John 11:53-54. “Then from that day forth they took counsel together for to put Him to death. 54 Jesus therefore walked no more openly among the Jews; but went thence unto a country near to the wilderness, into a city called Ephraim, and there continued with His disciples.
You will find Ephraim north of Jericho, which is north of Jerusalem and Bethany. It is called, in Greek, Ephraim of the wilderness. Apparently, this area was wild and uncultivated, and was actually not much more than a village. It would not have been a place that attracted much attention, and so was a good place for Jesus and His disciples to avoid much notice after the miracle of Lazarus’ resurrection.
The Pharisees were now taking active counsel every day to capture Jesus and put Him to death. Under the leadership of Caiaphas, they had spies and paid informers looking for Him.
Jesus, however, knew that it still was not His time to suffer and die. He would remain out of sight until that time grew near. We are told that He didn’t walk openly among the Jews during this time. I believe there was much time spent in His preparing His disciples for what was to come; teaching them, and praying with them and on His own.
When the time was right, He would no longer conceal Himself. He would easily be discovered and arrested, without any resistance on His part.
John 17:17. “Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy word is truth.”
The other day I saw a photo of some “peaceful protesters” in Portland. They had built a small fire, and they were feeding it with books. At least one of the books on the fire was discernible as a Bible.
I wanted to say to those people, “It won’t work! It’s been done before, all down through the centuries since Jesus came, and still the Bible stands.
It is still the most-purchased book of all time.
It still contains God’s truth, as it always has.
Men have done their best to twist it, change it, mold it to conform to society’s ideas of right and wrong.
They have persecuted people who read it, made it illegal, banned it from schools.
They have said it is outdated; that the Old Testament is irrelevant and should be disconnected from the New Testament.
They have mocked it, debated against it, replaced it with the writings of man.
Why do they hate it? Because Satan hates it. Satan hates the God of the Bible, and has been doing all he can to discourage mankind, believers and unbelievers, from reading God’s Word. His goal is to destroy as much of what God loves as he possibly can before he is sealed forever in his eternal home, the Lake of Fire.
Satan lusts after the souls of mankind. His rage against God is endless. He is a liar, and the Father of Lies. He uses many messages to convince mankind to turn away from God.
I Peter 5:8. “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.”
These are turbulent times. We are assailed on every side by those who have swallowed Satan’s lies. Socialism is being pushed as the only answer to the problems of mankind. It has never worked before, but we are assured that it will this time. Those who demand socialism deny God. They insist that they will build a Utopia on earth without religion, without God, without faith, without the Bible. They will do it by forcing us all to march in time to their edicts; by taxing us to death to support the incredibly expensive plans to “save the earth,” and by teaching our children that they can become like gods, and by bringing Holy God down to the level of man.
I really didn’t know what I was going to write this morning, so I prayed and asked God to guide my thoughts, as I always do.
I’m going to go return to where I started. God’s Word is truth. It will never be destroyed. God is truth. Jesus said, “I AM the way, the truth, and the life. No man cometh unto the Father but by Me.” John 14:6.
God, and His Word. The only answers to the problems of mankind. The only eternal Truth.
And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all,
Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.
And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation;
And not for that nation only, but that also He should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.
Caiaphas was high priest for at least 11 years. The reference to being high priest that same year does not limit him to just that year; it was simply during his tenure that these events took place.
His speech is is most interesting, on several counts.
Ye know nothing at all: Apparently Caiaphas held himself in quite high regard, assuming that he understood far better than the rest of the priests. Josephus, perhaps the best-known historian of that age, claims that rudeness, even to each other, was common among these religious leaders. Clearly, they thought more highly of themselves than they ought to think (Romans 12:3).
Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.: In my own words: “Don’t you get it that it is far more convenient that one Man should die for all the people, and keep Rome from destroying our entire nation?” Caiaphas was certainly thinking in logical, self-preserving terms. He was not thinking morally or biblically, and he should have known better. Even more remarkable are the next two verses.
And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; And not for that nation only, but that also He should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad: John makes it clear that Caiaphas was uttering a prophecy, not of his own wisdom, but as the one in the office of the high priest. Jesus would die for the nation (the Jews); furthermore, His death would unify all who believed in Him, including those who were already scattered to different parts of the earth.
Caiaphas was doing his best to persuade the others that Jesus should die; He should do so to preserve the Hebrew nation from Roman destruction; and that His death would unite believers in Jerusalem and elsewhere.
Did he know what he was saying? I don’t think so. He did not accept Jesus as the prophesied Messiah. He saw Him as nothing more than a rebel risen from the rabble of poor, countryside working people who were desperate to get out from under the thumb of Roman tyranny. He did not credit the Source of the power with which Jesus performed His miracles. He had no respect or regard for the Person of the Son of God, because he did not accept Jesus as the Son of God.
