Over the last couple of weeks, we have followed Jesus’ confrontation with the Pharisees. For the rest of this quarter, we will break away from Jesus and the Pharisees. This unit of lesson which began January 31st, is titled – Going Deeper with Jesus. We have seen Jesus proclaim He is the light of the world and also proclaim His deity. These last few lessons are going to take involve Jesus’ most famous miracle. For those of you who do not have a Sunday School book, our lesson this week is being taught from John 11:1-16.
Lazarus is Sick
Our lesson opens with an introduction to Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha (v.1). By this point in scripture, Jesus is very familiar with these three people as the next scripture in our lesson shares with us. We are told that this is the same Mary that anointed Him with ointment and wiped His feet with her hair (v.2). This verse is in reference to an event that took place at the house of Simon the leper just before Jesus was crucified (Matt. 26:6-13). You see, Bethany was very close to Jerusalem and Jesus would use Bethany as a means to speak to the people of Jerusalem without having to step foot in the city.
We are also familiar with Mary and Martha from another visit that Jesus had made to their home in Bethany earlier in His ministry (Luke 10:38-42). At that visit, Mary sat at the feet of Jesus and learned what He was teaching, but Martha was distracted by being focused on serving the others with food and drinks. I used that passage of scripture in a sermon I preached a couple of years ago – Distracted From God.
These two sisters are two of my favorite people in scripture! Mostly because they were siblings and being that I’m a brother, I’m always drawn to the relationship that siblings have. Now, we are told that they sent word to Jesus, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick (v.3).” The one that they are speaking of is their brother, Lazarus. This Lazarus should not be confused with the Lazarus that Jesus spoke of as a beggar to the rich man in the parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). Lazarus was a good friend of Jesus though He doesn’t appear often in scripture.
Lazarus’ sickness explained
So, Mary and Martha were very troubled by Lazarus’ sickness. Maybe on the first day they thought it was a typical fever but his sickness had gotten so bad they felt that Jesus was needed. In other words, this was a very dire situation for the three of them. In our most dire situations, I imagine all believers do the same thing and call on the Lord.
Jesus explains Lazarus’ sickness as, “this sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby (v.4).” So, there seems to be a purpose to Lazarus’ being sick. This reminds me of the man who had an infirmity for 38 years who was at the pool of Bethesda but could never be healed (John 5:1-9). It also reminds me of the man who had been born blind (John 9:1-12). Sometimes we may go through some things so that God can be glorified through our healing.
So, after hearing that Lazarus was sick, scripture tells us that Jesus stayed where He was another two days (vss.5-6). Now, some of us may find this very troubling. It would seem that Jesus did not care about the fact that Lazarus was sick. From their perspective, we are going to see in our lesson next week that at least one of the sisters felt this same way (John 11:21).
As I have said in sermons before, we all seem to think that the Lord moves incredibly slow. Many of us cannot understand why there is struggle or why God allows for bad things to happen in the first place. Personally, I believe that this is a very common thought that all people have, both believers and non-believers. We want God to move faster than the snap of our finger! Yet, it seems that most of the time, to us at least, God is a very slow worker. Sometimes, it seems God moves so slow that He just doesn’t care about our situation at all.
So, let’s make something very clear about this feeling: God certainly does care about each and every one of us. As scripture says, He loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. Remember, God loved the world and gave His only begotten Son. I think about how God works and compare His work to an artist, a chef, or a gardener.
Artists don’t like to rush their work; they prefer to have time to be able to work their craft. Trust me, you want to give an artist their time! Chefs don’t look to rush their work, and none of us care much for eating food that has been rushed through the cooking process! Gardeners are very patient in their work because a good garden (or lawn in my case) requires time and patience. I believe we benefit from God’s blessings most because He puts time into crafting our blessing instead of giving us rushed work.
Disciples question Jesus’ going to Jeruslaem
So, after two days, we’ll see that Jesus was now ready to go into Judea to Bethany which again was just outside of Jerusalem (v.7). In the prior chapter, we see that Jesus was about to be stoned again by the Jews for saying that He and the Father are one (John 10:25-39). After that occasion, Jesus went again beyond the Jordan to where John the Baptist had been baptizing (John 10:40) – Bethabara in Perea (John 1:28).
It would take a day’s journey for Jesus and the disciples to get to Bethany. The disciples, however, were ready to prolong Jesus’ going into the land of Judea. They say to Jesus, “the Jews lately the Jews sought to stone You, and are You going there again?” This is interesting to me because, though they didn’t realize it, had Jesus chosen not to go to Bethany, that would have been a blessing not given to the two sisters. I do believe that there are people who wish that they could hold up God’s blessing you, but there is no man that can stop God! (OK, I’m going to have to preach this one day! One day soon, I believe!)
Jesus’ response to their fear
Now, I don’t believe that was the disciples intent. In fact, I would tell you I believe that their intent was born out of purely caring for Jesus. I would, however, also tell you that their questioning of Jesus’ returning to Judea was born out of fear. They were deeply concerned about the Jewish leaders’ burning desire to kill Jesus.
Now, Jesus was not a man concerned with such matters. In previous confrontations with those same leaders, Jesus would escape them because His time had not yet come. However, the clock on Jesus physically being in the world was now just about up. So, He was going into Judea to awaken His and their friend, but He was also going so that God could be glorified (vss.8-11).
The true purpose is revealed
So, after initially seeing that they could not persuade Jesus to stay in Bethabara, the disciples gave it another try. We will see that they did not quite understand the seriousness of the matter. They say to Jesus that Lazarus would be alright because he’s resting and sleeping (v.12).
The next verse in our lesson tells us that they did not understand that when Jesus said Lazarus was sleeping, He was saying that he was dead (v.13). That, I believe, is insight on how physical death is viewed by the Lord as a temporary sleep. In fact, Paul used sleep as a means to describe death when he wrote about the rapture (1 Thess. 4:13-18).
Strengthening believers and making new ones
So that they could understand the seriousness, Jesus tells them plainly that Lazarus is dead (v.14). In the next verse, we see the true intent – the one purpose for Lazarus’ sickness and death. Jesus says, “I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe (v.15).” Does this mean that Jesus was happy and glad that Lazarus died? No, He was glad to make believers in the Lord!
The disciples had faith, but even here in this lesson, we see that their faith needed to be strengthened. I believe this is why we often have our tribulation – so that our faith can be strengthened. I reference James 1:2-3 often because he talks about how we should joy in our trials because it strengthens our patience and faith.
We are going to see in our lesson next week that the sisters knew that had Jesus been in Bethany, Lazarus wouldn’t have died. The raising of Lazarus from the dead would strengthen all of their faith and make plenty of new believers as well. So, we ultimately see that the purpose for Lazarus being sick and dying was so that light – the light of Christ – could be revealed and brought to mankind.