‘Soar Like Eagles’ #12 The Last Miracle and Last Enemy (part 1) – John 11:1-45

21 May

lazarus-raisedThe 1993 movie “Shadowlands” tells the bittersweet love story involving the writer C. S. Lewis and Joy Gresham. At the beginning of the film, Lewis was lecturing on the subject of pain in a hall full of people. He told them, Pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world. … We are like blocks of stone out of which the sculptor carves the forms of men. The blows of his chisel which hurt us so much are what make us perfect.

In the course of the movie, Lewis met Joy Gresham, and she began to fall in love with him. Lewis, a confirmed bachelor, was at first interested only in a friendship with Joy. One day, as the two were sitting down for afternoon tea in his apartment, Joy exploded in frustration at Lewis. She shouted, I have only now just seen it–how you have arranged a life for yourself where no one  can touch you. Everyone that’s close to you is either younger than you or weaker than you or under your control.

Slowly, Lewis came to realize that Joy was right about the way he had insulated his life from feelings and pain. Later, when Joy was in the hospital with cancer, Lewis proposed marriage to her; and in 1956 they became husband and wife. The next four years were wonderful years for them, in spite of the ever-present cloud of cancer that hung over their bliss.

During this time they took a late honeymoon trip to see a beautiful valley which was depicted in a painting on their wall. Rain began to fall as they were walking in the field, so they sought shelter in a shed where hay was stored. While they sat there, Joy insisted on discussing her coming death. In a steady voice, she said, Let me just say it before this rain stops and we go back…. That I am going to die and I want to be with you then too. The only way I can do that is if I’m able to talk to you now…. I think it can be better than just managing. What I’m trying to say is the pain then is part of the happiness now. That’s the deal.


“Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha

No man can have a greater gift to offer his fellowmen than rest for weary feet; and that is the gift which Jesus found in the house in Bethany, where Martha and Mary and Lazarus. Frank Viola has written a book that calls Bethany our Lord’s favorite city. Lazarus fell ill, and the sisters sent to Jesus a message that it was so. 

Mary and Martha and Lazarus appear here for the first time in John’s Gospel.[1] They will appear once again in chapter 12, a fact to which John calls our attention in verse 2 of our text. It seems that Jesus has come to know Lazarus and his two sisters quite well, and that they have been privileged to enjoy the company of Jesus whenever He traveled to Jerusalem. Their home in Bethany, a couple of miles from Jerusalem, may have been just far enough from Jerusalem for Him to safely spend the night, out of the grasp of those who wanted to kill Him.

{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.”

It is lovely to note that the sisters’ message included no request to Jesus to come to Bethany.  They knew that was unnecessary; they knew that the simple statement that they were in need would bring him to them.  Augustine said it was sufficient that Jesus should know… for it is not possible that any man should at one and the same time love a friend and desert him. 

  1. F. Andrews tells of two friends who served together in the First World War. One of them was wounded and left lying helpless and in pain in no-man’s-land. The other, at peril of his life, crawled out to help his friend; and, when he reached him, the wounded man looked up and said simply:  “I knew you would come.” 

{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.”

When Jesus came to Bethany he knew that whatever was wrong with Lazarus he had power to deal with it.  But he went on to say that his sickness had happened for God’s glory and for his. 

If this Jesus can do nothing about death, then whatever else He can do amounts to nothing.

The same thought is Biblical in nature: “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” 1 Cor. 15:19. Death is man’s last enemy (1 Cor. 15:26), but Jesus has defeated this horrible enemy totally and permanently.

In what Jesus said and did, He sought to strengthen the faith of three groups of people:

  1. THE DISCIPLES (11:1-12).

{5} Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. {6} Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days. {7} Then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.” {8} “But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?” {9} Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? A man who walks by day will not stumble, for he sees by this world’s light. {10} It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light.” {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.””

Just recently Jesus has been in Jerusalem, but He left when the Jews sought to kill Him (10:31, 39-42). It is hard to believe they would not know that returning to Bethany would put Jesus in grave danger. Nevertheless, they inform Jesus in a way that lets Him know they expect Him to return to them immediately: “Take note, Lord! The one You love is sick.”

