This is a very familiar story & one that has been told many times before & although this too, is most undoubtedly ( unquestionably ) a true story; it also, as many, if not all of the events chronicled in Scripture, is presented as allegory, revealing a deeper spiritual truth.
Our story begins with Jesus hearing that 'a certain [ man ] was sick'. That this 'certain [ man ]' was named 'Lazarus' ( equivalent of Hebrew 'Eleazar'-Genesis 15:2 ) could be quite interesting, because, whether or not this is the same 'certain beggar' that Jesus spoke of in His parabolic story in Luke 16; it is not coincidental that the man in Jesus' parable had the same name as Martha and Mary's brother, nor is it a 'mere' coincidence that the Greek 'Lazarus' is equivalent to the Hebrew 'Eleazar', both meaning, basically, 'one that God helps'.
When His disciples told Him that 'he whom You love is sick'; Jesus replied, 'This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it'. As we all know; several days later; Lazarus, 'one that God helps', DID physically expire ( die ); so why did Jesus say this; knowing that Lazarus was going to die? We'll get back to this later; but it's something to think about..............
After pointing out that Jesus 'loved Martha and her sister [ Mary } and Lazarus'; John recorded that 'He stayed two more days in the place where where He was'. We can speculate, and I'm sure that some have, that Jesus did this, not because He was not all that concerned, or because I just didn't fit into His plans at the time, but because He knew ( being God Himself ) that Lazarus MUST physically die, and be buried, for the glory of God, and the Son of God, to be revealed to those who 'attended'.
Bringing to mind, perhaps, Peter's 'chiding', in Matthew 16:22; when Jesus said 'Let is go to Judea again', his disciples immediately and worriedly ( selfishly ) replied, 'Rabbi; lately, the Jews sought to stone You, and are You going there again?' Jesus had a purpose to fulfill ( John 12:27 ) and 'come hell or high water'; He would accomplish that purpose! Too often we, even as Christians, sometimes ( I speak to myself as well ) fail ( or refuse ) to 'be aroused' to the facts, in reality, because of all the physical danger surrounding this action, whether it be from the fear of losing our 'exalted' position, or from a more practical fear of losing the ability of providing for our family.
To these useless fears; Jesus replied, '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'. In the historical context of Jesus' words here, but also covenantally; He reminded His disciples, and reminds us, that, although the 'night' ( I Thessalonians 5:5 ) was 'at hand' ( John 9:4 ), and that this 'night' referred to the 'darkness' ( Ezekiel 32:6-8 ( Isaiah 29:10 ) of the 'old' or 'first covenant' ( Isaiah 9:2 ( 42:7), Ephesians 5:8, I Peter 2:9 ( Hebrews 8:7 & 8 ) & although that 'night' is long & forever, past, some still 'slumber', as though still in 'darkness', but as long as one 'walks in the day', in His 'light' ( 'I am the Light of the world' ( John 8:12 ( Matthew 5:14 ); he 'does not stumble' because his eyes have been opened to the Truth, no longer does he 'sleep', as Lazarus did, because he has been awakened to the 'Light' of Day!
Harking back to the 'days' just prior to the Exodus ( Exodus 10:23 ), Jesus went on to tell them 'if one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him'. Looking back ( because we can read ahead ); we read in John 14:23, that Jesus promised that 'if anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make our home with him'. Paul wrote later that ' you [ we ] are the temple of the living God' ( II Corinthians 6:16 ( I Corinthians 6:19 ) & quoting from the Septuagint ( Greek 'Old Testament' ), reminded them that God had promised, 'I will dwell in them and walk among them; I will be their God, and they shall be My people'. ( Leviticus 26:12, Jeremiah 32:28, Ezekiel 37:27 ( Genesis 3:8, Ezekiel 36:27 ) Covenantally then; as the 'dwelling place of God in the Spirit' ( Ephesians 2:22 ( I Corinthians 3:16 ), we have that 'light', but do not always 'walk' accordingly, often hearkening rather to those 'doctrines of men' ( Matthew 15:9, Colossians 2:22 ( I Timothy 4:1 ), and 'walking' according to the traditions that have been handed down by our 'fathers'.
