It was a huge surprise when I heard that a dear friend and his wife had contracted COVID-19. A disease that had previously involved masses of unnamed people around the globe immediately struck close to home. They are just a short drive from us, and before the quarantine, it was common for us to meet up for lunch or coffee together. Instantly, this is no longer a faceless disease affecting thousands around the world—now, it has affected my close friends! My experience with this illness is no longer something I can hold at arm’s length.
It seems there is a moment in each human life when the myth of our own invulnerability comes to an end. We become keenly aware of our own fragility and mortality. Nothing threatens our perceived sense of control quite like a severe illness and the possibility of death. Sickness and death have been part of every human’s existence from the beginning of life, and yet these inevitabilities still take us by surprise. Every sickness strikes at an inopportune time, and the loss of a friend is always premature. We are to do battle with these foes, and yet we know that every single one of us will succumb at some point—our lives will end. It is often during these seasons of illness and loss that we are most aware of Jesus’s care.
His experience with sickness and death is not removed from the same sort of emotional pain and loss that we feel. It can be tempting to imagine Jesus going about His life without the same sort of pains that we experience. His relationship with two sisters and their brother shows us the extreme care and sensitivity He has toward His friend’s suffering, sickness, and death.
Meet Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, three siblings who had a unique and special friendship with Jesus. Theirs was a noteworthy connection, and their home and hospitality played an important role in His life. When Jesus hears about the serious illness of His dear friend, Lazarus, He prepares for the four-day journey that will take Him from relative safety into much more danger, saying:
“Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I’m on my way to wake him up” (John 11:11).
His disciples warn Him of the imminent danger. They know that journeying to this region will likely result in His death and perhaps even their own. And they are correct; in the most practical way, Jesus lives out His own teaching, eventually laying down His life for His friends, for us—”no one has greater love than this” (John 15:13).
We know what happened to Lazarus. It is thrilling and shocking, and it reveals so much about the unique authority Jesus Christ has over death. On a closer look, there is also something particularly compelling and beautiful about the quality of the self-giving friendship between Jesus and these three siblings. The sisters ask their good friend to take the four-day journey back to help the one He loved. And Jesus answers in the affirmative, ready to take on the days of travel toward His own danger, rejection, suffering, and death. Jesus loves His friends. He goes to them and is deeply moved by them. He suffers with them and will suffer for them—and they weep together.
Written by Robert Wheeler