I am convinced in my own mind that they assume Jesus will immediately respond, so as to save the life of Lazarus. After all, as they remind Him, Lazarus is a man whom He loves[2] (verse 3). The sisters of Lazarus must expect one of two things. Either they expect to see Jesus coming as quickly as He can get there, or they expect Him to send word by the messenger that He is coming shortly. Notice our Lord’s words to Martha later in this same account:

39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, replied, “Lord, by this time the body will have a bad smell, because he has been buried four days.” 40 Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you would see the glory of God?” (11:39-40, emphasis mine)

Our Lord’s words are very carefully chosen. Jesus is not assuring these women that Lazarus won’t die. He is assuring them that even though Lazarus will die, this will not be the end of the matter. He is also informing them that this crisis has a divinely-intended purpose—to bring glory to God the Father through the glorification of the Son of God.

As we come to verse 6, we have a real tension with which we must grapple.[3] John makes a point of telling us that Jesus deeply loves Lazarus and his sisters. His love for Lazarus is mentioned by Martha and Mary in verse 3, and John then repeats it even more emphatically in verse 5.

In spite of this, and the urgency of the situation, Jesus deliberately delays His return to Bethany. He waits two full days, so that when He does arrive in Bethany, Lazarus is “good and dead.” How can Jesus love these people so much and yet speak and act in a way that causes them such pain? That is the tension with which John leaves us for a while, as he moves on to the discussion between Jesus and His disciples in verses 7-16.

We may find it strange that John shows us Jesus staying two whole days where he was when he received the news about Lazarus.  Reasons to explain this delay. 

  • It has been suggested that Jesus waited so that when he arrived Lazarus would be indisputably dead.
  • It has therefore been suggested that Jesus waited because the delay would make the miracle he proposed to perform all the more impressive. The wonder of raising to life a man who had been dead for four days would be all the greater.
  • The real reason why John tells the story in this way is that he always shows us Jesus taking action entirely on his own initiative and not on the persuasion of anyone else.

When Jesus finally announced that he was going to Judaea, his disciples were shocked and staggered.  They remembered that the last time he was there the Jews had tried to find a way to kill him.  To go to Judaea at that time seemed to them-as indeed humanly speaking it was-the surest way to commit suicide.

Then Jesus said something which contains a great and permanent truth.  “Are there not,” he asked, “twelve hours in the day?” There are three great truths implied in that question.

(i)  A day cannot finish before it ends.  There are twelve hours in the day, and they will be played out no matter what happens.  The day’s period is fixed, and nothing will shorten or lengthen it.  In God’s economy of time a man has his day, whether it be short or long.

(ii)  If there are twelve hours in the day there is time enough for everything a man should do.  There is no need for a rushed haste.

(iii)  But, even if there are twelve hours in the day, there are only twelve hours.  They cannot be extended; and therefore, time cannot be wasted.  There is time enough, but not too much; the time we have must be used to the utmost.

Jesus goes on to develop what he has just said about time.  He says that if a man walks in the light, he will not stumble; but if he tries to walk in the night, he will stumble.

Jesus is saying that a man must finish the day’s work within the day, for the night comes when work is ended.  If a man had one wish it might well be that he might come to the end of each day with its work completed.  The unrest and the hurry of life are so often simply due to the fact that we are trying to catch up on work which should have been done before. 

No doubt the disciples were perplexed about several matters:

– If Jesus loved Lazarus, why did He permit him to get sick?

– Why did Jesus delay to go to the sisters?

– For that matter, why didn’t He heal Lazarus at a distance, as He did the nobleman’s son (4:43-54)

– The record makes it clear that there was a strong love relationship between Jesus and this family (11:3, 5, 36)

– Yet our Lord’s behavior seems to contradict this love?!

To appreciate what these three meant to Jesus, ask yourself a simple question: if you had an emergency at 2:00 a.m., whom would you call? Jesus would have called these three close friends.

{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.” {16} Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.””

Jesus then tells His disciples that Lazarus has “fallen asleep,” and that He is going up to Bethany to “awaken” him. They eagerly take Jesus literally. They jump on this statement: “Well, if he’s asleep, then he’ll be okay, so we don’t have to go up to Bethany after all.”

For these men, who have no desire to risk their lives by going back to Judea, our Lord’s words are indeed welcome. John parenthetically informs us that this is not at all what Jesus means; it is just what they hear.

I should probably pause here momentarily to point out that the raising of Lazarus is not a “first” in the Gospels. Jesus had already raised the dead son of the “widow of Nain,” as recorded in Luke 7:11-16. This was followed by the raising of Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:21-43).

Jesus finds it necessary to speak plainly to His disciples, so He tells them that Lazarus is dead (verse 14). He adds that He rejoices in the fact that He is not at Bethany. His absence, He tells them, is for their benefit. His delay has been by divine design, so that they might believe. It is apparent that the faith of the disciples continues to grow, the more the person and work of our Lord becomes evident to them.

