Jesus, Lazarus, Mary, Martha, friend, life, God, church, disciples, trust, tomb, relationship, Christ, prayer, bound, called, heal, die, truth, community
New year, new friends. No, this is not a reason to stop being a friend and choose some new friends. God has called us to be committed to people just as He is. Don’t you know that we’ve got to take responsibility for being good friends? It’s simple when you are a good friend; you get good friends. The greatest gift that God could ever give you is the kind of relationship in your life that would help you grow closer to Him. The biggest game changer you could be to somebody else’s life is for you to become a friend to them in their time of need.
If you ever wanted to know what friendships looked like for Jesus, we get a glimpse of His closeness with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. As we look at their friendship, ask yourself: “Am I that kind of friend?” “Do I carry these kinds of character traits?” “Do I know how to be a friend like Jesus is a friend?” In John 11, we discover four areas where Jesus shows us how to be a good friend.
A man named Lazarus was sick. He lived in Bethany with his sisters, Mary and Martha. This is the Mary who later poured the expensive perfume on the Lord’s feet and wiped them with her hair. Her brother, Lazarus, was sick. So the two sisters sent a message to Jesus telling him, “Lord, your dear friend is very sick.”
Jesus would not only stay at their house, but they were also his followers. Even more than that, it says, they were his “dear friends.” When Jesus received this message about his friend, he was about 20 miles away from their house. As Jesus’s followers, Mary and Martha knew that if he just laid his hands on their brother, Jesus would heal him. They would’ve remembered that in one case, Jesus was far away when the Roman Centurion showed up and needed his servant to be healed. Jesus didn’t even go to the centurion’s house, yet the servant was completely healed. Mary and Martha were most likely hoping that Jesus would heal his dear friend, Lazarus, even from a distance.
But when Jesus heard about it he said, “Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.” So although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, he stayed where he was for the next two days. Finally, he said to his disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.”
Now catch what Jesus is saying in this passage. Jesus doesn’t say Lazarus won’t die. He says the sickness will not end in death. Why is that important? Well, we know what happens a Lazarus dies. Jesus didn’t say he wouldn’t die. Jesus just said it wouldn’t end in death. Don’t you know that Jesus is Lord of the living and the dead? Don’t you know that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life? If Jesus says it’s not over, it’s not over. Yet, hearing Jesus’s response has got to be tricky. Mary and Martha might have thought that the messenger got that news wrong. It turns out that Jesus doesn’t get back to Lazarus for four days. Even the disciples must’ve been confused; they didn’t understand why Jesus was delaying.
1. A good friend knows how to trust God with you.
If you want to be a good friend, you’ve got to know the difference between what your friend WANTS and what your friend NEEDS. I’m talking about being a good friend here. When your friend wants to make a decision out of pure emotion, you need to be the friend who says, “Timeout, timeout, timeout! Instead of you making this bad decision, how about we trust God together? Even though I know you WANT to act out, let’s trust God together for what you NEED.”
Lazarus needed Jesus to do a miracle, but it wasn’t the miracle that he wanted. Maybe the disciples didn’t see that because they expected Jesus to heal Lazarus and not let him die. But, I wonder if we interviewed Lazarus after this was over and asked him, “Hey Lazarus, was it worth dying? So that Jesus could bring you back to life?” I bet he’d be like, “Oh, heck, yeah, that was sick! Like I was dead, then I was alive! That’s the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me!” We might even say, “So you’re telling me you’re glad that God let you go through that because, in the end, it was worth it?”
Let’s be the kind of friends that trust God with our friends. To do that, we need to have enough invested in our friendships that we know what is going on in their lives. Once you’re committed to them, you can say, “Hey, let’s trust God with what’s going on. Let’s trust and pray to God together.”
When Jesus arrived at Bethany, he was told that Lazarus had already been in his grave for four days. Bethany was only a few miles down the road from Jerusalem, and many of the people had come to console Martha and Mary in their loss. When Martha got word that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him. But Mary stayed in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”
Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.”
“Yes,” Martha said, “he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day.”
Martha and Mary have been taking care of Lazarus for the last few days, and watching him slowly decay to the point where he took his last breath. They are in extreme heartbreak at this point. Not only are they heartbroken at the death of their brother, they were also under the belief that Jesus was going to heal him. Jesus had told them, “This will not end in death.” So now they’re confused and probably feeling a little bit betrayed by Jesus.
John 11 tells us that they have been preparing Lazarus’s body. According to Jewish belief, we know that after the body has been dead for three days, it is considered officially dead. Now, the family could begin to wrap the body and prepare it for burial. It would take about 150 feet of linen to wrap his feet, legs, body, arms, and head, and then it all over again like a mummy. Once the wrapping is complete, they take the body to a tomb, put it inside, and roll a big stone in front. One year later, they returned to get the bones to place inside a special box. The family then prepared the box for the resurrection.
This is important because Mary and Martha had been preparing the body for the resurrection for the last three days. They’ve been wrapping their brother’s body, anointing, praying, and doing rituals for the whole funeral ceremony. Four days later, the same day they just put the body in the tomb, Jesus comes strolling over the hillside with his disciples. Even though there were crowds of mourners at Mary and Martha’s home, Martha saw Jesus coming from a distance. She goes out and decides to intercept Jesus before he gets to the house. Martha has some things she’s got to say that could be publicly dishonoring to Jesus if they were displayed in front of everybody. She says, “Jesus, you told us that he was going to live and that this would not end in death. If you had been here, my brother would be alive. I’ve been wrapping the body, going through the hardest moments of my life because of you. You could have done something about it and didn’t!”
