A Remarkable Miracle
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I Am the Resurrection and the Life “He cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth’ ” (John 11:43).
Reaction to the resurrection of Lazarus was varied. Martha, Mary, and the mourners attending the funeral of Lazarus were overjoyed. The religious leaders, however, were at a polar opposite: “The large crowd of the Jews then learned that he was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom he raised from the dead. But the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death also; because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and were believing in Jesus” (John 12:9-11).
Jesus had raised others from the dead.
● In Luke 7:12-15, Jesus intercepted a fu- neral procession to raise an only child and re- unite him to his mother.
● In Luke 8:40-56, Jesus raised the daugh- ter of Jairus, a synagogue official.
Both of these instances took place away from Jerusalem, and soon after the subjects had died, which meant that the facts could be dis- torted by the priests. The shortness of the time from death to raising may have allowed the reli- gious leaders to explain away the miracle. The case of Lazarus was quite different. The family lived only a short distance from Jerusalem, they were apparently prominent among the people, and Lazarus had been dead for several days.
Bethany was a village on the southeastern slope of the Mount of Olives (Mark 11:1) about two miles east of Jerusalem. The town’s name came from the number of palm trees which grew there. Lazarus, his sisters Martha and Mary, and Simon the Leper, dwelt there. They were special to Jesus, and during his ministry he likely spent a significant amount of time with them there.
Jesus had no permanent home during his ministry. “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head’” (Luke 9:58). At the home of Lazarus, Jesus could find rest, assured of a sincere welcome and true friendship. His words could be appreciated and treasured. He was able to refresh himself away from the attacks of the jealous Pharisees who constantly attacked his words and actions. His relationship with the family was a special one.
If John lists the family members by age (John 11:5), then it means that Lazarus was the youngest in the family. Luke 10:38-41 expands on their relationship with Jesus. The home belonged to Martha, the oldest. Mary and Lazarus probably lived with her. Martha and Mary were apparently quite different. Upon Jesus’ arrival, Martha began to prepare food for Jesus’ visit, while Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, listening to him teach. When Martha asked Jesus to rebuke her for not helping with the meal, he replied, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be tak- en away from her” (Luke 10:38-41). Adam Clarke comments on Jesus’ comment, “but only one thing is necessary.” He suggests that Jesus requested just a single dish, the simplest and plainest meal possible, since his real meat and drink was to do the will of his heavenly Father. Pastor Russell comments: “Jesus did not disapprove of Martha and her carefulness as a cook in providing for his comfort…Martha loved the Lord so that she wanted to do for him. Mary loved the Lord and the things which the Lord loved and delighted to talk about, to such an extent that she could not forego the pleasure of his company and fellowship” (Reprint 5371).
Jesus had spent much of his three and half year ministry away from Jerusalem, preaching in the area of Galilee. Now, as his ministry was closing, Jesus’ encounters with the lead- ers in Jerusalem intensified. “The Jews then gathered around him, and were saying to him, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.’ Jesus answered them, ‘I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these tes- tify of me’ ” (John 10:24-25).
Jesus’ statement that he represented his heavenly Father (John 10:30 RVIC) incited the Jews to try to stone him. “Therefore they were seeking again to seize him, and he eluded their grasp. And he went away again beyond the Jordan to the place where John was first baptizing, and he was staying there” (John 10:39-40). It was after this event, but before his ride into Jerusalem (John 12:12-15), that the raising of Lazarus occurred.
Lazarus’ Death and Raising
“Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. So the sisters sent word to him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom you love is sick” (John 11:1- 3). The sisters watched that sickness strike and bring down their brother. They knew that Jesus had healed the sick. There was no apparent urgency or demand in their message, just information about Jesus’ close friend. Perhaps they expected Jesus would come out of concern for his friend.
The sisters kept a look out for Jesus, yet he did not come. Only a messenger with the words of Jesus, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it” (John 11:4). The sisters would have been encouraged by these words, perhaps an indication that Lazarus would recover.