At that moment the disciples might well have refused to follow Jesus; then one lonely voice spoke up.  They were all feeling that to go to Jerusalem was to go to their deaths, and they were hanging back.  Then came the voice of Thomas:  “Let us, too, go that we may die with him.”

At this moment Thomas displayed the highest kind of courage.  In his heart, as R. H. Strachan said, “There was not expectant faith, but loyal despair.”  But upon one thing Thomas was determined-come what may, he would not quit.

   He calmed their fears by reminding them that He was on the Father’s schedule, and that nothing could harm them. They felt Lazarus was still alive, so Jesus makes it very plain! “He is dead.”


   “On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. {18} Bethany was less than two miles 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.

   In order to visualize this scene we must first see what a Jewish house of mourning was like.  Normally in Palestine, because of the climate, burial followed death as quickly as possible.  There was a time when a funeral was an exceedingly costly thing.  The finest spices and ointments were used to anoint the body; the body itself was clothed in the most magnificent robes; all kinds of valuables were buried in the tomb along with the body. 

By midway through the first century all this had become a ruinous expenditure.  Naturally no one wished on such an occasion to be outdone by his neighbor, and the wrappings and robes with which the body was covered, and the treasures left in the tomb, became ever more expensive. 

The matter had become almost an intolerable burden which no one liked to alter-until the advent of a famous Rabbi called Gamaliel the Second.  He gave orders that he was to be buried in the simplest possible linen robe, and so broke the extravagance of funeral customs. 

To this day at Jewish funerals a cup is drunk to Rabbi Gamaliel who rescued the Jews from their own extravagance.  From his time on the body was wrapped in a simple linen dress which was sometimes called by the very beautiful name of the travelling-dress.

In the house of mourning there were set customs.  So long as the body was in the house they were forbidden to eat meat or to drink wine, to wear phylacteries or to engage in any kind of study.  No food was to be prepared in the house, and such food as was eaten must not be eaten in the presence of the dead.  As soon as the body was carried out all furniture was reversed, and the mourners sat on the ground or on low stools.

On the return from the tomb a meal was served, which had been prepared by the friends of the family.  It consisted of bread, hard-boiled eggs and lentils; the round eggs and lentils symbolized life which was always rolling to death.

Deep mourning lasted for seven days, of which the first three were days of weeping.  During these seven days it was forbidden to anoint oneself, to put on shoes, to engage in any kind of study or business, and even to wash.  The week of deep mourning was followed by thirty days of lighter mourning.

So when Jesus found a crowd in the house at Bethany, he found what anyone would expect to find in a Jewish house of mourning.  It was a sacred duty to come to express loving sympathy with the sorrowing friends and relations of one who had died. 

The Talmud says that whoever visits the sick shall deliver his soul from Gehenna; and Maimonides, the medieval Jewish scholar, declared that to visit the sick takes precedence of all other good works.  Visits of sympathy to the sick, and to the sorrowing, were an essential part of Jewish religion. 

As the mourners left the tomb, they turned and said:  “Depart in peace,” and they never mentioned the name of the one who had died without invoking a blessing on it. 

It would be to a household crowded with sympathizers that Jesus came that day.

Without question, these two friends had said one thing over and over: “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.” here was likely a tinge of disappointment but also some evidence of faith.

When Martha met Jesus her heart spoke through her lips. This is likely something she had thought and now says out loud! We can almost hear the sting of disappointment in her words. “If only” may be the saddest sentiment in any language. Martha must have been hurt by Jesus’ delay in coming to them…Jesus stood there ‘and took it’ as she expressed her pain, her confusion, and her disappointment.

Martha possibly would have liked to say:  “When you got our message, why didn’t you come at once?  And now you have left it too late.”  No sooner are the words out than there follow the words of faith, faith which defied the facts and defied experience:  “Even yet,” she said with a kind of desperate hope, “even yet, I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”

When Jesus gave them a response, Martha was quick to think of a solution in the future, in the last days:   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.””

The response by Jesus is the fifth of the “I Am” statements. It is important to note that Jesus did not deny what Martha said about the future resurrection.

He has declared once for all that death is real, that there is life after death, and that the body will one day be raised by the power of God. But He went one step further: He transformed this doctrine, taking it out of a book and putting it into a person: “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; {26} and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Martha’s next words reflect a tremendous faith and a deep understanding of spiritual matters. When Jesus asked her if she believed Him, she replied, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world” (11:27). Even before witnessing the marvelous miracle that was about to take place, Martha demonstrated the kind of faith the Gospel of John was written to create!’

