Harmony of the Gospels

 Perea to Bethany
(26) Resurrection of Lazarus
John 11:1-44


Jesus’ public ministry is over and now He is concentrating on His private ministry.  He centers on individuals and He is no longer reaching out to the nation of Israel.  The raising of Lazarus from the dead occurred between the Feast of Dedication and the Passover which would be sometime between December and April. 

Now the supreme question is: Can Jesus raise the dead?  The big question in any religion concerns death.  Death is a great mystery.  And life is a great mystery, but life is practically meaningless if there is no resurrection of the dead.  The question to ask of any religion is whether it has power over death.

The Gospels tell us of three incidents of Jesus raising the dead.  There was the 12-year-old girl who had just died.  She was a juvenile.  There was a young man whose body was being carried to the cemetery.  Then there was Lazarus, possibly a senior citizen, who had been dead 4 days and had been buried.  Allow me to be technical and say that these people were raised from the dead; they were not resurrected.  Rather, it was a restoration to life.  1 Corinthians 15:42-44 tells us what resurrection is.  “…It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory: It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body…”  These people were raised from the dead, but none of them were given glorified bodies.  They all faced death again.

While our Lord used different methods to perform His miracles of healing, His method of raising the dead was always the same.  He called to them and spoke to them as if they heard Him.  Do you know why He did that?  Because they heard Him!  Now let’s get into the incident of Lazarus being raised from the dead.

(John 11:1-2)  Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.  (It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.)

We are told that a man was sick, in fact, he was near death.  His name is Lazarus and he lives with his two sisters, Mary and Martha, in Bethany, which at that time was about two miles from Jerusalem.  Jesus knew this family very well.  They were evidentially among His closest friends.  We are given a bit of additional information about Mary; she was the one who anointed His feet with fragrant oil and then wiped His feet with her hair.  The sisters are very worried about their brother, so the next verse says that they did something about it; they sent for Jesus.

(John 11:3)  Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick. 

The sisters sent their message to the Lord because they knew He was concerned about them.  But note that they do not ask Christ to do anything. They simply make Him aware of their need, and know that because He loves and cares He will respond appropriately.  Just knowing that He loves us means more than we can calculate—to know that we are not alone, that there are two of us in this, that it matters to Jesus Christ, that He is thinking of us, and will surely help us.

The message they had for Jesus was simple, “He whom thou lovest is sick.”  Lazarus is loved by the Savior.  Paul said, “He loved me” (Gal.2:20).  John called himself the disciple whom Jesus loved.  Paul declared that Jesus loved us.  And by the way, He loves you and He loves me.  Anyone who is a child of God is one whom Jesus loves.

(John 11:4)  When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.

“This sickness is not unto death.”  This means that the final result of Lazarus’ sickness will not be death. The final result will be for the glory of God. Sin is not the source of all sickness. Sometimes God permits sickness in order to reveal His glory. Greater glory was revealed in raising Lazarus from the dead than if Christ had simply healed him.

You can’t tell by the circumstances of a man whether God loves him or not.  Jesus loved Lazarus when he was sick.  Not only that—Jesus will let Lazarus die—but He still loves him.

(John 11:5-6)  Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.  When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was.

Later in the Chapter the mystery of Jesus’ delay is unraveled.  By waiting and then coming and raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus stirred up enough opposition to make His own death certain (as we will see in the next lesson).  This shows how great His love was for this family at Bethany.

In the hour of crisis and need, remember that God loves us.  We think that love must act immediately, but sometimes delay brings a greater blessing: “God’s delays are not God’s denials.” Jesus gave them a promise to encourage them while they waited: “This sickness is not unto death.”   The promise seemed to have failed, but Jesus knew what He was doing.

(John 11:7-8)  Then after that saith he to his disciples, Let us go into Judaea again. His disciples say unto him, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou thither again?

Note that Jesus said He was going to go into Judea AGAIN.  The disciples are alarmed when Christ wants to return to Judea; because the last time He was there they tried to stone Him (10:31).  He had barely escaped the trap and was forced to withdraw from the area.  Judea was the danger zone, because the authorities were determined to destroy Him.

(John 11:9-10)  Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world.  But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him.

Jesus calmed His disciple’s anxiety with a proverb.  He could go back to Judea as long as He was walking in the light of the Father’s will.  His enemies could not touch Him until His hour had come.  Then opposition would be permitted to close in on Him.  As for the disciples, it behooved them not to walk in the darkness of self-will and separation from Him.  Doing so, they would lack His light and would surely stumble.

There is a great principle here.  God has given each of us a life work.  You can’t extend that for one day, any more than you can stop the sun from going down in the afternoon.  But, thank God, you are absolutely in safe hands until your work is done.  No one, including Satan, can thwart God’s purpose for your life if you are following Him.  To fail to follow him is dangerous.  Then one is in darkness, because He is the light of the world.  You can go into the danger zone with Him, and you will not be touched.  You will finish your work.  But if you stay out in the darkness, if you walk in the darkness, you will stumble.  There has been death in Bethany.  If there is to be light in that time of darkness, Jesus must go there.  He is the Light of the World.

