Lesson 65

The Gospel of John

World English Bible translation

 Today's Scripture

11:1 Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, of the village of Mary and her sister, Martha. 11:2 It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother, Lazarus, was sick. 11:3 The sisters therefore sent to him, saying, "Lord, behold, he for whom you have great affection is sick." 11:4 But when Jesus heard it, he said, "This sickness is not to death, but for the glory of God, that God's Son may be glorified by it." 11:5 Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. 11:6 When therefore he heard that he was sick, he stayed at that time two days in the place where he was. 11:7 Then after this he said to the disciples, "Let's go into Judea again."

 Today's Lesson 

The story of the raising of Lazarus is unique to the Gospel of John. It commands a critical position and supplies the motivation for Jesus' critics to call for His ultimate punishment in Jerusalem. The story and its results take up Chapter 11.


Lazarus was the brother of Martha and Mary. He was well known to Jesus. Jesus stayed at his home whenever He visited Jerusalem. Bethany was a small village on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives. It was about two miles from Jerusalem proper. In fact, there is no recorded incidence where Jesus spends the night in the city of Jerusalem except for the night of His trial. Other Gospels have stories of Martha and Mary. Luke 10 has a particularly interesting passage concerning Jesus within the domestic life of Martha and Mary.


But, very little is known of Lazarus outside of this chapter. We do not know his occupation or politics. We do not know whether he was wealthy or poor. We do not even know the sickness that afflicted him. What we are told is that the sisters sent for Jesus because Lazarus became ill.


Jesus' response to being told that Lazarus was sick is twofold. He said, "This sickness is not to death, but for the glory of God, that God's Son may be glorified by it." He knew that Lazarus' sickness and death had a purpose. He knew that God would be glorified by what would occur. This is the same type of response as the one that He gave when He healed the man born blind at the beginning of Chapter 9. He was asked who had sinned, the man or his parents that he was born blind. Jesus' response was "Neither did this man sin, nor his parents. But, that the works of God might be revealed in him."


The second part of His response to the news of Lazarus' illness is the more unusual. "He stayed at that time two days in the place where he was." There are several reasons advanced for His delay. Some believe that He wanted to assure that Lazarus was truly dead by the time that He arrived. Some believe that in delaying His departure, the miracle of Lazarus' raising was all the more impressive. If a person is raised shortly after death, critics might claim that the person never really died at all. But, Lazarus' body had already begun to decay when Jesus arrived. Some believe that John has a pattern of showing that Jesus does not allow Himself to be ordered about. When Jesus is at the wedding at Cana, His mother seeks to solicit action from Him and He seems to rebuke her for it. When His brothers attempt to goad Him into going to a feast in Jerusalem, He tells them that it is not His time to go and yet He eventually does go, alone.


Any of these ideas and others might have been a part of His decision. I'm not sure we are meant to understand Jesus' motivation for everything that He does. I have often thought that the Bible remains vague in certain areas precisely because people can see their own reasoning behind actions. In this way the passage might mean slightly different things to you than it might mean to me, or different things at different stages in our own lives.


In either case, Jesus delays His departure. His delay is not because He did not care for Lazarus and His sisters. It is clearly stated that He loves them. His decision must have caused Him personal distress. Jesus was willing to sacrifice His personal comforts and relationships to glorify God. His willingness to do so makes me wonder if I would be willing, as early Christians were, to suffer for my beliefs? Or more directly, would I be willing to see other people suffering? Could I be willing to look at the suffering of someone I love dearly and see that God might be glorified in their suffering?


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