Here’s an interesting quote from John Trapp, a respected Bible commentator who lived in the 1600’s and whose work is still read today:
“Wholesome sugar may be found in a poisoned cane, a precious stone in a toad’s head, a flaming torch in a blind man’s hand.”
Caiaphas was the poisoned cane, the toad’s head, the blind man’s hand. Sometimes God uses us for His purpose even when we don’t have a clue.
Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on Him.
But some of them went their ways to the Pharisees, and told them what things Jesus had done.
Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this Man doeth many miracles.
If we let Him thus alone, all men will believe on Him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation.
An important result of Jesus’ restoration of life to Lazarus is that many of the Jews who saw it or heard of it believed in Him.
Others, however, went to their religious leaders and reported what they had seen. What were their motives? It’s hard to say. Perhaps they thought Jesus was simply a magician, a charlatan who could pull off magic tricks and gain notoriety for Himself.
It is more probable, in my mind, that Satan was busy in the hearts and minds of the people. He created doubt, and as a result they went to the Pharisees to tell about the latest news of Jesus, whom they already knew the Pharisees hated.
In the next two verses, we see the consternation among the Pharisees, who felt that their power was in danger. Powerful people who see threats to their position always react to defend their power, usually by doing their best to denigrate and destroy the threat.
So here was their conversation, in my own words: “What are we going to do about Jesus? He’s done many miracles, and they’re hard to discredit. If we leave Him alone and do nothing, many of our people will believe in Him. Many already do. And the cursed Romans will get themselves involved, and remove US from our place and our nation! We have to DO something!”
Of course, they had the wrong perspective. What they didn’t understand was that their plan to destroy Jesus was the very thing that has brought countless souls to belief in Him. In the early days after the crucifixion and resurrection, hundreds of thousands of Jews accepted Him as Savior. The Pharisees’ plan had the opposite effect they hoped for.
Most Bible commentators agree that the Pharisees believed their place was the Temple. They were jealous of their authority, and considered the Temple to be God’s symbol of their authority over the people. They feared that the Romans, if they themselves did nothing about Jesus, would come in and remove them from their treasured authority and perhaps even destroy the Temple and the nation.
Because they had these fears, they chose to put Him on trial and get Roman support to crucify Him. What they did not foresee is that within their lifetimes, Rome would utterly destroy them, their Temple, and Jerusalem itself, dispersing the Jews throughout the known world.
Thousands of those Jews were now believers, and they took the Good News of the gospel with them wherever they went.
The Pharisees did indeed lose their place, and their nation. Not what they had in mind at all.
Verse 40: Did Jesus need Mary or Martha’s faith in order to do the work of resurrecting Lazarus? No, of course not. What He was saying in this verse is that if they did not believe Jesus could raise Lazarus, they would miss out on being a part of the miracle! When we join in faith with God, trusting that He can do what He says He can do, then we actually become part of His work and His plan. I can think of all sorts of personal applications for myself here. I won’t go into all that, but I want you to know that this verse has spoken to me in a new way today, and I’ll be thinking about it for a long time.
I’m sure it was some of the men, perhaps Jesus’ disciples, who moved the stone away from the entrance to the tomb. I imagine that they quickly stepped away then, not sure what they were about to see, and perhaps a little creeped out by the possibilities 🙂
What I really love here is that Jesus prayed to thank the Father before He commanded Lazarus to come out of the tomb. How often do we thank God for answered prayer before we actually see the answer? Jesus knew beyond a doubt that God had given Him the answer, and He wanted the people who were there to understand that God had already given Him the answer, before He even asked.
Can you think of a time that God had already prepared an answer, even before you prayed? I can! Here’s one of my favorite stories from my childhood that perfectly illustrates the point:
After Jesus prayed, He issued a simple command: “Lazarus, Come Forth!”
And Lazarus did. I don’t know exactly how that happened, because the Bible tells us that he was wound up in graveclothes; in other words, he was securely wrapped, sort of like a mummy, and probably didn’t have the free use of his legs. But if Jesus could raise him from the dead, He could certainly bring Him out of the grave as well.
The next thing Jesus said was obvious: “Unwrap him, and let him go!”
Perhaps my imagination is in overdrive this morning, but I don’t think people rushed up to Lazarus to remove the graveclothes. He’d been dead, after all, for four days–long enough to have a really bad odor. Besides, what would they see once the wrappings were removed? Flesh falling away? The hideous results of decomposition? Well, obviously, if Jesus’ power had conquered death, all those other details were also taken care of. But we are a superstitious and fearful bunch, we humans, and I think that once the napkin was removed from Lazarus’ face, and he blinked a couple of times and then smiled broadly, his eyes focused on Jesus.
