Lazarus - What Really Happened
John 11: 35, Jesus wept. I’ve heard this is the shortest verse in the bible. The 11th Chapter of John is one of the most famous chapters, I think, in the New Testament. It’s the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, and all my life I’ve heard this story taught, told, preached and used for example after example of the power of Jesus to raise the dead and his compassion on a grieving heart. I believe this is true about this story, but it’s not the whole story.
Sunday school pictures are imprinted on my mind of Jesus with outstretched arms at the mouth of a tomb, while others watch and wait, and a man once dead with burial robes and a surreal glow surrounds him and Jesus as he walks from the tomb toward Jesus. I’ve heard sermons upon sermons, usually at Easter and Palm Sunday services, about the love Jesus had for Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha. So much so that Jesus himself was grieved and wept when Lazarus died. Never have I known the story though as the Holy Spirit revealed it to me today. The real meaning of this story is not just of the power of Jesus, it’s the very essence of who he is and of all the times I’ve read this story, not once have I ever seen what I now see about it. So, at my husband’s urging, I’m writing this down to share with whoever reads this. To share this revelation with you, praying that the eyes of your understanding be enlightened and your eyes opened to the magnificence of it. For it truly is one of the greatest stories ever told and there is a message from Jesus to all who believe. A message of truth, hope, faith, love and compassion in its purest form.
So, sit down, put your feet up and let me tell you a story. We begin at the beginning – John chapter 11, verse 1:
“Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.”
We first meet Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42. Mary and Martha have met Jesus and Martha, being the gracious host and godly woman that she is, invites Jesus to their home and receives him there. The story reads that Martha is busy taking care of things while Mary sits at Jesus’ feet listening to his every word. Martha simply cannot understand why Jesus allows Mary to sit there and watch her with the duties at hand and asks Jesus why he doesn’t say anything about this and insist that Mary assist her. Jesus tells Martha in verses 41 & 42 “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things, but one thing is needful and Mary hath chosen that good part which shall not be taken away from her.”
It’s been said by teachers and preachers I’ve heard that Martha was too busy and unconcerned to make time to listen to Jesus and that Jesus has rebuked her for this. However, after careful study of this I don’t think this is the case at all. Jesus said to her that she was careful and troubled about many things. I don’t know how many times I have had someone in my home that I wanted so desperately to spend time with, but felt a sense of duty and responsibility to be a good host and make sure that my guests were not without anything they needed. It wasn’t that I was too busy or preoccupied, it was my desire to please that kept me busy until things were finished and I could enjoy my conversation uninterrupted. I believe this is what was happening to Martha. Jesus wasn’t rebuking her; he was complimenting her and thanking her. He understood that she wanted to make him comfortable. He essentially is saying to her “Martha, dear Martha, I know you want to sit here and hear what Mary hears but your beautiful sense of duty and responsibility prevents you from doing so. If you’ll just sit down and listen too, you won’t be so troubled by these duties, which can wait. Choose what Mary has chosen.” Her request to have Mary help was not from envy or jealousy; it was for help to get things done quicker so she could sit down too. When Jesus said Mary had chosen the good part, he meant that Mary simply had the ability to set things aside and understand what was more important. So we leave this introduction of these sisters with the knowledge that Mary has chosen to listen to Jesus and Martha is a godly woman who has now been able to reverse her priorities.
However, as we read on in John chapter 11 we’ll see that Mary had some learning to do. With this background, we return to John chapter 11, verse 2:
“(It was Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.)”
John finds it necessary to step forward in time and qualify who this Mary is. Probably because he wants to make sure we understand how important this family is to Jesus. A Jewish brother and two sisters who are devout and faithful followers of Jesus.
Lazarus is sick and dying. Mary and Martha turn to the one person they know can heal him. Verses 3-6:
“Therefore, his sisters sent unto him saying, ‘Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.’ When Jesus heard that he said ‘This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.’ Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. When he heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the place where he was.”
