Raising Lazarus: A Novelization

“I’m looking for someone called Jesus?” said the man from the door.
“What do you want from the rabbi?” asked Nathaniel.
The man said, “I bring a message from Mary and Martha of Bethany in Judea.”
Nathaniel stepped back from the doorway and gestured toward Jesus. The messenger stepped inside as Jesus stood and greeted him. “The Lord bless you.”
“The Lord bless you,” he responded. “I regret to tell you that Mary and Martha have sent to tell you that their brother, Lazarus, is ill.”
Jesus nodded slowly. “I see,” he said. “My thanks for your message. Judas,” he called to the side. “Would you give the man some coppers for his time?”
While Judas slipped a few coins from a pouch, the messenger asked, “Would you like to send anything back in response?”
The rabbi thought a moment before answering, “No, but I thank you. You are free to go on to your next message.”
The messenger nodded, took the coins from Judas, and left the way he came.
Andrew looked at his teacher. “Is everything all right?”
“Yes, yes,” said Jesus. “Lazarus may be sick, but in the end, he won’t die. Even Lazarus being sick is ultimately for God’s glory since it will lead to the Son of Man being glorified.”
“Should we go to them anyway,” asked Philip. “I mean, Mary and Martha and Lazarus really mean a great deal to you. If we’re careful, we might still be able to see them without causing too much trouble.”
James snorted. “Not likely, Philip. Those Pharisees are out of patience with Rabbi Jesus and us with him. If they even see a hint of us back there, they’ll jump at the chance to attack.”
“Gentlemen,” chided Jesus gently, “we’re fine where we are. This is where the Father is at work, and he hasn’t sent me anywhere else yet. Things will be fine in Bethany across the Jordan while we’re in Perean Bethany.
“For now,” he continued, “let us go to the gates to see if there is anybody who’s willing to listen.” He led them out into the streets, and Thomas asked about a parable the rabbi had told to the crowd earlier in the day. As he began explaining, the entire exchange with the messenger seemed to fade into the background, and life resumed as it usually did, with Jesus teaching both to the people in the city as well as to the twelve and the women with them privately.
Two days later, Jesus came into the house just after the sun had begun to rise. Most of the men had begun to awaken and were preparing for the day. They woke those still resting and gathered food to break their fast, passing around the loaves of bread and water bowls. After Jesus blessed it with prayer, they began eating, but it was only a few moments before the rabbi announced, “It’s time we made our way to Judea again.”
James froze and looked incredulous at his teacher. He swallowed the bread still half chewed in his mouth and said, “Rabbi, the scribes and Pharisees were trying to stone you just weeks ago, and you want to go back?” Several others voiced their agreement.
Jesus said, “There’s twelve hours of daylight, isn’t there? When you walk in the daytime, your steps are secure because you can see what you need to in the light. On the other hand, anybody who walks during the night will stumble because he has no light.”
Several of them glanced at one another, unsure what their teacher was saying, but nobody was willing to ask. After several seconds of silence, Jesus reached for more of the bread. “I have to visit Mary and Martha for a time. Our friend, Lazarus, fell asleep, and we’ll go there so I can wake him up.”
“Rabbi, what are you talking about? Bethany is almost two days’ walk,” said Nathaniel. “By the time you get there, Lazarus will have woken up and gone back to sleep again.”
Jesus closed his eyes with a pained expression. “Men, Lazarus is dead. And I chose to stay here for your sakes so that your faith would be strengthened by what’s coming. So let’s gather our things so we can reach Judea as soon as possible.” He dunked his bread in the bowl and began chewing as he rose and started setting the house in order.
Thomas shook his head as he likewise rose to his feet. “Well, everyone, if he’s going, we should all go, and if the scribes and Pharisees kill him, then at least he won’t die alone.” There were a few grunts of approval, though several were less certain. After a few moments of indecision, they all began gathering supplies for the road.
The journey was relatively uneventful, for which the entire group was relieved since tensions were high at the thought of marching back into the lion’s den. In the afternoon on the second day, they arrived at the outskirts of Bethany. As they neared the sisters’ house on the edge of the village, they saw a number of people gathered along the path. A young man recognized the group coming up the road and began running toward the house, shouting the news of their arrival. Another hurried to meet them.