Jesus tarried for two days. Then he set his face toward Jerusalem. “He said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again’ ” (John 11:7-8)? The disciples were anxious for their Lord’s and their safety, seeing nothing but danger ahead. Jesus answered their fear: “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 anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him” (John 11:9-10). Jesus knew that his life was in his Father’s hands and that his time to give his life as a ransom for all was approaching. He was ready, but needed to strengthen their faith through the greatest miracle of his ministry.
“ ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep.’ The disciples then said to him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.’ Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he was speaking of literal sleep. So Jesus then said to them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him’ ” (John 11:11-14). What tenderness Jesus showed, his words full of sympathy! The disciples’ thoughts were to the perils that their master faced, almost forgetting the bereaved family. They did not understand that Lazarus was dead. Jesus knew the anguish that the decision to delay his arrival would bring to the family, but he had a higher purpose, that of demonstrating to them for the last time that his heavenly Father had given him power over death.
When Jesus arrived, he found Martha and Mary weeping. Martha, who had busied herself providing for Jesus, showed her faith by responding to Jesus’ reassurance that her brother would rise again. “’I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus continued ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ ‘Yes, Lord; I have believed that you are the Christ, the Son of God, even he who comes into the world’ “ (John 11:24-27).
Jesus asked where they had laid Lazarus. As he approached, he beheld the multitude of weepers along with Mary and Martha. He was moved by the sorrow of this special family and their friends. John displays the tenderness of Jesus with a simple two-word description of the scene: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). The onlookers were moved and noted Jesus’ countenance, “See how he loved him!” (John 11:36). Professor Strong notes a difference in the meaning of the words for “weeping” that appear in these verses. The weeping of the onlookers (Strong’s 2799) means “to sob, that is, wail aloud,” while the word used of Jesus’ weeping is Strong’s 1145, meaning “to shed tears or cry silently.”
Jesus told the guardians of the tomb to remove the stone. Martha cautioned that her brother had been dead for four days, and that his body would have already begun the decaying process. “ ‘Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?’ So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised his eyes, and said, ‘Father, I thank You that You have heard me. I knew that You always hear me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent me.’ When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth.’ The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go’ ” (John 11:40-44 NASB).
There could have been no doubt that Lazarus was without the breath of life. He emerged from the tomb still bound in the wrappings — a picture perhaps that he was still under the Adamic death sentence and would need these wrappings again. When Jesus was resurrected, the linen wrappings and face cloth were folded in the tomb. His earthly life was over, and his new body was spirit and immortal (1 Corinthians 15:45).
Jesus’ Final Days
Lazarus’ death and restoration to life helped prepare Jesus’ followers for a change in their own lives. Soon they would need to have full reliance on Jehovah when Jesus was no longer with them. Although Jesus knew that he must suffer and die according to the prophecies (Psalm 22), his disciples did not. Yet he saw in them a willing heart, in that they thought they were ready to die with him (John 11:16). Later, before they all fled, he would pray for their strength (John 17:13-21).
Death is overwhelming tragedy. Misfortune can give way to better days. Sickness can give way to recovery. However, death is the supreme tragedy. It brings the end of all hopes, dreams, and opportunities. The ties of a lifetime are abruptly broken. Only the Bible gives hope to those who have lost others in death. “I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction” (Hosea 13:14). In his death, Jesus provided the ransom necessary to remove the curse of death from Adam’s posterity. In his resurrection, Jesus gained the means to bring back to life all those who have ever lived for an opportunity at life without sickness, without the threat of death (1 Timothy 2:6).
The raising of Lazarus must have brought extreme joy to those who were there. Think of the joy that will come to those who witness their loved ones returned from death when the resurrection of the dead begins (1 Corinthians 15:20-22). Then, tears of joy will flow freely. Let us look forward to that day!