From that point, they unwound him quickly, I think, weeping tears of joy as each layer came off and he could be seen whole, healthy, restored to life. I don’t know for sure, but I think that as Lazarus walked out of the linen wrappings that had encased him, he went straight to Jesus and knelt at His feet, weeping his own tears of joy and gratitude.
It was indeed an emotional moment, and no one told anyone else that the time for tears was over.
And some of them said, Could not this Man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died?
Jesus therefore again groaning in Himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it.
Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto Him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.
Some of the people who were present at Lazarus’ tomb murmured among themselves. “He could have saved Lazarus if He had come right away! Maybe He doesn’t care as much as He seems to!”
And Jesus, knowing what they were saying, continued to be heavy in His spirit. I believe Jesus waited as long as He did because He wanted it to be crystal clear to everyone that Lazarus had indeed died. No question that he just fainted, or was sleeping. He was dead.
It was time to get down to business.
“Roll the stone away!” said Jesus.
In my imagination, there was utter silence for probably several seconds. Roll the stone away? Martha said it best: “Lord, he’s been dead for four days! By this time, he stinks!”
In that day and time, burial took place quickly. They didn’t drain the body of fluid and replace the fluid with preservatives. They washed the body and wrapped it in linen if they had it. The burial took place quickly because the body decayed quickly, and the smell set in very soon. I’ve never smelled a decayed human body, but from what I read, I don’t regret having never done so. I understand it’s awful, and something that’s hard to forget. It was also quite normal for bodies to be entombed rather than buried underground. The Jews were a practical people. The ground was hard and dry, but caves were plentiful. It was normal for bodies to be placed in caves and then the caves firmly sealed.
When I was around seven or eight, we were having our family devotions in the evening. It was our habit to each read a verse until the passage my dad had chosen was complete. Then he would talk about what was happening.
When it was my turn to read, my verse was the one in which Martha said, “He stinketh!” I’m not sure if it was because of the old English form of the word, or if it was just the word itself. Stink as a strong word, and implies something quite unpleasant. I got the giggles, and I really couldn’t stop. I was afraid my dad would be very angry, but to my shock and great relief, he was laughing too. We all were. It just seemed like such an abrupt thing for Martha to say. You may remember being that age and being consumed with laughter that you couldn’t stop. Every time I read that verse now, I remember that situation–and I’m thankful, because it ended so well–not just our family devotions, but the story itself.
When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, He groaned in the spirit, and was troubled,
And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto Him, Lord, come and see.
Then said the Jews, Behold how He loved him!
It is not strange that Jesus would “groan in His spirit, and be trouble.” He saw the grief of Mary and Martha, saw their sorrow, along with those who had come to mourn with them. He loved this family, and it touched His heart of compassion to see them so distraught.
We may have difficulty identifying with the outward display of grief that was going on. We’ve done our best to keep a stoic appearance in the face of such loss, and keep our deep grief and mourning to ourselves. I’m not sure why, really. Are we convinced that showing outward grief is a sign of weakness? Of a lack of faith? Of selfishness, or just lack of self-control? If we allow ourselves to weep openly, are we afraid we WILL lose control completely? Embarrass ourselves?
I worked in my counseling office for 18 years, and often spoke with those who had experienced great loss. Often, their first question was, “Why am I still crying so much? It’s been six weeks–month–even years, Shouldn’t I be past this?”
I don’t know when we started making rules for how long we’re allowed to grieve. Grieve as long as you need to. Don’t worry about what someone else may think. Yes, we need to trust God to help us through these times of grieving, but we cannot bottle up our grief. Sooner or later, the cork in that bottle is going to pop, and all that grief will come pouring out like lava from a volcano. Grief is something we have to endure, and the only way out is through. Yes, it’s hard. Sometimes it’s awful. It’s always lonely. But believers are never alone. God knows our griefs, and He grieves with us, just as Jesus grieved with Mary and Martha.
Jesus asked where Lazarus was entombed. Of course, He already knew, but often, grieving people find comfort in showing the grave to others.
When Jesus wept, the Jews took note. “See how much Jesus loved Lazarus!”
The Jews were not afraid or reluctant to show their grief, and I have learned that grief shared is often grief relieved. The people understood Jesus’ grief, and He understood theirs.
Romans 12:15 commands us to rejoice with others who rejoice, and to weep with others who weep. Never tell a grieving person not to cry. You are robbing them of their grief, and robbing yourself of an opportunity to show compassion and empathy.
We’ve had a long hot stretch of summer, with humidity to match the heat. Gotta love our central air conditioning! But the extreme heat has broken, and now 80° feels downright balmy! Don’t you love it when the heat, which has been overwhelming, drops like that? It’s such a relief.
