WHILE JESUS was still at Bethabara, and expecting soon to begin his journey through Perea, news came to him which led him for a time to change his plans.
At Bethany, near Jerusalem, as you remember, were living his dear friends, Martha and Mary and Lazarus. The two sisters sent to Jesus at Bethabara the word :
“Lord, your friend Lazarus is very ill.”
They did not ask Jesus to come and cure Lazarus, but they hoped that he might come, although it would call for a journey sixty miles from Bethabara to Bethany. But Jesus did not at once go to the sick man. He said:
“This sickness is not to end in his death; the end of it will be to give glory to God and to the Son of God.”
Jesus loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus. Yet, when he heard that Lazarus was very ill, he stayed two days longer at Bethabara. Then, after that, he said to his disciples, “Let us go again to Judea.”
At this the disciples were greatly surprised. They said to him, “Why, Master, only a little while ago the men of Judea were trying to stone you. Is it safe for you to go there again?”
“Are there not twelve hours in the day?” answered Jesus. “If a man walks about through the day, he does not stumble, because he can have the light of the sun; but if he walks at night, he does stumble, because he has no light.”
Then he added, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; I am going to wake him.”
“If he has fallen asleep, Master,” said the disciples, “he will get well.”
They thought that Jesus was speaking of taking rest in sleep, which would show that a fever was passing away; but Jesus meant that Lazarus was in the sleep of death. Then he told them in plain words :
“Lazarus is dead; and on your account I am glad Bethany, where Martha, Mary and Lazarus lived that I was not there; for now you will learn to believe in me more fully. Come, now, let us go to him.”
At this, Thomas, one of his twelve disciples, who was also called ” Didymus,” a word meaning ” The Twin,” said to his fellow disciples:
“Let us go too; and if he dies, we will die with him.”
So from Bethabara they went again to Bethany, two miles from Jerusalem; a journey of about sixty miles.
When Jesus came to Bethany, he found that Lazarus had been already four days in the tomb. In the house with Martha and Mary were a number of their friends who had come to show their sympathy with the sisters by weeping with them over their brother’s death.
Someone went into the room and told Martha that Jesus was coming, and was near the village. She rose up quietly and hastened to meet Jesus, while Mary sat still in the room. When Martha saw Jesus, she said to him mournfully:
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. And even now, I know that whatever you ask of God, he will give it to you.”
“Your brother shall rise to life again,” said Jesus.
“I know that he will rise again,” said Martha, “when all the dead shall be raised up, at the last day.”
“I, myself,” said Jesus, “am the one who raises the dead to life. He who believes in me shall live again, even if he dies; and he who lives believing in me shall never die. Do you believe that?”
“Yes, Lord,” she said, “I do believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was promised to come into the world.”
After saying this, Martha went again to the house, leaving Jesus still outside the village. She whispered to her sister Mary:
“The Master is here, and he has asked for you.”
On hearing this, Mary rose in haste and went to the place where Jesus was. The friends who were with her, seeing her go out of the house, thought that she was going to the tomb, to weep there, and they followed her, to weep with her. It was the custom in that land, and still is the custom, for those who had lost a friend, to meet at his grave, day after day, and there to mourn for him.
But Mary did not go to her brother’s tomb. She went to Jesus, who was still at the place where Martha had met him; and threw herself at his feet, saying, as her sister had said before:
” O Master! if only you had been here, my brother would not have died!”
When Jesus saw her wailing, and saw the friends with her wailing, he too was troubled and greatly distressed. “Where have you laid him,” he asked.
“Come and see, Master,” they answered.
Jesus now began to weep, in feeling for the two sisters.
“How he must have loved him!” said the Jews to each other. But some of them said:
“Could not this man, who gave sight to a blind man, have kept this man from dying?”
Again groaning, but quietly, Jesus came to the tomb. Like many of the graves in that land, it was a cave in the rocky hillside, and a large stone covered its mouth.
“Move away the stone,” commanded Jesus.
“Master,” said Martha, “remember that he has been dead four days, and by this time there may be a strong smell from the body.”
“Did I not tell you,” said Jesus, “that if you will only believe in me you will see the glory of God?”
They moved the stone away from the door of the cave, and Jesus, lifting his eyes upward, said:
“Father, I thank thee for listening to my prayer. I knew that thou always hearest me; but I spoke on account of those around me, that they might believe that thou hast sent me.”
Then with a loud voice, Jesus called :
“Lazarus! Come out!”
Out from the tomb came the man who had been dead. He could scarcely walk, for his hands and feet were wrapped with bandages; his face, too, had been covered with a cloth tied over it.
“Set him free,” said Jesus, “and let him go!”
They took away the cloth from his face, and unwrapped the bandages from his body; and Lazarus stood up living and well, in the presence of all the people ! How happy were Martha and Mary, as they placed their arms around him, and felt his flesh, warm with the life-blood once more flowing through his veins!
As the Jews who had come to visit Martha and Mary saw this wonderful work, calling back to life a man who had been in his tomb four days, many of them believed in Jesus. These told the story to others, and the number of believers grew larger and larger.
Some of those who had seen or had heard of the raising of Lazarus to life went to Jerusalem and told the Pharisees, the. enemies of Jesus, what had taken place. These men told the chief priests, and the priests and Pharisees called together the high council to talk of these things and to decide what should be done with Jesus.
This high council was a board or company of leading men, which, next to the Roman governor, ruled over the Jews. It was made up of seventy-two men, some of them priests and some of them scribes or teachers of the law. They met in a room set apart for their use in the Temple; and they formed the highest court in the land to deal with any who were accused of having broken the laws.
When this council came together and heard of what Jesus had done and of the people who, in greater number than ever, were beginning to believe in Jesus, they said to each other, “What shall we do, now that this Jesus has done another work, more wonderful even than any of his works in the past? If we leave him alone, all the people will believe in him, and will seek to make him their King. Then the Romans will come, and will destroy our Temple, and will no longer let us live as a nation.”
But one of these men in the council was the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas. He said to them :
“You are entirely mistaken. You do not under-stand that whether Jesus is or is not a prophet coming from God, it is better that one man should die, instead of having all the people destroyed. Let us all agree that Jesus shall be killed, and that the people of Israel shall be saved from death.”
These words of Caiaphas the high priest meant more than he knew when he spoke them. He was himself, being the high priest, speaking a prophecy, that Jesus was to die for the people; for that was what Jesus was soon to do. He was to die for the sins of the people; not only for the Jewish people but for all the people of the world. By his death, Jesus was to bring together into one body all the children of God scattered throughout all the lands.
At that meeting of the council, the rulers decided that Jesus must be killed. Not all of them agreed in this, for Nicodemus, who long before had come at night to talk with Jesus, and a rich member of the council, named Joseph-of whom we shall hear laterand a few others, were friendly to Jesus. But his enemies were so many and so fierce that these few friends of Jesus did not venture to speak for him. So the vote was taken that Jesus was to be put to death.
Jesus, knowing all things, knew their plans; and he knew that when the time came he should die. But that time had not yet come, for he had promised to preach his gospel in Perm, across the Jordan. He went, therefore, to a town on the edge of the wilderness, called Ephraim, and there for a few weeks he stayed with his disciples.
The great Feast of the Passover was drawing near, and many people were coming un to Jerusalem to prepare themselves for the Feast. They were looking out for Jesus, and said to each other as they walked in the courts of the Temple :
“What do you think? Do you think that Jesus will come to the Feast?”
The chief priests and the leading Pharisees had given orders that if any one found out where Jesus was, they were to be told, so that they might send men to arrest him.