11:17-20 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.  Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off,  and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother.  So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house.
It was about a one-day journey from where Jesus was ministering across the Jordan River to Bethany near Jerusalem. If Jesus had heard the news, then waited two days, then taken a day to travel to Bethany, that means that by the time the messenger arrived at Jesus Lazarus would have already been dead. This is important to note simply because we see by this timeline that Christ, knowing all that was going on here, did not kill Lazarus by not coming right away. It isn’t as though His staying away had any affect on the situation materially. I think that is significant because if nothing else, it shows us once again how Christ in His sovereignty and His obedience to the Father’s plan stayed and waited for a specific reason (which we discussed above) and not to put Lazarus through some struggle unnecessarily or sadistically.
The second thing I want to note here is that Martha is the one who comes running to Jesus when word reaches their home that the Lord is on His way, and is nearing the village.
The reason I think this is significant has to do with what we know from other scriptures about Martha. Martha was the one who was “busy with much serving”, so busy that she didn’t have time to sit and learn at the feet of Christ. I don’t want to read more into this than is there, but Martha strikes me as a woman of action. She is always on the move always doing something, she’s a “type A” personality. So perhaps its only natural for her to sprint out to see the Lord.
But I think we might safely infer from this passage that Martha’s priorities have shifted from ones that are “busy” and self-centered, to ones that are Christ-centered. The old Martha might have said “I need to stay here and be with my sister.” This Martha realizes the centrality of Christ. This truth is revealed further in the next few verses…
11:21-22 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”
As we look at Martha’s response to the presence of our Lord it seems at first blush that she is placing a tremendous amount of faith in Him, and indeed her faith here is a beautiful thing. She unashamedly states that, in her opinion, if Christ had been with Lazarus, he never would have died. “Jesus” she reasons “would never have allowed my brother to die.”
She is neither scolding Christ for not being there though, but nor is she showing the kind of depth of faith that I first confess I saw. I thought I saw an Abrahamic type of faith – a gigantic faith. But that is not the case as we’ll see later on, for when Christ approaches the tomb and asks that the great stone blocking its entrance be removed, Martha protests that there would be a stench!
Why is this? Well I think its because it probably never occurred to her that Christ could or would raise someone from the dead…perhaps her mind never got that far. It wasn’t that she was full of despair, as we see in verse 22, for she knew that one day her brother would rise in Christ. But she didn’t yet comprehend the power of the man she knew as Jesus. She didn’t yet understand that this man Jesus was not just the Messiah sent from God, He was the Author of life. The Man standing before her was the one who’s words sent cosmos flying into existence.
Abraham’s faith was of another variety altogether. Look at how the author of Hebrews describes the faith of Abraham:
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son,  of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”  He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. (Hebrews 11:17-19)
You see Abraham understood the nature of God and His will and His power. He was able to grasp the fact that since God controlled both life and death, that God could just as easily raise his son from the dead as he could bring him to life in the womb of a 100-year-old woman.
This is a more informed faith. It isn’t that Martha’s faith is wrong, it is simply not matured, it simply hasn’t grown into a full-orbed understanding of the character and nature and power of who God in Christ is, and what He is capable of doing.
This, consequently, is why we study theology. This is why we study the character of God. Because when we face the most extreme circumstances that this life can throw at us, we can do so with a full understanding that the one who walked on the earth and felt our pain and our suffering and our daily irritations is the same One who calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee, is the same one who rose from the grave, and is the same one who will one day defeat ALL death and sickness and famine to His own praise and glory.
11:23-24 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”  Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
Is it not significant that Martha had a better understanding of the resurrection than the Sadducees? Now it may seem odd to us, who do not have the full picture of the Jewish culture, that Martha would even know such a thing. But it isn’t a strictly New Testament teaching. In fact it was common knowledge that there would be a resurrection of the dead on the day of the Lord. However, as I just mentioned and have mentioned before, the Sadducees were the most secular (if that’s an appropriate word for it) leaders the Jews ever had. They didn’t believe in the afterlife or in the spiritual realm.
I like how MacArthur points out that Martha seems to have faith that Christ can and will raise her brother on the final day, but doesn’t seem to connect the possibility of Him having the power to raise her brother now. I think there’s something to this. So often we mentally ascent to God’s power to do this or that, because we’ve read it in the Bible, but we don’t ever think to apply it appropriately to our lives, as if He is somehow neutered of His power 2000 years later.
But this is not the case. God is the same yesterday, today and forever. His power is immutable, as are all His other qualities.
11:25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,  and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
Here is another one of the great I AM saying of Christ (the 5th one, if you’re keeping track). This time He says that He is the “resurrection and the life” – this means that Christ raises us from spiritual death to spiritual life! What a fantastic claim!
This is really a continuation of the New Birth discussion He had before with Nicodemus in chapter 3. When Christ says that He is the resurrection and the life, He isn’t saying anything new, He is reiterating that life, true life, comes from Him and Him alone. He has been given all power by the Father to execute His life-saving mission here on earth (see chapter 5).
In this phrase Christ is claiming that, not only does He have the power to raise lost souls from the dead, but He has a plan for them after that – we were saved from something, but also for something. Consider Ephesians 2:8-10:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
We were saved “for good works” – not simply from death, but for good works.
Truths We Must First Ascent To…
Is there a phrase that more encapsulates the mission of Christ than this? He is the resurrection and the life, and those who believe that will “never die.” Could He have been any more blunt than this? YOU WILL NEVER DIE. Let that reality sink in!
There is such power in this phrase and in this truth. But we need to acknowledge a few things first before this truth can be true there are other truths that we have to ascent to:
- That we are all dead spiritually
- That we cannot, on our own, raise ourselves from this death
- That we need and depend on the life-saving life-giving power of Christ to raise us from the dead and that He does this of His own initiative
- That Jesus Christ is the sole source of this power – He is claiming exclusivity here. He doesn’t say, “I am a resurrection” He says He is “the” resurrection!
What Everyone Must Wrestle With…
Lastly, look at what Christ says at the end of His great claim – He asks the question: Do you believe this? This is the one question that every human being will eventually have to wrestle with. There is no one here that has not had to face up to this question. We need to all ask ourselves at some critical point, “Do I believe this?” If the answer is “yes” then you know that Christ is your resurrection and your life. What a wonderful feeling and a wonderful knowledge that is.
11:27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
This so much reminds me of Peter’s great confession when Christ put a similar question to Peter that He just asked Martha. Here’s how the exchange went:
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”  Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:13-16)
We are told that this is what saving faith looks like. Paul says this in Romans 10:
…because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.  For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”  For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.  For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:9-13)
What is it that Martha is acknowledging here? A few things…
- The Lordship of Jesus Christ – not only over the world and all created things, but over her life
- His deity – “you are the Son of God”
- That He is the one who can take away sins – He’s the savior of the world (“Christ”)
- That He is working out His sovereign plan in the world and in her life and she is surrendered to that plan – “who is coming into the world”
These are the words and component parts of a person whose heart has been miraculously changed by the Holy Sprit.