“Rabbi! The Lord bless you. The sisters will be glad to see you, but Lazarus has gone to Sheol.”
Jesus greeted the man and nodded. “I know. How long has it been?”
“He’s been in the tomb four days.” Several of the disciples winced at the news, and a few grumbled, asking, “Why did we wait so long?” Others merely looked defeated and said nothing.
The men at the roadside urged them to keep going to the house, and they continued on, hearing the growing sounds of mourning coming from ahead. They hadn’t gone far, however, before Martha met them on the road. Her jaw was clenched as she greeted them, her face a mixture of grief, anger, and gladness at seeing them. “The Lord bless you,” she said to them all, her voice trembling. Then she looked squarely at Jesus. “Sir, I sent for you days ago. My brother lay sick for two days after I sent a messenger, and I prayed that you would come. If you had been here…” Tears filled her eyes as she choked out the words. “If you had been here, Lazarus would still be alive.”
Jesus looked at her, his face sharing the pain she felt without saying anything. Martha composed herself and continued, “My brother is dead. You have healed so many people. Why not him? You loved him, so why weren’t you here to heal him? Why weren’t you here?” she cried, shouting out the last question in anguish. She fell to the ground and wailed in renewed pain, the very idea of Jesus failing to heal her brother opening wounds again that had barely begun to close. The men and women with them likewise dropped to the ground and began throwing dust into the air. Several of them tore their tunics to join in Martha’s suffering.
Jesus, however, remained standing. Pain was clearly written on his face, but he alone stood as he waited for the grief to ebb away. After a time, Martha clenched her fists and pushed herself back to her feet. She looked into the teacher’s face, her eyes still red with tears but a calmer look on her face. “You didn’t save him,” she said, “but I know you could have. And I know the Lord hears you. Even though I lost Lazarus, I won’t stop trusting you.”
He looked at her, feelings of grief at her pain and gladness at her faith in him mixing together. “Martha, your brother will rise again.”
She looked down, trying to take in a small comfort. “I know. I know he’ll rise in the resurrection on the last day.” It felt hollow, an abstract idea in the face of the sharp reality of his absence now.
“If there is a resurrection,” said the rabbi, “it is by me. I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who trusts me – even if he dies – will live, and everyone alive who trusts in me will never truly die.” He paused. “Do you believe this?”
Martha looked back at him. She took a breath, pushing through the hurt, and smiled thinly, wiping her eyes. “You’re the Messiah,” she said simply with a small voice. “Of course I believe. Of course I trust you. You’re the who was foretold by the prophets.”
Jesus smiled at her, grateful for her faith yet still sharing her pain. “Bless you, Martha. Mary should know I’m here by now. Go bring her out. I’d like to see her.”
Martha nodded and turned back to the house. Her heart was a tangled mess of feelings, even after spending days pouring everything out. Seeing Jesus had only added new emotions to spin into the chaos of her soul, but at least some of those feelings were pleasant. She was glad he was finally there, even if it was too late.
She entered the house and found Mary was in the upper room on the bedding, staring numbly at the floor. Martha knelt down and placed her hand on her sister’s shoulder. “Mary, the teacher is here.” It took a moment for the sentence to even register and Mary to turn to look up. With a faint smile, she said, “He’s asking to see you. Why don’t you go meet him? He’s out on the road with the disciples.”
Something lit up in Mary, and she scrambled to her feet. She looked at her sister a moment, then ran down the stairs and out of the house, narrowly avoiding running into several of the mourners. The mourners, several of whom were hired to fill the house and lead them in their grief, rushed to the door to follow her. One of them whispered to another, “Back to the tomb?” His fellow lifted up his hands in helpless confusion. All they could do was follow to continue helping her work through the pain.
It was only a minute before Mary saw the rabbi at the side of the road. She threw herself at his feet and cried out in her pain. “Why?” she asked. “Why weren’t you here? You could have done something! He wouldn’t have to have died!” She began sobbing, clutching at his feet, and he knelt down and placed his hands on her back as it quivered and shook with her ragged breaths. He closed his eyes as his own emotions began rising up.
After a moment, he looked at the mourners lining the path. “Where did they lay him to rest?”
