When the King Came: Stories from the Four Gospels - George Hodges

At the Grave of Lazarus

There was another Lazarus beside the one who lay a beggar at the rich man's gate, and then sat next to Abraham at the table in paradise. This other Lazarus, as you will remember, was a dear friend of our Lord. He lived a little out of Jerusalem, at Bethany, and was a man of wealth. His two sisters, Mary and Martha, lived with him. They were so rich that one time when Mary wished to do our Lord a special honor, and to show him her reverence and love, she took an alabaster box of very precious ointment and broke the box and poured the ointment on his head as he sat at dinner: and the apostles who were at the table whispered among themselves that the box and the ointment together must have cost at least three hundred dollars.

Our Lord loved Mary and Martha and Lazarus, and probably stayed with them whenever he visited Jerusalem. At first they treated him with much ceremony, and made him a great supper. But he did not like that. One time Martha was very busy preparing for this feast, bustling about and seeing to this and to that, while Mary sat quietly at our Lord's feet listening as he talked. By and by, Martha came in and complained that Mary left her to do all the work: to which our Lord replied, "Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things; but one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part which shall not be taken away from her." That is, he cared much more for talking than he did for eating. It is likely that after that they received him very simply as one of the family. So he came in and went out, as if their house were his own home.

But now, while our Lord was in Perea, telling about the good Samaritan, and the Prodigal Son, and the Rich Man and the Beggar, Lazarus fell sick. His sisters at once sent word of this illness to our Lord. The messenger came and brought the bad news, saying, as he had been taught, "Lord, he whom thou lovest is sick." But Jesus did not go. He abode two days still in the same place where he was. The sisters waited and the disciples wondered. They all knew that he loved Lazarus. They knew also that Lazarus was every day getting worse and worse. But still he stayed. The message of the anxious sisters was like the prayers which many people pray to God in great distress, and God seems not to answer.

After two days, however, he said to his disciples, "Let us go into Judea again." They answered, "Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou thither again?" For, the last time he was in Jerusalem, at the Feast of the Dedication, in the winter, he had barely escaped alive. They had wondered that he did not go when the word came from Bethany, for it did not seem like him to be afraid: but now that he determined to go, their hearts sank within them. "I have my work to do," he said. "Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep." "Lord," they answered, not quite knowing what he meant, "if he sleeps, he shall do well." But Jesus was speaking of the sleep from which the sleeper does not wake again in this world, and he said plainly, "Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless, let us go unto him." Then were the disciples in deep despair, and Thomas said to the others, "Let us also go, that we may die with him."

Meanwhile it had come to pass even as Jesus had said. Lazarus had died, and, according to their custom, on the same day they had buried him. When Jesus came, he found that he had lain in the grave four days already. Somebody told him that as he came near the town; and at the same time somebody hurried to the house and found Martha, and told her that their friend was coming. The house was full of people, and was in great disorder, all the chairs and tables being upset, as was their way at a time of mourning. The messenger found Martha busy here and there, but Mary was in her own room with the door fast shut. So Martha went and met our Lord; but Mary sat still in the house. And Martha said, "Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee." Jesus answered, "Thy brother shall rise again." Martha said, "I know that he shall rise again—in the resurrection at the last day." Jesus said unto her, "I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?" She did not in the least understand it. She listened as people listen to-day, with tears in their eyes, when the words are read at the beginning of the burial service. But she said, "Yes, Lord; I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world." For these dear friends at Bethany knew in a dim way, like the Twelve, that Jesus was the King of Glory. Our Lord said, "Where is Mary?"

Then Martha, leaving Jesus where he was, outside the town, went back and found her sister, and whispered to her, saying, "The Master is come, and calleth for thee." As soon as Mary heard that, she arose quickly and came unto him. And the mourners, seeing her go out, said, "She goeth to the grave to weep there;" and they followed her. Then, when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, "Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died." Mary and Martha had said that over and over to each other during the past four days. So Mary lay at the feet of Jesus weeping, and the friends who came with her were weeping also. And our Lord was very sorry, knowing indeed that he could presently change tears into smiles, but entering into their deep grief. This he did that he might be able to help them. They on their part must have faith, he on his part must have sympathy. He groaned and was troubled. He said, "Where have ye laid him?" They answered, "Lord, come and see." And as they went, weeping, and, Jesus weeping with them, some said, "Behold how he loved him;" and others said, "Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died?"

Jesus, therefore, again groaning in himself, came to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay against the mouth of it. "Take away the stone," he said. But Martha, who, as we have seen, was a plain-spoken, practical person, said, "Lord, shall we do that? Remember, he has been dead four days." To whom our Lord replied, "Said I not unto thee that if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?" Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid.

And Jesus stood and prayed. "Father," he said, lifting up his eyes, "I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I know that thou hearest me always; but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me." And when he had thus spoken, he cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come forth." And he came forth. He that was dead rose up and came forth, bound hand and foot with grave-clothes; and his face was bound about with a napkin. There they stood,—the sisters, the apostles, and the people of Bethany,—and saw that sight. And Jesus said, "Loose him, and let him go."

Then a thing happened which was almost as strange as that. Some of the company, instead of being filled with joy and wonder, were filled with fear and anger. They beheld their neighbor come to life again, but what they thought of most was that now the Prophet of Nazareth would gain more disciples. He whom the chief people so hated would be more powerful than ever. And these men went straight from the empty grave to the Pharisees in Jerusalem, and told them what our Lord had done, and the Pharisees told it to the Sadducees, and the Pharisees and the Sadducces together held a council saying, "What shall we do? for this man doeth many miracles. If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him; and the Romans shall come and take away our place and nation." And the high priest, Caiaphas, spoke and said, "It is better that one man should die than that the whole nation perish." Then from that day forth they took counsel together to put him to death. Thus was fulfilled the saying of our Lord that they who do not hear the voice of God in the Bible and in daily life will not be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.

Jesus had brought a dead man back to life, and many believed on him, but therefore the priests and the ministers would kill him. The priests and the ministers and the people of the church were thinking of themselves: even the prayers which they prayed were selfish prayers. "The Prophet of Nazareth," they said, "if he comes into power, will turn us out. His ways are not as our ways, neither his thoughts as our thoughts. We must put an end to his influence by putting an end to his life." They had said such things before in private. Now they said them aloud in public.

Meanwhile, Lazarus was alive and well. He never told what he heard and saw while he lay four days dead; or, if he did, we do not know what it was. Robert Browning wrote a poem in which he imagined an Arab physician visiting Lazarus. It was a good while after the day of the opened tomb, and the physician asked him about it, and heard him tell the story. He said that Lazarus was the most singular man he had ever met. The things which interested or troubled most men, such as the march of an invading army, did not affect him: while some slight wrong word or act of a child at play would put him in great fear, more than if the child showed symptoms of a fever. And if somebody said, "Why, that is such a little thing," he would look at him in surprise, as if one were to hold a lighted match over a barrel of gunpowder, and say, "Why, it is such a little blaze."

Perhaps we would judge of things in the same way if we bad spent four days in the other world.