I Go That I May Wake Him Up
Manna 83: Spring

Steve Hwang—Philadelphia, USA



Since I pastor the churches in both Philadelphia and Washington, DC, I often have to drive between these two cities. The journey is long, and I sometimes start drifting off behind the wheel. Thank God that my wife is always beside me in case I start to fall asleep. In these situations, having someone to wake us can help us avoid many dangers.


The Gospel of John records how Jesus resurrected Lazarus. Curiously, although He knew that Lazarus was dead, Jesus said: “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up” (Jn 11:11; cf. Jn 11:13–14).


In this passage, the waking of Lazarus finds a parallel with the spiritual awakenings of his sisters, Mary and Martha. Not only did Jesus wake Lazarus from the sleep of death, but He also woke Martha from deepest confusion, and Mary from the depths of sorrow. Let us see how Jesus woke each of them, and revived their faith, respectively.



Martha: Awakened From Confusion


The Lord told Martha three times, both directly and indirectly, that Lazarus’ sickness would not lead to death. The first time was when they sent a message asking Jesus to come, before Lazarus had died.


Therefore the sisters sent to Him, saying, ‘Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.’ When Jesus heard that, He said, ‘This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ ” (Jn 11:3–4)


The second time was when Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Jesus’ words were even more direct: “Your brother will rise again” (Jn 11:23). But still, Martha was confused—she thought Jesus was referring to the resurrection on the last day (Jn 11:24). Even as the stone was being removed from the opening of the tomb, Martha was concerned that there would be a stench from Lazarus’ decomposing body (Jn 11:39). Finally, Jesus reassured her, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” (Jn 11:40).


On three occasions, Martha heard Jesus’ words, but her mind could not decipher their meaning. She might have heard how Jesus had twice before performed the same feat—bringing a widow’s only son back to life, and reviving Jairus’ daughter. But perhaps, like many of us, she might not have considered that her own family could be on the receiving end of such a miracle.


Although confused, Martha was not totally without faith. She appears to have made some progress since the time she invited Jesus into her home (Lk 10:38–42). At that time, she complained that Mary was not helping to serve guests, but Jesus explained that Mary had chosen the good part by listening to His teachings. Perhaps Jesus’ words made an impact on Martha; by the time of Lazarus’ death, she believed in the resurrection—a belief that even the Sadducees did not accept—and that Jesus is the Savior, the Christ who was to come into the world (Jn 11:27). Why, then, was she confused?


Believers who put effort into strengthening their faith will no doubt keep advancing, but it does not mean they are immune from confusion. We may know Jesus and His teachings well, but we might not fully believe in every single one of His promises. Sometimes, our hearts are slow to believe (Lk 24:25).


If the Lord made a special promise directly to your heart, would you believe? If He told you that your brother would rise from the dead, your heart might be slow to believe, or your faith might be tempered by human reasoning and logic. We must ask the Lord to give us a responsive heart—a heart of flesh—so that we can experience the grace of God. Then, we will be able to grasp the promises of God.


At which point did Martha finally believe that Lazarus would be resurrected? Was it when Jesus lifted up His hands in prayer? Was it when she heard Jesus cry out, “Lazarus come forth”? When her brother walked out of the tomb, Martha’s heart must have jumped as the meaning of Jesus’ words finally became clear. 


Today, we must ask the Lord to touch our heart so that we may fully believe, without doubt, in His every promise, so that in the midst of a confused state, we can be awakened.



Mary: Awakened From Sorrow


Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and comforting her, when they saw that Mary rose up quickly and went out, followed her, saying, “She is going to the tomb to weep there.” Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled. (Jn 11:31–33)


This passage reveals the heart-wrenching sorrow that Mary was experiencing. When she rose to leave the house, her fellow mourners commented that she must be going to weep at Lazarus’ tomb—perhaps she had done this often since his burial. Even though he had been in the ground for four days, Mary’s heart was not at ease. How long would she have continued to mourn if Jesus did not raise Lazarus? When Jacob was told that his son Joseph was still alive after so many years, his heart stood still out of disbelief. But, when he realized it was true his spirit was revived (Gen 45:26–28). We can see how profound one’s sorrow can be after a loved one has died.


Jesus’ reaction to this scene is telling: “He groaned in the spirit and was troubled” (Jn 11:33). In the original text, “groaned in the spirit” has connotations of mild anger or irritation. Earlier, Jesus had said, “I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe” (Jn 11:15). From God’s perspective, this was to be a joyous day. When Jesus was resurrected, He asked Mary Magdalene, “Woman, why are you weeping?” (Jn 20:15). The day of Jesus’ resurrection was not to be a day of sorrow, but one of joy and victory. Similarly, Lazarus’ death enabled God’s glory to be revealed, but Mary’s weeping was so excessive that it troubled Jesus. He viewed the situation from God’s perspective. But then, he switched to the human perspective:


And He said, “Where have you laid him?”


They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.”


Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, ‘See how He loved him!’ ” (Jn 11:34–36)


When Jesus saw that the people could not understand God’s plan, He wept in compassion. The onlookers could feel how much Jesus loved Lazarus. This is reminiscent of the hymn lyrics, “He looked beyond my fault and saw my need.” The Lord Jesus has a heart of compassion and empathy. Empathy is when one is able to understand and feel what the other party is going through. We rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep (Rom 12:15). This is the only way others can be comforted.


