John 11: Waiting
John has carefully selected the miraculous signs of Jesus during his ministry on earth. His first was to turn water into wine at the wedding in Cana of Galilee. In today’s study in John 11, we see one of his most well-known miracles, the raising of Lazarus from the dead. His last miracle before his own resurrection is at a funeral. Two of life’s gladdest and saddest hours- a wedding and a funeral, one at a beginning, the other at what appears to be an ending. Both are events which impact the individual and the family .
After Jesus’ encounter with the Pharisees he had returned to the place where John the Baptist had been baptizing in the early days. We read here he stayed and many came to believe in him.( John 10:41) We believe this place to be at Bethabara beyond the Jordan in Perea about 25 miles from Jerusalem.
Now Jesus has just told us: “The thief comes to steal and kill and destroy. But I have come that you might have life and life more abundantly.” Yet we know death is certain, only the time of death is uncertain. This is why this story, the raising of Lazarus is so appropriate, for it deals with the two most important issues for mankind: life and death. Jesus is the answer to the abundant life and Jesus is God’s answer to mankind’s death.
In the first miracle where Jesus turned the water into wine, His mother informed Jesus of the problem, “ They have no more wine.” This miracle begins with the sisters of Lazarus ( Mary and Martha) informing Jesus: “ Lord, the one you love is sick.” Since there are several Mary’s in the Gospels, John identifies her as the one who anointed the feet of our Lord with costly perfume and wiped it with her hair. Notice in both of these instances their prayer does not include instructions on what or how Jesus is to deal with the problem, they simply inform Jesus of the problem. Prayer in its simplest form, does not presume to tell Almighty God what to do about the problem, just to inform Him of the problem. King Jehoshaphat when faced with a vast armies coming at him from all sides we are told: “ Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah. The people of Judah came together to seek help from the Lord.” King Jehoshaphat admitted: “ For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” Jesus, Himself, had said He did nothing of His own, but depended on the Father to show Him what to do. Do their prayers which range from the lesser problems of life, ‘ they are out of wine’ to these desperate problems of life and death issues: a loved one’s grave illness, to a vast army preparing to attack you, reflect how you pray? Is prayer your first response or last resort? Do you come to cast your care upon the One who cares for you, or do you come with instructions as to how He should solve your problem? The Roman Centurion knew Jesus did not have to come to his house to heal his servant, he could do it from a distance. The nobleman who implored Jesus to come to his home for his son was near death, was convinced Jesus did not have to come, but placed so much faith in His Word, he actually stopped for the night to rest. Are you at rest in the Lord’s word concerning your concerns?
Moses at the burning bush encounter when told by the Lord to go free his people came up with excuse after excuse why he could not do this: people would not believe him, he was not an eloquent speaker, etc. God replied: “ Who gave man his mouth? Who made him deaf or mute? Who give him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I the Lord? Now go. I will help you speak and teach you what to say.” Is this not the way of the Lord who says He does not change?
The home of Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha, was a home away from home for Jesus. He loved them and they loved and supported Him. Here is the picture: 25 miles away, Jesus is with the disciples enjoying a time of teaching and preaching with great results. Meanwhile in Bethany, Mary and Martha are caring for their dear brother Lazarus who is gravely ill. Having sent word to Jesus informing him of the situation, they must be eagerly awaiting his arrival. We believe the messenger came back to tell them he had delivered the message to Jesus personally. The sisters had probably figured Jesus would drop everything and come immediately to their aid, or maybe just heal from a distance as they had heard he had done before. Surely in their minds, they thought if Jesus did this for people he did not know, they could be sure He will take care of those who loved Him.
THE RESPONSE TO THEIR PRAYER
“ When he heard this, Jesus said, “ This sickness is not unto death. No it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.”
Did Jesus address this message to the messenger the sisters had sent? I believe it makes sense he would have expected Jesus to reply to the request. And since the messenger had traveled 20-25 miles, he would wait until the next day to return with Jesus’ reply. Imagine their shock and sorrow when Lazarus dies. For we know Lazarus had already died when Jesus started back two days later, as Jesus plainly tells the disciples on the way back in verse 14: “ Lazarus is dead.”
So when the messenger arrives without Jesus, Lazarus was already dead when. Yet His message was now to two grief stricken sisters whose brother had already died : Jesus said, “ this sickness is not unto death but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified.” How can this be?- they must have thought.
