I saw the craziest thing this week online… a baby, really a toddler, a three year old in the Philippines had gotten very sick and had a bad fever and died. She was pronounced dead, the next day they had a funeral planned. At the funeral, the priest was performing the last rites over the little girl in her casket before they closed it and the little girl began to stir. Three days… she had been asleep. But she woke up at her funeral.
Someone in the family was filming with their phone, so you see this commotion and suddenly the distraught father is grabbing his very pale little girl out of the casket and running her out of the church to get help.
Now, the family said she had been confirmed dead by a doctor. Can you imagine. As a grieving parent, ready to bury your child and suddenly the impossible happens…
There is an actual term for this phenomenon. It is called the Lazarus effect, and although rare, there are other cases documented.
The Lazarus Effect. We meet Lazarus in today’s scripture. We know a few things about Lazarus from this scripture, and others. We know that Lazarus is a good friend and follower of Jesus. He is from Bethany. We know that his name was actually Eleazar, which means God is my help. We just have a Latinized pronunciation of Lazarus. We know that he was sick and while he was sick, word was sent to Jesus and Jesus did not come right away. We know that Lazarus’ sisters were good friends, close followers of Jesus.
The Lazarus story, however, is not really about Lazarus. It’s about his sisters, Mary and Martha.
Let’s take a moment to remember the whole story. The story begins with Mary and Martha…in fact there is a little side note about Mary as the one who had anointed Jesus feet and washed them with her hair. She was devoted.
The sisters sent word to Jesus, your friend, Lazarus is sick. You need to come. Come and help. Jesus responds in a funny way, saying it would be fine. But notice, what it was that moved Jesus. He waited two days and then went to them because he loved them. He wasn’t even in town yet and Martha ran out to meet Jesus, saying, “If you would have been here, he wouldn’t have died. You could have healed him, Jesus.”
Jesus tells her, straight out, clear as day… He will rise again. Martha, being a follower says, yes, I know say that we will all rise again.
Jesus clarifies; I am the resurrection and the life. If you believe in me, you will live and never die.
This is a gutsy statement, even for Jesus. He is talking to a grieving woman whose brother, literally just died.
But she responds with faith, she makes a statement about Jesus’ identity… You are the son of God. He said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Martha knew that this was true because he was the Son of God. Martha understands Jesus’ identity. Martha had faith.
Then it was Mary’s turn and she runs out to meet Jesus. She falls at Jesus’ feet and begins to weep. When Jesus sees Mary weeping, Jesus weeps with her. It is the shortest verse in the whole Bible and perhaps one of the best. Verse 35, Jesus weeps.
It is here that Jesus demands that the tomb be opened. Everyone protests, it’s been four days since he died. But Jesus insists, and he calls out to Lazarus. Lazarus comes walking out of the tomb, wrapped in his burial clothes. Lazarus is alive. The hope was not in the healing, but in the resurrection.
But this story is not about Lazarus. This story is about Martha and Mary.
Let’s remember Mary and Martha a bit.
There is good reason to believe that Mary is actually Mary Magdalene. Now, it doesn’t say this, but there are coordinating stories between the two and locations line up… so for today’s purposes, I am going to assert that Mary of Bethany, Lazarus’ sister was Mary Magdalene.
Mary had already experienced healing, she had had been set free from the bondage of prostitution. She had been freed from the life of ill repute, this was one kind of healing, but what she really experienced was supernatural healing. Her healing was spiritual. She knew that Jesus healing was far greater, far bigger than anything physical, it was spiritual. She had been recreated, made new. The hope was not in the healing.
Martha, her sister, remember Martha, the one who complained about her sister for not helping to host when they had Jesus in their home… Martha was the one who went to Jesus first, who met him on the road. But Martha also knew that Jesus had more to offer than just physical healing. When Jesus pressed her on it, she is the one who identified Jesus as the Son of God, and when Jesus told her that he was the resurrection and the life, she responded that she already knew this truth. She affirmed his deity, his power over the physical and spiritual condition in the same statement. The hope was in in the healing.
Jesus knew that Mary and Martha had a deeper understanding of his identity and power. He knew that these two women, notice that this episode of resurrection did not happen for the Pharisees, the crowd, or even the disciples. It happened for Mary and Martha.
Mary and Martha knew Jesus had the power to heal, but Jesus knew that they were ready for the real revelation, the greater revelation. He knew that they were ready to see that the hope was not in the healing, but in the resurrection.
He was offering them a glimpse into what was to come. He was making them ready for the next resurrection. I love this because, Mary and Martha, they were the ones who were at Jesus’ tomb on that third day. This day, with their brother, they experienced resurrection because they were ready for the greater revelation. They knew that hope was not just in the healing, but in the new life, the resurrection. So, when it was time for Jesus to resurrect, for Jesus to claim his victory over death, it was Mary and Martha who first knew.
They were the first witnesses to the resurrection, because they already understood resurrection. They knew that the hope was not in the healing, but in the resurrection.
But this story isn’t only about Martha and Mary, right? It’s about us.
We have all been in this place… the place where we are sitting bedside with someone we love, praying and hoping for a miracle. Wanting God to intervene so that the suffering could end.
We’ve all been in the place asking God, Why? Why God didn’t you do anything, why didn’t you answer my prayers? Why me, why now, why them?
We have been in the place where we are weeping at the feet of Jesus, and Jesus is weeping with us.
The question is, have we been in the place where we have experienced the resurrection?
I first encountered this idea in My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. God could have healed Lazarus. Jesus could have come and healed Lazarus and that would have been a miracle. But God knew something about Mary and Martha, and even Lazarus.
He knew that they were ready for something more. They were ready for the resurrection. Healing would have been miraculous, but resurrection was a revelation. They were ready for something more. Hope was not in the healing but in the resurrection.
I think so often we are pleading with God for healing. Healing for our loved ones who are suffering. Healing for broken relationships. Healing for hurting children. Healing for our finances. Healing for our nation. Healing for our jobs. Healing for our time. Healing for our planet. Healing for warring nations.
And I think often, we are pleading with God, we are running to meet Jesus on the road, frustrated, accusatory… Why aren’t you here? Why aren’t you doing anything? And Jesus is asking us to remember, “I am the resurrection and the life.” The hope is not in the healing, but in the resurrection.
Notice that in this process there is plenty of suffering, plenty of sadness, plenty of grief. But the there is also plenty of hope. Resurrection doesn’t come easy, because Lazaraus, Jesus, had to die first.
Perhaps we have not embraced the larger revelation, we are asking for healing when we should be asking for resurrection. Our prayers are not bold enough. Our vision is not broad enough. Our hope is in the wrong place. Jesus doesn’t just heal, repair, fix. Jesus recreates life, he makes new, he starts over.
Are you ready for the greater revelation? The hope is not in the healing, but in the resurrection.
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