The 7th and last of the classical signs in John is the resurrection of Lazarus. The synoptics record two other resurrections: Jairus’ daughter in Mathew, Mark and Luke and the Widow of Nain’s Son in Luke. Only John records the events in John 11.
While there are a number of similarities between the other two recorded resurrections and Lazarus’, there are two important differences.
Comparing the case of the young man from Nain with Lazarus:
- A sick person dies before Jesus arrives.
- He tells the widow not to cry (like Lazarus’ relatives).
- He commands the young man to get up.
Comparing Lazarus with Jairus’ daughter:
- A sick person dies before Jesus arrives.
- Sleep is used a s a metaphor for death
- Jesus express emotion or displeasure with the mourners
- Jesus commands Lazarus to come out.
- Jesus gives instructions for care for the one raised.
The two important differences were the amount of time the subject had been dead and the relationship Jesus had with Lazarus’ family. We also get the opportunity to hear a significant portion of the back story. The length of time Lazarus was dead, 4 days, was significant because the Jews believed the spirit hovered around the body for three days after death after which decay began and any resuscitation was impossible.
At the end of John 10 Jesus has gone back across the Jordan to where John had been performing baptisms. The people who followed him noted that John had performed no signs and they believed in Jesus. Presumably (although not certainly because of the non-linear nature of John) Jesus was in the same trans-Jordan area when the word came from Bethany that his good friend Lazarus was seriously ill. Jesus’ reaction to the news was that the illness would not end in death. But he waited two days before he even decided to start traveling to Bethany. Even the his disciples reminded him that it was dangerous for Jesus to go to Bethany because the Jews in the region had tried to stone him.
Jesus noted that Lazarus had fallen asleep and the purpose of his trip was to waken him. The disciples misunderstood him but Jesus told them plainly that Lazarus was dead. He also said it was better he was not there so that the disciples might see what he was going to do and in seeing, believe.
Upon arrival Jesus has conversations with Mary and Martha. Martha, the woman of action, came to Jesus when she heard he was approaching and confronted him (in a way). She said she was sure her brother would not have died if Jesus had been present but she was still confident God would give Jesus whatever he asked for. Jesus told her Lazarus would rise but she misunderstood thinking he was talking of the final resurrection.
In response Jesus makes a powerful messianic statement: “I am the resurrection and the life.” Martha confesses Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.
Martha goes back and found her reflective sister, Mary and sent her to meet Jesus. She also told Jesus that her brother would not have died if he had been in Bethany, like Martha. Jesus saw her and the other mourners and was troubled. There is some disagreement among scholars here about translation. The Greek words used can indicate upset or troubled, or they can mean angry or indignant. In the LXX in several places they are used to translate Hebrew words meaning angry. Some of the early church fathers indicated in their writings that Jesus was angry. At what or whom might he have been angry?
In any event Jesus asked to see where Lazarus was buried. And Jesus, too, was overcome by the emotion of the moment and openly wept. Even the Jews noted Jesus’ love for Lazarus but some asked,”If his love was so great, where was he when his friend needed him”.
Jesus had the stone removed from the tomb, and Martha notes the stench (recall our discussion of the Jewish tradition), and Jesus tells her, essentially that the inning is not yet over and it is now God’s turn to bat.
Jesus prays a remarkable prayer. He does so in a typical Jewish manner, eyes open and looking upward. He prays as if the what was to happen was already accomplished. So in tune was he with his Father’s will that he knew what God was about to do. He even says that the payer was more for the benefit of the people hanging around than to really ask for anything. Then he calls Lazarus out, and out he came to the astonishment of all around.
So why did Jesus do what he did and what does it mean for us? The immediate answer to why he raised Lazarus is because he loved him and his sisters. At the risk of his life he traveled to Bethany. He wept the pain the death had caused. More importantly than that, not how many times he says that God is to be glorified through this and so that people would believe. He said it to the disciples before starting the trip to Bethany. He asked Martha if she believed. He told Martha at the tomb that if she believed she would see the glory of God. He want the people who heard him pray to believe that God sent him.
Beyond the personal need of Mary, Martha, Lazarus and even Jesus. was the glory of God and the truth that Jesus was the Messiah sent by God.
So what’s in it for us? That same Jesus who told Martha.”The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die” asks us the same question: “Do you believe this”?
This was in many ways a foreshadowing of Jesus’ own resurrection and a sure promise to us of what is in store for believers. But the big question is this:
What does it mean to “live by believing in Jesus”? Living by believing is different from living and believing, but how? What would characterize a life with is source in belief in Jesus?