Our familiarity with the story and knowing the happy ending takes away the sting of death and the sadness surrounding it. For the sisters the death of Lazarus was a tragedy. They depended on him for everything. But to make matters worse, Jesus had let them down. He could have kept this from happening. They experienced the same emotions we do when we hear bad news, when we get a diagnosis of a major illness, when a loved one passes away. We pray and pray and pray, but when the answer comes it seems wrong, even cruel and heartless. Don’t you care Lord, we are perishing, the disciples proclaimed in the boat in storm on the Sea of Galilee while Jesus slept in the boat. Ever said or thought that? Don’t you care Lord?
Death would not have the last word. Jesus is the Alpha and Omega. He is the first word which created life and He is the last word regarding death. He is Lord over life and death. He is the Lord over time- He invented it, He created it. And as John has told us from the beginning, his hour had not yet come. He had come to do the will of his Father and until he had completed that will at Calvary, it was not finished.
0N HIS ARRIVAL
Sometimes in life, it seems as if we spend a lot of time waiting. Waiting on the results of the test the doctor performed; waiting to hear if a child has arrived at their destination; waiting to hear if we got the job; and the list goes on and on. The Lord wants us to believe Him. He wants us to know and has shown us in our life and in the lives of many whose story he has told us how waiting on the Lord is a part of our journey of faith. “Wait on the Lord, I say, wait on the Lord; be of good courage and He shall strengthen your heart. Wait, I say on the Lord.” ( Psalm 27)
Waiting on His arrival creates anxious moments of confusion and sorrow sometimes. Waiting on the Lord to “ come through for you” is a time when the enemy attacks with the fiery darts of doubt, ‘ hath God really said?’ The writer of Psalm 27, said he would have lost heart unless he believed he would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Jeremiah was so devastated by the conditions he was in danger of losing hope. “ yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope.” Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning , great is your faithfulness.
Jesus says to his disciples: “ I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Jesus was not glad because of the sadness which Lazarus’ death had created. He was glad for He knew the outcome and what joy it would bring and what glory it would create.
At last, four days after Lazarus had died and been buried- JESUS ARRIVES. It appears to all, He has arrived too late. But things are not always as they appear, are they ?
It is interesting to notice the word: live spells evil backwards. And lived spelled backwards spells devil. It is often said, ‘ youth is wasted on the young.’ And life also teaches us ‘ I got old too soon, and smart too late.’ These words come from people who have lived life for decades. It is an expression of sorrow and regret for having spent their lives on things which in the end counted for so little. Some have said, it would make more sense if our lives were lived backwards. “ If only I had___________ or what if____________ . You fill in the blanks because they represent regrets over the past, and worries over the future. We all have them. But the good news is when Jesus arrives in our life, you are a new creation. You get to start a new life, an abundant life, eternal life and now understand what makes the difference in life. It all starts when Jesus arrives in our life. Live life over? Yes. You have been born again. Jesus was the beginning of your physical life. You exist because He willed for you to exist. And you exist for one reason- for God to give Himself to you. He is the death of your old life. He is the giver of your new life. He is the author of life. And until you enter into His story you will not discover the plans He has for you. You get to start life anew. A new beginning. No matter how late it arrived, it extends into eternity. Even knowing this, we often get confused and caught up with the things of the world. The emphasis in John 11 is on faith in His word. Jesus had a lesson for all of us in this story.. Let us look at the time line here:
Day 1: the messenger comes to Jesus with news of Lazarus sickness. We are told when Jesus arrives, Lazarus has been dead and buried four days. This means Day 1 Jesus received the news from the messenger, Lazarus had already died. It takes a day to cover those 20-25 miles, so the messenger would not have returned the same day.
Day 2: the messenger returns to Bethany with the message Jesus had given.
Day 3: Jesus waits another day, we are told he waited two more days, then departs.
Day4: Jesus arrives in Bethany.
When the messenger arrived back home, he would find Lazarus dead and buried. He would tell the sisters what Jesus said. But how could they believe His Word when their brother was dead and buried. Jesus was urging them to believe Him, no matter how discouraging the circumstances might appear. He had sent His word to them: this sickness is not unto death but for the Glory of that the Son of God might be glorified.
Now the disciples were confused as well. They knew Jesus loved this family- why did he delay? Why did He not heal from a distance? God’s love for us is a perfecting love. Sometimes a tough love. Jesus was careful to tell us we would have trouble in this world. He has shown us His actions from Genesis all through the Bible with stories of those who went through unspeakable hardships yet assures us He is working all things together for good for those who love Him. Love and suffering are not incompatible. They work together.
