A week from today our attention will turn to a party honoring Jesus at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, the day before Palm Sunday. The raising of Lazarus from the dead was a well-known event shortly before Holy Week that spurred on the Pharisees’ plan to kill Jesus. John recounts this most significant factor in bringing about the death of Jesus. John is the only gospel writer to record the full account of what happened.
Reader: “Did I not tell you that if you believed,”
Response: “you would see the glory of God?”
Scripture: John 11:1-57
A man named Lazarus was sick. He lived in Bethany with his sisters, Mary and Martha. This is the Mary who later poured the expensive perfume on the Lord’s feet and wiped them with her hair. [on Tuesday of Holy Week.] Her brother, Lazarus, was sick. So the two sisters sent a message to Jesus telling him, “Lord, your dear friend is very sick.”
But when Jesus heard about it he said, “Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.” So although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, he stayed where he was for the next two days. Finally, he said to his disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.”
But his disciples objected. “Rabbi,” they said, “only a few days ago the people in Judea were trying to stone you. Are you going there again?”
Jesus replied, “There are twelve hours of daylight every day. During the day people can walk safely. They can see because they have the light of this world. But at night there is danger of stumbling because they have no light.” Then he said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but now I will go and wake him up.”
The disciples said, “Lord, if he is sleeping, he will soon get better!” They thought Jesus meant Lazarus was simply sleeping, but Jesus meant Lazarus had died.
So he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. And for your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there, for now you will really believe. Come, let’s go see him.”
Thomas, nicknamed the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let’s go, too—and die with Jesus.”
When Jesus arrived at Bethany, he was told that Lazarus had already been in his grave for four days. Bethany was only a few miles down the road from Jerusalem, and many of the people had come to console Martha and Mary in their loss. When Martha got word that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him. But Mary stayed in the house.
Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”
Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.”
“Yes,” Martha said, “he will rise when everyone else rises, on the last day.”
Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?”
“Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.” Then she returned to Mary. She called Mary aside from the mourners and told her, “The Teacher is here and wants to see you.” So Mary immediately went to him.
Jesus had stayed outside the village, at the place where Martha met him. When the people who were at the house consoling Mary saw her leave so hastily, they assumed she was going to Lazarus’s grave to weep. So they followed her there. When Mary arrived and saw Jesus, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled. “Where have you put him?” he asked them.
They told him, “Lord, come and see.” Then Jesus wept. The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much he loved him!” But some said, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”
Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance. “Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them.
But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.”
Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a head cloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!”
Many of the people who were with Mary believed in Jesus when they saw this happen. But some went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. Then the leading priests and Pharisees called the high council together. “What are we going to do?” they asked each other. “This man certainly performs many miraculous signs. If we allow him to go on like this, soon everyone will believe in him. Then the Roman army will come and destroy both our Temple and our nation.”
Caiaphas, who was high priest at that time, said, “You don’t know what you’re talking about! You don’t realize that it’s better for you that one man should die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed.”
He did not say this on his own; as high priest at that time he was led to prophesy that Jesus would die for the entire nation. And not only for that nation, but to bring together and unite all the children of God scattered around the world.
So from that time on, the Jewish leaders began to plot Jesus’ death. As a result, Jesus stopped his public ministry among the people and left Jerusalem. He went to a place near the wilderness, to the village of Ephraim, and stayed there with his disciples.
It was now almost time for the Jewish Passover celebration, and many people from all over the country arrived in Jerusalem several days early so they could go through the purification ceremony before Passover began. They kept looking for Jesus, but as they stood around in the Temple, they said to each other, “What do you think? He won’t come for Passover, will he?” Meanwhile, the leading priests and Pharisees had publicly ordered that anyone seeing Jesus must report it immediately so they could arrest him.
Reader: This is the word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.
