I love the story of Lazarus. I grew up going to church, so this is a story that has been passed down from Sunday school class to Sunday school class. In fact, I even remember teaching about Lazarus to a class full of girls I taught in my early twenties. But sometimes when you are familiar with the story you overlook things. Sometimes you miss details that change the story.
That’s what happened for me with Lazarus. From the time I first saw Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha as flannel board figures, it was a great story. Even as a child, it was amazing to hear Lazarus was dead, but then he suddenly wasn’t. It continued to hold my attention as an excellent story until I discovered the details. Then suddenly, Jesus didn’t just raise Lazarus, He transformed me as well.
Let’s look at the details a little closer. In John 11: 2, we can see that Jesus heard Lazarus was ill. We don’t know what was wrong with him, but his sisters were concerned and sent word to Jesus. He was their friend, and He cared about them.
But here’s the first, and one of the most important details for people who struggle with any sickness, illness, disease or situation – Jesus made a statement we can all cling to.
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.” (John 11:4)
This is so important for us to grab hold of and understand. This is a golden nugget of hope for when you are struggling through a period of why me? Lazarus was sick because God’s glory would be revealed through his sickness and death. How would our hearts and attitudes change if we soaked up this truth? What if we proclaimed it boldly over our lives?
My cancer happened for the glory of God.
My mental disorder is present in my life so God can receive glory from this.
My MS happened so God can show His glory through how I live my life.
Yes, Lazarus was ill for the glory of God. Perhaps it is easier for us to understand because we can see the other side of his story. We know what happens next, but we don’t know what will happen in our own lives.
Here is another detail that we can look at in the story. Verse 6 tells us that while Jesus knew that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was for two whole days. When Mary and Martha send word to Jesus, they might have been expecting that He would come right away. But He didn’t. As always, He had a purpose for that too.
Jesus 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 to him.” (John 11:14-15)
Here’s the plan we can see in Lazarus’s story that we can’t see in our own. (At least,not while we are going through the valley and storms of life.) While Jesus had disciples and followers, He was constantly teaching them. At this point, the disciples were not the bold, wise men we recognize in later parts of the New Testament. Here Jesus was dealing with disciples who didn’t quite understand His power. Here Jesus was teaching those who were confused about what He could do and why He had come. This is why Jesus waited, and why Lazarus died.
Let’s pause for a moment and look at Lazarus’s sisters. We can learn so much from them, too. When Martha heard Jesus was coming, she ran out to meet him. Martha was grieving for her brother, and might have been feeling abandoned by Jesus. After all, He hadn’t come when they sent word for him. So when she met him she said, “Lord if you had only have been here, my brother might not have died.” It was then Jesus spoke some powerful words.
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 die. Do you believe this, Martha?” (John 11:25,26)
If you grew up in the church like me, you may have heard these words many times before. But for Martha, it was new. She told Jesus that she did believe. But she may still have struggled with feeling that Jesus was too late. Shortly after their conversation, she went to find her sister.
Mary and Martha are so different. Where Martha had to process her grief and talk things out, Mary ran to Jesus and threw herself at His feet. While she asked Him the same question as Martha, she sobbed her sorrows out at the feet of Jesus.
How many of us act more like Martha when we should be more like Mary? How many of us struggle to process what is happening to us, wishing we could have a solution or a plan, and feeling broken and destitute when our plans don’t work out? Sometimes it’s difficult to surrender every grief about our situation at his feet like Mary did.
Jesus, ready to work a miracle, asks to be taken to Lazarus’s tomb and asks for the stone to be removed. A horrified Martha intervenes, warning Jesus that since Lazarus had been dead for several days, and it would smell. Only Jesus could be the one to show her what could happen when she abandoned her fears and believed.
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 they will believe You sent me.” Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in grave clothes, his face wrapped in a head cloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!” (John 11:40-44)
Here we see Lazarus come alive. It must have been amazing to stand in the crowds of people who had followed the grieving sisters, the disciples, and Jesus there that day. Many people believed in Him after witnessing such a powerful event.
The amazing truth about the power of God is that it didn’t stop when Jesus ascended to heaven. The same power that He used to raise Lazarus (and Himself!) from the grave lives in us if we belong to Him.
We can learn so much from this short story. Martha, the practical thinker – the one who worked hard and who might have liked to be able to control her circumstances. Mary, the same one who wiped Jesus’ feet with expensive oils, who just liked to be hear him – throwing herself at his feet in grief. Are we like Mary or like Martha? Do we feel the need to control or do we feel the need to surrender it all at his feet?
Jesus knew what Mary and Martha needed. He knew what the people needed to see to believe. He knows what you and I need in our lives as we navigate through our storms. His resurrection power is always at work. What does Jesus need to resurrect in your life?