Recap: Lazarus is sick and dying. His sisters have sent to Jesus for help. Jesus sends word back to them that this situation has a purpose – to show the glory of God so that the Son of God can be glorified by it. That Lazarus’ sickness is not unto death. Nevertheless, Lazarus’ sickness not unto death is obviously interpreted as that he won’t die. Jesus stays where he is for 2 whole days after he sent his word to them. No one understands what Jesus has been saying. No one sees that Lazarus is not destined to experience death as all mankind had experienced it up to this point in time. Nothing Jesus has said has been made real to anyone yet.
Verse 7: “Then after that saith he to his disciples, ‘Let us go unto Judea again.’
We must assume that Jesus is still beyond Jordan where he had fled in John 10: 39 & 40 “unto the place where John at first baptized; and there he abode.” So when he says he’s going into Judea again we know that he’s heading west toward Bethany, a place right outside of Jerusalem and west of the Jordan River. He was going to see Lazarus. His disciples, knowing why he had fled to where he was, respond to this statement in verse 8 when they say, “Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou thither again?” In other words, “are you crazy?!?” Once again, Jesus answers their concerns in a “riddle” in verses 9-11:
“Jesus answered: ‘Are there not twelve hours in the day, he stumbleth not because he seeth the light of this world. But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth because there is no light in him.’ These things said he and after that he saith unto them, ‘Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go that I may awake him out of sleep.’”
Verse 12: “Then said his disciples, ‘Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well.’”
The disciples simply cannot understand Jesus’ logic. He wants to return to an extremely hostile environment to wake up a good friend? This doesn’t make sense to them. They were with him when he sent word to Mary and Martha that Lazarus sickness was not unto death. Jesus himself says that Lazarus is only asleep. They have also witnessed several times Jesus’ ability to heal somebody from a great distance.
In spite of him telling them that there is only an allotted timeframe he has to work in and that if they are going to follow him, the light of this world, then they won’t stumble (their faith will find reward). They need to trust him and not “walk in the night” (their own understanding) where they’ll stumble and fall (they’ll end up hurt and discouraged). When we try to understand the spiritual things that are being said to us with our carnal minds, it’s like walking in the night – we cannot see where we’re going. When we listen with our heart and our spirit, however, we are following him, the light of the world, and we can see clearly where we are going and we are not afraid. The disciples are walking in the night, in spite of everything Jesus says. Further proof of this is found in the following verses.
Verses 13-16: “Howbeit, Jesus spake of his death; but they thought he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. Then said Jesus unto them plainly ‘Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him.’ Then said Thomas, which is called Didymas unto his fellow disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’
The disciples haven’t understood a word Jesus said! Now in verse 4 Jesus has told them all the purpose of this thing. In verse 9 he tells them to trust him – stay in the light – understand him – believe him. In verse 11 he says he has to wake Lazarus up. Over and over, Jesus has given them every possible indication and insight into his intentions and purpose, yet the only thing they hear is “Lazarus is dead!” and all they want to do now is mourn him.
“Then when Jesus came, he found that he had lain in the grave four days already. Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem about fifteen furlongs off; and many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary to comfort them concerning their brother. Then Martha, as soon as she heard Jesus was coming, went and met him; but Mary sat still in the house.”
Mary sat still in the house. This is the same Mary that John tells us in verse 2 annointed Jesus with ointment. The same Mary who sat at his feet unencumbered by duties to hear his wisdom. She heard he was coming, but chooses to stay at the house. Martha has gone to meet him. These sisters are grieving. The Jews who have come from Jerusalem are grieving. I am familiar with grief. There are times it can be paralyzing, but I don’t believe this is why Mary has stayed behind. I think Mary is angry with Jesus, as we’ll see in a moment. Martha, on the other hand, goes out to meet Jesus. She is seeking comfort from the grief.
“Then said Martha unto Jesus, ‘Lord, if thou hadst been here my brother had not died. But I know that even now whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it to thee.’ Jesus saith unto her ‘Thy brother shall rise again.’ Martha saith unto him, ‘I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’ Jesus said unto her, ‘I AM the resurrection and the life, he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?’ She saith unto him ‘Yes Lord, I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God which should come into the world.’”
