story is often preached. Here we shall examine its beginnings – the man called
Holy Bible, New International Version
1Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the
village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay
sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with
her hair. 3So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord,
the one you love is sick.”
4When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it
is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” 5Jesus loved Martha and her sister and
Lazarus. 6Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick,
he stayed where he was two more days.
7Then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
8“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews tried
to stone you, and yet you are going back there?”
9Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? A man who walks by day will
not stumble, for he sees by this world’s light. 10It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light.”
11After he had said this, he went on to tell
them, “Our friend Lazarus has
fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”
12His disciples replied, “Lord, if he
sleeps, he will get better.” 13Jesus had been speaking of his death, but
his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.
14So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may
believe. But let us go to him.”
16Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the
rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
17On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus
had already been in the tomb for four days. 18Bethany was
less than two miles£ from Jerusalem, 19and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the
loss of their brother. 20When Martha heard that Jesus was coming,
she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
21“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had
been here, my brother would not have died. 22But I know
that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24Martha answered, “I know he will rise
again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who
believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe
27“Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that
you are the Christ,£ the Son of God, who was to come into the
28And after she had said this, she went back
and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is
asking for you.” 29When Mary heard this, she got up quickly
and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet entered the village,
but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31When the Jews
who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she
got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to
32When Mary reached the place where Jesus
was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my
brother would not have died.”
33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews
who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and
11:1 through John 11:33 (NIV)
Jesus, doing the unexpected
this passage we need to have an understanding of time and place. The time is
simple: Jesus has just fled Jerusalem as the Jews tried to stone him. He has
fled to the region on the other side of the Jordan, which would be about a two
day walk. Bethany is a village within two miles of Jerusalem. With this in
mind, then, let us examine the facts.
“Just the facts, ma’am”
us set out the obvious for the benefit of Sgt. Joe Friday:
loves Mary, Martha and Lazarus. From the context, it appears that Martha
is the older sister to Mary, and that Lazarus is probably a kid brother.
Losing a younger child like this is always painful.
has anointed his feet, an act of great worship.
a previous incident, Mary is praised for hearing Christ, while Martha is
gently rebuked for putting the dishes ahead of Jesus.
here makes the great confession. It is not clear in this translation, but
in the NASB the verb is translated “I have believed…” – which shows that
this faith is hers before this incident.
we see it.
of us, I think, would reason things this way:
people are personal friends of Jesus, and thus of God the Father.
who is love, would want to help his friends in their hour of tragedy.
who is all powerful, could save Lazarus from dying – even doing it
you wait too long for Lazarus, he’s going to die. Four days ago, to be
then, Jesus will come quickly to their aid – unless he’s afraid.
this cannot be – look how easily he’s handled those who want to stone him.
therefore, our expectation would have been that Jesus, upon hearing the news,
would go quickly to Bethany.
What he did
note what he did:
delayed. For no apparent reason, he waits two more days.
sends a message to Mary and Martha that sounds very much like, “Don’t
worry – he’ll recover.”
then lets Lazarus die.
when things look absolutely most hopeless, he goes.
last is important. If the fear of the Jews was a factor when Lazarus was
alive, he certainly wouldn’t go just to attend the funeral. And he evidently
missed that too.
is a great comfort to know that the disciples, in daily contact with Jesus, had
their problems with this too.
they simply didn’t get what he meant by Lazarus sleeping. It’s clear to
us, but we have hindsight. So perhaps I’m not meant to understand
everything that God is doing.
they have a quite reasonable fear of the Jews doing the mob work for the
Pharisees. Those people are dangerous – lethal, to be specific – and the
disciples are reasonable men. They have no great wish to die.
this reason, they give God some good advice – look, if the man is
sleeping, that means he’s getting better. (We still think so today). So,
if he’s getting better, there’s no reason to see him (and stick our necks
out in the process).
like so many of us, they haven’t a clue as to what God will do.
prepares the disciples.
is unusual for Jesus to tell his disciples of their destination. Chrysostom,
in his commentary, states that this is the first time he tells them a
destination. I cannot find a contrary example, but it is worth noting that
Jesus is certainly not in the habit of pointing out tomorrow’s geography. He
is much more concerned that he is your companion. “Follow me” needs no map.
also deals with their fear of danger. His antidote here is the call of duty.
