The story of Lazarus takes place during the time of Jesus’ ministry, in a little village called Bethany which is about two miles east of Jerusalem. Lazarus, along with his two sisters, Mary and Martha, are friends of Jesus and he is a frequent guest in their home.
When our story opens, Lazarus has become ill. Knowing that Jesus would want to be informed that his friend is sick, the sisters send word to Jesus in a nearby town. Martha and Mary had witnessed his miracles and were confident that he would show up and make everything right once again. After all, Jesus had spent time with them. He’d eaten at their house. They were friends. That was the plan anyway, and to them it certainly seemed like a good one. However, Jesus had a plan of his own.
When 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.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days… John 11:4-6, NIV
When Jesus receives the message, he does not make haste to visit Lazarus but purposely stays where he is. That seems a curious response. Jesus stays away, knowing that Lazarus needs his help. A few days pass before Jesus makes the decision to go to Bethany. He tells his disciples.
After 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.” His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” John 11:11-15, NIV
Here we get a glimpse into his plan and see the death of Lazarus from God’s perspective. Jesus knew that Lazarus would die, and he delays his travel to insure that Lazarus is “sufficiently dead” when he gets there. When he arrives in Bethany, Lazarus is already in the tomb, and the mourners have gathered. Always the practical one, Martha’s not at home with her sister Mary, but out on the road waiting for Jesus, perhaps so she can give him a piece of her mind.
On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother.
When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” John 11:17-22, NIV
The tone of Martha seems a bit harsh. It is certainly accusatory and perhaps even a bit coercive. Jesus however, routes the conversation in a different direction.
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” John 11:23-27, NIV
Despite her grief, Martha confirms that she does believe and goes to get her sister. As the sisters leave the house, the mourners follow them. Mary meets Jesus, and she too informs him that his presence would have made a difference if he’d shown up in a timely fashion. Though Jesus knows the purpose behind his plan, he is nonetheless moved by the pain of the sisters and the other mourners.
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. Jesus wept. John 11:33-35, NIV
Some people in the crowd are critical of Jesus and his tears, questioning why he would spend so much time healing strangers, but couldn’t spare the time to come to Lazarus while there had still been time to do so.
Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” John 11:36-37, NIV
Jesus now puts his plan into action.
Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone.
Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” John 11:38-44, NIV
By permitting Jesus to restore life to Lazarus, God was glorified through his son. Jesus demonstrated his power over death so that men would recognize him as the promised Messiah. Ultimately, this story is a promise of resurrection for all of those who put their faith in Christ. New life was granted to Lazarus when Jesus walked the earth, and the same is promised to us when he returns.
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, NIV
Lazarus’ story was one of death, but God’s provision was one of life.
Join me tomorrow for a story involving an evening boat ride, a ghostly sight, and a provision of comfort!
If you’ve missed any part of this series, you can find all of the posts in the side bar category 31 Days of God’s Provision.
On the journey toward Home,