Red Letter Year: 11/20

John 11.32-44

32 When Mary arrived and saw Jesus, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33 When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled. 34 “Where have you put him?” he asked them.

They told him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Then Jesus wept. 36 The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much he loved him!” 37 But some said, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”

38 Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance. 39 “Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them.

But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.”

40 Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you trust?” 41 So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will trust that you sent me.” 43 Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!”


Mary makes the same statement that Martha did back in v.21, but while Martha added, “even now God will give you whatever you ask,” Mary has nothing else to say. She is at Jesus’ feet weeping, but she is also so hurt with him for not coming sooner that there is nothing left to say. Jesus seems to take a cue from her because, unlike with Martha, he engages in no discussion with Mary. He doesn’t promise anything to her or ask anything from her. Instead, he moves almost immediately into action.

I say almost because there is a momentary pause where John gives us Jesus’ reaction to Mary’s pain and Lazarus’ death. Whether because John knew Jesus so well or because Jesus was transparent with his emotions (some people just aren’t good poker players), the writer observes and communicates to us a powerful emotive response from Jesus. We see the human side of Jesus fully expressed here. He is troubled, deeply grieved, angry, and disoriented. He doesn’t know where the grave is, someone has to show him (no divine knowledge here, despite the overall tendency in John). He cries so visibly the people around notice; a better word for “wept” here might be “bawled.” Jesus wailed. He cried. He screamed. He moaned. He gave full vent to the deep wrong we feel when we lose a loved one before their time. One word that definitely belongs here is “angry.” Some translations try to soften that, but the NLT gets it right. Jesus was angry. If you’ve had someone you love die too young, you probably know exactly how he felt. More to the point, Jesus knows exactly how you feel because he’s been there too. Death sucks. An untimely death sucks even worse. 

Jesus seems to have had this breakdown of grief along the way (you know it comes in waves and is not predictable or often convenient) because he is “still angry” when he gets to the tomb. Then Martha wavers, the trust she expressed earlier is giving way to doubt. So, let’s recap: Mary is hurt, Martha is doubting, and Jesus is angry. Not exactly the sort of mindset you would except going into intercessory prayer. Except Jesus doesn’t really even do that. He prays one of the simplest prayers ever – that’s the sort of stuff we get away with in Vineyard churches. But his lack of eloquence didn’t matter. Neither did Martha’s doubt. Mary’s hurt didn’t affect the outcome. Here is Jesus at his most human in all of John (except for the cross) doing the most amazing miracle. Just the sort of thing he tells us to continue doing.

We think we have to get our words right, our theology right, our faith sure enough, our lives holy enough, etc. But we don’t. How much faith does a dead man need to be resurrected?

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.