11 August 2014

John 11:17-27

“Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’” (v. 21)


The story of Lazarus is familiar to many Christians - it symbolises the hope we all have of a real and permanent resurrection to new life. It tells us that the hope God offers us is not simply a metaphorical second chance - but a real and lasting transformation. It's Gospel gold.

But, like the story of Jesus' own death and resurrection we tend to rush through the tough and upsetting bits to get to the joy at the end. No one likes living in Easter Saturday - especially when we know what's coming. We're going to unpick the story over the next few days, and today's passage doesn't even get us to Lazarus' tomb, let alone to his resurrection. This is a path we need to follow - no shortcuts allowed.

Lazarus had already been dead four days (verse 17). Jewish belief at the time held that the soul lingered over the body for three days, so it seemed that Lazarus was truly dead. This was the point of no return.

It's interesting, too, that Martha came out to meet Jesus (verse 20). People in mourning did not normally leave the house during the first seven days following a death, except to visit their loved ones' tomb. She clearly had a bone to pick with Jesus. She knew who he was and what he could do.

John tells us that "having heard that Lazarus was ill, [Jesus] stayed two days longer in the place where he was' (John 11:6). Jesus had failed Martha and her family by not coming when he heard the news. Here is a woman distraught at her loss and enraged by the failure of Jesus to act when he had the chance.

We don't know why Jesus kicked his heels instead of rushing to his friend's sickbed. Perhaps it was so that the miracle would be all the more astounding - so that people might see and believe (John 11:15).

But Jesus promised to set things right (verse 23). Martha knew he could heal the sick - but she ain't seen nothing yet.

To Ponder

  • Have you ever felt that God has let you down?
  • If you had the chance to accuse God face-to-face, what might you say?

Bible notes author

Anna Drew

Anna Drew is Director of Communications for the Diocese of Canterbury. She is a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4's Daily Service and Prayer for the Day and a freelance writer on faith issues.