One of Jesus' most awesome miracles performed during his ministry, but perhaps one of the most questioned by his followers takes place in John 11. It's a familiar story for many, but I think sometimes the familiarity of biblical accounts causes us to read through them quickly without the true significance of these passages sinking in and offering meaning and insight for our lives today. So, as we turn to the resurrection of Lazarus in John 11, I want to invite you to carefully meditate on these moments, because our response to this account will make a profound impact on our response to the world we live in today.
As a brief bit of context, the gospel of John is written by one of Jesus' closest disciples, and he tells us why he wrote the book near its end: "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" (John 20:30-31). Several key things are revealed about the book of John from this sentence:
What is John recording? Signs that Jesus performed—so, miracles; evidences.
Evidence of what? That Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God—so proof that Jesus is God.
Why is he proving that Jesus is God? So that his readers will believe, and by believing receive eternal life through his name.
So, as we turn to chapter 11, remember that John is telling us about a sign that Jesus did to prove that he is the Messiah so that we will believe in him and receive eternal life in his name.
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.”
We're already seeing a key reference to our purpose: Lazarus has gotten sick so that the Son of God may be glorified through it. So, what is about to happen will glorify the Son of God. But what does the word glorify mean? One definition is "to acknowledge or reveal God by one's actions"--and I think this gives us some good insight here. Lazarus has gotten sick so that the Son fo God may be revealed through his sickness. So, these actions will prove that Jesus is the Son of God--the Messiah.
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...
It's weird that the passage says Jesus loved Lazarus, so he waited--if I loved someone, my gut reaction would be to go immediately to where they were if they were sick; but because Jesus loved Lazarus he waited two more days. There's something about his waiting that actually reveals his true love for Lazarus.
...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?”
Now, this part of the passage is crucial for us to understand: right before this account, Jesus was in Judea performing other signs and miracles that proved he was the Son of God. Because of this, the religious leaders in Jerusalem were plotting to kill him--and the disciples and Jesus knew this! For Jesus to return to Judea means certain death, but he loves Lazarus so much that he was willing to submit himself to death so that Lazarus could live.
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.”
Jesus tells them plainly--he is making his purpose very clear here: why did he wait to go to Lazarus? Jesus waited for Lazarus to die while he wasn't there so that his followers would believe.
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[b] 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.”
Here it is: this is exactly what Jesus has set out to prove with his actions in this situation. "I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me, even if he died, will live. Everyone who believes in me will never die." And then he asks--"Do you believe this?"
Jesus loves Lazarus so much that he was willing to go to his own certain death for Lazarus to be raised from death to life. This is the gospel! It’s the same thing that Jesus did for you and me! He loves us so much that he was willing to die on the cross so that we could be raised from death to life.
So the question for you is the same question that Jesus asks Martha: "Do you believe this?"
How we respond to this question has a profound impact on how we live and interact in the world today. Because answering yes means that we trust Jesus has power over our life and death. We trust that following Jesus means following him into life, and rejecting Jesus means rejecting that same life. We trust that Jesus is working through our lives, even when we don't understand how. And we trust that the difficult circumstances we face will ultimately bring glory to God and bring others to life-changing faith in his Son.
Remember this, and it will make a profound impact on our response to the world we live in today.
Middle School Pastor