If you’re anything like me, there are times when you read the Bible and by the time you’re done reading it, you can’t even remember a significant portion of what you’ve read. Sometimes I get caught up more in trying to check the box of reading the Word rather than trying to spend time and let the Word marinate in my heart.
One practice that I’ve found recently that helps me is to slow it down and begin to ask questions about what I’m reading. What is happening in this particular book of the Bible? Who is involved? What time period are we dealing with? What has happened just before this passage?
The book of John may be my favorite book of the Bible (if that’s allowed, haha). It covers the ministry of Jesus from a different perspective than the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke).
John 11 is such an interesting passage to me. It covers the death and resurrection of Lazarus.
So to set this up, let’s quickly go through what has happened to this point with Jesus in the book of John.
John highlights Seven Signs of Jesus in his gospel, which will conclude with Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. What were those signs?
- Changing water to wine (John 2: 1-11)
- Healing the official’s son (John 4: 46-54)
- Healing the invalid at Bethesda (John 5: 1-15)
- Feeding the five thousand (John 6: 1-15, 25-69)
- Walking on water (John 6: 16-21)
- Healing the man born blind (John 9: 1-41)
- Raising Lazarus (John 11: 1-44)
Obviously, as John points out at the end of his book, there were way more signs and miracles that Jesus performed in addition to the seven that are highlighted here. So why highlight these seven?
In short, John’s goal is to show his audience that Jesus is the Savior of the world they had been waiting for. John highlights that in John 20:30-31 when he says “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
So let’s pick up in John 11, which begins with Jesus receiving word from Mary and Martha that Lazarus was sick. Jesus hears this and says “This sickness will not end in death but is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Now, Jesus loved Mary, Martha and Lazarus very much.
Jesus and his disciples then stay two more days where they were before heading out to see Lazarus. Jesus had just been threatened to be stoned in Judea and now was planning on going back there to see Lazarus. Picking up in John 11: 11-27:
He said this and then he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I’m on my way to wake him up.” Then the disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will get well.” Jesus, however, was speaking about his death, but they thought he was speaking about natural sleep. So Jesus then told them plainly, “Lazarus has died. I’m glad I wasn’t there so that you may believe. But let’s go to him.”
When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem (less than two miles away). Many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother. As soon as Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Then Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died. Yet even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”
“Your brother will rise again,” Jesus told her. Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me, even if he dies, will live. Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
“Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who comes into the world.”
So, what stands out here to you? To me, it’s a few things:
- First, who says the Bible can’t have a little humor? The disciples not understanding that Jesus was saying Lazarus was dead and Jesus having to point it out bluntly was pretty funny to me.
- Why did Jesus wait two days before going to see Lazarus? Why did he wait until he had already been dead four days to go? Why did he go at all? We already know that Jesus didn’t have to be physically present somewhere in order to perform miracles. Well, he tells us why earlier in the passage when he says “This sickness will not end in death but is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” He already knows he’s going to heal Lazarus. But he wants to make sure the disciples are there so that they will believe. He says “I’m glad I wasn’t there so that you may believe. But let’s go to him.”
- Why did Martha come immediately to Jesus but Mary remained seated in the house? I don’t know if I know the answer to this, but my guess is one of the reasons is that she was overcome with grief and remained in the house. Think about what Jesus is walking into. Mary and Martha know his power. But they think they’ve just lost their brother. It had to have been a very somber occasion.
- Martha displays her faith in Jesus even when her circumstances (she thought) weren’t going the way she had hoped.
Let’s pick back up from John 11: 28-44:
Having said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” As soon as Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Jesus had not yet come into the village but was still in the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house consoling her saw that Mary got up quickly and went out. They followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to cry there. As soon as Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and told him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!”
When Jesus saw her crying, and the Jews who had come with her crying, he was deeply moved in his spirit and troubled. “Where have you put him?” he asked. “Lord,” they told him, “come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Couldn’t he who opened the blind man’s eyes also have kept this man from dying?”
Martha, the dead man’s sister, told him, “Lord, there is already a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you heard me. I know that you always hear me, but because of the crowd standing here I said this, so that they may believe you sent me.” After he said this, he shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out bound hand and foot with linen strips and with his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unwrap him and let him go.”
This is an incredible thing that Jesus had done, raising a man from death to life. There’s so much here that stands out but I’ll pick out one:
Why did Jesus weep? Have you ever thought about this? He obviously loved Lazarus and his family. But as we talked about earlier, Jesus knew he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead for his glory. Was he really sad over Lazarus’ physical death? In a way, I think yes. I think Jesus has great compassion for Mary, Martha and the others there who were in pain. He felt their pain, just as he feels and knows our pain. I also think he was moved and angry that death was in the world because of sin. And this miracle that Jesus was about to perform would help set off a chain of events that made the religious leaders determined to kill him. This was just days away from Jesus on the cross.
Many believed in Jesus because of the miracle he did for Lazarus but it came at a cost. Jesus had a target on his back as he entered Jerusalem in the week leading up to his death and resurrection.
But this miracle really drove home that he is, as he put it, “The resurrection and the life.” He has full power and authority over death. And he was exercise that power and authority days later when he was resurrected himself.
There’s so much here just in one chapter in the book of John. Pray that the Holy Spirit teaches you how to read the Word and absorb what the Lord has for you in it. Ask questions. Think about the context. And if you do those things, I think you’ll experience the Bible in a way you never have before.