This was a grave situation! Literally!!
You will note:
- The gravity of the problem. Verse 17 underlines just how serious matters were from a Jewish point of view. It wasn’t just that Lazarus was in the grave. That was serious enough. But there was a Jewish belief that when someone died, their soul hung around the grave for three days, hoping to re-enter the body. But on day 4 the soul moved on. So Lazarus, from a Jewish angle, had reached the point of no return. We are being prepared for something remarkable. Jesus can do the impossible.
- The gravity of the danger. The Jewish people took seriously the responsibility to comfort the bereaved. Verses 18, 19 speak of friends and neighbours carrying out this solemn duty. (By the way, it is a very special and important ministry to care for those who have lost loved ones. It’s all too easy to avoid them, or to not talk to them about the deceased, out of fear or embarrassment and the like.) But they also remind us that in going to Bethany, Jesus was putting His head close to the lion’s mouth (see 7, 8 and 16). Jerusalem crackled with the electricity of danger. Jerusalem and Judea were the focus of concentrated hostility towards the Lord. In going to help Lazarus, Jesus placed Himself in grave danger. Indeed, the raising of this man from death was going to precipitate plans that would lead to Jesus’ own death (45ff.)
- The gravity of her greeting. Maybe there was a gentle rebuke in verse 21 (see also 32)? It’s hard to say. But I know that we can misjudge others because we do not fully understand the inner workings of anyone else’s mind. There is always a danger that we will fill in the gaps and wrongly attribute motives and meanings that are not there. We can also find ourselves similarly misjudged. It’s not nice. Martha could not read the greater purpose which had caused Jesus to delay. (Perhaps she hadn’t heard that Jesus could heal at a distance (Matthew 8:5-13; Mark 7:24-30.) But a verse that speaks of the gravity of her greeting, also indicates the greatness of her faith. This short section we are concentrating on today begins and ends with the message that Jesus can do the impossible, and ”even now” things can change. Even on the fourth day – when all seems lost – Jesus is able. This was a great expression of faith on Martha’s part. (Although see also verse 39. At best our faith is often tinged with doubt. That’s reality. That’s how it is. But our wavering does not diminish the resurrection power of Christ one iota.)
Prayer: Lord increase our faith. In the ‘even now’ situations, when all looks lost and bleak, please give to us more faith.