The Lord’s message to the sisters was NOT that Lazarus would not die, but that the ultimate result would be the glory of God. This is a story we need to remember when we face disease, disappointment, delay and even death, that our encouragement is the Word of God. We must live by faith and not by sight. Their situation seemed hopeless. Yet the Lord has said: “ And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.” (Psalm 50)
Each experience the Lord allows to come into our lives is about increasing and strengthening our faith. But it requires a proper response from us. Jesus had sent a promise to the two sisters and now we are about to see how they had received it.
As the sisters had waited for Jesus’s Arrival, they had been crushed by his seeming lack of urgency and concern. They both had come to the conclusion, if Jesus had been there, their beloved brother Lazarus would not have died.
THE WORD WHICH GIVES HOPE TO THE HOPELESS
There will be three groups who witness this miracle: the disciples; Martha and Mary and the Jews who had been with Mary comforting her. Martha had gone out to meet Jesus when she heard of his arrival. She was aware of the threats upon Jesus’ life and how coming to their home so close to Jerusalem would put his life in danger. “ Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “ if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” This is an interesting statement. It is a bold statement which says we believe you are who you say you are and can do what you say you can do. Nothing is too hard for you. But yet we sometimes doubt He will do it for us.
I believe Jesus sees in Martha what He sometimes sees in us during a time of disappointment. He sees we want to believe Him with all our heart, but circumstances are preventing us from doing so. As He sees our hearts and understands our weakness, He encourages us with His Word. Jesus gives her a reassuring promise. “ Your brother will rise again.” You hope will rise again- you will not lose hope. For He is the God of all Hope. Paul wrote: “ For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of Scriptures we might have hope. “ Peter said , “ Lord to who shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” He has the words of life. He is the Word of God. In Him was life and His life was the light of men.
Watch Martha’s response to His Word: “ I know he will rise again in the resurrection of the last day.” Jesus now responds to her faith which is growing. Jesus said to her, “ I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, will live, even though he dies; and whoever believes lives and believes in me will never die. DO YOU BELIEVE THIS?”
“ Yes, Lord,” she told him, “ I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world. “ Next Jesus meets with Mary who is weeping and Jesus is moved by her sorrow and deeply troubled. He is truly a man acquainted with sorrow, a man of sorrows. He is our perfect High Priest because He understands our pain. His Deity is about to be displayed, but here in the shortest verse in the Bible: “ Jesus wept”; we see his humanity.
As they approach the tomb, the cave where Lazarus’ body lay behind a rock, the crowd has now collected around them. Jesus is here. He has arrived. As they approach the tomb, Jesus tells them to roll away the stone. Martha protests there will be a bad odor for he has been buried for four days. Jesus reminds her of His promise: “ Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” This goes back to the message he had sent back to her and Mary.
The roll away the stone. Jesus prays to his Father and He thanks Him for what He is about to do and also reminds us of the purpose: ‘ ..this is for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
Jesus then calls Lazarus by name to come forth And Lazarus comes forth from the grave wrapped in the grave clothes. Jesus has overcome death and the grave. Here is a picture of our death, burial and resurrection. Raised to walk in the newness of life. Notice Jesus tells them to take off his grave clothes. We must put off the old and put on the new. And this is what we are to do as we make disciples teaching them who they have become and how they should now walk in the light as we help the take off the old and put on the new.
There were those who believed and placed their faith in Jesus. There were others who went and reported to the Chief Priest of what they had seen. They began to seek how to kill Jesus and also Lazarus as the Passover was growing near.
The hour was drawing near, which Jesus had been moving toward during these three plus years. The question which was the question of many was : “ What do you think?” For as a man thinketh in his heart so is He.
The question is “ What do you think?” Do you believe the Lord is who He says He is? Do you believe He can do what He says He can do? Do you believe you are who He says you are? Do you believe you can do what He says you can do?
If your answer to these four questions has been yes, perhaps your faith is like Martha’s. you have been disappointed by God’s lack of response to your prayers. Or that He allowed something to happen you believe He could have prevented. You are hurt, but you still believe Him. And maybe your answer to the first two questions are yes; but the answer to the last two questions are: I am not sure, I don’t know what I think sometimes. I believe. Help my unbelief.
Now that is what Martha’s reply to Jesus revealed a faith that believes, help her unbelief. How does Jesus help her faith? By His Word. Because faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.
The Word of God must be active and alive in our life. Be not a hearer only, but a doer of the Word.