By Rev. Stephen Baldwin
NT: John 11.1-45
This week’s story is the death of Lazarus. One of my absolute favorite stories. It contains the shortest verse in the Bible. “Jesus wept.” What made Jesus cry?
Well let me ask you a question: When you cry, what leads you to that point? Usually it’s not just one thing. Right? It’s a bunch of things that all hit at just the wrong time, and no matter how tough we try to be, it just happens.
My dad died a couple of years ago. Every now and then it just hits me. A George Strait song comes on or I have something I want to tell him, and I weep. It isn’t just one thing; it’s a bunch of things.
What made Jesus weep? It wasn’t one thing; it was a bunch of things. Lazarus was his friend. He frequently spent time with him and his sisters, Mary and Martha, according to the Gospels. He had time to get there before he died, but Jesus didn’t go. The religious authorities were on Jesus’ back, calling him an imposter. Maybe part of him wanted to show them what he could do, that he could raise the dead. Jesus’ own death was just around the corner. All of these things pile on top of one another and then they hit like a ton of bricks when Mary runs to Jesus and says, “If you had come, Lazarus wouldn’t have died.” Jesus wept.
Because it was the truth, and the truth hurts. His friend Lazarus died. Jesus could’ve prevented it. He didn’t. He didn’t even go to comfort him or to support Mary and Martha. He stayed away. For two days. On purpose. Why would he do such a thing?
It wasn’t just one reason; it was a bunch of reasons. He needed to prove the Pharisees wrong. He needed to prove God right. He needed to show what he could do. He needed a miracle so that we would still be talking today about what happened that day two thousand years ago. And as much as every bone in his human body wanted to go help his friends, he couldn’t.
My dad loved westerns, and that rubbed off on me. The great western writer Louis Lamour once wrote, “There will come a time when you think everything is finished. That will be the beginning.”
Mary, Martha, and Jesus surely felt like everything was finished. Lazarus was dead. The man who could heal the sick never came. Maybe the friendship hadn’t been as close as they thought. Maybe he wasn’t who they thought he was. Maybe he wasn’t who he thought he was. Who would they serve now? How would they spend their lives? Had the past couple of years been a waste of time? They thought everything was finished.
Jesus says to them, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
“Yes, Lord,” Martha said. “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
Jesus walks to the tomb of his friend Lazarus. Mary and Martha are by his side. They placed stones over the tombs to preserve the dignity of the dead. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”
Martha tells him, “It’s going to smell. He’s been in dead in there for four days.”
“You said you believed that I am the resurrection and the life, didn’t you?”
“I know you do, Martha,” he said to her. “I need everyone watching to believe just as you do.”
Then he yells, “Lazarus, come out!”
And Lazarus walks out of his own grave, four days after his own death. The dead rise. The blind see. The doubters believe. They thought everything was finished, but it was only the beginning.
What made Jesus cry? A bunch of things. But none of them were powerful enough to keep him away from his dear friends. The tears were but the beginning. Remember that, friends, the tears were out of a deep, deep love…and that was only the beginning…for Lazarus, and for us. Remember that, as Holy Week, Good Friday, and Easter approach. When everything seems like it is finished, that is only the beginning. Amen.