Awaken out of the grave: lessons from Lazarus, John 11

As I recently read the 11th chapter of John, my heart woke up to new truths. Though I’ve known the story of Lazarus since I was a small child, reading the words felt different this time. That’s one thing I love about God’s word: it’s timeless, and each time we read His words we extract something different and perfect for whatever we are facing that day.

The chapter opens up with this passage, John 11:1-16:

 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.)So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”

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, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

“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. 10 It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”

11 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.”

12 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.

14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

16 Then Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

 

Before analyzing this scripture, we need to first pause for a moment and take note of Mary and Martha’s response to the hardship they were facing with their brother’s illness…

 

1. The sisters ran straight to Jesus with their worry and trouble. 

Though they were not the ones to physically deliver the message, Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was ill, “Lord the one you love is sick.” By this one sentence alone it is obvious that they are believers, full of faith and trust. They already recognize that Jesus IS the Messiah and they trust Him to fix this trouble they face. They acknowledge that Jesus LOVES their brother, therefore, He must will what is good for his beloved one. This verse started my mind racing as I began to ask, “When I face hardship in this life do I run straight to Jesus with my worry? Who do I turn to when I need help?” I hope my answer can always, truly, be “yes I run to Jesus.”

 

2. Jesus promised healing for Lazarus. 

At this point Jesus has yet to perform the miracle. Lazarus is dead which seems to contradict the comforting words that Jesus spoke to the sisters in verse 4. Didn’t Jesus clearly say, “This sickness will not end in death”?! Yes, He did! So… did he lie? Was he deceiving the sisters? Was he trying to toy with their emotions? Not at all! Jesus knew of His Father’s greater, wiser, more beautiful plan and he was obedient to carry it out.

But He also stated, “No, it is for God’s glory so that God may be glorified through it.” The life of Lazarus was not to end now, not from this sickness, for God had a plan that would glorify Him through this situation which appeared tragic and hopeless. The Lord does the same thing for us! He promises beauty from ashes, He promises that He is our Jehovah-Rapha: the God who heals! He promises to never leave or forsake us and to work all things for the good of those who love Him.

 

Let’s continue with verses 17-37

17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles[b] from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother.20 When 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. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God,who is to come into the world.”

28 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.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When 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 mourn there.

32 When 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.”

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

35 Jesus wept.

36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

3. Jesus could have prevented Lazarus from dying but he didn’t because of LOVE.

In the second passage of this chapter we see Martha and Mary both questioning their brother’s death. Individually, each of these women emotionally confronts Jesus saying, “If you had been here he would not have died!”

How many times have I done the same thing? How many times have I looked at the situation I’m facing and declared how different things would be if only God had showed up for me… if only he was with me?!

Jesus has never left me. In the same way, the Lord never left Mary or Martha even though it seemed like he was far away. This chapter of scripture emphasizes and implies multiple times the fact that Jesus LOVED Lazarus, Mary and Martha.

Look back at verses 4-7.

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, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

He loved them SO he stayed where he was for TWO DAYS LONGER rather than running straight to the aid of Lazarus. Jesus chose NOT to be there. He chose to WAIT. Why? Because HE LOVED THEM. And because of that love he chose to delay something great (healing the sickness in Lazarus), in favor of waiting to do something spectacular (like raising Lazarus from the dead.) Because he loved Lazarus, Mary, and Martha and because Jesus LOVED the Father, he was obedient in waiting for the time when the glory of God could be best revealed and magnified.

 

4. Mary and Martha are shining examples of how Believers must act in the face of, “Where was God when I needed Him?” 

Though Mary and Martha had very different responses to Jesus, each of them reveal a childlike faith, pure of heart and trusting in Jesus as Messiah. After Martha questioned where Jesus was during the death she made a profound follow up statement, “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

Though Martha did not understand that Jesus was fully God and fully man, she understood the closeness of Father & Son, she understood that Jesus was able to do all things because of the power of God pulsing through Him. She also TRUSTED in her Savior during this tragic time. Though she felt abandoned by Jesus in her time of need, she was wise enough to consciously choose to continue walking in full trust and belief in Him.

Jesus replies to her by revealing another piece of his true identity as the resurrection and the life, expressing that all who believe in Him will live even after physical death.

There is no way Martha could have actually comprehended these statements… she probably thought the words coming out of Jesus’s mouth were crazy! And yet, she responds with a confession of faith which recognizes Jesus as the Messiah. She believed even when she could not understand.

And Mary, as she wept and lamented the fact that Jesus was not there to save Lazarus from death, threw herself at the feet of Jesus. Isn’t this what we are all called to do? Run to the feet of Jesus for our comfort, grounding, safety, rest, praise… run to the feet of Jesus for everything! Mary understood where her help and her rock came from.

