As we look at Jesus’ life on earth, we come today to what we assume must have been a pretty significant event, not just for Jesus but for everyone around him. Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.
Now, this is not the only time we’re told of Jesus raising someone from the dead. In Luke Seven, we’re told of Jesus going to a town called Nain and seeing a procession carrying a dead man. It’s the only son of a widow. Jesus stops the procession, says “Young man, I say to you, get up!” And the man did. And in Matthew Nine, we read about a synagogue leader coming up to Jesus and saying, “My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.” Jesus goes there, takes the girl by the hand, and she gets up.
So we know of at least two other times when Jesus raised someone from the dead. And yet this one, the story of Lazarus, is the one that seems to stick with people. It’s the one people remember.
There are a couple of significant differences in the Lazarus story. For one thing, the others appear to have just passed away when Jesus sees them. Lazarus was dead for four days by the time Jesus got there. Another difference is that the others seem to have been just kind of random people that Jesus just happened to run across. Lazarus was a very good friend of Jesus’ while he was on earth.
When I read this story, one of the many remarkable things about it is how, no matter what else is happening, Jesus always appears to be in total control of the situation. People are panicking, people are weeping, people are telling Jesus what to do, people are telling Jesus what he should’ve done. All this stuff is going on around Jesus, and yet Jesus just stays calm and in control of the situation. Jesus knows exactly what he’s going to do, he knows exactly when he’s going to do it, and he knows that everything is going to work out the way it’s supposed to when he does it.
First, Jesus is told that his friend Lazarus is sick. His response is “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” And Jesus does nothing for two days.
How do you suppose Mary and Martha felt at that point? They’ve sent a messenger to tell Jesus about their brother being sick. The messenger comes back. “Did you tell Jesus about Lazarus?” “Yeah, I told him.” “Well, where is he?” “I don’t know. He said he was going to stay where he was.” “Well, did he say anything else?” “Yeah. He said the sickness is not going to end in death.”
Well, I’m sure they were glad to hear that. But still. There was Lazarus. He was sick. And he was not getting better. He was getting worse. He was getting weaker. What must Mary and Martha have thought? Did they have doubts? Did they have fears? Why wasn’t Jesus coming? What was going on?
And then Lazarus dies. But Jesus is still in control of the situation. After Lazarus dies, he tells the disciples, now it’s time to go to Judea. The disciples don’t want to go. They’re afraid the authorities will want to kill them. But Jesus is not worried. He knows the authorities won’t act in brought daylight. So they head out, with the disciples thinking they’re going to their deaths, but with Jesus still in control of the situation.
Jesus gets to Bethany, where Lazarus was. Martha goes out to meet him. Martha says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” And Jesus says, “Your brother will rise again.”
Jesus is still in control of the situation. And Martha believes that. She still has faith that Jesus can do something here. We don’t know whether she expected Jesus to bring Lazarus back to life, but she knew he could do something. And when Jesus tells her, “Anyone who believes in me will live, even though they die, and whoever lives by believing in me will never die”, Martha says yes, I believe that. She may not have known exactly what it meant, but she says “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”
Mary, on the other hand, does not go out to meet Jesus. Martha eventually sends for her. And when Mary comes out, she simply says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” And she’s crying.
And Jesus cries, too. Not because of Lazarus. Jesus is still in control of the situation. Jesus still knows what he’s going to do. But he sees the Mary has lost faith. Not necessarily lost faith in Jesus, but she’s given up on the situation. She believes that Jesus could have done something, if he’d gotten there sooner. But now, she thinks it’s too late. She’s in despair. That’s why Jesus starts crying. Not for Lazarus, but for Mary. He’s sad that she’s in this condition. He’s sad that Mary has given up and thinks nothing can be done.
Jesus asks to be taken to the tomb. And of course, by this time the skeptics are out in full force. Some of them start saying basically the same thing Mary said. He opened the eyes of the blind. Why couldn’t he keep Lazarus from dying?
But Jesus is still in control. They get to the tomb and he tells them to open it. And Martha says, hey, wait a minute. He’s been there four days. It’s going to smell terrible. But they open it. Jesus says, “Lazarus, come out!” And he does. He’s gotten linen cloths all over him, because he’d been prepared for burial, but he comes out. And everyone’s amazed.
And don’t you think Jesus just has this smile on his face? I mean, think about what he’s done. Everyone’s been crying. Everyone’s been upset. Everyone’s been upset with him. Almost all of them thought Jesus had blown it by not being there. Most of them had given up. And yet, Jesus always knew what he was going to do. He always knew how things were going to go. Jesus had it all under control the whole time.
So here’s the point. How many times are you tempted to give up on God? I’m not necessarily talking about giving up your faith. I’m talking about feeling like Mary did. There’s a bad situation, and you call on God. And God does not come. You try to keep believing, you try to believe things are going to work out but--God does not come. God does not do anything. And the situation gets worse and worse. And then, finally, it seems hopeless. It seems like it’s all over, that nothing is ever going to happen to make things all right. It seems like nothing ever could happen to make things all right.
And you go to God, and you say, “Where were you? Why did you not come? If you had been here, this would not have happened. If you had been here, things would have worked out. You could have come. You could have done something. Why did you not come? Now, it’s too late.”
Whenever you feel like that, remember this story. And remember that God is always in control. With God, it’s never too late. God is always on time. God can always make things work out the way they’re supposed to work out, even if it seems like the situation is hopeless.
And that’s true in our country and in our world, too. You know, the day after tomorrow will be the Fourth of July. Independence Day. And as we look at things that are happening in our country, as we look at things that are happening in the world, we get worried. Sometimes we even get scared. And a lot of people are calling on God to do something. And it seems like God is not doing anything. We try to keep believing, we try to believe that things are going to work out, but--God does not seem to be doing anything. Things seem to be getting worse and worse. And sometimes we start to think that things are hopeless.
And we look at things right around us. We need rain. Everyone knows we need rain. Surely God knows we need rain, too. And yet—it does not rain. Oh, maybe a little once in a while, but not what we need. And again, we get worried. We get scared. We call on God to do something. And it seems like God is not doing anything. Again, we try to keep believing, we try to believe that things are going to work out, but—God does not seem to be doing anything. And we don’t understand why. And sometimes we start to think that things are hopeless.
They’re not. With God, things are never hopeless. With God, it’s never too late. All things are possible with God.
Jesus was not upset with Mary when she gave up hope. God will not be upset with us when we give up hope. But God will be sad. Because we’ve made ourselves miserable, when all we needed to do was keep believing. All we need to do is keep trusting God.
God is always in control. God always knows what He’s doing. Nothing happens that God does not know about, and nothing happens that God does not allow. And in the end, God will always make things work out the way they’re supposed to. We can believe that. We can trust it. No matter what our situation is, it is never hopeless. With God, there is always hope.