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Based on John 11:1-44

When their brother Lazarus becomes seriously ill, Mary and Martha ask Jesus to come to Bethany at once but he delays before setting off and there are grave consequences.

Copyright Gavin Owen 2006

Mary dipped the cloth into the bowl of water, then she rolled it up carefully and laid it across her brother's forehead. She heard the door behind her opening; it was her sister, Martha, coming into the room.

“How is he?” Martha whispered.

“He's burning up,” Mary told her, “the fever's getting worse.”

“It's come on so quickly,” Martha exclaimed, “he was fine at the weekend!”

“Now look at him,” said Mary.

Martha looked, her brother's face was pale, his skin stretched thinly across his bones, he looked like a ghost of a man.

“Is the doctor coming?” asked Mary.

“Yes, he sent a message to say he'd get here as soon as he can.” Martha took hold of her brother's hand. “Oh Lazarus,” she said sadly, “don't die, please don't die.”

The two sisters kept watch over their brother in silence until the doctor arrived, then they left him to examine Lazarus and waited in the kitchen. When he'd finished, the doctor came and stood in the doorway. He stared at the floor with his head down, he couldn't look Mary and Martha in the eye.

“I'm sorry,” he began, “there's nothing I can do, there's no earthly cure for this illness.”

Mary's face crumpled up and she began to cry. Martha put her arms around her sister's shoulders and pulled her close.

“What are we going to do?” sobbed Mary, “What are we going to do?”

“There's only one thing we can do,” Martha replied, “we're going to send for Jesus.”

“But he can't come here,” Mary argued, “the last time he was here people tried to kill him.”

“He's our only hope,” Martha insisted, “he will come, Lazarus is his friend.”

And so it was agreed. Martha asked a young man from the village to find Jesus and ask him to come. The last they'd heard, Jesus was across the river Jordan, teaching the people there about God. With their message sent, all the sisters could do was wait and pray. But with each passing hour Lazarus got worse and they had almost given up hope when the young man finally returned.

“At last,” Martha cried, “Did you find Jesus?”

“Yes miss,” he said, “I found him and I told him about your brother.”

“Well where is he?”

“He said he would come, miss, but that it wasn't time yet.”

“Oh,” said Martha in surprise, “I see. Well, he knows what he's doing, I'm sure he'll be here soon.”

“It's too late,” came her sister's voice.

Martha looked round. Lazarus had stopped breathing, he was dead.

Everyone who lived in the village of Bethany came to the funeral. Lazarus had a lot of friends, they were all sorry that he'd died and they wanted to do what they could to help Mary and Martha. The two sisters put special oils and spices on the body of their brother, then wrapped it in cloths from head to foot. With the help of their friends they placed the body in a cave and rolled a huge stone across the entrance to cover it. Martha spoke to everybody, thanking them for being there, but Mary didn't say a word to anyone. She couldn't understand why Jesus hadn't come, she couldn't believe he'd let Lazarus die. She stayed silent the next day and the day after that. But then on the fourth day, as Mary and Martha were preparing a meal, the same young man who'd gone to look for Jesus burst into their kitchen.

“Sorry to bother you,” he said, gasping for breath, “But he's here, Jesus is coming.”

Mary looked at Martha and shook her head, she didn't want to see him. So Martha got up and went out to meet Jesus alone. She found him not far away, coming down the road just outside the village.

“Oh Lord,” sighed Martha, “If only you'd been here, my brother would not have died.”

“Martha,” said Jesus, “I am the one who will undo death and give life that lasts forever to everyone who believes in me. Do you believe this?”

“Yes Lord, I believe you are the Son of God, who has come into the world to save us.”

Jesus nodded. “Go and fetch your sister.”

Martha hurried back to the house and soon returned with her sister and many of the people from the village. When Mary saw Jesus she fell to the ground at his feet.

“Where were you?” she wailed, tears flooding down her cheeks, “If you'd been here Lazarus would still be alive.”

The people in the crowd looked at each other and shook their heads. “Look at that poor girl crying,” some of them muttered, “If Jesus could make a blind man see, surely he could have made Lazarus well. He's not to be trusted, he's a liar.”

Jesus reached out and helped Mary back to her feet and when she looked up at him she saw that there were tears in his eyes too.

“Where have you put him?” Jesus asked her.

“Come and see,” she said.

The whole crowd walked to the cave where they had buried the body of Lazarus.

“Take away the stone,” Jesus commanded.

“But teacher,” Martha protested, “he's been in there for four days, the smell will be terrible.”

“Didn't I tell you?” Jesus asked her, “If you believe, you will see a miracle that will bring glory to God!”

Some men from the village stepped forward to move the stone. At first the enormous rock wouldn't budge, but when they all pushed together they managed to heave it out of the way.

Jesus looked up and said, “Father, thank you that you always hear my prayers, now show these people that I really have been sent by you.”

Then he pointed at the dark entrance to the cave and in a loud voice he gave the order, “Lazarus! Come out!”

Some of the villagers laughed. “He's crazy!” they said to each other.

But then they heard it, a sound, like feet shuffling across a dusty floor. The people huddled together; they were starting to feel afraid. Then a shadow moved in the darkness of the cave. Someone cried out in alarm and everyone began to back away as the shadow became the shape of a man, a man wrapped in cloths. It was Lazarus. The dead man was walking.

“What are you waiting for? Unwrap him!” Jesus said to Mary and Martha.

The sisters rushed forward and pulled at the strips of cloth and as they fell away they revealed a face that wasn't pale and ghostly, but healthy and glowing.

“He's alive! He's alive!” the crowd shouted in amazement, “Jesus isn't a liar, he's not crazy, it's true, he really is the Son of God!”

That night the village had its first ever un-funeral party and the people praised God and thanked him for sending Jesus. When it grew late, Jesus took Lazarus and his sisters to one side.

“I've got to go,” he explained, “It's not safe for me to stay. When my enemies learn about what I did here today they will come to arrest me. I have to keep out of their way until the time is right.”

“The time for what?” asked Mary.

“You'll see,” said Jesus, “you'll all see.”