Also, the mere fact that both Mary and Martha said, “Jesus if you had been here he wouldn’t have died!” demonstrates a certain of level of faith for they clearly knew that Jesus was their Savior, the one able to heal the sick and give sight to the blind. Though they were confused, possibly angry, and upset they had eyes which recognized the truth of who Jesus was.

Now it is time for the miracle!

Jesus Raises Lazarus From the Dead

38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “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.”

40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 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.”

43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 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.”

Can you even imagine what it must have been like to be there?! My mind explodes when I try to picture seeing a man who had been dead for four days, buried inside a tomb, get up and walk!!! To see someone awake from the grave would have likely been terrifying in the midst of amazing. Aren’t you beyond thankful to serve a God who knows NO limits- a God who can literally bring the dead back to life?!!

5. The healing of Lazarus happened as a result of an act of faith.

Though Lazarus had been dead for four days he still responded to a command from Jesus and in his response, healing came forth. We see Jesus call out to Lazarus, “Lazarus, come out!” And moments later, Lazarus did just that!

This is the same model we read about in many of the accounts of Jesus healing and working miracles. In the case of one man with blind eyes Jesus applies mud to his eyes then instructs the man to wash it off in a certain pool of water. The man stepped out in faith and obedience, following Jesus instruction and therefore was gifted with 100% healing. In the case of the ten lepers, Jesus commands them to go and be cleansed by the priest. This would have been a dangerous, crazy things for them to do, yet they stepped out in faith and also received a miraculous healing.

When Jesus came into the tomb of Lazarus he called out to the dead man to come out. In my mind, though Lazarus is dead, I imagine he can hear Jesus calling and therefore he has free will to choose whether or not he obeys the command. Lazarus steps out in faith and does exactly what Jesus told him to do, and therefore he is gifted a miraculous healing from the grave!

I don’t believe that healing is this cut and dry or that it’s something we have total control in deciding who gets it and who doesn’t. But, we have much to learn from the accounts of Jesus healing and the response of the person needing the healing. It seems to me that healing after healing in the gospels springs forth as an act of faith in obedience in response to a command from the Lord.

 

6. God allowed the death of Lazarus for the greater benefit of His children and His kingdom. 

Maybe God will allows the ugly, hard stuff to happen in our lives because He wants to have a radical encounter with not only you but so many people around you. If Jesus had been there to heal Lazarus initially from his sickness, the life of Lazarus and his family would have been radically changed. And hopefully he would have told others about this amazing Jesus so that their lives would be changed as well.

But, when Jesus awoke Lazarus from the grave, the lives of the disciples, Mary, Martha, the Jews in the community who had gathered to watch all the commotion, and those who heard the good news afterward, were all radically changed from this BIG encounter with Jesus!

More lives were forever changed, more hearts were opened to belief, and more of God’s kingdom was glorified through this plan than would have been through the plan that Mary, Martha and Lazarus had hoped for. In fact, if you continue reading John chapter 12 you’ll discover the effect that this miracle had on the community… verse 11 “…for on account of him (Lazarus) many Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him.”

Despite all of the hardship and suffering the last five years have brought me, I can confidently say that God’s way is better. If I had been healed over four years ago I know my life would still be radically changed and maybe the lives of my family. But because God still has me in this place of sickness, believing for healing, trusting Him to be my strength in the midst of weakness-  I know that MORE people are getting the chance to have encounters with Jesus, more people are getting to see Him glorified in the valleys of life, and more people are hearing His name.

God’s plan for our lives isn’t merely about us, or what would be easiest for us, quickest for us, most beneficial for just us. God’s plans are for the greater good of all His beloved children and for glorifying HIS KINGDOM the best way possible. Maybe Jesus has delayed doing something great in your life for the chance to give you something spectacular at a later time!

Yes, Jesus wants you to have a real, radical encounter and transformation with/in Him; he also wants your family, friends, neighbors, strangers, and enemies to have a radical encounter and transformation with/in Him, too!

His way is ALWAYS the best way.

His way is ALWAYS for our benefit.

Yes, Jesus could prevent certain things from happening. He could change the outcomes. He could stop the tragedies… but maybe He doesn’t because of LOVE and because of a greater plan for His glory to be revealed.

No, we can’t wrap our minds around it. We can’t understand it. And that’s okay with me. Faith means trusting! Trusting in the unseen, trusting in the unknown, and trusting that Our Good God LOVES us with an everlasting love and because of that He is working for our good. Faith means God doesn’t have to give me an explanation, He can be silent and I still must believe.

 

There are countless more nuggets of wisdom and truth to be extracted and explained from John Chapter 11. As I write this blog post for you, re-reading the passage over and over, looking at my notes again and again, I feel the Lord speaking more new truths into my heart. My prayer today is that these few key points would resonate with your soul and lead you closer to our Lord, Jesus Christ.

 

 

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