Today we will be in John 11 & 12, chapters that mark the turning point in the ministry of Jesus and the beginning of His passion week. For us it also marks our halfway point in this quest of Pursuing Christ. We’ve been doing this for seven weeks now, and today starts seven more weeks, with us finishing up on the last day of the year after breaking for the week of Christmas. That means there are only six weeks until Christmas! My how this year has flown by!
Anyway, I pray that this study of our Lord has been as beneficial to you as it has been to me in preparing it. I pray that you have gained a new appreciation for and a better understanding of just who this Jesus is, and why He is worthy of our praise, honor, and devotion.
Today’s story is one of his more amazing and most famous miracles, both in our day as well as in his own. I’m talking of the story of how He raised Lazarus from the dead.
Let’s pray and get into it.
Before we jump into the story, let me catch you up to where we are since we’ve jumped three chapters. After the big I AM statement where they nearly stoned Jesus in chapter 8, John records the story of Jesus healing the man born blind in chapter 9, then making a couple more I AM statements about being the Gate and the Good Shepherd in chapter 10. After all this, John says that Jesus left Jerusalem and went back to the other side of the Jordan river where John the Baptist used to do his thing.
So, now it’s probably been at least a few weeks or a couple months later, and some messengers come to Jesus from Bethany – which is just a couple miles from Jerusalem – with some grave news.
We pick up the story in John 11. I’ll be commenting as we go through it.
1 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 (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.) 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
Couple things real quick. This Mary and Martha are the same ones from the story where Martha was busy in the kitchen while Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus. Martha complained to Jesus about it, but Jesus told Martha that it was Mary who was doing the better thing. John also points out this is the same Mary who pours perfume on Jesus – a story that is actually future to this Lazarus story and recorded in the next chapter as well as two other Gospels. John includes the note here because again, he is writing to an audience who already knew the whole Gospel story from the other three that had been in publication for 20 years. So, he was appealing to knowledge the readers already had of these events.
So, anyway, Lazarus and his sisters are personal friends of Jesus, and now Lazarus is near death, so the sisters send for Jesus in hope he will come and heal him, or perhaps even heal him from a distance like he had already done for a few others. But instead of Jesus just saying the word and healing him, God has a different plan this time.
4 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.”
It’s actually quite probable that Lazarus was already dead when the messengers got to Jesus based on the travel time needed and the fact that Lazarus was dead for four days when Jesus gets there later. Jesus obviously knew that Lazarus would die, or was already dead, but he also knew he was going to raise him to life – hence it would ultimately not end in death.
And then he says the reason why he’s doing it this way: So that God and His Son may be glorified. Because there is far more glory in raising the dead to life than in preventing the death of the living. We’ll come back to that.
Let’s continue with the story.
5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, 7 and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
The “so” is not exactly in there in the Greek. John is merely recording the fact that Jesus waited two days upon hearing the news to head in that direction. A reason that will become clear later.
The disciples are surprised that Jesus would want to go back to the place where the people want to kill him.
8 “But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”
And Jesus responds in his usual cryptic (to us anyway) way…
9 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.”
This statement was a proverbial saying. The Jews divided the daylight hours, regardless of the time of year, into 12 hours. But that’s not the point here. The point Jesus is making is that we cannot change how long it is light out. And Jesus is referring to his own ministry as the time of light – that his time of ministry, before being killed, has a set amount of time ordained by the Father. And it will not be lengthened by their desire to protect him, nor shortened by the Pharisees desire to kill him. Thus there is no need to fear going to Jerusalem because nothing will happen to him until the appropriate time, which is not now.
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.
This reveals part of the reason the disciples didn’t understand why they needed to go to Lazarus. They thought he was doing fine since Jesus clearly said his sickness would not end in death. They are probably really confused that Jesus would want to go all that way and risk death just to wake the sick man up, when usually sleep is a good thing for sick people.
I suspect they actually knew what Jesus meant, but they were playing dumb, hoping Jesus wouldn’t make them go…
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) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Remember this is the famous “doubting” Thomas who later refuses to believe Jesus had risen from the dead unless he sees him and the scars in his hands and side. Commentators are split on what they think he meant here, but I believe he’s actually being sarcastic. Remember they know the Jews are out to kill Jesus and them. They are convinced if they go back it’s just walking into a death trap. And so, resigned to do what he thinks is probably a bad idea – he opens his mouth and reveals his lack of faith. Our modern vernacular would probably be “So, you want us to go back the place where the people want to kill us…sure! Why not? We all have to die sometime. Let’s do it together!”
