The Resurrection of Lazarus
Delay in Coming (John 11:1-16)
We were introduced to Martha and Mary earlier in Luke 10:38-42. Mary is also the woman who had anointed Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair (Luke 7:36-50). We now learn that they had a brother who was gravely ill.
The sisters sent a message to Jesus, who is still in the Perea region, that the one he loved was sick. Oddly, on receiving the message Jesus tells his disciples that Lazarus was not sick unto death, but ill so that God, the Father and the Son, may be glorified through his illness. John assures us that Jesus truly loved Lazarus and his sisters. Thus, we know that Jesus is not causing grief without cause. However, instead of immediately going to Bethany, as you might expect, Jesus delays for two more days. Though it might appear difficult to the sisters and others, the delay was necessary that a greater deed might be demonstrated so that the disciples’ faith could be enlarged.
After two days, Jesus suddenly announces that they would return to Judea. This surprises the disciples because the Jews were seeking an opportunity to stone Jesus. Returning would put the Lord into harm’s way.
Jesus pointed out that there are times – the daylight hours – when a person can walk without fear of harm because the world is well-lit. Since there is still time before his one end (the darkness), Jesus is saying to the disciples that he can safely go to Judea because the end has not yet been reached. It doesn’t matter that the Jews were seeking his life, it wasn’t yet time for him to die.
He then tells the disciples that Lazarus has fallen asleep, but that he is going to awaken him. If the disciples thought about it for a moment, they should have realized that Jesus was not speaking of a literal sleep. It takes several days to reach Bethany from where they were. It would be unnecessary for Jesus to go all the way to Bethany just to wake up Lazarus from a nap. But the disciples thought Jesus was talking about a literal sleep. Knowing he was ill, they figured that sleeping was a good sign that he was getting better.
Another point to be noted is that Jesus knew when Lazarus died even though they were not close by nor could a messenger have reached them. We also no messenger had arrived because the disciples did not know what had actually happened.
Because they did not understand, Jesus told the disciples plainly that Lazarus had died. Though it would be a sad event, Jesus is glad that he wasn’t there because it would become an opportunity to strengthen their belief.
Since Jesus insisted on going, Thomas said the rest might as well go too and if they die at least they would die together.
Martha Greets Jesus (John 11:17-27)
The journey took at least four days, assuming Lazarus was buried on the day that he died. Jesus did not actually enter Bethany, but he sent word ahead that he was coming. Even though the funeral was four days earlier, there was still a large number of people with Martha and Mary, consoling them after the loss of their brother. One reason for the large numbers is that Bethany is only two miles from the outskirts of Jerusalem.
Martha is told that Jesus was coming and she quickly went to see him. Mary remains in the house, unaware that Jesus came.
Martha told Jesus that if he had been there, Lazarus would not have died. Even though Lazarus died, Martha knows Jesus still as the ability to heal. Martha firmly believed in Jesus’ power to heal, but it didn’t cross her mind that even now he could bring her brother back from the grave. It appears she believes that Lazarus died simply due to unfortunate circumstances that prevented Jesus from intervening on their behalf.
Jesus told her that her brother would rise again. Martha took this as being words of comfort, assuring her that no death, including Lazarus’ was permanent. Martha’s answers shows us that she was well taught by Jesus and knowledgeable. She knows that there will be a resurrection on the last day.
But Jesus asserts that he controls life. Those who believe in him will live to never truly die. He then asks Martha if she believes this. Martha states that she believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. She understands the connection between Jesus’ authority and power and who he is. Martha had faith, but she didn’t see what Jesus was offering or that it applied to her immediate situation. She simply did not understand.
Mary Greets Jesus (John 11:28-32)
Martha then returns to the house to quietly tell Mary that Jesus is here and wants to talk to her. Mary quickly leaves and goes to where Martha and Jesus had talked. Others in the house saw Mary leave quickly and assumed that she was going back to the grave to cry some more. Rather than leave her alone in her misery, they followed to keep her company. If Martha thought to keep Jesus’ return quiet, it was thus frustrated by the good intentions of the people.
Like Martha, Mary also tells Jesus that if he had been there Lazarus would not have died. The use of the same phrasing hints that they had been talking about it in the past days.
Jesus is Troubled (John 11:33-38)
Jesus’ reaction is different from what we have seen before. He had met a funeral possession and told the grieving mother not to weep (Luke 7:12-15). When a ruler’s daughter died, he scolded those who were weeping over her (Mark 5:38-42). But this time, his reaction is different. John tells us he was troubled and groaned within himself.
Some of those standing there guessed that it was grief at the death of Lazarus (John 11:36). But as others noted in that crowd, it didn’t make sense to be grieved since he could have prevented the death. Others reading this account suggest that it was a sympathetic reaction to Mary’s grief. While possible, it doesn’t adequately explain what we are told. Jesus had told the disciples that he would be raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:14-15).
What John is hinting at is that Jesus sees the parallel between Lazarus’ death and his own death. The time of his death is coming quickly and Jesus was not looking forward to it (John 12:23-28). Jesus did not merely cure sorrows, he shared in them (Isaiah 53:3). He joined in the grief over Lazarus’ death while seeing the shadow of his own death on the horizon. Soon he would give the ultimate cure for the ultimate need (Romans 5:6-8).
There is subtle foreshadowing between Lazarus’s death and Jesus’ death. When Jesus asked where Lazarus was laid, the answer was “come and see.” That phrase should trigger your memory of when the disciples first discovered Jesus. “Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote--Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." And Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see."” (John 1:45-46). When Mary brought the report that Jesus’ tomb was empty, Peter and John went to see for themselves (John 20:2-9). Later, when Thomas was uncertain if Jesus truly was alive, he was invited to see for himself (John 20:27). Ultimately John records the invitation for all (Revelation 22:17).
John records for us the fact that Jesus wept so that we can see the humanity of Jesus and the glory of his deity. It was his desire that we share with the apostles what they knew (I John 1:1-4).
Jesus Raises Lazarus (John 11:39-44)
Lazarus was buried in a cave, sealed with a stone. Jesus commanded that the stone be removed. Martha objected stating that the body would be decaying by this time. Even to this point Martha doesn’t understand what Jesus is about to do. But this is further evidence for us that this miracle could not be faked. Since the stone was preventing the smells from escaping, it would also prevent air from entering. It would be difficult for a man, deathly ill, to survive in a sealed cave for four days without food, water, or air.
Jesus reminded Martha that if she believed she would see the glory of God. So they acquiesced and removed the stone. Jesus then prays to the Father. God already knew what Jesus planned, but Jesus prayed that those hearing him would know that this feat was by the power of God, and thus, believe that Jesus had been sent by the Father.
Jesus then calls Lazarus forth from the grave and he comes out still wearing the grave cloths wrapped around him. Jesus’ call shows that the resurrection was by his personal authority (John 11:25). Beyond this there was no incantations or special charms. It was done by his word alone (I Thessalonians 4:16).