About a month before His own death and resurrection, Jesus visited Bethany and performed His third miracle of resurrection, raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-46). No one knows how often Jesus visited the home of the sisters, Mary and Martha, and their brother Lazarus, but Scripture records some of His visits to their friendly, peaceful, and loving home (Matthew 21:17; Mark 11:11, 19; Luke 10:41-42).
This resurrection is the most extraordinary of all His great works while in the flesh. It foreshadowed His own resurrection, made a profound impression in Jerusalem, and in contrast, brought the wrath of the Sanhedrin to a head, stirring them to decide to murder Jesus. After performing this miracle, He withdrew to the wilderness of Ephraim for some private time with His disciples before the Passover and His final hours.
1. Does God always shield His friends from sorrow? John 11:1-16.
Comment: With Lazarus’ death imminent, they were to learn that the wisdom of godly love does not always shield its recipients from suffering, sorrow, and death (John 16:20-22; II Corinthians 7:9-10). Even the personal affection that His friends enjoyed with Him did not persuade Jesus to stray from His responsibility to glorify God in all that He did. So the family had to experience illness and grief. The gospels do not record the nature of Lazarus’ illness, but it was serious enough for his sisters to request Christ’s intervention, expecting Him to immediately heal the disease. The ease and simplicity of their message, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick” (John 11:3), shows the faith they had in His ability to heal.
2. Does Jesus desire His friends to have the same personality? John 11:20.
Comment: Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus (Luke 11:5), choosing to love them in a more personal way than others, which shows that He loves different personalities. He loved Martha, a resilient and energetic woman, who was the keeper of their home, intent on looking after the physical comfort of her guests. Mary was different: contemplative and gifted with intuitive grace and kindhearted sympathy. Mary and Martha were devoted to Jesus and appreciated Him in their own ways (Luke 11:21-22, 32). Likewise, in His own kind and caring way, Jesus enjoyed dealing with each of them according to their temperaments. Lazarus’ name is not mentioned nor is his voice heard in Scripture until his sickness, death, and resurrection. A man of few words, he was a quiet and unassuming friend.
3. Why does Jesus, delaying His arrival, permit Lazarus’ sickness and death? John 11:6-7, 11-15.
Comment: Jesus already knew that Lazarus needed healing when the news reached Him. He assures His disciples that the sickness would not have death as its final result, however, God was permitting it for two reasons: the furtherance and accomplishment of the Father’s purpose and His glorification, as well as the glorification of Jesus Himself.
His delay in going to Bethany must have puzzled His friends, especially when He allowed it to end in death. Yet, the distressed sisters were to learn that God’s delays are not denials. Unrelieved suffering is sometimes necessary to perfect character—Jesus Himself “learned obedience by the things that He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8).
Mary and Martha were sure Jesus would come because He loved them. They had to learn that He was not neglecting them, but that His purpose in delaying was one of godly love. It was probably emotionally painful for Jesus to cause Mary and Martha grief, but He wanted to reveal to them—and to us—that despite our inclination to help our friends, even if we have power to do so, we must be guided by God’s Spirit to prioritize His glory and our spiritual welfare, rather than gratify our feelings.
4. How does Jesus express death to show that it is temporary? John 11:11.
Comment: As Jesus leaves for Bethany, He gives those around Him a softened description of death, saying, “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up” (John 11:11), to indicate that it is temporary. His disciples think He refers to natural sleep and that Lazarus would recover from his sickness. Then Jesus tells them plainly, “Lazarus is dead.”
We must learn to see death from God’s perspective. Christ has power over life and death. In this case, He was willing to resurrect Lazarus from death to physical life. He used Lazarus’ death to perform a miracle that would glorify God and identify Himself as the Messiah, the Savior of mankind.
Job shows that he knew the answer to his own rhetorical question: “If a man dies, shall he live again? All the days of my hard service I will wait, till my change comes” (Job 14:14). When a person dies, he will be resurrected at the appropriate time. Jesus prophesies in John 5:28-29: “[T]he hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.”
The lesson of this breathtaking miracle is that Christ is the regenerator of the dead, spiritually and physically. He is able to regenerate the hearts and minds of those who are spiritually dead in their trespasses and sins. He brought the body of Lazarus back from corruption, and so He is able and willing to deliver people from their abominable sins. His life-giving miracle of grace is as truly remarkable as His powerful and miraculous ability to resurrect.