, and consistent with context that Jesus is angry at death and its grip on these whom he loves.
So Jesus asks where they’ve laid Lazarus. Notice how he deals with Mary. With Martha, the practical, narrow-focused person who had a strong grasp of what was in front of her, needed her vision expanded through discussion of doctrine—her weaker point. She was a doer, perhaps, a hands-on, show-me type person. But Jesus helped her where she was weak to broaden her vision. Mary, on the other hand, is the broad-visioned person. So Jesus doesn’t pursue her in her strength through discussion. Rather, he will help her in her weakness—through showing her in specific focus. Through his demonstration of life from death he will teach Mary the same thing that Martha learned through his talk with her.
But Jesus weeps with her. The great emotion of the scene continues. Jesus’ righteous anger has overwhelmed into heartache for Mary. As we watch, in our mind’s eye, the scene of Jesus no doubt holding Mary and weeping with her, we must remember that it is not just Jesus weeping. Jesus, we know, is sinless. He is in covenant relationship with God. That means he is the perfect image bearer. He reflects the truth, goodness, and beauty of God perfectly. So, understanding that Jesus reflects God perfectly while seeing Jesus weep in heartache with Mary, we MUST see God our Father weeping as well. Sin and death is a heartache to God. The hurt of distress and despondency of his created image bearers brings our God to tears.
The crowd doesn’t quite understand. Some say, “See how He loved him!” But they use the good friend phileo expression. But what is going on is so much beyond that. Jesus’ agapao love moves him not only to tears now, but will move him to give his life to conquer this death.
Jesus says to remove the stone. Martha responds that the body is already well into its decaying process and will stink horribly. She doesn’t say this because she has forgotten her whole previous conversation with Jesus. Either the timing for the resurrection is simply no longer important to her or she believes that Jesus must die and be raised first is not clear. Nevertheless, she is not pushing her agenda anymore. She merely offers this as a matter of practical interest.
But Jesus turns to her and says, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” That is a very interesting statement. When we look back at Jesus’ conversation with Martha, we find that Jesus said, “The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live. Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die—ever.” But in verse 40 Jesus tells Martha that he had said something about believing and seeing the glory of God. How are we to understand this? We understand it by recognizing what the glory of God is. The glory of God is the demonstration of his truth, goodness, and beauty in love. It is God’s love that extends his TGB to his image bearers in resurrection. In other words, resurrection is the truth, goodness, and beauty of God brought to us in love. So God’s glory is shown in resurrection.
In this resurrection scene we find many similar items to those that are mentioned in Jesus’ resurrection scene. There is the tomb, the stone, the coming forth, and the grave clothes. Here they must roll the stone away. Here Lazarus must have the grave clothes removed. Here the coming forth is by Jesus’ command. But it is God who performs all those duties with Jesus. The difference is that this resurrection is only a picture of true resurrection. The true complete resurrection for Lazarus will occur at Jesus’ second advent. At that time, we will all be changed by God in the blink of an eye (I Cor 15:52).
When the stone is rolled away, Jesus prays. The prayer appears to be for the sake of those listening. Jesus doesn’t pray, asking God to raise Lazarus. This request seems already to have been made. He prays, “Father, I thank You that You heard Me.” The past tense indicates that Jesus already had prayed for this and already had confirmation from the Spirit that this would indeed be done.
But Jesus says in his prayer that he prays so that the crowd could hear him say that God has heard him. Jesus wants the crowd to know that this raising is not by his might or power apart from God. It is by God’s grace in union with Jesus’ request that Lazarus will rise. By this they should see that Jesus is from God (is in perfect covenant relationship with God).
And so, Jesus then calls out specifically to Lazarus, showing that resurrection will be specific to those to whom God wishes to give life—those of faith. And Lazarus lives.