60 – Lazarus Returned
Jesus was spending the winter east of the Jordan River (in Bethany, Perea), where John had based his ministry. Lazarus, in Bethany, Judea, was ill and getting worse daily. Mary believed that if only Jesus would come, Lazarus could be healed. So Martha sent a message to Jesus one morning to ask for his immediate presence.
The messenger left early in the morning for his twenty-five mile walk down to Jericho, then to the ford of the Jordan, and then finally to Jesus. But by the time he arrived in the afternoon, Lazarus had died. So even as the message was delivered, Jesus was aware, in his spirit, that he would NOT be “healing” Lazarus.
Lazarus was buried the following day, within 24 hours according to customs, and then Jesus intentionally waited a third day.
On the afternoon of the third day he told the disciples that Lazarus had died and that to glorify God, they would leave early tomorrow morning for Bethany of Judea. The disciples expressed concern remembering the last time he had been in Jerusalem. At that time, the leaders had wanted to stone him for blasphemy. Jesus would be subject to arrest. But that did not dissuade Jesus.
Knowing that Jesus was going anyway, Thomas expressed his total commitment to Jesus and challenged the rest of the disciples to follow Jesus to Jerusalem, even though it might mean their deaths trying to defend him from the religious leaders. And they all prepared to leave the following morning.
Early in the morning, well before sunrise of the fourth day since Lazarus had died, and knowing that traditional understanding predicted that the spirit of Lazarus had now left his body to go to Sheol, Jesus and his followers walked over the Jordan river, through Jericho, and up the road through the Wadi Qelt to Bethany of Judea.
That afternoon, as they neared the village, a messenger was sent ahead to tell Martha and Mary that Jesus was coming. Martha came down the road to meet Jesus as soon as she heard that he was near. She knew that Lazarus had died before Jesus could have even gotten their appeal, so she was not upset by the extra days. Martha believed that Jesus could have healed her brother if he had been there four days ago, but now she was sorry that Jesus could not have been here to, at least, attend the funeral of his friend, and pay his respects.
Jesus told her not to grieve. Lazarus would rise up. She thought that he was expressing the Pharisee belief in the resurrection on the Day of Judgment, and she quietly agreed. But then Jesus got her attention. ‘Those who believe in me will never die’, Jesus said, ‘they will live forever in the Kingdom of God. Do you believe this?’ And Martha answered, ‘Yes, I believe that you are the Messiah, and that if you say a thing will happen, then it will happen.’
Jesus asked Martha to go home and get Mary. Jesus would wait in the shade on the side of the road. Mary had been awaiting Jesus’ arrival at their home. She jumped up and hurried to where Jesus waited, and a number of the family friends followed her.
As they arrived, Mary could not hold back her tears at the loss of her brother. ‘If only you…’ she sobbed, ‘…he loved you so much.’ And Jesus wept with her.
Then Jesus became angry. This was such a tragedy. A good man, in his prime, and Satan strikes him down and people are convinced by the religious leaders that God struck him down. The religious leaders are blinding these poor people who are left behind. They cannot see the love of God. Jesus knew that it was time to act.
Jesus asked to be taken to the tomb. Once there, Jesus had them remove the stone from the entrance of the cave, despite a warning that it would smell of decay. Lazarus had been wrapped in linen, and the body placed on a platform in the tomb. There, for the next year, the flesh was expected to rot off of the bones. The family would then re-enter the cave, and put the bones into a pile of ancestor’s bones or into a limestone box, and then place the ossuary in a niche in the cave.
Jesus stood outside and lifted his face in prayer. Then he called for Lazarus to come out. To the surprise of everyone, Lazarus did manage to get to the opening of the cave, where Jesus instructed helpers to unwrap the body. Then Jesus and Lazarus went into the village, to his home, where Lazarus could bathe and be fed.
While they were there, Jesus told a story about a rich man and a poor man, referring to the religious leaders (rich in knowledge but poor in faith) and Lazarus (poor in knowledge but rich in faith). When the poor man died he went to be with Abraham but when the rich man died he went to Hades. The rich man begged Abraham to send Lazarus back to life to warn his family, friends, and the religious leaders, so that they might believe and be saved. Abraham agreed, but predicted that if they would not believe based on Moses and the Prophets, the return of Lazarus would not convince them either.
Many of Lazarus’ family and friends were impressed by what God had done through Jesus, and most went off and told others. When the religious leaders heard of Lazarus’ return they called for a meeting of the Sanhedrin. They were in a quandary. Jesus obviously had power. The people recognized it and were willing to follow him. That could lead to a revolt against Rome. But there was NO WAY that Jesus was the Messiah and the revolt would fail. Then the Roman armies would come, destroy everything, and the nation would lose what religious freedoms they did have. This MUST NOT HAPPEN! It would be better if this Jesus should be stopped, for the good of the country, before he could begin his ill-conceived revolt.
So the religious leaders were not convinced when Lazarus did return, and instead decided that Jesus must be removed, permanently. So Jesus again left the area. This time he headed north to the village of Ephraim (14 miles north of Jerusalem and 4 miles east of Bethel [today]) near the wilderness of the Jordan. There he stayed with the friends of Nathaniel who had invited them to come. Jesus taught there before he journeyed down the “Way of the Wilderness“, past ancient Jericho [today], and back to Bethany of Perea.
No questions have been asked yet.