Jesus and his disciples were resting by the Jordan River, when news came that his friend Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, was very ill. Jesus did something a bit puzzling to those with him — he waited two days before setting out to see him.
The journey to Bethany
Then Jesus told his disciples: “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.” So they set out for the village of Bethany, a small settlement on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, and the hometown of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.
Today, Bethany is traditionally known as the Palestinian town of al-Eizariya, which means “Place of Lazarus” in Arabic. It is only about one and a half miles from Jerusalem. When Jesus reached Bethany, he learned that Lazarus had already been dead and in the tomb four days. Mourners were gathered at the house to comfort Mary and Martha. Martha was able pull herself together enough to greet Jesus, but Mary was so distraught that she stayed inside.
“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary. “The Teacher is here, and is asking for you.” (John 11:21-28)
When Mary saw Jesus, she fell at his feet. Jesus was deeply moved, and this is where we get the shortest verse in the entire Bible, John 11:35 – “Jesus wept.”
Trip to the tomb
Jesus led his grieving friends to the tomb of Lazarus in Bethany. An ancient location has been recorded as the tomb of Lazarus going back to the historian Eusebius in 330 AD. A large stone blocked the tomb’s entrance. People must have been shocked when Jesus asked, “Take away the stone.” Actually, Martha objected:
“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.”
According to Jewish tradition, Lazarus’ body would be wrapped in linens and scented with oils, but the Jews did not embalm their dead. Thus, the perfumes only last so long. However, Jesus insisted, and the people moved the stone. Jesus looked up and prayed to God. He prayed to God as his Father:
“Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” (John 11:41-42)
When he had said this, 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. (John 11:43-44) 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, believed in him. (John 11:45)