Easter’s coming soon. But I’m not thinking about the Easter story. Not yet. Right now, I’m thinking about the story of Lazarus.
Mostly I think, because I’ve believed for a long time that resurrection is what Jesus did on Easter. But I need to grab hold rather more deeply to the idea that resurrection isn’t only what Jesus did–resurrection is who Jesus is.
I need to recapture a glimpse of what might possibly happen if Jesus showed up in certain dead pockets of my life and heart. Places where I’ve given up hope. Places where I’m angry with him that he didn’t show up in time…
If you want to read the story of Lazarus, you can find it in John chapter 11 in the Bible. But here’s how I’d start the telling of it:
Jesus has twelve guys who follow him around in all his travels. But he has other friends, too. And three of his best friends are two sisters and a brother named Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. They live in a town called Bethany, and whenever Jesus is in Bethany, he stays at their home. It isn’t the sterile, polite sort of hospitality. It’s the sort of make-yourself-at-home feel where if refrigerators had been invented, I’m sure Martha would’ve come into her kitchen and found Jesus rummaging in the fridge at midnight for a snack. It’s the sort of comfortable relationship where they can fight in front of Jesus—and where he enters into the fray. They’re friends.
Then, crisis hits. And it hits at a juncture when Jesus is not in town. In fact, he’s not likely to be in town much, because there’s a price on his head in Judea—the region of Israel that included both Jerusalem and Bethany. He’s camped out twenty miles—a good day or two’s journey—away from Bethany.
Here’s the crisis: Lazarus gets sick. Really sick. It looks like he could die.
And Mary and Martha are so sure of Jesus’ love for them and for Lazarus—in addition to Jesus’ power to heal the sick—that they send messengers to Jesus to say to him, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” That’s all they say, but there’s a lot packed into that little sentence. You see the sisters’ devotion to Jesus—they call him “Lord.” You see how sure they are of Jesus’ devotion to them—they call Lazarus “the one you love.”
And the underlying trust in the statement is this: the fact that they don’t even ask Jesus to come to Bethany—they just assume that he will. Despite the interruption to his work. Despite the distance. Despite the fact that he’ll be heading straight into danger and the threat of his own death. Jesus loves them; of course he’ll come back. Of course he’ll heal Lazarus.
And then you’ve got what have to be a couple of the most ridiculous sounding verses in the whole Bible. Check it out:
Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days. (John 11:5-6, NIV)
Tell me you don’t do a serious double take when you read that.
He stayed where he was for two more days. What?!?
So imagine. Put yourself in Mary’s shoes, Martha’s shoes. The messengers come back without Jesus—no explanation. Time passes, and between caring for Lazarus, you find yourself going to the window, looking down the road for any sign of Jesus—nothing. What are you thinking while Lazarus lies dying? What questions are you asking? Try to imagine.
And actually, we don’t have to imagine, because the Bible tells us.
By the time Jesus shows up, Lazarus has been dead and in the tomb for four days. Martha hears that Jesus has arrived and she runs out to him. The first words out of her mouth are these: “Lord…if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:21, NIV)
In verse 32, when Jesus sends for Mary and she goes out to him, Mary says the same thing: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:32, NIV)
God, where were you?
God, you could have kept this from happening—why didn’t you?
God, how can you say you love me when you let this happen?
Maybe it’s a little mind-blowing to think of someone having the chutzpah to ask Jesus those questions to his face. But you know what—a lot of the people in the Bible who were closest to God fired questions like this at God in the middle of their most challenging moments.
Not out of disrespect. But out of a soul that respected God enough to keep taking their questions to him even when they had no idea what he was doing. When they hated what he was doing. When they were angry and confused and grieving. They laid all their questions and emotions out before him instead of running away from him.
If Jesus were walking down the road toward your house today, and you ran out to meet him, how would you fill in the blank? What would still be alive if God had showed up when you asked him to? A person? A dream? A relationship? A piece of your heart?
How would you fill in the blank:
Lord, if you had been here, ____________________ would not have died.