11. Lazarus

Jesus learns that his good friend Lazarus has fallen ill but waits until he has died so that God's glory can be displayed (11:1-16).

A man by the name of Lazarus lay sick in the village of Bethany. His two sisters, Mary and Martha, lived with him there. (This was the same Mary who anointed Jesus with expensive perfume and wiped his feet with her hair. It was her brother Lazarus who was sick.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, "Lord, your good friend is ill."

When Jesus heard this, he said, "This illness won't end in death. Its purpose is to bring glory to God, so that God's Son may be glorified through it."

Jesus loved Martha, her sister Mary, and Lazarus. So after hearing that Lazarus was ill, he stayed where he was for two more days. Then he said to us, his disciples, "Let's go back to Judea."

"But Rabbi," we protested, "just a short time ago those people were trying to stone you! Why would you go there now?"

Jesus said to us, "There are twelve hours of daylight in every day. If you walk during the day, you have the light of the sun to keep you from stumbling. But if you walk at night you will stumble because the sun has gone down.  Then he added, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, and I am going to Bethany to wake him up."

Jesus' words left us confused. "But Lord," we said, "if he has simply fallen asleep, he will get better." (We thought Jesus was talking about normal sleep, but he meant that Lazarus had in fact died.)

So Jesus told us plainly, "Lazarus is dead! And for your sake I am glad that I was not there with him. This way your faith will have a chance to grow. Come, let's go to him."

Thomas (the disciple called the Twin), said to the rest of us, "Let's go so we can die with him."

Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead to show that he alone is the source of resurrection and true life, and that those who believe in him will live forever (11:17-44).

When Jesus arrived in Bethany, he was told that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, so many of Mary and Martha's friends had come from the city to comfort the two sisters over the loss of their brother.

When Martha got word that Jesus had arrived, she hurried out to meet him. Mary, however, remained in the house. Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you'd been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will do for you whatever you ask."

"Your brother Lazarus will live again," said Jesus to Martha.

She answered, "I know that he will be raised to life on the last day, when all the dead are raised."

Ancient walls of Dan

"I am the resurrection and the life," declared Jesus. "All who believe in me will live, even though they die. And whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

"Yes, Lord," she replied. "I am convinced that you are the Messiah, the Son of God. You are the one who was to come into the world."

After saying this, Martha went back to Mary and quietly told her, "The Teacher is here and wants to see you." When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went out to Jesus. He was outside the village, in the place where he had met and talked with Martha. The people from Jerusalem who had come to comfort Mary were still in the house. But when they saw her get up quickly and go out, they followed her, thinking she was going to the tomb to weep.

Mary hurried out to where Jesus was. When she saw him, she fell at his feet and cried out, "Lord, if you'd been here, my brother would not have died."

When Jesus saw that Mary and her friends were weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and visibly distressed. "Where have you laid him?" he asked.

"Come and see, Lord" they answered.

Jesus burst into tears.

So the Jewish people who had come to mourn said, "See how much he loved him!" Some of them said, "This man cured the eyes of the blind man. Why couldn't he have done something to keep Lazarus from dying?

Jesus continued to be deeply moved. He went to the tomb, which was a cave with a stone across the entrance.

"Roll away the stone," he commanded.

Ancient tomb with rolling stone

But Martha, the sister of the dead man, objected, saying, "Lord, by now the body will smell. It has been in the tomb for four days."

Jesus said, "Didn't I tell you that if you'd believe you would see the glory of God?"

So they rolled away the stone. Then Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said, "Thank you, Father, for hearing my prayer. I know that you always answer my prayers, but I say this so all these people will believe that you sent me."

When he had finished his prayer, he called out in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out of there!" Right away the man who had died came out of the tomb, wrapped hand and foot with grave clothes, with a cloth around his face.

Without knowing it, the high priest prophesies through the power of God's Spirit that Jesus will die for the sake of the people (11:45-57).

Many who had followed Mary from the house and had seen the miracle Jesus performed, believed in him. But others went to the Pharisees to report what Jesus had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees called the Council into session. "We haven't accomplished much so far, have we?" they said. "This man is still performing miracles. If we let him get away with this, everyone will begin to believe in him. Then the Romans will get involved and that could affect our prestige, to say nothing of putting the whole nation in jeopardy."

The high priest that year was a man by the name of Caiaphas. At this point he spoke up, saying, "You gentlemen have failed to think this matter through. Don't you realize that it would be better to have one man die for the people than for the entire nation to be destroyed?"

Rural area in Israel

Caiaphas didn't say this on his own, but as high priest that year he was prophesying that Jesus was about to die for the Jewish nation – and not for that nation only, but also for the children of God scattered abroad, to bring them together and make them one. So from that day on the Council started planning how to put Jesus to death.

As a result, Jesus no longer went about openly in Jerusalem. Instead he went to the desert town of Ephraim where we stayed with him.

It was almost time for the Jewish Festival of Passover. Many people from the rural areas throughout the country had gone up to Jerusalem to purify themselves in preparation for the Passover. They were on the lookout for Jesus. Standing around in the temple area, they said to one another, "What do you think? You don't suppose he's decided against coming to the Festival, do you?"

The chief priests and Pharisees had issued an order that if anyone saw Jesus they should report it immediately to the religious authorities. That way Jesus could be taken into custody.