John now jumps to their arrival in Bethany.
17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.
The four days is important.
The Jews believed that the soul hovered around the body for three days after death, hoping to reenter it. But on the fourth day, after noticing that the body was beginning to decompose, the soul departed. Only then would a death be considered completely irreversible.
So, Jesus waiting two days ensured that Lazarus would be dead for four days. Thus ensuring that no one could claim that Lazarus was not really dead.
It also had another benefit for what he was planning to do.
18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother.
The four days also ensured there would be a large audience.
20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
Why Mary stays at home is not stated, but this allows for a vital conversation between Jesus and Martha. I’ll read the whole interchange before commenting.
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.”
Her statements to Jesus reveal a level of faith in Jesus greater than most, but not a level of faith that believes Jesus can bring her brother back from the dead, especially now four days later, beyond the point when Jews believed the soul was still around. She believed Jesus was the Son of God, but she did not yet fully understand what that meant.
Also included in this dialog is one of the seven I AM statements of Jesus. I Am the resurrection and the life. Jesus is not only the Bread of Life – He IS LIFE. THE LIFE. THE LIFE AFTER DEATH. Powerful! And yet mostly lost on the grieving Martha…
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.
So, Martha goes to Mary and tells her to go to Jesus. As she rushes out, the group that was there mourning follow her. Jesus is about to have his audience.
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.” (same thing her sister said)
Next comes a scene that is filled with emotion for our Lord. But not the emotion many think in reading our English translations. I’ll read the whole thing and then come back and talk about it.
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 manhave kept this man from dying?”
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?”
In our English, it would appear that Jesus was deeply moved by grief to the point that he broke down and wept. And no doubt, many of us respond the way his onlookers did with “See how he loved him!” But don’t think for a minute that Jesus cried for the same reason as the rest of them.
Let’s go back to verse 33.
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.
The Greek behind this is not well represented, and in my and other commentators’ opinion, rather misleading.
The Greek behind “deeply moved”is EMBRIMAOMAI which literally means “to snort like an angry horse” – It’s an expression of strong INDIGNATION – not sorrow, pity, or grief, as our “deeply moved” implies.
Also, the Greek behind “troubled” is TARASSO which is a term that means to shake up, agitate, disturb. In this context, it would mean Jesus was visibly and literally shaken.
I imagine him looking around at all the people who are wailing and crying (funerals were not quiet and somber like ours – they actually hired professional wailers. It was expected that everyone be very visible and loud in their grief, and the more the better.). Jesus is looking at all of them going on like this after he just informed Martha that he is the resurrection and the Life. After all these years (it’s now near the end of his ministry) and all the miracles and all the people he’s already raised from the dead, and yet some of his closest friends and biggest supporters still do not get it.
And so he is a mixture of indignation and anger to the point that he is shaken, so instead of talking anymore about it, he simply asks where the body is.
Then on his way to the tomb, he sheds a tear. Greek has two words for crying. One is the loud wailing kind of cry. The other is the quiet, shed a tear or two, kind of cry. That’s what Jesus did. And the people around him, as usual, do not understand what’s really going on.
After these comments, they arrive at the tomb. Jesus still indignant at their lack of faith, tells them to roll away the stone. Martha again shows her unbelief at her objection over the smell.
To which Jesus responds, with I imagine emotions of heart breaking frustration…
“Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
It’s almost like Jesus hopes they will believe without seeing, but knowing that they won’t. It’s probably not unlike when you and I have a great idea or vision for the future, but when you share it with others they don’t have nearly the same level of excitement and confidence about it as you do. They just can’t seem to see it.
Jesus, the resurrection and the life is standing in front of a tomb about to show the world something they should have already known, that nothing is impossible for God. Even bringing the dead to life.
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.”
Quite a powerful scene. Some have suggested through the years that Jesus had to call out the name of Lazarus, because if he hadn’t – all the dead in all the graves within the sound of his voice would have come out! So powerful is our Lord Jesus!
It’s interesting that John ends the scene with Jesus telling the people to take his grave clothes off. He probably had to because in the shock and awe of the situation, the people were probably just standing there dumbfounded. It’s not unlike the time he healed a little girl and told the people around her to give her something to eat. Jesus is all powerful, but also rather practical.
To witness something like this, surely should have made believers out of everyone that saw it. But as is usually the case, the witnesses were divided.
45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. 46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.
John finishes the chapter with the Pharisees hatching a plan to kill Jesus before he does any more damage to their reputation. They put out an all points bulletin that Jesus is to be arrested on sight. But since it wasn’t His time yet, Jesus and his disciples left the area.
