Perhaps the most astonishing miracle that Jesus performed while on this earth was raising up Lazarus to life after he had been in the tomb for four days. However, why the other Gospel authors chose not to write about this incident remains a mystery. On the other hand, John in his pursuit to reveal the identity of Jesus, who had the benefit of hindsight as he recorded this moment several years after the other accounts, depicted Jesus as the Life. The same Life that was breathed into Adam’s nostril during creation and the same Life that powers us every day.
Lazarus has Fallen Asleep
Lazarus was a close friend of Jesus and the brother of Martha and Mary. The sisters were competitive followers of Jesus and their house would have been the default halt point for Jesus on his visits to the southern country, given the proximity of Bethany to Jerusalem. When the sisters sent word to Jesus about their brother’s sickness, Jesus’ response did not scream urgency rather He chose to wait for two more days before deciding to travel to Judea.
The raising of Lazarus would be a precursor to His own resurrection from the grave on the third day. We have read that He had raised at least two people from the dead but they had not been in the grave for four days. The disciples and the Jews gathered around this tragedy, would soon be the witnesses to Jesus’ big reveal, that He indeed is the Resurrection and the Life.
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.”John 11:4
It’s our perspective that makes us think that our sickness is a curse from God, a sign of His disapproval of us. However, everything that happens in our life is meant to glorify God. We feel that God can be glorified among our friends and neighbours only through the blessings he bestows in our life. But God can be glorified with our sorrows and sufferings too. How we deal with the problems in our lives is the greatest indicator that God is working in us. Do we face our problems with fear and doubt or with faith, bringing God along for the ride regardless of our situation? We need to change our perspective and learn from what Christ was teaching His disciples using the examples of Lazarus and the blind man.
“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light.John 11:8-9
The disciples however were worried for their lives. The pharisees were hell-bent on capturing Jesus. What the disciples did not understand is that unlike them, Jesus was not hiding from the pharisees but waiting for the day and the hour set by His father. The disciples were witnesses to several heated encounters between Jesus and the pharisees and were perhaps worried for their life. Only Thomas was brave enough to accompany Jesus back to Judea knowing full well what would happen. Jesus responded to them by saying that anyone who walks in the daylight will not stumble. While the followers of Jesus met Him in secret and did not openly confess their faith, Jesus did not follow the same route. Jesus was doing what was right in the eyes of God and so He did everything in the open. The same confidence was missing in His disciples and followers who were worried about appearances.
Martha and Mary
Jesus arrived in Bethany to meet the sisters and at that point, the body of His friend had been in the tomb for four whole days. Well-wishers from the nearby towns including Jerusalem had also gathered to console the sisters but Jesus did not come with the same purpose. When the sisters heard that Jesus had finally arrived, Martha went to meet Him.
“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 11:21-22
It seems that Martha was hopeful that Jesus would raise her brother. But she was not faithful as when Jesus told her exactly what she wanted to hear, she assumed that Jesus was speaking about the day of the Lord and the final judgement. Jesus responded to her by revealing another aspect of His identity.
I am the resurrection and the life.John 11:25
Martha responded by professing her faith and calling Jesus the Saviour of the world and then went back home to call her sister. On seeing Jesus, Mary fell at His feet and cried out to Him. She was confident that had Jesus been with them through the ordeal, they would not have lost their brother. Seeing her weep, Jesus was deeply moved and wept.
The sisters approached Jesus in different ways as perhaps one was closer to Jesus than the other. There is also a difference in the way Jesus responds to them. With Martha, He spoke about the resurrection but with Mary, He simply wept, (John 11:35, the shortest verse in the English Bible). The closer we are to God the more He draws near us. Are we inviting him to the depths of our hearts or do we have a superficial relationship with Him?
At the Tomb
Jesus went with them to the tomb of the dead man and asked the stone to be removed. Martha still had her doubts about what Jesus was going to do but Jesus asked her to believe and proceeded to pray to His father.
“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.”John 11:41-42
At once the dead man came out of the grave with his bandages still intact. Jesus asked the ones standing there to help him get rid of burial clothes. Thus Jesus had raised a person from the dead for the first time in front of such a large crowd. If they had not heard how He had raised the daughter of Jairus and the widow’s son before, now the Jews would know about the power of resurrection that God has given to Jesus. Many of them started believing in Him but some went to the nearby city of Jerusalem to apprise the pharisees of all that had transpired that day.
The Jesus Problem
Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.John 11:47-48
“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”
They were now clueless on how to stop the name of Jesus from spreading. More than their religious integrity, for the first time we see them openly declaring the real reason for their strife with Jesus. They were more worried about their status and their jurisdiction that was handed to them by the Roman government. To hold on to their power over their small ‘kingdom’, they were ready to forego the promise of the eternal kingdom. Right then the high priest Caiaphas made a bold statement that he thought expressed his interests but was given to him by God.
“You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”John 11:49-50
While Caiaphas thought he was talking about killing Jesus to prevent a revolt from His followers, he did not realize who had made him the high priest that year. He may have dethroned his father-in-law but it was God who was in control. He thought that by killing Jesus he would stop an insurgency against the temple leaders and they could hold on to their precious seats for a bit longer. But in planning to kill Jesus they set in motion God’s plan for redemption that existed long before the earth was created.
So from that day on they plotted to take his life. Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the people of Judea. Instead he withdrew to a region near the wilderness, to a village called Ephraim, where he stayed with his disciples.John 11:53-54
While cities like Jerusalem were hostile toward Jesus, the smaller towns were a haven for Him and His travelling companions. These towns were even open to listening to Jesus’ words and did not take offence at His every action. The religious capital of Jerusalem would stifle anyone who dared to follow the Way. The more the people give importance to religion, the less open they are to learn from God. Religion gives them a sense of achievement and satisfaction that they have gotten accustomed to. The smaller towns who have limited exposure to such aspects are open to listen and learn from Jesus.
What is our state of belief? Are we like the small towns open to accepting the new things Jesus wants to teach us everyday or are we like the big religious cities who have closed their eyes and ears least they might see and hear and believe.
- V6: Does Jesus seem unconcerned about his friend?
- V4: Jesus said the same about the Blind man. How can our sickness be for God’s glory?
- V8: Why are the disciples (except Thomas) reluctant to return to Judea?
- V27: What was Martha expecting from Christ?
- V35: Why is Jesus weeping with Mary rather than raising Lazarus?
- V50: What does Caiaphas actually mean? What do his words mean?
- V54: Smaller villages were more welcoming to Jesus (Bethany, Ephraim). What was the problem with the bigger ones?