I don’t know about you, but that sounds like my heart. There have been times when I’ve been quick to judge God for not being in my life the way I needed him. There have been times when I’ve wanted to take Jesus out to a hillside and just beat his chest and say, “Where were you? If you had been here….” The real gospel doesn’t say that your life will work out perfectly. We know that in everything you go through, God is with you. That’s the good news!
What does Jesus do when Martha blames him for not being there sooner? Does Jesus get defensive? Does he say, “Who do you think you are coming to talk to me this way?” What does he say? A good friend doesn’t react but first trusts God with you. Jesus shows us how to be a good friend even in a heartbreaking situation.
2. A good friend knows how to speak the truth in love.
Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.
When we can tell somebody the truth in love, we’re at a place of maturity. You’re acting more like Jesus when you can convey to somebody not just what they WANT to hear, but what they NEED to hear, in a way that they’ll receive it. Don’t compromise the truth, but do it in a way that people will listen to you. If we want to be the kind of people that genuinely love others, we need to live a life that demands an explanation. That way, our friends know they can come to us when they need advice about relationships, work, parenting, family, or financial advice. Friends will first tune their ears into your life; then, next, you can speak the truth in love. Remember that you must earn the right to have a difficult conversation with somebody.
If you want to be a new friend in the new year, ask yourself these questions:
- Am I living a life that demands an explanation?
- When I get the opportunity to speak the truth into somebody’s life, are they hearing my heart? Do they sense that love?
When reading the following passage, notice how Jesus begins to trust God with her. Pay attention to how he speaks the truth in love without jumping to defense.
Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”
Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.”
“Yes,” Martha said, “he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day.”
Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?”
Jesus does not defend himself or make excuses. He doesn’t even give in to her emotions. Jesus validates her feelings, but he doesn’t compromise the truth. Instead, He asks her the most crucial question, “Do you still believe?” This is such good practical advice for us. When our friends come to us, we can say, “Wait a minute, do you still believe? Then what’s the Holy Spirit telling you?” If He calls you to it, He will call you through it.
“Where have you put him?” he asked them. They told him, “Lord, come and see.”
Then Jesus wept.
The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much he loved him!” But some said, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”
Verse 35 is the shortest verse in the Bible and tells us that “Jesus wept.” He sees Mary and Martha’s pain and everybody else mourning with them. Jesus is present in the moment and empathizes with them. He already knows He’s about to raise Lazarus from the dead, and yet He weeps and suffers with those that are going through a struggle.
It’s true that whatever situation you’re in right now, God has the power to rescue you and deliver you. But sometimes, before God changes your situation, He has to change you. That doesn’t mean that He doesn’t join you in your suffering right now. You can run to Jesus and get the healing that your soul needs. I do not doubt that there are great things for you on the other side of your faith when you choose to trust Him.
3. Good friends know how to be present.
Real friends can join you in your moment and be there with you. Jesus joins them in the moment and grieves with them. This is the most human picture of Jesus ever. We see a glimpse of His humanity right before we see His God moment raising Lazarus from the dead. We see that Jesus is fully God, but at the same time, so human. Aren’t you grateful for a Savior that understands how to be a friend and is there for us when we need him? He doesn’t just discount our feelings and say, “Get over it!” Instead, He reminds us that He is right there with us.
“Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them.
But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.”
Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!”
Everyone around would’ve been shocked by what just happened. Jesus is present in the moment and notices the practical thing that needs to happen. Jesus tells Lazarus’s friends to unwrap their friend. He reminds them that they know who’s underneath those grave clothes. It’s Lazarus, your friend! He’s alive, but he’s still bound.
He needs a friend who can unwrap his feet so that you can show him how to walk in hope.
He needs a friend to unwrap his vision and hands, so you can show him how to serve God.
Don’t you know that you could be alive in Christ but still bound? Don’t you know you can be forgiven, set free, even filled with the Holy Spirit, but your life sucks? You need power in your life. You could still be stuck in your struggles of addiction, but what you need is a friend to come alongside you. You need a friend that will say. “If He did it for me, He could do it for you!” We need a church that will look at the ugly and uncomfortable things in this world and say, “Hey, I’ll still be a friend to you. I will still help you even if you turn your back on me. I won’t turn my back on you. Jesus didn’t turn his back on me so that I won’t turn my back on you.”
4. Good friends stay connected to you because they are committed to Christ.
We need to be a church that doesn’t give up on people. We need to be there for others and meet them during their struggle. But at the same time, it’s the truth in love that sets people free. I know that this church is not a perfect family. This church is a hospital of broken people. Every week, hurting people come here and God restores and heals them.
Have you ever noticed that church is one of the most dangerous, risky places to make friends? The truth is that church is the only place I know we’re immature friends can have mature friends. Some people in Christ are friends with you, even when you don’t deserve it. Loving others when they don’t deserve it is a beautiful picture of the gospel because Jesus is a friend to us even when we haven’t been a friend to Him. That recipe breeds a big opportunity to love each other, just like Christ loves us.
Ready for a challenge?
Are you ready to join a life group and make real friends? Are you ready to stop just saying, “Church is about God and me,” and actually open your heart? If you are reading this and can’t stop thinking about how your heart is hurting or broken or how somebody screwed me over, know that God is with you. God is saying, “I’m here!” He not only wants you to be forgiven and healed but has given you the gift of surrounding yourself with others that are ready to do life with you. You need to take the first step and join a group. This will be one of the best decisions you make.