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On the Way to Jerusalem

As Holy Week approaches, read about one extraordinary miracle Christ performed in the days before his last trip into Jerusalem. This narrative version is taken from the popular book When Christ Walked Among Us: The Messiah's Life and Ministry.

When Jesus’ travels in Perea had come to an end, it was time for him to head west across the Jordan River in what would be his final journey to Jerusalem. But he did not begin that trip as quickly as some might have wanted.

One day Jesus received word from Mary and Martha of Bethany that their brother Lazarus was sick. Upon receiving this news, Jesus declared to his disciples that Lazarus’ sickness would not end in death. Jesus wanted his followers to know that, instead, Lazarus’ illness would provide an opportunity for him to manifest his glory.

Desert-JerusalemBut rather than setting out for Bethany to attend to Lazarus’ physical needs, Jesus stayed in Perea for two more days. When those days had passed, he informed his disciples that now it was time to enter the region of Judea and the village of Bethany. The disciples were surprised that Jesus was actually going to head back to Judea, reminding him that it had not been that long since the Jews had tried to stone him to death. Jesus explained that the time for him to carry out his work was limited, and now was the time to act. What Jesus needed to do, he told his disciples, was to awaken Lazarus from his sleep.

The disciples took Jesus’ words literally and advised him that if Lazarus was simply sleeping, he would recover from his illness in time; there was no need for Jesus to visit him. So Jesus let the disciples in on the gravity of the situation: Lazarus was dead. He told them that if he had gone earlier and healed Lazarus, they would have seen a tremendous miracle. But his delaying was going to allow them to see an even greater act of God. So Jesus invited them to accompany him.

Thomas, also called Didymus because he was a twin, urged his fellow disciples to join Jesus on the way to Bethany. If Jesus died at the hands of his enemies, they could also die with him.

By the time Jesus arrived in the vicinity of Bethany, Lazarus had already been dead for four days. Mary and Martha were in their home—at the midpoint of the customary seven-day period of mourning. They were surrounded by friends who had come to lend them support and comfort. When Martha heard that Jesus was nearby, she left her home and her grieving sister and set out to meet Jesus. When she stood face-to-face with him, she acknowledged that if he had only arrived in Bethany sooner, her brother would not have died. Still, days after his death, Martha confessed that Jesus could do whatever he asked of his heavenly Father. How great was her faith!

Speaking words of comfort and strength, Jesus promised Martha that her brother would rise from the dead. Martha wholeheartedly agreed, as she expressed her faith once more. She readily asserted that she knew her brother would be part of the general resurrection of the dead on the Last Day. Jesus shifted her attention from the future to the present. He declared that he is the Resurrection and the Life and that whoever believes in him will have eternal life, even though he dies. After stating that truth, Jesus asked Martha if she believed it to be true. Martha confessed to Jesus that she regarded him as the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God, who had been prophesied to come into the world. Martha was grieving the loss of her brother, but she had not lost a bit of her faith in Jesus.

Encouraged in her faith, Martha left Jesus to head back home to get her sister. Martha told Mary that Jesus was just outside Bethany and was interested in talking to her. That’s all Mary needed to hear. She left the crowd of mourners, passed quickly through the streets of Bethany, and found Jesus just where Martha had said he would be. Because she left in such a hurry and because the mourners thought she was headed to Lazarus’ tomb, the friends who had been in her home followed her. Mary greeted Jesus with the same words her sister had, recognizing through her tears that Lazarus would not have died if Jesus had arrived sooner.

When Jesus saw the depth of sorrow that Lazarus’ death had caused Mary and her friends, he was deeply moved. He inquired about the location of Lazarus’ grave. The mourners explained that they would lead the way to the tomb. Jesus followed and wept openly. Some in the crowd of mourners noticed Jesus’ tears and saw it as a sign of his close friendship with Lazarus. Others saw the droplets as something else; they regarded Jesus as being weak. They wondered why Jesus could not have prevented Lazarus from dying since he had performed other miracles.

When the company of people reached Lazarus’ grave—a cave with a stone placed in front of the opening—Jesus again was deeply moved. He ordered the stone to be removed from the entrance. Martha protested. She reminded Jesus that Lazarus had been in the grave for four days already and by now there was surely the stench of bodily decomposition. Jesus dismissed that concern. He reminded Martha of their prior conversation—that if she believed, she would see the glory of God. Some in the crowd then rolled the stone away from the entrance of Lazarus’ grave. Jesus looked up and prayed out loud to his heavenly Father. Jesus thanked his Father for always listening to his prayers. He uttered those words, not for his own benefit, but for the benefit of those who were watching him, wondering what would happen next.

After concluding his prayer, Jesus cried out loudly: “Lazarus, come out!” To the amazement and joy of all, Lazarus did come out! He emerged from the tomb, his body still wrapped in grave clothes, his hands and feet bound with strips of linen, and his face covered with a cloth. Jesus instructed some of the astonished onlookers to remove the grave clothes from Lazarus so he could move about freely. They did, and Lazarus was reunited with his sisters and friends. On a very special day in Bethany, death had met its match in Jesus.

But the Jewish leaders would not believe, and they began to plot the death of Jesus. Therefore, Jesus withdrew to a region near the desert, to a village called Ephraim. He stayed there with his disciples until it was time for the last journey to Jerusalem.

When-Christ-Walked-FeaturedFrom When Christ Walked Among Us: The Messiah's Life and Ministry, by James F. Pope. © 2012 Northwestern Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Image credit: Deopark (used under Creative Commons CC0)