One time, it was simply about the question, “What else do you talk about if not for the physical suffering of Jesus every time Holy Week comes around?” I seriously pursued the search for other than the flogging, crown of thorns, asphyxiation, and all the Passion of the Christ movie scenes come Semana Santa. And guess where it led me? To the emotional, relational suffering that Christ endured as he was approaching his death. Judas betrayed him, Peter denied him, the disciples left him. Right at the moment when he needed his friends the most, they flee and leave him all alone. When I began to meditate on this truth, I had to wonder which pained Jesus more: was it his lacerated flesh or the harrowing of his longing soul?
This year, I decided to read the book of John. Instead of jumping accounts, I stayed with one and was led to focus on chapter 11 where Jesus raises his friend Lazarus back to life. And while it may not be a record of the Holy Week itself, I realized that it was a tremendous act of foreshadowing of Christ’s message in his death and resurrection.
If you have time to walk through this chapter with me, I am gladly sharing all five riches that I was able to read from it.
Death is not a finality for Christ.
It is not the first time I am reading that Jesus is one who allows somebody to die before he comes to save. He once stopped to heal a bleeding woman despite being on his way to Jairus’ daughter who was already dying. She expired before he came and the bystanders were saying not to trouble him any longer for the girl is no more. Yet Jesus still went and commanded the girl to rise from the dead and she did. (Luke 8:40-56)
In the same way, Lazarus had been dead for four days that when he ordered for the tombstone to be removed, Martha had to warn him of the odor. She probably thought Jesus, as her brother’s friend, merely wanted to see Lazarus for one last time. Like everyone else, she thought he came too late. On the other hand, Christ knew what he was about to do and that his delay was not a mistake. Because while death is the finality for us all, it simply isn’t a determinant for Jesus. Death does not scare nor thwart his plans a single bit because he knows that while someone or something dies, he has the power to make it rise again. He himself will experience this firsthand, the dying and rising again.
When do we consider things to be final? Death? Divorce? Incarceration? Bankruptcy? Abandonment? Abuse? Oppression?
Jesus has the power to make life come out of it. He can heal. He can restore. He can even turn it around. He always means to come and say that what brought you death is not the final word on your life. He makes us more than conquerors, using even the vilest of our past and turning them around for his purpose.
Resurrection is at the end of time, but also, He is here and now.
Martha is the vilified sister. She was the grumbling sibling that is not to be revered by many. She is undervalued like that, yet exposits such an exemplary faith in this chapter. Upon seeing Jesus, Martha says, “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” (verse 21).
Right there was an evidence of tremendous faith. I am not sure if this is what it really meant but it felt like this in parapharase, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now, if you only ask your dad to give him back to us he’d do it for you!” I think even Jesus understood it that way as he agreed and said, “Your bother will rise again” (Verse 23).
However Martha reverted back to traditional knowledge. That Lazarus will resurrect on the last day and not really today. This is in keeping with pharasaical beliefs and even some of Jesus’ teachings. But Jesus answered by revealing the resurrection’s true timeline to her.
“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?” (John 11:25-26)
Jesus was actually releasing a revelation to Martha, that resurrection begins right at the moment of faith, when one believes in Christ. In the moment of our surrender and faith to Christ we are instantly born again to a new and eternal life. Whereby it means that we don’t have to wait and die before eternity begins. We don’t need to make heaven the far-reaching goal because heaven is here and now, with and in Jesus. The redemption and restoration that resurrection brings is already here. Shouldn’t then this be a revelation that radically affects the way we now live?
Jesus is not your ordinary king.
Martha said, “If only you were here…” Or in our vernacular it would read as, “Kung nandito ka lang…” And we can line up many different statements after it,
Hindi sana sya namatay. (He wouldn’t have died.)
Hindi sana ako nalugi. (I wouldn’t have lost money.)
Hindi sana ako napagsamatalahan. (I wouldn’t have been abused.)
Hindi sana ako nakunan. (I wouldn’t have lost my baby.)
Hindi sana kami naghiwalay. (We wouldn’t have been divorced.)
Hindi sana ganito ang gobyerno at bansa namin nagyon. (Our nation and government wouldn’t be like this today.)
Later in the chapter we see that some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” (verse 37)
Why is he a God who allows death before he comes? Why does he not fix everything all at once? I am not sure. I am not a theologian. And I doubt even theologians have an all encompassing answer.
I also do not mean to minimize our cries and questions in the midst of our tragedies. But like I said earlier, even without knowing why he would allow such things, I can be certain that our worst is not beyond saving for him. He is more than able to come into any situation and breathe life into our pain all over again.
I know that it can be a hard truth to swallow, that while all kings and rulers are expected to expend power that will ensure order, prosperity and the perfect life for its nation and subjects, Jesus as the Savior King isn’t like that. Yes, he has won. Yes, he is victorious. But no, he does not mean to be a magician, nor to be a tyrant. Rather, he chose the way of service and suffering, to grant the world shalom and salvation.
He comes as lowly, humble, but inimitably wise in his ways. He wasn’t only thinking of justice when he came, but deliverance for a damned people. I do not know of any god who has been able to solve the puzzle of how to be loving and just at once. At best, religions ask for moral uprightness, long-suffering and asceticism, with no promised judgment for evil. Or some fall more on the other side where the answer is to be simply punitive. Punishing without accounting for the givens.
There is no both at once except for Jesus. Who died that we might be freed from the judgment, and who rose that we may have power to overcome. Even the kings of the world today are more of the latter, and are almost always spared from judgment. But Jesus wasn’t. Though he didn’t deserve it, he took it all so we don’t have to. He really isn’t your ordinary king.
Jesus is both human and God.
I find it remarkable that in the just one chapter we see two sides of the Messiah.
When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. (John 11:31-35, emphasis mine)
Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. (John 11:38, emphasis mine)
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.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (John 11:42-44, emphasis mine)
This is the famous chapter known for the shortest verse in the Bible: Jesus wept.
As someone in my group had pointed out, “It didn’t say he cried but he wept.” It was profuse. It was deep. He was troubled, he was moved. He was fully man, who felt loss in the very same way we all feel it. He felt the pain of death for Lazarus, and also for himself not much later on. But also, he was able to make the dead rise; He himself rose from death. And isn’t it amazing that death and victory happen in one chapter, showing that My God is one of compassion and power?
The pain is not enough to stop the mission.
He wouldn’t have died if Jesus were around, Martha said. And Jesus himself wouldn’t have had to weep, be troubled, or be sad at all, if Lazarus didn’t die. But what did he say in the beginning?
“But when Jesus heard it he said, “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.” (John 11: 4)
“Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” (John 11:14-15)
Illness is not the finality, not even death. The final word really is the glory of God. It is the mission. To show the world the glory of his ways and salvation. I hate to say as it might not be something we want to hear but Jesus did not even spare himself from the pain of losing a friend, and from the pain of going through agony himself, because he knew the mission of God’s glory and salvation were truly more important.
I have rediscovered Holy Week in John 11 this time around. Praying that you’d also pursue new depths about a life changing event that has been played and reinterpreted by the world over and over. May it be a personal revelation of the Christ’s life, death, and resurrection this year. God bless you as you read!