This is one of the most important and powerful exchanges in the story. In it is the understanding, and the purpose, of the whole event. In this exchange we witness that Martha’s faith has grown immensely since the time she first received Jesus into her home. She is the only woman to confess Jesus is the Messiah, and one of less than a handful of people to confess him as the Messiah and Son of God prior to his death and resurrection. This is so powerful that when Peter confessed this, Jesus gave him the keys to the kingdom and told him that the Father in heaven had revealed that to him. To be a Jew and confess that Jesus is the Messiah that was prophesied to come was a powerful statement and was not said without absolute faith. Martha believes without question that Jesus has the power to change what has happened to her beloved brother, Lazarus. All he has to do as the Messiah is ask God for her and it would be done. When Jesus answers her and tells her that Lazarus will rise again this is not a new revelation to her. She is a devout Jew, a godly woman well versed in the Torah and knows there is a resurrection at the last day. So Jesus has to introduce himself to her in a new way. He tells her that he IS the resurrection and he IS the life that she believes is to come. If anyone believes this, though he were dead, yet shall he live and anyone who lives and believes this shall never die. This is what she must believe. This is what anyone must believe. THAT HE IS. The exchange between Martha and Jesus really reads like this:
Martha: Lord, I know that if only you could have been here while Lazarus was sick that you could have healed him and he wouldn’t have died. However, I trust you and know that even now, in spite of this obvious conclusion, that you can ask of God and he will give to you whatever you ask.
Jesus: Martha, your brother shall rise again.
Martha: I know that, Lord. Everybody knows that we’ll all rise again when the resurrection happens at the last day. It is written. Thank you for trying to comfort me.
Jesus: You don’t understand, Martha. Listen to me. I AM the resurrection and I AM the life. It’s all in me, Martha. You don’t have to wait till the last day to see your brother again. I’ve come to raise him up. I have the power to do that because of who I am. Anyone that believes that, even though he dies, yet he’ll still live and anyone who is still alive and believes this will never see death. Do you believe this Martha?
Martha: Yes, Lord. With my whole heart I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God that was prophesied to come into the world.
Now Jesus always did what was commanded of him and whatever glorified the Father. He knew that Lazarus’ body must die in order to be the example of his own death, burial and resurrection. He wanted them all to understand without doubt, who he is, and that no matter what they see and experience, that he has the power to lay down his life and to raise it up again because he IS the resurrection and he IS the life of all mankind.
“And when she had so said, she went her way and called Mary her sister secretly saying ‘The Master has come and calleth for thee.’ As soon as she heard that she arose quickly and came unto him. Now Jesus was not come into the town, but was in that place where Martha met him. The Jews then which were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up hastily and went out, followed her saying ‘She goeth unto the grave to weep there.’ Then when Mary was come where Jesus was and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him ‘Lord if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.’ When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit and was troubled.”
The Greek word translated here as “groaned” is the word embrimaomai. It was used 5 times in the New Testament. Twice it is translated as “straitly charge”, twice as “groan” and once as “murmur against”. The definition of this word is “meaning to charge with earnest admonition, sternly to charge, threatened to enjoin”.
The Greek word translated for “troubled” is tarasso and means any and all of the following:
1. to agitate, trouble (a thing, by the movement of its parts to and fro)
a. to cause one inward commotion, take away his calmness of mind, disturb his equanimity
b. to disquiet, make restless
c. to stir up
d. to trouble
1. to strike one's spirit with fear and dread
e. to render anxious or distressed
f. to perplex the mind of one by suggesting scruples or doubts
It is used 17 times in the New Testament, each time translated as “trouble”.
