Mary and Martha and the Jews that surrounded them (mourners most likely) saw Jesus’ love for Lazarus. The trouble is they mistook it to be like their love—phileo love. They loved Lazarus like a brother and knew what they would do for him. What they didn’t understand was that Jesus loved Lazarus beyond that. Jesus loved him with agape love. The agape love was more abundant, more selfless and more unconditional than what they knew. And if that agape love is so much greater, can’t we at least imagine what it would do what is best, what is most loving for Lazarus? If we think Jesus’ love is phileo like theirs then we can see how his initial response seems insufficient. It’s far less than what any of them would have done. But if we see from the start that phileo and agape are not even in the same league of love then we can begin to trust that jesus would have chosen whatever it was that was right for Lazarus. And since agape love is God’s love (not like phileo love of brothers or storge love of parents or eros love of couples) then we can see that in turn it draws us closer to God. Jesus chose to do that which would draw Lazarus into deeper relationship with God.
Let’s go back to the scripture and see what happens. We have Mary and Martha and all those who have come to mourn with them. We now see that they are reviewing the events for what they would have done. But Jesus doesn’t act in accordance with their expectation, he acts in accordance with God’s purposes.
Our scene starts with Jesus receiving news that Lazarus is sick and dying and in need of his help. What’s expected is that Jesus would drop whatever he is doing to go and make Lazarus healthy again. But Jesus doesn’t jump and run. Instead he is calm and trusting that God’s will be revealed and glorified through Lazarus.
After two days, Jesus decides to head back to Judea, but the disciples argue with him saying that he shouldn’t risk it, that there are too many Jewish leaders who want him dead. And he replies in sort of an odd way, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10 But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” In essence, if you walk in the light you will have no need to stumble. Instead, trouble lurks when you walk in darkness.
Jesus and the disciples then continue on their way to Bethany and are met by Martha, who is grieving and anxious. She says, “Lord, if only you had been there, Lazarus wouldn’t have died. But I believe that if you ask, God will still answer you.”
Jesus replies: “he will be raised.”
Martha: “I know that eventually he will.”
Jesus: “You don’t have to wait. All those who believe in me have life. Do you believe?
Martha: “yes, I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”
Now, before we go further, I think we need “believe” needs clarification. Believe to most of our ears implies consenting with your head. To say you believe in something means you find it probable or logical. But the Greek word for believe, pisteuo, doesn’t imply believing with our mind, it’s more about believing with our hearts. It’s about faith and trust. I think for us to hear it more accurately we need to substitute the word trust. For even that which cannot be made rational in our minds can be trusted with our hearts. Let’s take a simple example. How many of us have ever flown in an airplane? Anyone ever been on one of the massive planes? Anyone ever been on a plane and started doing the math? There’s 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 seats in a row. And 31, 32, 33, 34, 35 rows on the plane. That’s 6 x 30 = 180, 5 x 6 = 30, so that’s 210 people, plus pilots and stewards, so 220. Let’s say we average 180 pounds, that’s….nevermind, let’s keep the math simple, let’s say we average 200 pounds each (that includes your carry ons) that means 44,000 pounds in people weight. Then another 50 pounds in luggage, so another 11,000 pounds, plus the weight of the plane. I have no idea how much planes weigh, but just for the sake of argument, let’s say it’s about 50,000 pounds. So now we have 100,000 pounds, more or less, flying through the air. For all that seems reasonable or feasible, I’d never imagine 100,000 pounds could float on air. I’d imagine that sucker should just fall right out of the air. I know, we could do the physics to explain how and why it’s possible, but let’s be realistic, how many of us actually do that? Like 3 of us, maybe. The rest of us just go, the rest of us just go, “that doesn’t make sense.” BUT we trust that it’s possible otherwise we never would have boarded the plane in the first place.
Do we see how there’s a difference between believing with our minds and trusting with our hearts? And that’s an easy example because it’s something that ultimately could be explained in a way that satisfies our minds. But how many other types of things happen that don’t make logical sense but are still trusted?
· Taking pig veins and repairing a human heart?
· Putting a little machine to keep your heart beating in rhythm?
· Recovery from addiction?
· Change of heart?
That which isn’t logical can still be believed because we trust it with our hearts.
Ok, back to the scripture—so Jesus says, resurrection and life are possible for all who believe in me, for all who trust in me with their hearts. And then he asks Martha, “Do you trust me?” and she says, “Absolutely!” And she goes to get her sister and Mary and the entourage of mourners come out weeping and wailing and Jesus gets upset. Some translations say he was “groaning in his spirit” or “troubled” but again, the Greek word holds more meaning than that. The greek words mean “agitated” and “indignant”—a little more than troubled. So Jesus is irritated and bothered by the response of the Jews. I assume because they lacked trust. They only knew what was believable with their minds which was that Lazarus was dead—they didn’t trust with their hearts and that broke Jesus’ heart. And then the scripture says, “Jesus wept.” I’ve always assumed like the crowd does that Jesus wept because of his friend. He loved Lazarus so much and now he’s dead and so Jesus wept. But I gotta tell you, I don’t think Jesus wept for Lazarus. I think Jesus wept for the crowd—for their lack of trust, for the ways he had failed to make them see what was possible through God. I think he wept for the crowd’s inability to see the greatness of God’s agape love. But they didn’t see it. They could only see phileo and so they prattle on about how clearly Jesus loved Lazarus but if he really loved him this never would have happened in the first place. And it’s all just killing Jesus inside. He’s torn up and frustrated—he desperately wants them to trust him but they keep looking with their eyes and not their hearts.
Finally, our scene ends at the tomb. A cave in the hillside sealed with a stone and Jesus asks that it be removed and still all Martha sees is what makes sense, “Are you kidding?! He’s been dead for 4 days—it’s gonna stink in there!”
And Jesus replies, (more or less) “Come on Martha! Don’t you trust me?! I told you God would be glorified that means God will do more than what’s logical. God does what’s miraculous!”
The stone is move and Jesus gives God thanks before Lazarus is even seen. “Thank you God for hearing me. I mean, I know you hear me all the time, but apparently these folks need to be reminded that you listen.”
And then to Lazarus Jesus says, “Come out!”
And still wrapped in the embalming rags Lazarus comes out. God did the miraculous. It’s not logical. It doesn’t make sense. And we likely won’t believe it with our minds. But we aren’t asked to. Instead we are invited to believe and trust with our hearts, to know in our hearts, that God’s love is capable of so much more than we ever might imagine.
God’s love is different than a brother’s love. (A brother is a protector. He cares about us and our well-being and would protect us from harm. God’s love is agape love—it’s selfless, abundant and unconditional. While it may be that God’s love will protect us, the ultimate goal of agape love isn’t simply protection from harm, ultimately God’s love seeks to draw us into the redemptive and life-giving work of God. So even though Lazarus was sick and died, Jesus didn’t stand idly by and allow suffering for the sake of suffering. Jesus came to Lazarus and performed a miracle. He raised him from the dead. He made him part of God’s story of redemption, salvation and new life. That’s what this story is about. Jesus was never ambivalent to the situation. He always wanted what was best for Lazarus and what was best was not a cure for an illness, but the gift of salvation. Jesus sozo’d Lazarus. Sozo means a variety of things. For Jesus to sozo him means God delivered Lazarus. God protected Lazarus. God healed Lazarus. God saved Lazarus. God drew Lazarus into wholeness. God sozo’d him and that was far greater than a cure.