(John 11:11-15)  These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep.  Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well.  Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep.  Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead.  And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him.

Jesus told the disciples that Lazarus was asleep, using the term “sleep” in a special sense as referring to believer’s death.  Death is often referred to as sleep in the Bible.  However, in no way do these passages teach a state of soul-sleep or unconsciousness. Death for the saint means that his soul has gone to be with the Lord.  Only the body rests in the grave awaiting the resurrection.  The disciples thought that Lazarus was physically asleep and assumed that sleep would be good for his illness.  Finally, Christ clarifies His statements by telling them bluntly, Lazarus is dead.  Christ is happy that He was not with Lazarus when he died. Had He been there, He would have healed him and prevented death. (No one ever died in His presence.)  Now He must perform a greater miracle that will increase the faith of the disciples.  The disciples never reached the point where they didn’t need to have their faith confirmed and developed.

(John 11:16)  Then said Thomas, which is called Didymus, unto his fellowdisciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him.

Thomas is a gloom-caster, isn’t he?  He thinks he is going to die along with Jesus.  But, thank God, he is willing to do just that.  I believe Thomas meant it too, just as Simon Peter meant it. 

I believe that during the two day delay before Jesus left to go to Bethany that Jesus prayed for Lazarus.  I believe he asked the Father to restore his life.  When they thought He was ignoring their sorrow, Jesus was interceding on their behalf.  When Jesus finally arrived at the tomb, He didn’t speak a prayer; He only gave thanks that God had already heard Him, and had granted His request.  It is so very foolish to ever doubt Jesus.  He is so loyal to us, even when we can’t understand and we feel like we’ve been left alone.

(John 11:17-19)  Then when Jesus came, he found that he had lain in the grave four days already.  Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off: And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother.

Death and burial usually took place on the same day in Jesus’ time, due to the hot climate. The body was carefully but hurriedly wrapped in strips of cloth with expensive spices and ointments. No doubt Lazarus died shortly after the messenger was sent to Jesus.  If you allow one day for travel, and two days while Jesus delayed, and one day for the return, the total is four days.  When Jesus arrived in Bethany, Lazarus would have been in the tomb four days, which John carefully noted. Jewish tradition taught that the deceased person’s soul hovered over the body for three days after death in hopes of reunion. However untrue it was, this superstition was widely believed. The fact that Larazus had been dead for four days instead of three left little doubt in Jewish minds that Lazarus’s restoration to life by Jesus was, in fact, an unmistakable miracle. 

Bethany was about two miles from Jerusalem.  Many of the Jews walked from Jerusalem to Bethany to be with Martha and Mary.  Apparently, they were a prominent family in Bethany and well known in Jerusalem.  The presence of so many mourners was two-edged however, because some of them returned to Jerusalem as informers.

(John 11:20-22)  Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat still in the house.  Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.  But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee.

Note the contrast in personalities. Martha is a woman of action, whereas Mary is a woman of quiet reflection.  Mary, absorbed by her grief sat still, while Martha ran to meet Jesus as soon as she heard He was close by.  Martha had one regret—Jesus had not been there.  What a difference His presence would have made!  Yet she was not critical of Jesus.  Martha felt in Jesus a tower of strength.  Her words expressed a great confidence in him—that He is close to God, and that God will grant any request from Him.  However, the possibility of immediate resurrection doesn’t seem to be on her mind. 

(John 11:23-26)  Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again.  Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.   Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?

When Jesus told Martha that her brother Lazarus would rise again, Martha thought Jesus spoke of the future resurrection that would occur at the end of history. Martha knew of this future resurrection because it is foretold in the Old Testament, but she doesn’t seem to believe that Jesus can help her in the here and now. Martha, like many Christians, does not appropriate the promises of God for now. God is able to meet our needs in the present as well as in the future.  Jesus, however, identified Himself as the Resurrection.  Jesus says to her, “Martha, don’t you know that I am the resurrection and the life?”  If we have Jesus, we have life.  “He that believeth in Me, though he were dead” is referring to physical death.  Though a person is spiritually dead, “yet shall he live.”  Then He looks into the future and says that the one who trusted Him shall never die.  Life begins at the moment a person accepts the Savior.  Whosoever lives and believes in Jesus shall never die because Jesus has already died for him.  That is, he will never die as reckoning for his sins.  He will never be separated from God.

John 11:27)  She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.

Christ asked Martha, “Do you believe this?”  Martha gives the same confession that Peter gave.  She understands that He is the Messiah, however, her understanding of this is dim at this time.. 

(John 11:28-31)  And when she had so said, she went her way, and called Mary her sister secretly, saying, The Master is come, and calleth for thee.  As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly, and came unto him.  Now Jesus was not yet come into the town, but was in that place where Martha met him.   The Jews then which were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up hastily and went out, followed her, saying, She goeth unto the grave to weep there.

Apparently Jesus had asked for Mary, and Martha, with her usual usefulness, broke away from him to summon her, and to whisper the news that He had come.  Martha probably hoped that her sister could meet privately with Jesus, but the Jews, believing that she was going to the grave, followed Martha to the place outside the city where Jesus and Martha had met. 

