I remember in middle school English classes being given the assignment of graphing the action and plot of a story – literally drawing a rising and falling line that I was to notate by highlighting parts of the unfolding story. I HATED DOING THIS! Years later, it seems like a good assignment … funny how that works.
If we were doing such a graph for the Gospel of John, it would reach a first pinnacle here in chapter 11 (with a higher point later with the resurrection, of course). This story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead is the ultimate sign that is given – the turning point as well for the Jewish leadership, who consequently determine that Jesus must be eliminated. This is the final of the seven signs … let me review those items with you and also add another list of the “I Am” Statements:
The Seven Signs:
Water to wine (2:1-12), Healing of the official’s son (4:43-54). Healing a paralyzed man (5:1-15), Feeding 5000 (6:1-15), Walking on water (6:16-24), Healing a man born blind (9:1-12), Raising Lazarus from the dead (11:1-44)
The Seven “I Am” Statements:
The Bread of Life (6:35), The Light of the World (8:12), The Gate for the Sheep (10:7), The Good Shepherd (10:11,14), The Resurrection and the Life (11:25), The Way, Truth and Life (14:6), The True Vine (15:1).
Death and Taxes
The old joke is that there are two things that can never be beaten – death and taxes. Well, apparently about half of our country has found a way to not pay the latter, but they won’t be able to avoid the former. It is the ultimate enemy.
I am very slow to ever directly quote commentary remarks written by others, but this one – by my former professor friend and running pal from Dallas, Ed Blum – is so good, I’ll make the exception.
“Physical death is the divine object lesson of what sin does in the spiritual realm. As physical death ends life and separates people, so spiritual death is the separation of people from God and the loss of life which is in God (John 1:4).”
I Hate death! I hate the loss of folks like my dear sister Charlotte, or my close ministry associate Beth! But I’m in good company hating this – Jesus hated it as well >>> to the extent of coming to die that this separation consequence may be forever fixed!
The Raising of Lazarus
I’m going to leave the story intact for you to read in one continuous setting today. It does not take a lot of explanation. The brother/sisters trio of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha were among the dearest of earthly friends of Jesus. Their home in Bethany – just two miles from Jerusalem – was a home base for Jesus and the disciples.
Lazarus is sick and messengers are sent to get Jesus – a day’s journey away. Apparently after they set out, Lazarus dies. Jesus gets the news, hears of the sickness but knows of the death; and rather than hopping right on it, Jesus stays two more days where he is. Understand clearly: Jesus knows exactly what he is going to do – that helps us understand the story fully.
His delay and the reality of Lazarus having been four days in the grave before Jesus calls him out … this all leaves NO doubt as to the miraculous nature of it.
But let me today finish by commenting on a single verse – the shortest verse in the Bible, verse 35 – “Jesus wept.” Why did he weep? The hint is two verses earlier in 33 where it describes him walking upon the scene and seeing the sadness of those mourning the loss of Lazarus, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. This translates a single Greek verb.
Have you ever looked at something that engenders in you an immediate and deep emotional reaction of both sadness and anger? Perhaps you might experience something of this nature if you viewed a picture of a crying woman holding the limp form a child killed in a terrorist bombing. At the same time, your heart aches for the innocent victim and your indignation rises to anger at the conscienceless animals who commit such an atrocity!
That is how Jesus felt!
He saw the sadness engendered by death. He surely thought of the enemy Satan who had deceived the original progenitor of the human race – resulting in THIS AWFUL SCENE. He was deeply moved and troubled … and he wept.
HE WEPT! He knew what he was going to do. He knew that in mere moments the scene would be turned to joy. But he wept. He knows the nature of human sadness and loss. And he cares.
When we understand all of this, the shortest verse in the Bible can come to have for us the longest meaning.
The Death of Lazarus
11 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.”
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.” 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.”
8 “But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”
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.”
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 said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
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 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?”
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.”