John chapter 11 is the climax of Jesus’ earthly ministry as depicted in John’s Gospel. After the events that happened in John chapter 11 there should have been no doubt in the minds of anyone who witnessed the events first hand or who would read about them later, that Jesus is who he says is. And what is this big pivotal event that John spends so much time talking about? The climatic event in John’s Gospel is the death of Lazarus and Jesus raising him from the dead. And we are going to spilt this pivotal chapter in John’s Gospel into four sections: the death of Lazarus (vv.1-16), the comforting of the sisters of Lazarus (vv.17-37), the raising of Lazarus from the dead (vv. 38-44) and the plot to kill Jesus (vv. 45-57). Today we are going to be covering the first section that deals with the death of Lazarus.
Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”—11:1-3
The setting in chapter 11 is the village of Bethany, two miles east of Jerusalem. Jesus’ friend Lazarus was seriously ill, to the point of death. Only the apostle John in his Gospel associates Mary and Martha with this village. Verse 2 is a parenthetical statement that identifies Mary with an action that has not yet taken place in the Gospel (12:1-3). The sisters’ message demonstrates great faith in Jesus’ ability to heal. Word of Lazarus’s illness reached Jesus while he was in the Jordan River valley.
When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”—11:4-7
Jesus responded to the report of Lazarus’s illness in a way reminiscent of his comments concerning the blind man. Jesus’ statement that Lazarus’s sickness would not end in death meant not that Lazarus would not die but that Jesus would restore his life. Lazarus’s resurrection would ultimately bring glory to the Father and the Son. In this narration, John makes sure the reader understands that Jesus’ failure to return at once was not because he did not love the family. Instead of leaving at once, Jesus remained two more days before departing for Bethany.
Now let’s focus our attention on three key verses in this section, vv. 4-6. And the first one we will be focusing on is verse 4 which says, “When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”” Sickness among God’s people will never result in death as the final outcome. Because Christ has already conquered death, death holds no power over Christ’s followers and can never separate them from him. In the end, death will be destroyed by the resurrection—of Christ and his followers. The final truth is that the spirit of those who a personal relationship with Christ “will never die.”
The second verse we are going to focus on is verse 5, which says, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” Here is a family that had a true and strong devotion to Jesus. They enjoyed a close personal relationship with him, and he considered them to be very special friends. Still, they experienced sorrow, sickness and death. Today the same types of trouble touch the lives of faithful followers of Christ as well. Yet Jesus is aware of the pain and will always be there to guide us the difficult circumstances of life. Churches will have people who are outwardly passionate about their devotion to the Lord (like Mary), faithful in good words and service (like Martha) and those who suffering and dying (like Lazarus). Families like this, and others in the church, may often wonder why God does not take a certain action; they may even feel that he has forgotten them. But if Jesus seems to delay his healing or relief, it is not for lack of love, mercy or compassion. He is waiting for just the right time to bring the greatest honor to God and the greatest eternal good for those involved.
The final verse we are going to focus on is verse 6, which says, “So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.” Jesus delayed going to the family he loved in order to strengthen the faith of that family and his disciples. At first, it may have seemed that Jesus was unconcerned by their suffering and grief. However, John repeatedly emphasizes that Jesus loved the family and shared their sorrow. Jesus’ timing and purpose was different from what they wanted, but his plan would prove to be for the best of everyone involved. God’s timing and purposes may be difficult for us to understand, particularly when we are going through tough times, but God will always respond according to his unfailing love and divine wisdom.
“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”
Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”—11:8-10
There was clear danger in returning to Judea. Jesus’ comment about 12 hours of daylight is more than just a reference to sunlight. Just as there is a limited amount of daylight, so too the hours for Jesus’ work were limited. If one walks in disobedience to God’s will, they will live in spiritual darkness and will stumble and fall.
After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”
His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.
So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”—11:11-16
The disciples misunderstood Jesus’ comment about Lazarus being asleep. John explains Jesus’ words for the benefit of his readers. Jesus cleared up the confusion for the disciples by stating that Lazarus was dead. This is another example of Jesus’ supernatural knowledge. The disciples would have been shocked at Jesus associating joy with Lazarus’s death. However, his joy was that the disciples’ faith in him would be deepened. Thomas’ response reflected both bravery and extreme pessimism. And we will from here tomorrow as we deal with the second section of John chapter 11.
Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:
2 Samuel 15:23-16:23, John 18:25-19:22, Psalm 119:113-128 and Proverbs 16:10-11
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