(John 11:32) Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.

Note that the words of Mary were the same as Martha’s (11:21).  I wonder, how many times they had repeated these words to each other in the last four days.  Jesus will say later on that it was expedient, it was better, for Him to go away.  This incident makes it obvious why it was expedient.  As long as He was in the flesh, He was limited geographically.  If He were in your town, He couldn’t be in my town.  If Jesus had not gone away, He could not have sent the Comforter, the Holy Spirit.  But now that the holy Spirit has come, He is everywhere.  He indwells every believer today.  So the Holy Spirit can be where I am, where you are, and on the other side of the world simultaneously.  He said in John 16:7, “Nevertheless I tell you the truth, it is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you.” 

(John 11:33-35)  When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled, And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see.  Jesus wept.

If you want to know how God feels about the death of your loved ones, look at this.  He groaned in the spirit and was troubled, when He saw Mary and the others grieving and weeping. The verb translated “groaned” may mean “deeply disturbed.”  “Troubled” has the implication of being agitated or disturbed. Jesus could have been grieved for several reasons:
• His heart was filled with indignation against sin, the cause of suffering and death.
• A large number of strangers had traveled from the Passover feast in Jerusalem to wail at Lazarus’ funeral, and He might have been angered by their hypocrisy. Often funeral wailing was only an artificial display of emotion.
• Tears might have come to Jesus because He entered so deeply into the agony of others.
• Jesus could have foreseen His own approaching Crucifixion and grieved in advance for those who would mourn His death.

Death is a frightful thing.  You can be certain that God enters into sympathy with you.  God didn’t create man with the eventuality that he would die; death entered the world as a consequence of sin. 

Jesus sympathy was for the living.  He knew what He was going to do for the dead.  “Jesus wept.”   Here we see His humanness as He expresses His sorrow with tears.  This is also how God feels at a funeral today.  He mingles His tears with ours.  He groans within himself. 

Here, the word “wept” did not refer to the wailing that customarily accompanied funerals in that day. Funeral wailing ordinarily meant uninhibited loud crying, even screaming or shrieking. This open display of emotion was often done by people who did not know or care about the dead person. The more dramatic the wailing, the greater tribute the Jews believed they paid to the deceased. In Jesus’ case, the word “wept” simply means “shedding tears.”

(John 11:36-37)  Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him!  And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died?

The Jews missed the point here.  He wept—not because He loved Lazarus—He was not weeping for the dead—He wept for those who were living.  As we look at Jesus weeping, it comes home to us how God loves the world.

Notice that the Jews go back to the healing of the blind man.  That incident must have impressed them.

(John 11:38-40)  Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it.  Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.  Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?

Once again, Jesus groans within Himself, perhaps because the crowd of mourners that accompanied them to the tomb was not really grieving at all. The tomb has been described by some who have seen it in modern times as the deep cut-out rock type.  Jesus asked for the stone that covered the entrance, to be taken away.  Martha was shocked by such an order, since by now there would be an odor coming from the decomposing body. In the East, decomposition comes on quickly.  Besides, for some reason, it seems, Lazarus had not been embalmed.   Again we are reminded that four days have passed since the death of Lazarus, so the magnitude of the miracle may be evident to all. 

(John 11:41-42)  Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid.  And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.  And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.

Jesus stands before the cave with a ring of watchful eyes boring in on Him.  Some of them were unbelieving, and some were frankly hostile hoping to see Him fail.  Christ raised His eyes and heart to heaven and thanked God for what He was sure God was going to give him.  He prayed, “Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.”   When was it that He prayed for Lazarus?  It was during the two days He delayed His coming.  That is made more apparent because He does not utter a prayer for Lazarus at the graveside.  Instead, His prayer was one of thanksgiving rather than requesting. He is thankful that the Father has heard. Because He is in close communion with the Father, this miracle is possible. He prays so that the people may believe that thou hast sent me.  Remember, this whole incident is for the glory of God.  Jesus prays audibly to let the people know that what He is going to do is the will of the Father so that the Father will get the glory.  He voices His prayer for the benefit of those who are present.

(John 11:43-44)  And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth.  And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.

Notice that even though life was restored to Lazarus he still had his old body.  He came out wrapped in all the grave clothes.  When our Lord rose from the dead, He left all the grave clothes in place just as they had been wrapped around His body, including the napkin which had been wrapped around His head.  He came right out of them.  Why?  Because He came out in a glorified body.  They didn’t need to roll away the stone for Jesus to come out.  It was rolled away so that people on the outside could see that the tomb was empty.  His glorified body could leave the sealed grave and it could also enter a room with all the doors locked. 

“Lazarus, come forth.”  The voice of omnipotence speaks and the dead responds. Here is a picture of many Christians who are alive in Christ but are still bound by the grave clothes of the world. They cannot work because their hands are bound, they cannot walk because their feet are bound, and they cannot witness because their mouths are bound. Christ Jesus orders: Loose him.

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