When Jesus wept, was Mary awakened from the depths of her sorrows? Perhaps not. But when Lazarus walked out of the tomb, she would have been filled with joy. In the same way, a person can be awakened from despair through understanding the truth of resurrection, and experiencing the love of God.


There was a sister whose husband passed away when she was in her forties, leaving behind three children for her to look after. She cried her eyes out every day, and could not accept God’s arrangement. But one day she had a dream: she met her husband in paradise, and he showed her his home there. The sister marvelled at how beautiful and perfect it was, and told her husband that if she knew he was in such a wonderful place, she would not have cried so much. God had given her this vision to comfort her, to show her that her husband was not dead, but alive in Christ. The affirmation of this truth was enough to bring her out of her sorrows.


There was another sister who had been happily married to her husband for sixty years. Understandably, she was distraught when her husband died, and her tears flowed non-stop. On one occasion, when she was partaking of Holy Communion at the church in Queens, she saw a vision behind the pulpit. She saw Christ being crucified, the crown of thorns piercing His skin, and blood dripping down His face. She saw the spear-wound in His side and the blood that had poured out. Suddenly, the love of Christ filled her heart. The immense feeling of Christ’s love woke her up and lifted her from her grief, and she would no longer shed any tears.


When Mary saw her brother alive and well, her sorrows immediately vanished. Lazarus’ death was not permanent, he had merely been asleep (Jn 11:11); it had not been a meaningless death, it had been for the glory of God. Through this miracle, Mary finally saw the truth of resurrection, and experienced the love of Christ. These two things woke her from the depths of sorrow.



Lazarus: Awakened From Death


The true extent of Jesus’ love can be seen in the resurrection of Lazarus. This may seem a bold claim if we consider that Jesus did not immediately go to Lazarus when he fell ill—in fact, Jesus stayed where He was for two more days (Jn 11:6). By the time Jesus reached Bethany, Lazarus had been dead for four days. Jewish tradition holds that the soul departs from the body three days after death. Both Martha and Mary were adamant that Lazarus would not have died if Jesus had come on time (Jn 11:21, 32); they would not be suffering such torment.


The message the sisters initially sent Jesus was: “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick” (Jn 11:3). But is this how a true friend would treat a loved one—to deliberately allow them to suffer, and even die? Is this the way Jesus loves us?


In fact, Jesus’ delay and Lazarus’ death heralded an opportunity for the glory of God to be manifested. Today, when we have a need, we hope and pray that Jesus will immediately come to our aid. But, often, He may delay. This is the love of Jesus—in the grand scheme of things, we may suffer for a moment, but such experiences will help us to establish a firm and mature faith.


And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? (Lk 18:7)


When we are suffering, it may feel as though we are patiently waiting on the Lord, but it is actually the Lord who is being patient with us. When we sorrow, the Lord Jesus is enduring the sorrow with us. But He does not come to our aid immediately—He bears with us.


When Jesus arrived in Bethany, did He take time to eat or rest before visiting Mary and Martha? No, when the fourth day arrived, Jesus went straight to them. When the time of our suffering is complete, Jesus will not delay in helping us, He will not let us suffer more than we need. Joseph was allowed to suffer for thirteen years, but that was the limit—God did not allow him to suffer one day more. Jesus loves us with this kind of longsuffering. And He holds our life, as He did Lazarus’ life, in His hands.


Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. (Jn 11:25


We need not fear death, because we have life in Jesus. Hebrews tells us that some people are enslaved by their fear of death (Heb 2:15). Our brethren in South Africa—where there is a high incidence of crime and robbery—used to have such fear. Some members felt that it would be safer to keep the Sabbath at home. They live in a beautiful country, but they did not dare venture out of their houses. Eventually, they freed themselves through faith—they encouraged one another that, if they died before God deemed it to be their time, then He would raise them from the dead. When Paul had been adrift for many days at sea, the Lord promised him that He would preserve him and everyone else on the ship. When Paul was shipwrecked at Malta, he was bitten by a viper, which caused the locals to speculate that he was fated to die. However, as God promised, Paul was unharmed. Jesus had said to Martha, “And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (Jn 11:26). We must have complete faith in the authority of Jesus. He holds our lives in His hands, so we can live without fear.





Today, we might face times of confusion, of sorrow, of suffering and fear for our lives. But Jesus is willing to wake us with His word and His love. Martha was confused in her faith, and lacked a complete belief in Jesus’ words. Mary was trapped in the depths of sorrow. And Lazarus had been dead for four days. But by raising Lazarus, Jesus allowed Martha and Mary to see the truth of His words and the extent of His love—Lazarus died and rose again so that he could testify of Jesus. They may each have suffered, but it was all for the glory of God.


Jesus holds the power of life and death in His hands; He has the power to revive and wake us when we have doubts, feel depressed, or are spiritually lifeless. Let us seek to be awakened through His word and the experience of His love.



Jul. 13, 2017
Steve Hwang
True Jesus Church