John 12 picks up the story probably a few weeks or months later, but six days before Passover, back in Bethany with Lazarus, Mary, and Martha where Mary anoints him with the perfume. I recorded a video for the Life Groups talking about this often overlooked but extremely powerful and important scene.
Then, the next day, Jesus rides into town as the triumphant hero of the people.
12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the king of Israel!”
14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written:
15 “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion;
see, your king is coming,
seated on a donkey’s colt.”
16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.
There’s actually quite a lot to this triumphal entry story, lots of prophecies fulfilled, but that is a talk for another time.
The rest of the chapter covers some teaching Jesus did once he arrived and the responses of the crowds. I don’t have time to cover all of it today, but I do want to cover how he starts the teaching as it is connected to the story of Lazarus.
17 Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. 18 Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!”
So, the story of Lazarus had caused quite a stir, and the Pharisees are not liking it, but many others are – even non-Jews.
20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.
Why they wanted to talk with Jesus it doesn’t say, and we never see them again in this story. Perhaps it was because of the great hubbub they had just witnessed as He came into town and they wanted to see if this guy was really the promised Messiah like everyone was saying…
And in typical Jesus fashion, he responds in a way that still has us scratching our heads today. But what he says is so very important.
23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.
Let me stop there real quick to point out that this statement would have likely made the crowds around him excited because for them, the title of “Son of Man” was a clear reference to the Messianic title in the prophecies of Daniel – the very prophecies that predicted the Messiah would be showing up right about now – hence why they were all shouting Hosanna and such. They all believed that Jesus was that Son of Man, the Messiah, the King who would usher in the golden age of Israel. And here Jesus starts his first address with words the crowd no doubt loved to hear!
The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified!
I bet he paused there to allow the cheering and applause to die down before continuing with something that would surely confuse and eventually deject these would-be followers.
24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
What is with all this talk of death and hating life?
As someone later comments after Jesus mentions the Son of Man being “lifted up” (i.e. crucified)…
34 The crowd spoke up, “We have heard from the Law that the Messiah will remain forever, so how can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?”
Oh, Jesus was and is indeed the Son of Man, the Messiah, the Anointed One they were all waiting for. But he wasn’t going to be what they wanted or thought he should be.
Much like his reaction to the news of Lazarus and his subsequent actions, Jesus is revealing the one thing on this earth that gives God the most glory.
With Lazarus it was letting him die and then raising him from the dead. And with Jesus himself, it will give God the utmost glory, not for Jesus to conquer the Romans and restore Israel as a conquering king – but to let that government kill him with a traitors death so that God can do what only God can do in raising Him back to life.
And why does this give God so much more glory? Because it’s something that man cannot even try to claim the ability to do. Yes, we can resuscitate a person from near death, even with a stopped heart. But only God can bring life back to a cold and decomposing corpse. And everyone knows it.
And do you know what He gets even more glory than that from? Do you know what is the one thing in all the world that gives God the utmost glory?
There is nothing that brings God more glory in this earth than human being who will willingly die to himself/herself so that God can raise them to new life in Him. A human being who will present himself/herself as a living sacrifice – holy and pleasing to God. A human being who will say to God as Jesus did in the garden – not my will, but yours be done.
This theme is all throughout the teachings of Jesus and the rest of Scripture.
23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?
Paul spells it out in a bit more detail in a few places, like Romans 6.
1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
The Christian life is very much about dying to our old selves in order that God may give us a new life. That’s what we did at the baptism during the summer at the His Reign conference. Two go down, one comes up.
2 Corinthians 5:17 says of what it means to be in Christ..
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
And this brings God great glory! For two reasons – maybe more – but at least these two.
One I already mentioned, it’s something only God can do. God gets a lot of glory when He gets to do things through us that only He can do.
But the other part of this that brings Him glory is that it is a multiplier. The end result of a true resurrection is not just the one life being restored, but many lives being restored.
Just look at the story of Lazarus – because of how Jesus did it, word of Him spread all over and crowds cam running to see Him.
Even today, when a life is truly transformed by Jesus, raised from spiritual death to life, it has an effect on the people that witness it and the people that the saved soul tells about it. It attracts them because that kind of awesome you can’t get anywhere else!
And it’s even true of a church that is transformed by Jesus, raised from certain death, or even real death, to new life, because it’s something only God can do and it it will have a multiplying effect on the whole community that gets to witness it.
Just as Jesus said..
…unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.
Because God can do great things with a dead seed, a dead heart, a dead will, but not so much with a prideful one that insists on living.