Did you notice the “buts” in this pericope? This little four-letter word packs power! It always sets up contrasts which clarify perspectives. Let’s look at a few examples. “But when Jesus heard about it he said, “Lazarus’ sickness . . . happened for the glory of God.” ―Jesus understood the grander plan of God. A second “but”: “But his disciples objected, “Rabbi . . .” We don’t understand why you want to go back where the people were trying to stone you. It makes no sense! ―The bigger issue was not about the fear of being stoned but bringing glory to God.
Another “but”: Martha’s words, “But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.” ―Martha understood that God was not limited to earthly chronology. Still another “but”: “But some said, ‘This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?’” ―If he did that, why couldn’t he do this? Just two more: in Jesus’ words, “But I said it out loud for the sake of all those people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” ―Jesus tells us why he said what he said. Finally a “but” from some observers of this resurrection of Lazarus, “But some went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.” ―Some observers of the resurrection of Lazarus believed in Jesus and others saw this event as trouble for the Jewish high council.
What’s the point? In this particular event when God acted, some of the people perceived the bigger picture of what God was doing and believed in Jesus while others failed to grasp the true significance. I also am far too guilty of “But Lord, I thought that . . .” I am too centered on what I perceive to be happening. In contrast, we see Jesus totally tuned to the Father in the raising of Lazarus. We never once read anywhere in Scripture of Jesus’ conversation with his Father uttering these words, “But Father, I thought that . . .” There is a model here for us to continually tune our hearts to God’s bigger plan and not rush to our conclusions too fast. Do you find yourself observing the events of the day and putting them into your own story as to what is happening in the world and then reacting to your own interpretation? It is possible God may be doing something you don’t even know about! We need to roll the stone away from our theological tombs more often and see the power of our great Savior working in the world in which we live.
A few months earlier during the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus had made reference that he was the “light of the world,” a messianic reference. The people picked up the inference, thought he was blaspheming God and tried to stone him. He escaped Jerusalem and headed back to the region of Galilee where things were quieter, though his notoriety continued to grow. A couple of months later Jesus was in Jerusalem again. This time it was for Hanakkuh, during which time he claimed that he and the Father were one, which resulted in another stoning attempt. Jesus and his disciples quickly left Jerusalem again. So you can see the disciples’ reluctance to head back to Jerusalem this third time!
Jesus’ words of “there are twelve hours in the daylight” was a way of telling the disciples that God, his Father, had given him a task to do. Those who attempted to stone him were in the dark. In John’s gospel, light is a symbol of clarity and truth and darkness is a symbol of doubt, “being in the dark,” not knowing. (Note, Nicodemus came to Jesus in the dark of the night searching for the truth.) Now Jesus was headed back to Jerusalem to accomplish his Father’s will by bringing the light of truth to the people. The disciples were still “stuck in the fear of the dark,” still stumbling and not understanding the presence of “light of the world” in their midst. Passover was approaching and now it was God’s time for Jesus’ mission on earth to come to completion.
Friends, as we approach Holy Week, John writes elsewhere concerning this same theme in I John 1:6-7. “This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.” In a world of such divisiveness both within and without the church, let us walk in God’s light focusing on Jesus; then we will have fellowship with one another. Unity is only possible in Christ.
Music: “O Nata Lux” Morten Lauridsen, Los Angeles Master Chorale, Paul Salamunovich, conductor. This is one movement of a larger piece, Lux Aeterna. The piece was premiered by the Los Angeles Master Chorale in 1997.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, here I am again praying with words, words, and more words. I seem stuck with the same ones all the time. I have trouble finding the right ones to express my love and complete gratitude for what you have done and continue to do on my behalf. Words are so limiting! If you had not done what you did on the cross, there would be no hope at all. I cannot begin to imagine what that would be like without you. I would be depressed and have to pretend that somehow life made sense, but based on what I wouldn’t know. To keep sane, I wouldn’t think about it but live for the moment getting lost in music or technology or . . . something, anything. But thank you Lord that you have brought light into the world, eternal light that enlightens all darkness, including mine. Your word brings eternal light, hope, truth, salvation. This I pray through Jesus Christ, who with you and the unity of the Holy Spirit, reign one God forever and ever. Amen. ―Daniel Sharp