Because His disciples still were not 'getting it' ( as we often fail to do ); Jesus returned to the 'subject at hand', the subject they were obviously focused on, and said, 'Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up'. This was Jesus' purpose for returning to Jerusalem ( Bethany, actually ) at that particular moment in time; He went to 'wake' him who 'slept'. God has done the same, and continues to do the same, for His people today: not only does He restore their 'sight', that they might 'see and perceive', and give strength to their 'legs', that they might 'stand on their own two feet' again. But He also 'wakes' them from their 'sleep, whether it be from the slumber of innocence, or the slumber of purposeful ignorance.
Because His disciples were even more confused ( 'Lord, if he sleeps he will get well!' ); Jesus plainly told them, 'Lazarus is dead'. 'And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him.' We often think, 'why did this person, or that person have to die?' We can always take comfort in knowing that when something 'bad' happens, it is always for a better purpose, God's purpose, that those who sleep may be wakened ( Jesus told them 'that you may believe' ). You may imagine, here, the disciples thinking, 'Why didn't we go before he died; he might not have died if we had?' You might even be able to see a kernel of doubt growing in their minds as to whether He really was the Son of God, since He had said previously, 'This sickness is not unto death'. Did it escape Him that Lazarus would die? Did Lazarus 'really' die? What 'death' did Jesus have in mind, here?
As always; it was right back to the disciple's selfish, and unwarranted concern for the safety of their 'Lord' ) 'Rabbi' ): the disciple who later earned the infamy of being called 'Doubting Thomas' ( you can almost see the 'shrug' of his shoulders, and hear his sigh of resignation ), said, 'Let us also go, that we may die with Him'! They were so certain that He was going to die ( which He later did, but that's another story ), but, to their account, they didn't try any further to dissuade Him, but, in word anyway, were ready to die with Him ( Matthew 26:35 ) If necessary, for the promulgation of the truth; would we be willing to 'die with Him', to give up our exalted positions, 'live it up' a bit less, risk having to look for a different 'means' to provide for our family? In most cases; the answer sadly, would be 'no'!
'So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles away. And many of the Jews had joined the women around Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother. Now Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house.'
Martha, being the practical one ( Luke 10:38-42 ), hearing that Jesus had finally come; rushed out to meet Him, leaving her more emotional sister sitting at the house, most likely surrounded by a bunch of other mourners: apparently they & Lazarus, were well liked! Martha's first words to her 'Lord' could almost be taken as a bit of an accusation; 'Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died'. But she too, seemed to have a grain a faith, for she quickly added, 'But even now, I know that whatever You ask of God, He will give You'. It sounds to me like Martha, not so easily convinced as some, had not quite accepted this Man as God Himself; but as a prophet, maybe even the Prophet that Moses had promised, so long ago ( Deuteronomy 18:15 ). When Jesus comforted her with 'Your brother will rise again', she replied, being somewhat knowledgeable of these things, anyway, 'I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day'. Jesus quick reply to her 'focus on the physical' was, contrary to her expectations, but which I'm sure gave her a 'start', was 'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though He may die; he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?' Although Martha replied in the affirmative here, saying 'Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world'; she seemed almost too hasty ( and maybe a little frightened?), because 'when she had said these things, she went her way and secretly called Mary her sister, saying, 'The Teacher has come and is calling for you.' When things get a little 'hot' ( or pointed ) for us, sometimes; don't we often find some excuse to turn the attention elsewhere? Facing the Truth sometimes makes us uncomfortable, just as we often aren't ready to be wakened from our slumber. ( Some people just aren't 'morning people'! )
Immediately, upon hearing that Jesus was calling ( ? ) for her presence; Mary rushed out of the house to find Him, and met Him in the same place and manner in which her sister had accosted Him: 'Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died'. In this, Mary showed her faith and belief, but she, like her sister and His disciples, also proved her doubts and mis-understanding of the Power and Presence of God, in thinking that He must be physically present in order to do His work, not unlike the nobleman of Capernaum, in John 4:46-54.