The events of Luke 10:38-42 makes it clear that these two sisters were quite different in their personalities. Martha was the worker, the active one, while Mary was the contemplative one who sat at the feet of Jesus and listened to His word.

Note the contrasts between the two sisters:

– Martha was active. She met Jesus at the outskirts of town…Mary remained in the house, lost in mournful contemplation.   

Because of this, we would expect Martha to rush out to meet Jesus while Mary sat in the house, weeping with her friends.

– Martha’s greeting laid emphasis on my brother, a hint of her agressive and possessive personality. Mary’s statement emphasized her brother. This emphasized her tender nature. (Note to teachers: the difference aappears in the word order of the Greek text, in which the last word is the most emphatic. Martha’s words end with the possessive pronoun “my” (vs. 21) while Mary’s words with the noun “brother” (vs. 32).

– Martha expressed a general assent to the hope of the resurrection; Mary prostrated herself before Jesus in adoration and said nothing concerning her expectations.

– Martha was vocal; Mary was tearful.

Both had personal faith in Jesus as a man and a friend, though it is obvious from Martha’s response to Jesus’ command to remove the stone showed that she did not anticipate any immediate restortion of her brother.

When Jesus responded to Martha, saying, “Your brother shall rise again” (11:23), we have no way of knowing how that statement sounded to her. Was it painful? Did it sound like so many of the empty, hollow words one sometimes hears at a funeral home? Could it have sounded like a rebuke for her lack of faith? Whatever her first reaction to Jesus’ words might have been, Martha spiritualized them and replied, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (11:24).

By proclaiming Himself as the resurrection, Jesus was not promising that His followers would never face physical death, nor was He promising that He would never face death Himself.

Instead, He was claiming that because He would die and rise again, breaking the power of death, His followers would never again have the same relationship to death. Resurrection for them would be much more than a miraculous, one-time event; it would be a new reality about life!

   Martha did not hesitate to affirm her faith:  {27} “Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” The words “I believe” are in the perfect tense, indicating a fixed and settled faith. And she immediately went and found her sister: {28} “And after she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” {29} When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him.”

{30}”Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. {31} When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.”

When she met Jesus, she fell at His feet and repeated her sister’s painful words: {32}“Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died”.

Mary and Martha were weeping, and her friends joined in the weeping, as Jewish people are accustomed to do. The response of Jesus is quite graphic in the original language: {33} “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.”

The word used was to groan within and “be moved with indignation.” Jesus became angry! Why? Because of what sin and death was doing to the people. Death is an enemy, and Satan uses the fear of death as a terrible weapon.

One writer put it this way: “The words denote indignation rather than sorrow. As He looked upon the cemetery at Bethany, a silent memorial to the devastation that death had wrought on the human race, He was angered against man’s great enemy. Death to Him was not an impassable enemy, but a call to battle.”

The identical Greek root word is used in the following ways: Matthew 9:30: “..and their sight was restored. Jesus warned them sternly, “See that no one knows about this.”

Mark 1:43: “…Jesus sent him away at once with a strong  warning…”

This concept also gives us an image of the extend of His care for us: Hebrews 2:14-18: “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil– {15} and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. {16} For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. {17} For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. {18} Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

The next two responses by Jesus are interesting: one is surprising and the other expected:  {34} “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. {35} Jesus wept.”

“Jesus wept” is a short statement but very deep in nature. His was a silent weeping (the Greek word is used nowhere else in the New Testament) and not the loud lamentation of the mourners.

But why did He weep at all? He had known for some time that Lazarus was dead…and He knew He was about to raise him up!

It reveals to us the humanity of Jesus; He was entering into all of our experiences and knows how we feel. We see in His tears the tragedy of sin but also the glory of heaven.

Some have suggested that perhaps He was weeping because He was about to call Lazarus back into a wicked world.

The friends saw His tears as an evidence of His love: “Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”“But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

[1] Their only other appearance is the well-known account of Luke 10:38-42, where Martha was distressed because Mary was not helping her prepare the meal.

[2] The New English Bible calls Lazarus “your friend,” which is not a bad way of rendering the term filew, one of the biblical terms employed for love. This distinguishes between this term for “love” and agapaw, which occurs in verse 5.

[3] This same tension is repeated in verses 36 and 37.

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Posted by on May 21, 2017 in Gospel of John


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