Gospel of John: Belief on the Line


Jesus had asked where they had laid Lazarus, so Martha, Mary, and their whole entourage invited Jesus to “come and see.” By this point, Jesus had begun to quietly weep, and he walked with them as his tears streamed down his face.

See How He Loved Him

Then the Judeans said, “Behold how he loved him.”

The Judeans, John 11:36

Greek has seven words, actually, for our one word in English for “love.”

Agape is an unconditional love, the kind of love God loves with, and is defined by God’s nature and being. This is an altruistic love that emanates from the heart as genuine feeling and is moved into action through boundless kindness, infinite compassion, generosity, mercy, and limitless grace.

Storge is the bond of empathy with another person, and is often used to describe the love parents have for their children. This is a protective kind of love, what knits people together as family.

Pragma is the strength of enduring love, a faithfulness and commitment that can only be known in the living of it, for it is expressed in the longstanding loyalty it speaks of. This is a love that has come to maturity, that has learned to make compromises, sacrifices, to be patient, tolerant, and accepting.

Ludus is a playful love, having a crush, a youthful affection as ephemeral and pleasant as a summer breeze.

Eros is sexual passion, the romance that has inspired countless, and timeless, stories, operas, plays, songs, poems, and art.

Mania is about obsessive love, what devolves into stalking, codependency, jealousy, even violence.

Philia, the one I have saved for last, is the word the Judeans used in describing Jesus’ love for Lazarus. This is the deep affection of friendship, the bond between equals.

There is, actually, an eight word for love in Greek, Philautia, which finds its root in Philia, for it is the self care all healthy people understand must come before we have something to give to others.

Yet, John noted, some of the mourners wondered out loud why Jesus had not been there to keep Lazarus from dying. If he could open the eyes of a man born blind, could he not keep his beloved friend from dying? Perhaps some were wondering at the extent of Jesus’ power.

Was it because Martha and Mary had been talking about Jesus’ troubling absence, even after they had sent their message? Or had their friends and extended family asked these questions of them, first? If only the healer had been here.  

Remove the Stone

When they got to the tomb, Jesus was once again deeply disturbed and sternly agitated in the spirit. The tomb was actually a cave, and a great stone had been used to seal its mouth.

Remove the stone.

Jesus, to Martha and Mary, John 11:39

He spoke simply, with authority and settled determination. It was a command, not a request. Remove it.

I think everyone must have been shocked. It had been four days. During that time the news had traveled that Lazarus had died, so Martha and Mary’s extended network of friends, and wealthy families from Jerusalem would all be able to be there.

And the Jewish belief at that time said that the spirit of a person would hover over their body for three days, but after that amount of time the body would become so disfigured the spirit would no longer recognize it, and would go away.

Jesus had raised other people from the dead in the gospels, but they were newly dead. In a hot country, the decomposition would have begun right away. People put spices on the body chiefly to combat the bad odor of rot. If resurrection were ever thinkable at all, it would be totally unthinkable at this point.

Martha told Jesus Lazarus’ body was just too far gone. He was absolutely, totally, dead. Completely dead. Her face surely betrayed her wretchedness. Her beloved brother had become a rotting, reeking corpse. To have washed him, rubbed myrrh into his skin, then wrapped him in his graveclothes, just as his mother had wrapped him in swaddling clothes as a fresh-born baby . . .

To have mourned over him in these ways was almost too much to bear. They had burned several pounds of balsam, aloes, and frankincense on incense burners all throughout the three days of faint hope that he might yet revive, even as the decay had set in, and the atoning work of the earth had begun.[1] To now, on the fourth day, roll back the stone, to release the cloying stench of his death, seemed horrifying. Unthinkable.

Living by Faith

Jesus had been looking at the stone, but now he turned, and those near him could feel the hairs on their arms and necks raise. The power coming from him was making their own hearts pound in their ears, and their mouths go dry. His eyes found Martha’s and he held them in a steady gaze.

Did I not say to you that if you believed, you will behold the glory of God?

Jesus to Martha, John 11:40

That gave her the courage she needed to do the hard thing.

Faith involves doing hard things. And obedience to God reflects belief in God and God’s word. Martha would have to put her belief on the line in front of her sister, in front of all those religious dignitaries, in front of all their extended family and people who had come down from Jerusalem.

As the stone was rolled away Jesus lifted his face to the sky,

Father, I thank you that you hear me, and I had perceived and known that in all things you hear me, but rather for the sake of the people who are standing all around, I spoke, in order that they might believe you sent me.

Jesus to the Father, John 11:41-42

It was a moment of suspense, for Jesus did not ask for what everyone had been expecting—for power, for a mighty act, for the heavens to crack open with thunder and flashes, for the earth to quake, and for Lazarus to be shaken from his tomb.

All these things would happen, and much sooner than anyone suspected. But not on this day.


[1] According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, “The process of decay in the grave was believed to be painful to the body, and therefore to be the means of atonement. Atoning power of the ground per se was attributed to Palestine exclusively.”

[Cave Tomb | Pikrepo.com]

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