The mourners ( Jews ) who had gathered to minister to Martha and Mary; when they saw Mary rush out of the house so quickly, followed after her, thinking 'she is going to the tomb to weep there'. Many Christians today still have this same 'problem' with a 'focus on the physical'; they rush to the grave-side of someone who has 'passed away', as if he ( or she ) is still somehow there, still attached to their physical body, which 'returns to the dust' ( Ecclesiastes 12:7 ). As we saw though; Mary left the comfort of her house, and her ministers, not to mourn at her brothers grave, but to meet her 'Lord', who, as she had suspected and believed ( trusted ) was 'the resurrection and the life', although probably not in the 'sense' that she thought, and as her sister had acclaimed ).
As a Man, I'm sure that He felt much the same emotional attachment to Lazarus and his sisters, as any normal ( though He was not 'normal' ) human being would ( or did He? ); but I believe that the reason that He 'wept' was, not so much over the death of Lazarus, not because of his sister's sorrow, but because of their unbelief ( Mark 9:24 ), because the 'focus' was on the physical aspects of 'this life', rather than on the spirituality of 'life in Christ'. Many Christians today have much the same problem today, not fully understanding ( not that I do either ) Jesus' words to Martha, 'whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die': sure, we understand that Jesus was not talking here of physical life ( that's obvious, because Christians still 'die' ( expire ) physically ), but I believe that as many are still 'asleep' when it comes to the realization that this was the death that Jesus came to 'save' His people ( Matthew 1:21 ) from, and not from physical death. We saw earlier, that Jesus told His disciples, 'This sickness is not unto death', and later, that 'Lazarus is dead': was He mistaken the first time, or was He purposefully confusing His disciples? I don't believe that He was [ doing ] either, but was simply setting the 'record straight'; first, that He was God, and that His ways are not our ways ( Isaiah 55:8 & 9 ), and second, that Lazarus' 'death' was not 'really' death at all ( since he only 'sleeps' ), but that he only needed to be 'woken up' to & for the glory of God, that those present might see and believe that Jesus was who He claimed to be.
'Then the Jews said, 'See how He loved him!' And some of them said, 'Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?'
The Jews, in their unbelief, took the same 'tack' as the disciples, Martha, and Mary had taken, but I believe that it was only a fore-shadow of what was to come later; while Jesus Himself hung on the cross, at 'death's door' ( Mark 15:32, Luke 23:35 ). As many of the Jews later refused to accept Jesus as their Messiah, because He was not the 'physical' Savior that they were looking for ( 'we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel'- Luke 24:21 ), so many Christians today vainly hope that Christ will one day return to 'heal' all of our physical ailments, and usher in a new 'age' ( Luke 20:34-36 ) of physical perfection and glory.
Hearing these remarks, and 'groaning in Himself' ( no doubt, again, because of their unbelief ); Jesus came to the pace where Lazarus had been entombed. Finding that it was a cave with a rock laid across the entrance; He said 'Take away the stone'. When He said that; strait-laced Martha, practical as always, reminded Him that 'by this time there is a stench, for he has been [ dead ] four days'. Aren't we, like Martha, quicker, often, to give excuses why we can't or shouldn't do something, when what we should be doing is waiting, as Jesus replied to her, to 'see the glory of God'. There is a time to be practical, and to realize that we do have limits, and where those limits are; but we must realize that He has no such limitations, 'stench' will not 'keep Him from His appointed rounds', and neither should it us!