One of the men volunteered to lead them. “It’s this way,” and motioned off the main pathway. Jesus nodded and turned back to Mary, who was still crying. He simply stayed with her as she continued to pour out her emotion. He listened to her crying and watched her tremble and shudder with the overwhelming pain reopened in his presence. He found himself feeling with her, his own eyes filling with tears, and he wiped his eyes with a dusty hand.
To the side, one of the mourners shook his head in grief, finding himself moved. “Even Rabbi Jesus is hurting. He really loved Lazarus,” he said sidelong to another as he lowered himself to the ground to join their mourning.
“Then why wasn’t he here?” said the man standing next to him. He likewise knelt in the grass in solidarity. “Martha and Mary are right. We’ve heard all sorts of things about him healing blind people. If he loved Lazarus and the sisters so much, why didn’t he do something? Surely he could have healed Lazarus before he died.”
For several minutes, everyone was in the dust, grieving with Jesus and Mary. The emotion spread throughout the people, and they joined together with one, wordless expression of loss until the fullness of emotion drained from them all. With a final grasp of Jesus’ calves, Mary breathed deeply and pulled herself to her feet, the teacher rising with her.
“Let me see the tomb,” he said. She nodded, rubbing the wetness from her face, and started making her way toward the cave where they laid Lazarus’ body. The disciples and crowd followed behind, and when they arrived after a short walk, Martha and those from the house were there, expecting to resume their grief at the tomb once again or perhaps to hear the rabbi give some word of consolation.
It was silent as they waited for what would come. Jesus quietly but clearly spoke: “Roll the stone back.”
Martha recoiled. “You want to go inside? Rabbi, it’s been four days. His body…” she didn’t know how to continue. “The rot from his body will already have started. It may not even look like him anymore, and it will have started to smell.”
Jesus raised a hand to stop her. “Dear sister, didn’t I tell you you’d see the glory of God if you trusted me?” he said with a gentle smile. “So trust me now. Open up the tomb.”
She hesitated, horrified at the laws they’d be breaking if they got too close to the body and disgusted by the thought of what it would look and smell like by this time, but also wanting to give Jesus what he asked for. She wanted to trust him. She wanted to believe that he knew what he was doing. Finally, the relationship she had built with him won out. She scanned the crowd for a few, strong looking men and asked them to roll back the sealing stone. Several paled at the idea, much as she had, but since they were there for the sisters, none of them balked at the request. With grunts of exertion, they heaved, pushing the stone until it rolled enough to allow a person-sized passage inside.
Everyone turned back to the teacher, expecting him to go toward the opening, but they found him instead standing in place. After a pause, he raised his palms and looked into the heavens. “Father,” he said, “thank you for hearing me. I know you always hear me, but they need to see that you hear me, to believe that I am here on your behalf. So give them faith through this moment, that they would know your power and experience it for themselves.”
He stopped and let silence fill the space for a moment before lowering his hands and looking back down at the opening in the rock. He spoke, projecting strongly, “Lazarus, come out.”
Several people blanched in shock, wondering if he had gone mad or somehow not understood what was happening. A few looked at the tomb, unsure of what to expect, but most looked around at one another, trying to see how everyone else was reacting.
In the quiet that followed, a shuffling sound could be heard coming from the cave. At first, only those next to the opening heard it, but as they turned, others looked to see as well, and soon the entire crowd was focused on the rock, listening to the soft scuffling sounds coming from inside. In the dim of the shadows, a shape of a man appeared, white with wrappings all around it and moving stiffly as if bound too tightly and struggling against them.
“Blessed Lord, he’s alive!” said one of the men that rolled aside the stone. Then another shouted more loudly for everyone to hear, “He’s alive!” The crowd began shouting, some in joy, others in disbelief, a few in fear at what they were seeing. A man, his body wrapped burial cloths, had emerged from the opening. His head was likewise wrapped so that he could not see, and he stood fixed at the noise of the crowd, unsure of what was happening.
Martha was likewise frozen, wanting to reach out and grab her brother, but could hardly believe that the person standing so close might be him. Jesus called to her, “Martha!” She spun to look at the rabbi, who was smiling broadly. “Unwrap the cloths and let him loose!” he cried.
