How do you typically approach problems? Do you tend to ignore them until they become unmanageable, or do you immediately dive in and attempt to resolve them? For many of us, our approach falls somewhere in the middle.
When faced with a problem, we often try to draw upon past experiences and find a solution in a way that is familiar to us. At times, we may even distance ourselves from the problem, thinking that it is someone else’s responsibility to address. In other instances, we may look to someone else to take charge and solve the problem for us.
In the story of Lazarus, we see how his illness and subsequent death had left his siblings and Jesus’ disciples feeling helpless and powerless to do anything about the situation. However, Jesus arrives and invites them all to participate in something greater that God is working out in their midst. This serves as a powerful reminder that even when faced with seemingly insurmountable problems, there is always a way to be a part of the solution.
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11 After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
17 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20 So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
28 When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”
38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
45 Many of the Jews, therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him.
John 11:1-45 (ESV)
As Jesus converses with his disciples, they hang on to His every word. While this is a powerful example of the need to heed Jesus’ teachings, the disciples’ minds often lead them to jump to conclusions. Like many of us, the center of their first thoughts is on self-preservation: What might happen if we do this? Is it safe? These are the same thoughts that often consume us.
The disciples, like us, then make assumptions about what Jesus meant. When we rush to conclusions, we fail to surrender to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and instead rely solely on our own understanding. Although Jesus often speaks in parables and veiled messages, it is crucial that we allow the Holy Spirit to lead us as we interpret the scriptures. This involves breaking free from our preconceived notions and allowing God to reveal something new to us.
When faced with the death of a loved one, the toll on our emotions can be overwhelming. Similar situations can also arise that cause us to act out of our emotions rather than reason. In the case of Lazarus’ sister Martha, she approached Jesus in a state of emotional distress. Her feelings ranged from sadness and anger to disappointment, resentment, and confusion. In this emotional state, she accused Jesus, finding some relief in doing so.
However, Jesus invites us to bring our emotions to Him, even in grief. Mary and Martha were able to bring their true selves to Jesus in their mourning, and He did not rebuke them but instead offered them hope. We may have many emotions that we need to surrender to God to be freed from their hold on us. It requires us to love God and offer our emotions to Him, and in return, God offers us hope because He loves us.
Our physical condition often limits us from doing things for the glory of God. We tend to complain about various physical ailments and disabilities, but as demonstrated by Jesus, God’s glory can still shine through even in death. Instead of focusing on what we cannot do, God wants us to concentrate on how we can bring Him glory through our abilities.
When Martha hesitated to open Lazarus’ grave due to the potential stench, Jesus reminded her that physical limitations do not hinder God’s glory. Although not everyone can run a marathon, we are not called to dwell on that. Rather, we are urged to use our physical abilities to glorify God however we can. What we can do is what God calls us to do. So, let us not be hindered by our physical limitations but focus on using what we have to bring glory to God.
Physically, emotionally, and intellectually, we are most commonly bound to do what we have been doing. However, Christ calls us out of the tombs we built by holding ourselves down because we cannot rise above and beyond our previous limitations. We have been given the power of the Holy Spirit to empower us to rise above the various things in our life that hold us to embrace the status quo. This frees us from being hostage to solutions without power, but to plug into the Holy Spirit and God’s grace. Jesus invites us to strip off the linens and burial shroud, to move forward as God’s living church, bringing hope and peace to our communities and world.