It was a sad day in the village of Bethany. Four days earlier a popular young man named Lazarus died an untimely death and had been placed in his tomb. The mourning for him was still continuing, including even Jews from Jerusalem who had come to comfort Mary and Martha.
When Martha heard that Jesus had arrived at Bethany, she went out to meet him. This was not to invite him to come to the wake at her home but to find out why he had not come sooner when he could have healed Lazarus. At this point in the story we should stop and consider Martha’s faith in Jesus. Personally, I find it mind boggling considering the probable limits to her understanding of who Jesus was.
First, she believed that Jesus could have healed her brother had he been there. Second, she knew that Jesus would receive whatever he asked of God. Third, she believed her brother would come to life again at the resurrection that would take place on the last day. Finally, she said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe you are the Christ, the Son of God who is coming into the world” (John 11:27, English Standard Version).
After this conversation, Martha went to tell Mary that Jesus was there. When Martha returned to Jesus with Mary, she said what Martha had said about Jesus not being there to heal Lazarus and then fell at his feet weeping. It was then that Jesus wept, being deeply touched by their grief and that of the other mourners. In addition to his sympathy for the sisters, there was another reason Jesus experienced deep sorrow.
Martha and Mary were right. Jesus could have prevented Lazarus’ death. However, Lazarus’ death had to happen so Jesus would be glorified by his return to life (11:4). Another reason for the event was that the disciples might learn that someone could rise from the dead (11:15). Last, it would, as Thomas rightly understood, lead to Jesus’ death (11:16).
There are several reasons for Jesus’ grief. Perhaps the deepest motivation for Jesus’ tears was the understanding that doing his Father’s will would hurt the friends he loved. Jesus also had to foresee that his agony at Gethsemane and his death on the Cross would cause enormous pain to him and to those who had believed in him. However, when Lazarus was raised from the dead, his grief then turned into great joy.
In order to obey what God has intended for us to do, it may also be required of us to hurt the people we love. If that happens, let us remember Jesus weeping with his friends and then rejoicing with them, and so be able to both obey and then find hope in the larger purposes of God. Like Jesus, we too must place the Father’s will above all personal desires and yet remember, as we are faithful, the short term may be hard but the long term is eternal glory.