Chapter 11 narrates the last—and perhaps most dramatic—sign that John records: the raising of Lazarus from the dead.
Once again, Jesus' unique interactions with the individuals in the story are of particular interest. The people highlighted here are the family at Bethany:
"Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus."
Martha is known principally from the story told in Luke 10. There she complains about her sister, who isn't helping with the work of hosting Jesus and his companions. We see her "distracted by all the preparations." And often sympathize with the loving rebuke she receives from our Lord. "Martha, Martha...you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed..."
But in John 11, this sister is portrayed more positively. Martha's propensity for activity is seen in how she rushes to meet Jesus. She is the one to whom the Lord reveals what he is going to do, "Your brother will rise again." She is the one, to whom Jesus pronounces: "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies." And she is among the seven witnesses in this gospel who testify to Jesus' divinity, "I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world."
There is a marked difference in the way Jesus deals with her sister.
In this story, expressive Mary looks a lot like Martha. Both sisters greet Jesus in the same way, saying: "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." But Mary's grief is more pronounced, Mary is weeping and "falls at his feet." Jesus responds to her in kind, and is moved in His spirit, He weeps. His emotional response is so strong that the crowd comments on how much He loved Lazarus. But there is a real sense that it is Mary and the mourners that He is responding to.
Both of these grieving sisters feel that their situation has moved beyond hope because of their limited expectations. They both felt that it was too late for Him to help. To practical Martha, Jesus sought to expand her understanding of His power. With sensitive Mary, Jesus empathizes and weeps.
Jesus' beloved friend seems the most hopeless of all. Bound in grave clothes and entombed for four days, what could seem more pointless? Martha, practical Martha, tries to dissuade Jesus from having the stone moved away from the cave where Lazarus had been lain.
"But, Lord," said Martha, the sister of the dead man, "by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days." Then Jesus said, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" So they took away the stone...Jesus called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, "Take off the grave clothes and let him go." Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him. —John 11:39-45
Jesus is ready to meet us right where we are at. He sees the challenges in our lives and knows our need. We are NEVER without hope when we hold on to Jesus. We just might see Him work in ways that are outside of the box of our expectations.
Have you seen Jesus work in surprising ways?