When the 'stone' had been removed, Jesus lifted His eyes toward 'Heaven', and prayed, 'Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said [ this ], that they may believe that You sent Me'. Thanking His Father for what He had already done ( and this should remind us that 'your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him' ( Matthew 6:8 ); Jesus, more to let His hearers know that He had been sent by God ( the Father ), I believe; then said, in a louder voice ( 'loud enough to wake the dead'?), 'Lazarus, come forth!'
'The Sleeper Awakes'
At His voice ( John 5:28 ), an amazing thing happened; Lazarus, who had been physically 'dead', 'came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth'. After Jesus had told them 'Loose him, and let him go'; John records that 'many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him. But some of them went away to the Pharisees and told them the things Jesus did'. Hearing of this miraculous wonder, among others, no doubt, that Jesus had performed the Pharisees were horrified, saying, not unlike many Christians today, as I have described above, 'What shall we do? For this Man works many signs. If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation'. Although this could easily have been a well-founded fear, I believe that it was unwarranted, because, as far as I can tell, the Romans felt no threat from the religious teachings of Jesus. The Pharisees, like most, if not all, Jews, thought that Jesus was going to be an earthly King, who would remove all opposition to His Kingdom, including their's, and that of the Roman Empire ( the 'fourth kingdom'-Daniel 2:31-45 ). As an earthly King; Jesus posed the greatest threat to their own 'power' and rule; so maybe what they feared, is that if this 'upstart' tried to 'wrest' their 'lofty' position, it would cause an uprising' ( which it did ), and bring the Romans down upon their own 'heads', and they would lose what little ( political ) control they had. In many 'churches' today, I believe, we have much the same situation; leaders are afraid, sometimes, to 'dig too deep' and possibly raise the ire, whether it be of members of their congregation, or of a church council, by uncovering certain truths which would set them free, both spiritually, and more importantly ( to them ) from their 'comfort zone', from the ( sometimes lavish ) lifestyles that they have become accustomed to.
Without knowing what he really said, the high priest spoke these highly significant and prophetic words; 'You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish'. He was thinking physically, being focused on the fears that I outlined above, not realizing, not 'perceiving', that Jesus had appeared for that purpose, to die for the sins of His people, and to set them free from 'the law of sin and death' ( Romans 8:2 ), as John wrote; 'Now this he did not say on his own [ authority ]; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad'.
'The End is Near'!
As John wrote next; 'from that day on, they plotted to put Him to death': Jesus fate was 'sealed', the words of the high priest had convinced the council to decree that Jesus needed to die 'for the greater good'. Although in the past, I believe, good men have been put to death ( see 'Foxes Book of Martyrs' ) for uncovering, bringing to light, these greater ( but uncomfortable ) spiritual truths; today, at least in this country, it has not come to that point, or rather, in God's good providence, the 'church' has progressed beyond that point, to where men who dare to defy tradition have committed political 'suicide', and have been booted from their position as the leader of a congregation, and excommunicated from the fellowship of the ( orthodox ) 'body of Christ'. In some cases, actions like this have only served to 'harden' those who have been ostracized, but in as many, or more, cases, these, having been freed from the 'bondage' of 'organized religion', have gone on to even greater heights, discovering even greater spiritual truths, doing even greater things than they were able, as leaders of the 'institutional church', to accomplish!
Because of the decree of the council ( the Sanhedrin ) 'that if anyone knew where He was, he should report [ it ], that they might seize Him', John recorded that 'Jesus no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there into the country near the wilderness, to a city called Ephraim, and there remained with His disciples'. We know the 'rest of the story', how Jesus was eventually betrayed ( by one of His own ( Psalm 41:9 ), captured, and put to death. May we all, especially those to who God has revealed these truths, not be afraid, as in times past, to 'go against the grain' ( where necessary ), and be prepared to go to great lengths to reveal these truths, all the while keeping in mind His command to 'love one another; as I have loved you' ( John 13:34 )!
In the love of Christ,
Charles Haddon Shank