1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9 Jesus answered,“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. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11 After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go,that we may die with him.” (John 11:1-16)
As we begin John chapter 11, it’s relevant that we understand the events that just taken place in the last chapter. Jesus was in Jerusalem but left because the Jews there were trying to stone him. They wanted to kill him because he had made the statement that he and the Father were one. They heard him declare that he was, in essence, God. They considered this a blasphemous statement that was indeed worthy of death. They said, “How can you a mere man claim to be God?” The real blasphemy though was that they were looking into the eyes of Almighty God and calling him a mere man. Anyway, Jesus left Jerusalem and escaped stoning and went to the other side of the Jordan where John the Baptist was previously baptizing. The people said, “Everything that John said about this man was true.” Many people believed in him there. And many believed in him there.
Now, Jesus knew and the disciples knew that going back to Jerusalem meant getting stones thrown at them. Jerusalem had become a death trap for them. So, that’s kind of the context behind this scene as it unveils itself here in John 11.
Jesus’ love for Lazarus and his sisters
Let’s look at the first three verses. Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” (John 11:1-3) So, Lazarus, who lives in a community only two miles outside of Jerusalem, has fallen sick and his sisters sent a message to Jesus. I think it’s interesting how they communicate with him. The don’t say, Our brother Lazarus is sick. They say, “The one you love is sick”. Jesus had to have a very special and personal relationship Lazarus and his sisters. Look at the description John gives to Mary. He’s assuming that his readers already know who Mary was, because he ties her to an event that had not yet taken place in his story’s timeline. He says, “Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair”. This is a special love Jesus has for this family.
For the glory of the Son of God
Let’s take a look at 4: But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” (John 11:4) This sickness is not mainly about death. Yes, Lazarus does die, Jesus knows he will die, but death it not the point of the story. The illness is about the glory of God, it’s about bringing glory to the Son of God. The point of the illness is not death, it’s about magnifying God, it’s about elevating Jesus.
As you recall last week’s text, you’ll remember that the Jews equated Jesus (Almighty God) to being a mere man. Now, Jesus was 100% human, be he is also 100% God. The people tried to strip Jesus of his glory, but this event, this sickness is about the glory of the Father and the Son.
Don’t miss the love
John doesn’t want us to miss the fact that Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters. Now, look at verse 5: Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. (John 11:5) John is making sure that we understand that Jesus has a close and affectionate relationship with this family.
That doesn’t sound like love
Before the end of this text we discover that Lazarus did indeed die. Now, could Jesus have prevented his death? Absolutely. But he didn’t. John just finished telling us that Jesus loved Martha, and Mary and Lazarus. There’s a keyword that links that statement to the next verse, it’s the word ‘so’. In the original language we would understand it as ‘therefore’ or ‘because of this’. Verse 6 says: So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. (John 11:6) It would be correct to say, Jesus loved Lazarus, therefore, when he heard that he was sick, he waited two more days. Or, because he loved Lazarus, he waited two more days after hearing that Lazarus was sick.
Does this sound like love? Jerry loved his son Michael, therefore, after hearing that his son was dying, he waited two days before going to the hospital to visit him. That doesn’t sound like love and from a mere human perspective it wouldn’t be. In this story, Jesus could have healed Lazarus. He could have healed him from a distance, but didn’t. He waited two days and let Lazarus die. Because he loved Lazarus he let him die.
How can this be love?
How can this be love? I think it’s fair question. What does it mean to be loved by Jesus? That might be a better question. Love is giving what is most needed. What we need most isn’t necessarily healing. What we really need most is an endless experience of the glory of God and unending joy. What we really need has been made clear in the text – seeing and experiencing and marveling at the glory of God in Jesus Christ. When someone is willing to die—or let your brother die—to give you (and your brother) the experience of his glory, he loves you. Jesus allowed Lazarus to die in order that the glory of the God might be seen in Jesus. What Lazarus needed, what his sisters needed, what the disciples needed, what you and I need is to experience the fullness of the glory of God in Christ.
The amazing thing about Christ is his sovereign command over all things in order to demonstrate his love. He is capable of executing his perfect will to demonstrate his perfect love, not in spite of a fallen world, but through it. Come crisis or loss, come disease or death the glory of God and the power of his love can be made known through all things.
Let’s look at John 11:7-8: Then after this 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?” They’re questioning the sanity of Jesus. That’s funny! They’re asking the creator of all things if he wants to change his mind. “Are you sure about that? Don’t you remember that they were trying to stone you last time we were in town?
Nothing to fear if you have the light
Jesus answered, “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) These guys are a little afraid of following Jesus to Jerusalem, so Jesus gives them a little pep talk. He reminds them of what he said back in chapter 8. “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12) He’s reminding them and he’s reminding us that we have nothing to fear as long as we’re following Jesus, the light of the world.
Verse 12: After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” (John 8:12) They’re saying, “If he’s napping, he’s on the mend and we don’t need to go into Jerusalem and die.” These guys really don’t want to go back Jerusalem, but Jesus has more to teach them.
One’s loss leads to another’s faith
Verse 13: Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” (John 11:13-15) Jesus is telling them that he’s glad that Lazarus died. What? It was for the sake of the disciples that Lazarus died. There was disbelief that remained in the disciples.
Sometimes we undergo loss, separation, pain and even death, but don’t understand why. The great thing about Jesus is that he can use those experiences in our lives to develop the faith of others as we persevere through them. I’m reminded of my brother in law and his wife when they lost a baby after birth. Their steadfast faith through such a trying a difficult loss was a testimony that challenged and strengthened my faith in Christ.
Revealed in the resurrection
Between the death of Lazarus and his resurrection four days later, his family couldn’t see the glory of Christ in the situation nor could the disciples see the glory of Christ. Verse 16, we can see that Thomas’ faith is a little lacking. So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go,that we may die with him.” Thomas is still has some faith that needs developed and so do we. Standing on this side of our own resurrection there is a lot that we can’t see. We don’t often see the glory of Christ demonstrated in our loss or our pain. God is doing far more than you can know or understand. The resurrection will reveal the glory of Christ in the pain of today and we’ll say, we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)