Jesus came to earth and faced life and death at every level. To me, John 11 is the chapter that encapsulates all of these things about the ministry of Christ, the Son of the Living God.
This chapter features the Lazarus story. It comes right after an account that reveals just how controversial Jesus had become among the Jews. “I and the Father are One,” Christ proclaimed in John 10:30. It was with this statement that Jesus really made Himself a target. Several were prepared to stone Him to death right then and there.
But Jesus slipped away and revisited the scene of His baptism on the other side of the Jordan River. It proved to be a wonderful respite for Him. The people remembered John the Baptist and recognized what he had said about the Christ. “And many believed in Him there” (John 10:42).
Meanwhile, Lazarus fell ill, and the news of this came to Jesus. This man and his sisters – Martha and Mary – were among Jesus’ closest friends. It was Mary, in Luke 7, who snuck into Simon the Pharisee’s home to anoint the Savior’s feet, to wash them with her tears, and to dry them with her hair. Surely, the expectation of this family was that the One who had healed so many would make haste to deliver their sick brother.
Jesus, however, sat still. And Lazarus died.
‘Lord, if You Had Been Here’
It was then that Jesus chose to move. “Let us go to Judea again,” He told His men. The thought of this somewhat paralyzed the disciples. Their movements were being watched by the religious leaders, and they sensed that their lives were at risk. “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone You, and are You going there again?” (John 11:8).
“Lazarus has died. … But let us go to him,” Jesus said.
These words say much about the power of God if we think about them. Notice this: Death had claimed Lazarus, but he still was not beyond the reach of the Son of God. It is in these passages where we begin to see that the grave is not the end.
At once, Jesus met the mourning party as He arrived in Bethany, where Lazarus and his sisters lived. Martha went right to Him and blurted out what she was feeling: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. …” (John 11:21). Mary would speak the same words to Him later in the story. His answers to them reveal the heart of God.
Jesus would treat each sister in a deep and personal way. Martha, a diligent and detail-minded servant, got an answer of truth. She knew and expressed the Word of promise she had learned well; Lazarus would enjoy a resurrection and she believed it. Jesus declared this and took her deeper into truth: “I am the resurrection and the life. … Everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”
Real Grief and Perfect Hatred
Martha then went to Mary to tell her: “The Master is here and is calling for you.” This sister needed a different ministry from the Lord, a ministry of compassion, a ministry of His tears.
“Jesus wept,” as He encountered Mary and those grieving over Lazarus. This shows Jesus in the most human of His experiences as the Son of Man. He’s overcome by the devastation that death brings to Martha, Mary, and the others.
The scene brings Him to profound sadness, but also to remarkable rage. Psalm 139:22 refers to “perfect hatred” and Jesus expresses this toward death, the enemy of life. He was absolutely indignant over what was happening to the people around Him.
He was led to the cave where Lazarus’ body had been laid. There, He shouted victory. “Take away the stone. … Lazarus come forth.”Joy came to Bethany that day. A preview of the ultimate triumph of Christ played out there. Click To Tweet
Joy came to Bethany that day. A preview of the ultimate triumph of Christ played out there.
Jesus felt all the things that people felt, and He gave Himself to heal such pain. Hurt and anger reached Him, and He reached beyond them to tackle the real issue. He defeated the grave that day with His words to Lazarus. Later, Jesus would conquer all graves forevermore through His work on the Cross. His sacrifice for sin removes the stone – the curse that fell upon us all at Adam’s Fall. His one offering tore the veil that separated us from fellowship with Him and the fullness of His presence.
Jesus answers us at every level of our being. I may be a Martha, a stoic, push-on-through person who just keeps marching based on what I know. I may be a Mary, someone wasted and wearied, crushed by life to a point where it’s just hard to move. I may be a Lazarus even, a person dead and buried, closed off from true life.
Hear His words. Come forth, come to Him. His heart knows. His victory has been won. Death is defeated. Life is ours.
For more on the story of Lazarus’ resurrection and John 11, check out “The Reach and Roar of Christ,” a message from Thomas Schaller, Pastor of Greater Grace Church of Baltimore.