The scene in these verses is this: Martha has pulled Mary aside at the house and told her that Jesus has arrived. Mary jumps and runs to Jesus, but unlike Martha’s approach, Mary falls at his feet grieving and distraught. (I believe she is angry and hysterically weeping.) She knows that Jesus had the power to heal her brother but didn’t come and now he’s dead. The Jews watching this scene are so moved by Mary’s grief, and combined with their own, they begin to weep too. Jesus “groans” in his spirit and is troubled by this scene. The Holy Spirit has been grieved in Jesus (“grieve not the Holy Spirit of God whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption” Eph 4: 30. Grieve – Greek lupeo meaning to make sorrowful, to affect with sadness, cause grief, to throw into sorrow to grieve, offend, to make one uneasy, cause him a scruple.) What has “grieved” him? Is it the weeping? No – it is the unbelief! We can determine by this passage that there is an inward commotion going on inside of Jesus that has rendered him anxious or distressed. The groaning is an admonition of the Lord – a gentle criticism or warning of the Lord. In other words, when it says that Jesus groaned in the spirit and was troubled, it means that he is inwardly disturbed and somewhat angry at this bunch!!! He has compassion, but his distress is that they are weeping because they only see what’s it front of them! They have not listened and understood what this is all about.
“And said, ‘Where have ye laid him?’ They said unto him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept.”
There it is. The shortest verse in the bible - Jesus wept. Why? Was it compassion? Yes. Was it grief? Yes. But is this why he wept? No. Then why? Because their unbelief had simply overcome his emotions. He weeps here for the same reason he wept in Matthew 23: 37-39: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, ye shall not see me henceforth till ye shall say, ‘Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.’” All the attempts to explain what has happened to Lazarus has fallen on deaf ears and blind eyes. How Jesus longed for them to see, to understand. They haven’t – so, he wept. And his weeping doesn’t help them see the truth, either. They even misinterpret the tears!
Verse 36, 37:
“Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him! And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind have caused that even this man should not have died?”
They just don’t get it! This is exactly what’s wrong with believers today – and know this – these people were believers!!!!! We see only what’s in front of us. Only what we want to see. But when it comes to something that is out of our scope of thinking, then the blinders come on and the ears get plugged up and we only see what’s in front of us. LET US NOT MAKE JESUS WEEP!!!!!!! Let us not cause him groaning.
“Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it. Jesus said, ‘Take ye away the stone’. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, ‘Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.’ Jesus saith unto her, ‘Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?’
Here we go again! Jesus is feeling that admonition in his spirit toward this unbelieving bunch of believers. He has had an extensive conversation with Martha, but instead of being exuberant at what Jesus is about to do, that he’s told her he’s going to do, she reminds him that there is a rotting body behind that stone! Jesus admonishes her and reminds her of what he said in verse 4 and verses 25 & 26. He told her that she would see the glory of God! He told them all that this was not a sickness unto death but had the purpose of showing the glory of God! How quickly the reality has superseded the faith in their hearts and minds!
“Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said ‘Father, I thank thee that thou has heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always, but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou has sent me.’ And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth.’ And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with grave clothes; and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, ‘Loose him, and let him go.’
What a story!!!!!!! Jesus IS the resurrection and he IS the life. He has the power over life and death. We all know that our bodies die, but if we believe, truly believe, that HE IS the resurrection and life, the embodiment of it, then the death of the body is only temporary. Lazarus story is not just about Jesus raising him from the dead. It is the example for the believers to remember verbatim when the time comes that they see Jesus die. His desire was that what they experienced here would be so imprinted on their hearts and minds that they wouldn’t be shaken when his hour came to die and leave them. He wanted them to have faith in who he is and remember what he told them. To believe beyond their fears. To believe beyond their eyes. To believe beyond their knowledge. To have true faith. To know the truth and ways of God. To go beyond believing and knowing into the realm of experience. Once we experience something, our reality changes and becomes the experience. They were going to need this to get through the dark times ahead. We need it to get through the dark times ahead. We must learn that this is not a story to be taken lightheartedly and preached in sermons as just only about the power of Jesus or pictures pasted on church and Sunday school walls. This is serious business and requires something of us. This story is not just about a good friend who has died and his grieving sisters. It’s not just a story about a man who had been dead and buried for four days and then raised from the dead by a miracle that Jesus performed. It’s a story that changed the course of history and changed a people. This event changed everything. It set in motion a series of events that ended in the crucifixion of Jesus and the fulfillment of prophecy – coming in Part 2.
Return To Front Page