Raising Lazarus

John 11:1–44 (NKJV)

This lengthy passage illustrates a major event in the ministry of Jesus. This passage recounts the story of a close friend’s sickness, death, and resurrection. The facts and lessons surrounding this series of events is rich with opportunities for learning more about the power of Christ.

11:1 Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. 3 Therefore the sisters sent to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.”
4 When Jesus heard that, He said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was. 7 Then after this He said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.”
8 The disciples said to Him, “Rabbi, lately the Jews sought to stone You, and are You going there again?”
9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11 These things He said, and after that He said to them, “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.”
12 Then His disciples said, “Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.” 13 However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep.
14 Then Jesus said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him.”
16 Then Thomas, who is called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.”

John 11:1-16

This opening passage describes the scene of Lazarus sickness and death. Jesus knows exactly what is happening with Lazarus, and even delays His travel to Judaea to visit Lazarus for the purpose of arriving after his death. He declared to the disciples that this sickness was not unto death, but for God’s glory, declared that Lazarus was asleep, and then further explained that he was dead, all that the disciples might understand the full situation at hand. Then Jesus determined to head to Judaea, even though He would be in danger of death from the hostile Jews. His disciples followed Him loyally.

17 So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles away. 19 And many of the Jews had joined the women around Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother.
20 Now Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house. 21 Now Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.”
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. 26 And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
28 And when she had said these things, she went her way and secretly called Mary her sister, saying, “The Teacher has come and is calling for you.” 29 As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly and came to Him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the town, but was in the place where Martha met Him. 31 Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and comforting her, when they saw that Mary rose up quickly and went out, followed her, saying, “She is going to the tomb to weep there.”
32 Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”
33 Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled.

John 11:17-33

Jesus and His entourage arrived in Bethany in Judea and “learned” that Lazarus had been dead four days. The mourners had been mourning for that time, and Lazarus was in the tomb already. Martha bemoaned the fact that Jesus had not arrived before he died. She thought that perhaps He could have healed Lazarus and did not arrive in time to do so. Jesus told her that Lazarus would rise again, but she misunderstood Him to mean at the resurrection. He informed her that He is the resurrection and the life and challenged her to believe. She agreed. Martha called Mary, and she came to Him quickly. When she met Jesus, she also stated that Lazarus would not have died had Jesus been there. At this additional mourning, Jesus groaned in the spirit.

34 And He said, “Where have you laid him?”
They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.”
35 Jesus wept. 36 Then the Jews said, “See how He loved him!”
37 And some of them said, “Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?”
38 Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”
Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.”
40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” 41 Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.” 43 Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” 44 And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go.”

Luke 11:34-44

At this point, Jesus moved into a different stage of action. He asked where Lazarus was entombed, and they began to lead Him there. Jesus wept, and the crowd commented on His love for his friend Lazarus. Much is speculated about this show of emotion on the part of Jesus. Was He really showing sorrow for the death of Lazarus, or sorrow for the lack of faith of his family, or just emotion in anticipation of what was about to happen? We do not really know, but whatever the source of the emotion, it showed a side of Christ that belied His humanity and personal connection to the world and His friends.

He continued to groan within, and—upon arrival at the tomb—instructed them to roll away the stone. This groaning of Jesus is also perplexing. Was He groaning in sorrow, or was this a sign of the spiritual warfare that was taking place in His spirit? Jesus knew what was about to happen. Jesus was not unaware or taken by surprise. Instead, Jesus was aware of every thing that had happened, and everything that was about to happen, and He was ready. The family resisted His instruction to begin with, but He urged them to comply, reminding them of the promise of their faith. They cited Lazarus’ certain offensive odor due to his four days dead, but he insisted that the stone be removed. Jesus prayed to the Father, and then called Lazarus to come forth, and he did. He then ordered those standing around to loose him from his grave clothes.

This amazing story of resurrection demonstrates Jesus’ power over all things. He could call the dead back to life, heal the sick, and set captives free. There is some Jewish rabbinic tradition that says that the soul hovers over the body for three days after death, or until interred. This is part of why Jewish families bury their dead quickly. Most Christians do not hold to such a theory, but the Jews of Jesus’ day would have still believed this to be possible. The fact that Lazarus had been dead for four days, and was already buried, and was decaying to the point of offense, removed all doubt in their minds that Lazarus’ soul was gone from his body. Whatever is dead, dying, or terminal in your life is not too far gone for Jesus’ to heal. If Jesus could raise Lazarus after four days, surely He can bring life to your situation. Whatever you face today, commit it to Christ and watch the dead live again!

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