I’ve been thinking about other things that are a great relief when they finally stop:
Political snailmail and email
A high temperature
A persistent noise
The thumpathumpathumpa of your neighbor’s party music
A screaming baby
A migraine headache
A very sore throat
That list could go on for some time, couldn’t it? Noise, especially dissonant noise, is just annoying. But let’s turn the subject in a different direction, and think about the relief we get when:
We swallow our pride and admit we are wrong
We apologize, sincerely
We have a season of quiet prayer, alone with the Lord
A song touches the heart
Something we’ve just read in the Bible comforts a sad heart
We enjoy the fellowship of other believers
A gentle rain comes to refresh the earth
Your adult children demonstrate great responsibility and concern for you
You complete a project that’s been taking far too long.
THAT list could go on for a long time, too! We need to be more thankful for both the small and large instances of sweet relief. And we need to be thankful in the knowledge that even when things are hard, God is always present.
Deuteronomy 31:6. “Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the LORD thy God, He it is that doth go with thee; He will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.”
As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly, and came unto Him.
Now Jesus was not yet come into the town, but was in that place where Martha met him.
The Jews then which were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up hastily and went out, followed her, saying, She goeth unto the grave to weep there.
Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying unto Him, Lord, if Thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.
Mary received Martha’s whispered message with alacrity. She rose immediately from where she’d been sitting and went to the same place where Martha had met Him, not yet inside the town.
When the mourners who had come to weep with Mary and Martha saw her get up and leave the house, they assumed she was going to the tomb where Lazarus was buried, to weep there. With a crowd following her, it was going to be difficult for her to spend any time alone with Jesus.
I think the next verse is one of great tenderness. Some have assumed that both Martha and Mary were reproachful of Jesus for not coming immediately when they sent Him a message that Lazarus was very sick. I don’t agree. I think they simply had faith that if Jesus had been there, He could and would have healed their brother.
So when Mary repeated Martha’s statement, I don’t believe she was scolding Him. She loved Him, and she shared Martha’s belief that He was the Christ. The fact that she fell at His feet, in an attitude of great humility, would seem to deny the idea that she was upset with Him.
I have always been deeply impressed by the character and faith of these two women, sisters with very different personalities but a shared faith in Jesus Christ. Martha was the doer, the organizer and detail person who found her ministry in working to provide for the physical needs of Jesus and His disciples. Mary was the more contemplative one, who loved nothing more than to sit and listen to Jesus teach, or just to have conversation with Him. The truth is, both women were necessary and important to Jesus and His followers. They needed the sustenance and rest that Martha helped to provide; they needed the calm, undemanding faith and sweetness of Mary’s deep devotion to Him. Together, they provided a great welcome for Jesus. It is no wonder that He loved this family.
Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:
And whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die. Believest thou this?
She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that Thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.
And when she had so said, she went her way, and called Mary her sister secretly, saying, The Master is come, and calleth for thee.
I’m repeating verse 25 today because it goes with verse 26. Jesus made His amazing statement: I AM the resurrection and the life.” The power of life and death is His. He created life to begin with, and He can restore what He created. So verse 26 follows naturally: “Whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe Me, Martha?”
The promise is clear and precious. We will all die a physical death unless we are alive when Jesus returns. But those who believe in Him will have eternal life in heaven, with Him. Charles Haddon Spurgeon said, “Death cannot kill a believer, it can only usher him into a freer form of life.”
Those words have such an impact on me this morning. I have arthritis that is slowly creeping into every joint of my body. Even typing this post creates pain in my shoulders. Death will instantly transport me to everlasting life, free of pain, free of all the limitations of this earthly body. The excitement of knowing what my eternal future is centers me and keeps me focused on what is important here: Sharing His Word.
Martha believed implicitly that He was Who He said He was: The Son of God, incarnate, in the flesh, sent from God to provide salvation freely to all who would believe in Him.
Her answer was equally as clear as His promise: “Yes, Lord. I believe that You are the Son of God which should come into the world.”
I have often wondered, reading this passage, where her complete faith that He was the Christ came from. Was it her knowledge of the scriptures? Perhaps, although girls were not taught in the same way boys were. Perhaps it was the faith of her brother, Lazarus, that led his sisters into their absolute belief that Jesus was the Christ. However they came to such faith, their faith was strong and unshakeable, even in the death of their beloved brother.
We are not told why Martha went secretly, quietly back to her home, and sent for Mary. Perhaps she was trying to give Mary some time alone with Jesus, as she herself had experienced. Martha called Him the Master, and Mary knew exactly Who that was.
Martha’s use of the word Master, or Teacher, is preceded by the article the. This is significant because many were called teacher, or rabbi. But putting the in front of the title singled Jesus out as being the ultimate teacher, the One above all others. The Master Teacher.