Duty is the strong right arm of courage. Courage, as you should know by now,
is the overcoming of fear. Duty helps by providing your motive. Jesus’ off
hand statement that there are twelve hours of daylight sounds very much like
the old sergeant’s call of, “Come on, you ***** - do you want to live forever?”
is a great lesson in this. So often we complain that we don’t know where God
is leading us. This is usually true. So what are we to do about it? The
answer is given here: do the duty you know to be yours, and let God lead.
Otherwise you will stumble around in a darkness of your own making.
reason we often do not see the goal is that we like to think of ourselves as
being the ones who do great things – when God sees us as the ones who need to
be taught great things. Lazarus is going to be quite an education for the
has long been some doubt about Thomas here. Yes, this is doubting Thomas. Is
his reaction here bravado? Courage? We don’t really know. We do know one
thing: Thomas knew what he was supposed to do. In particular, stick close by
his Lord! It shows us the great depth of personal love and loyalty that the
man had. He is one capable of the depths of doubt and the heights of worship,
and we see his despairing nature overcome by his love for his Lord. Better
cold than lukewarm.
Mary and Martha
I have the feeling that Mary was the pretty kid sister, and Martha the plain
older one. The cute girls get away with so much more; the plain ones know
they must buckle down and do the work. The first incident produced rebuke for
Martha, but now we see what the working Christian produces. We can only
imagine Martha being one whose works of charity were well known. She has lived
the life of service. It is natural, therefore, that she would be the one to take
action – she goes to see Jesus as he is coming in. Mary waits at home.
actions receive appropriate reward. Mary must rest upon her faith; Martha
receives the comfort of Christ. Mary reproaches Jesus with “if you had been
here” – while also knowing that “even now, God will grant.” This is a life of
faith, but of faith without great experience. Martha’s hard work now rises
with her faith to the heights of the Great Confession.
Messengers to Jesus
can see much of that life in the messengers sent to Jesus. As she is the older
sister, we must presume that she instructed the messengers. See what this
brings to us:
sisters appeal to Jesus – but they do not presume to instruct him. How
often in our prayers do we bring God our problems, and then present him
with our own ideal solution!
then, do the sisters feel when they receive the returned message – only to
have their brother Lazarus die before their eyes? Especially when it is
clear that Jesus delayed in coming?
often have this difficulty with God. He won’t take our advice and he won’t do
the obvious right thing. But see verses five and six: He loves them – and
still he delays. Perhaps the matter is simply this: we do not understand
God’s timing, and therefore are tempted to doubt his love. But when we don’t
understand his timing, we should use the faith we have to stay loyal to him.
a sense we can see this faith in action here. When Lazarus is ill, what would
be more natural than to have one of the sisters (probably Mary) run to Jesus
while the other (guess who?) cared for Lazarus. Like the centurion, a man of
authority, they knew that the messenger would be quite sufficient. How
comforting the return message must have been – until Lazarus died.
is therefore a mark of great faith that Martha does not reproach her Lord. Nor
does she tell him what to do. Why not? Perhaps she understands that he knows
better than she does – what to do.
does express her pain – but she does so in her faith. She knows that her
brother will rise again on the last day – but that’s not much comfort for the
loss she has suffered. Perhaps she has not thought it through completely.
knows who Jesus is. Or at least she has the basic idea. She makes three
is the Christ – the Holy One of Israel.
is the one who was prophesied.
is the Son of God – God in the flesh.
has not yet seen the rest of the matter. He explains it in simple language:
is the Resurrection. She knows her brother will rise on the last day –
and now she knows who will make it happen. This is the one with power
over death. He will show that power in raising Lazarus; he will show it
again on that first Easter morning.
is the life – the word used here means biological life. From this alone
we would proclaim the bodily resurrection.
finds, as do we, that understanding the answer to the great question is not a
discovery but an expedition of discover.
The Matter for Us
often does what we do not expect. He expects us to do what the world does not
expect – so that the world will see Him in us. A couple of examples spring to
is our attitude at funerals – our attitude towards death? The world fears
it, the world hushes it up, the world wraps it in comfortable funeral
ritual. A funeral is an ideal time to proclaim the Resurrection.
is our attitude when God does not do what we think he should – or even
when he delays doing it? Do we endure with courage? Do we do the duty at
hand, even though we don’t see how God will redeem that?
faith is shown in being a follower of the man who said, “Follow me.” It’s easy
to follow when the path is clear. The world can see that. What they can’t see
is why we would do it when the path is not clear. It is then we can proclaim
that the Word is a lamp for our feet, a light for our path.