She needed no further invitation, and she flung herself at her brother. Mary tore through the mass of people to help, and together they pulled the cloth from Lazarus’ face. At the sight of his eyes and his bewildered expression, the two sisters burst into tears, their relief and joy too overwhelming to be contained. Martha started working on the wrappings on his arm, but Mary had grabbed him in a fierce hug. He tried to reciprocate, but the bindings were too tight to move enough, and Martha’s efforts made it all the more difficult. Eventually, they stopped working against one another and began unwinding the wrappings with an almost reckless eagerness. When everything was loose enough, they tore them off until he stood, nearly naked at the cave entrance, and the three of them once again grabbed on to one another with tears of joy, chanting, “You’re alive!” over and over again.
The people in the clearing continued their cheering, nearly all of them shouting and praising God with joy. Several had turned to Jesus and prostrated themselves on the ground in awe.
In the midst of the excitement, the teacher calmly walked toward Lazarus and the sisters and placed his hands on their backs. “It is good to see you, my friend,” he said.
Lazarus looked at him, nearly speechless. “I…” he began. “I was dead.”
“You were,” Jesus stated plainly, “but death is not the end in my Father’s kingdom.”
“My Lord,” said Lazarus, not knowing what more to say. He dropped to his knees, and Martha and Mary fell to the ground with him, but Jesus took their hands and raised them back to their feet.
“From everything I can see, you have guests and musicians. It was, perhaps, for mourning, but you could easily turn it into a celebration,” he suggested with a twinkle in his eye. The family ushered everyone back to the house, telling everyone the news who hadn’t heard, and sounds of joy could be heard long into the evening.

* * *

“It’s gotten too big.” For months, men from both the Pharisees and Sadducees had been challenging the rabbi, Jesus, trying to show the people his faults, tear down his popularity, but it had become increasingly apparent that they were losing the fight. Word had spread that he had brought back to life a man, Lazarus of Bethany, who had been dead not even for moments or hours, but for days. The story had made him even more famous and his following had grown vast in response.
The Sanhedrin had discussed his popularity several times already, but since the story had spread, several of the council members had pushed to make it a formal matter for consideration.
“It’s ludicrous,” said one man, a member of the Sadducees. “Raising a man from the dead? But now half the country thinks he’s some kind of miracle worker and chasing after him.”
“They don’t just think he’s a miracle worker,” said another. “Some of them are calling him a prophet or the return of Elijah. I’ve heard that some are even calling him the anointed one.”
“He’s got zealots following him! I’ve heard he’s even got one of them close to him,” shouted a third. “If they leverage this to incite another revolution, Rome’s going to come down on our heads!”
“Talmai is right. Judea has pushed Caesar’s patience too far already. If they try to make this Jesus king, they’re going to strip us of any self-governance we have left. We’re risking them destroying the temple to make an example of us. We can’t risk this getting any bigger.”
“It’s already too big!” shouted Talmai again.
“And what would you have us do?” said another voice.
“We have to convince the people he’s a charlatan.”
“We’ve been trying for months,” growled one of the Pharisees. “His followers aren’t paying attention to us at this point. They’re too enamored with him.”
“Then we catch him violating the law and show the people he’s a fraud.”
“We have,” spat another Pharisee. “Half the time nobody pays it any mind. Other times, he somehow flips it back on us. He’s too clever for his own good.”
“Can we set up a trap for him somehow?”
“We’ve tried. As Uriel said, he slips away every time.”
“Then we keep trying! What else can we do?”
The discussion continued for several minutes, with various members growing increasingly heated, but no new ideas surfaced. A few councilmen had sunk down, frustrated with the fruitless circle of shouting and fighting. It was feeling increasingly impossible but also more and more urgent that a solution be found.
Finally, Caiaphas, the high priest, rose from the central seat, raising his hands for silence. “Men of the council, you don’t seem to understand, and your arguments are going nowhere. We may not have time to trap him before Rome takes notice, and thousands will die if the army marches on Jerusalem again. Death is the only way out of this.” Several members blanched at the stark admission. “We do not have a choice in that, but we can choose the number: one or many. It will be better for all of us that one man dies for the people rather than the entire nation dying.”
“What are you suggesting, high priest?” asked Uriel.
“I think my words are clear,” Caiaphas announced. “This Jesus of Nazareth must be put to death.”
“We don’t have the authority,” Talmai shot back.
“No,” agreed the high priest. “We do not.”
“Then that’s no solution at all,” grumbled one of them.
“We cannot put anyone to death,” reiterated Caiaphas. “So we make Caesar do it.”