A word for the heart

by Alan Bailey

John 11:1-26 - The raising of Lazarus

Bible study

Lazarus

Introduction

I hope that you will enjoy this lesson and that it will be a blessing to you spiritually. Your comments and suggestions will be welcomed. Read what I have written slowly. If you have a Bible look up the reference verses given, and allow the Holy Spirit to minister to your soul through them.

John 11:1-26

We continue our reading of the Gospel of John.

Now we have reached Chapter Eleven. The famous event, the raising of Lazarus, is the main subject. We read of only three cases of the dead being raised during Jesus’ ministry and this occasion is the best known. In all three cases the dead were raised to live out their lives in the normal way. When Jesus rose, He rose to live in the power of an endless life.

Much can be learned from the story of Lazarus.

Verse 1 Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.

Bethany was a small place a short distance away from Jerusalem. The two sisters and their brother were apparently single and lived together. They were all friends of Jesus.

Verse 2 It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.

As John writes this record he mentions an event that happened later (it is in Chapter Twelve) to clearly identify which Mary he is referring to. The telling of this story makes clear the great love that existed between these siblings.

Verse 3 Therefore the sisters sent to Him saying, ‘Lord, behold, he whom you love is sick.’

Undoubtedly, the reputation of Jesus as a healer sprang to their minds when Lazarus appeared to be seriously ill. They had immediate hopes that He would come and make their brother well.

Verse 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.

Those who heard his reply were probably the messengers who brought the news and his disciples. Jesus was preparing the minds of onlookers for what he intended to do.

Verses 5 & 6 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where he was.

By this time the disciples would have wondered why Jesus was simply leaving His friend on his sickbed. It would have been strange to them. But Jesus knew what he was about to do.

Verses 7 & 8 Then after this He said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’ The disciples said to Him, ‘Rabbi, lately the Jews sought to stone you, and are you going there again?’

The disciples may have been glad that Jesus had held back from going south to Bethany in Judea. They had in mind the efforts to kill Jesus that we read about in Chapter Ten.

Verses 9 & 10 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. But if one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.’

In saying this, Jesus is pointing out that He need not be hindered by the kind of fear expressed by the disciples. The Father has given Him a task to do and He will do it openly and confidently. His hour of trial and passion was shortly to come, but all in God’s good time.

Verse 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.’

We note that Jesus knows at this point that Lazarus has died, though no-one has told Him. He deliberately uses the word ‘sleep’ to emphasise the fact that death does not mean the total end of everything for the individual.

Verses 12 & 13 Then His disciples said, ‘Lord if he sleeps he will get well.’ However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep

It may be that the disciples were still hoping that they would not need to take this journey into hostile territory. So they took hold of Jesus’ words, thinking that he meant ‘sleep’ in the usual sense.

Verses 14 & 15 Then Jesus said to them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless, let us go to him.’

Now the disciples can have no doubt about what He means. And they can see that He intends to go to Lazarus immediately. They can only wonder why things are happening in this way. Jesus’ words would have them anticipating a surprise in store.

Verse 16 Then Thomas, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let us go, that we may die with Him.’

There was courage in the words of Thomas but also a great misunderstanding. This was not the time of Jesus’ humiliation, but a unique time of great victory, a divine statement, a never-to-be-forgotten sign of triumph over the enemy.

Verse 17 So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days.

We can see from the story so far that this was no surprise to Jesus, but that He had planned for this scene to take place. There could be no question about Lazarus’ death now. No thought that he may not be quite dead. Four days spelt the beginning of corruption.

Verses 18 & 19 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles away. And many of the Jews had joined the women around Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother.

By this time the bereavement was well established and mourning had begun. In this culture, grieving was an intense and fairly public thing after a death. It was expected that many people would join the loved ones in their sadness to weep with them.

Verses 20-22 Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house. Now Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now, I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.

It is not hard for us to understand how Martha felt. She had probably longed for Jesus to come and was disappointed and mystified by His failure to arrive. She had to pour out her disappointment. Yet faith still gripped her. Perhaps there was still hope. Maybe there could yet be a miracle.

Verse 23 Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’

This occasion is one which Jesus will use to teach and illustrate truth which will be unforgettable. His teaching begins in this way. He refers to the truth which was known to Jewish readers of the Old Testament. That is: there will be a general resurrection at the end of time. Of course He wants to show that it is His power that makes such a thing possible.

Verse 24 Martha said to Him, ’I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’

Martha was familiar with the truth of a final resurrection. For example, Daniel the prophet spoke of it in chapter 12 of his book.

Verses 25 & 26 Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’

There are two things that Jesus is doing here. One is comforting and reassuring the grieving that all is not lost at death. Believers are secure in the knowledge that life goes on beyond the grave with a new dimension of immortality. The other thing He is doing is testing and strengthening Martha’s faith, prior to granting a miracle. So often Jesus required people to have faith in Himself before performing something supernatural

There is much more to this passage, but we stop here because this is the crucial aspect of seeing God working supernaturally in our lives: only through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. By turning from our rebellious behaviour against God and believing in Jesus Christ and what He achieved in His death and resurrection, we will be given new life, and the assurance of eternal life in heaven.

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