Jesus Hears About Lazarus
John points to stories where Jesus returns to the issue of faith again and again. The crowds are fickle, believing sometimes and not others. The religious leaders refuse to believe because Jesus doesn’t fit their paradigms. The disciples and close friends constantly face situations that challenge their faith, and this especially happens when Lazarus dies. John is implicitly urging his readers to have faith in Christ, even in difficult times, because He is the source of life and well being.
The Death of Lazarus
A man named Lazarus, who lived in Bethany, became sick. Bethany was the town where Mary and her sister Martha lived. (This Mary was the one who poured the perfume on the Lord’s feet and wiped them with her hair; it was her brother Lazarus who was sick.) The sisters sent Jesus a message: “Lord, your dear friend is sick.”
When Jesus heard it, he said, “The final result of this sickness will not be the death of Lazarus; this has happened in order to bring glory to God, and it will be the means by which the Son of God will receive glory.”
Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he received the news that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was for two more days. Then he said to the disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
“Teacher,” the disciples answered, “just a short time ago the people there wanted to stone you; and are you planning to go back?”
Jesus said, “A day has twelve hours, doesn’t it? So those who walk in broad daylight do not stumble, for they see the light of this world. But if they walk during the night they stumble, because they have no light.” Jesus said this and then added, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I will go and wake him up.”
The disciples answered, “If he is asleep, Lord, he will get well.”
Jesus meant that Lazarus had died, but they thought he meant natural sleep. So Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, but for your sake I am glad that I was not with him, so that you will believe. Let us go to him.”
Thomas (called the Twin) said to his fellow disciples, “Let us all go along with the Teacher, so that we may die with him!”
John 11:1-16 (GNT)
We sometimes think of the disciples as “supersaints,” but such was not the case. They often failed their Lord, and He was constantly seeking to increase their faith. After all, one day He would leave them and they would have the responsibility of carrying on the ministry. If their faith was weak, their work could never be strong.
Jesus was at Bethabara, about twenty miles from Bethany (John 1:28; 10:40). One day, a messenger arrived with the sad news that our Lord’s dear friend Lazarus was sick.If the man had traveled quickly, without any delay, he could have made the trip in one day. Jesus sent him back the next day with the encouraging message recorded in John 11:4.
Then Jesus waited two more days before He left for Bethany; and by the time He and His disciples arrived, Lazarus had been dead for four days.This means that Lazarus had died the very day the messenger left to contact Jesus!
The schedule of events would look something like this, allowing one day for travel:
- Day 1—The messenger comes to Jesus (Lazarus dies).
- Day 2—The messenger returns to Bethany.
- Day 3—Jesus waits another day, then departs.
- Day 4—Jesus arrives in Bethany.
When the messenger arrived back home, he would find Lazarus already dead.
What would his message convey to the grieving sisters now that their brother was already dead and buried?
Jesus was urging them to believe His word no matter how discouraging the circumstances might appear. No doubt the disciples were perplexed about several matters.
First of all, if Jesus loved Lazarus so much, why did He permit him to get sick?
Even more, why did He delay to go to the sisters?
For that matter, could He not have healed Lazarus at a distance, as He did the nobleman’s son? (John 4:43-54)
God’s love for His own is not a pampering love; it is a perfecting love. The fact that He loves us, and we love Him is no guarantee that we will be sheltered from the problems and pains of life. After all, the Father loves His Son: and yet the Father permitted His beloved Son to drink the cup of sorrow and experience the shame and pain of the Cross. We must never think that love and suffering are incompatible. Certainly they unite in Jesus Christ.
Jesus could have prevented Lazarus’ sickness or even healed it from where He was; but He chose not to. He saw in this sickness an opportunity to glorify the Father. It is not important that we Christians are comfortable, but it is important that we glorify God in all that we do.
In their “prayer” to Jesus, the two sisters did not tell Him what to do. They simply informed Him that there was a need, and they reminded Him of His love for Lazarus. They knew that it was dangerous for Jesus to return to Judea because the Jewish leaders were out to destroy Him. Perhaps they hoped that He would “speak the word” and their brother would be restored to health.
Our Lord’s message to the sisters did not say that their brother would not die. It promised only that death would not be the ultimate result, for the ultimate result would be the glory of God. (Note that once again, Jesus called Himself “the Son of God.”) He wanted them to lay hold of this promise; in fact, He reminded Martha of this message when she balked at having the tomb opened (John 11:40).
When we find ourselves confronted by disease, disappointment, delay, and even death, our only encouragement is the Word of God. We must live by faith and not by sight. Their situation seemed hopeless, yet the sisters knew that Jesus was the Master of every situation.
The promise in Psalm 50:15 finds a parallel here: “Call to me when trouble comes; I will save you, and you will praise me.“
What about our Lord’s delay?
He was not waiting for Lazarus to die, for he was already dead. Jesus lived on a divine timetable (John 11:9) and He was waiting for the Father to tell Him when to go to Bethany. The fact that the man had been dead four days gave greater authenticity to the miracle and greater opportunity for people to believe, including His own disciples (see John 11:15).
When our Lord announced that He was returning to Judea, His disciples were alarmed, because they knew how dangerous it would be. (Bethany is only about two miles from Jerusalem.) But Jesus was willing to lay down His life for His friends (John 15:13). He knew that His return to Judea and the miracle of raising Lazarus would precipitate His own arrest and death.
The Lord calmed their fears by reminding them that He was on the Father’s schedule, and that nothing could harm them. As we have seen, this is an important theme in the Gospel of John (John 2:4; 7:6, 8, 30; 8:20; 12:23; 13:1; 17:1). But the disciples not only misunderstood the schedule, they also misunderstood the reason for the visit. They thought that, if Lazarus was sleeping, he was getting better! It was another example of their inability to grasp spiritual truth. “If he is sleeping, he must be improving—so let’s not bother to go to Bethany!”
Then He told them openly that Lazarus was dead. (Death for the believer is compared to sleep. See Acts 7:60; 1 Cor. 15:51; 1 Thes. 4:13-18.) He did not say He was glad that His friend died, but that He was glad He had not been there; for now He could reveal to His disciples His mighty power. The result would be glory to God and the strengthening of their faith.
If Thomas’ attitude was any indication, the faith of the disciples certainly needed strengthening! The name Thomas means “twin” in the Aramaic language; the Greek equivalent is Didymus. We do not know whose twin he was, but there are times when all of us seem to be his twin when we consider our unbelief and depressed feelings! It was Thomas who demanded evidence before he would accept the truth of our Lord’s resurrection (John 20:24-28).
Thomas was a doubting man, but we must confess that he was a devoted man: he was willing to go with Jesus into danger and risk his own life. We may not admire his faith, but we can certainly applaud his loyalty and courage.
DECLARATION OF FAITH
The light within me guides me in all of my actions in the kingdom just as natural light illuminates my paths in the natural world.
The same goes for the darkness. As anyone who walks in the darkness in the natural world will stumble, so will I stumble if I walk in darkness within the kingdom.
Furthermore, I do not allow the natural world, with its circumstances and obstacles, to guide my actions. If God calls me to do something, I will do it regardless of what my eyes see, ears hear, or what threatens me in the natural realm.
Bible Exposition Commentary – Be Alive
The Complete Personalized Promise Bible