Read: John 11:1-44
A lot to say about this passage. I want to concentrate on just one word in this passage. "So". (Verse 6). In some versions, "Yet".
Yet [So] when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed
where he was two more days. (NIV)
Y'shua - God's son, hears that something is going really
wrong with someone He supposedly really cares about. But instead of
going to fix the problem, He does nothing. Does this sound familiar to
any of our experiences?
A man once brought some very fine material to a tailor and
asked him to make a pair of pants. When he came back a
week later, the pants were not ready. Two weeks later,
they were still not ready. Finally
after six weeks the pants are ready. The man tries them
on. They fit perfectly, yet nonetheless, when he has to
pay, he can't resist a jibe at the tailor. "You
know, he says, "it took God only six days to make the world. And it took
you six weeks to make just one pair of pants." "Ah" the tailor says, "But
look at this pair of pants and look at the world!" Woody Allen has a
similar take on God: "If I could just see a miracle, just one miracle.
If I could see a burning bush, or the seas part, or my
Uncle Sasha pick up a check." Even King David says, "Awake,
why do you sleep, O Lord?" Psalm 44:23-25)
Rabbi Telushkin says the following, "the question, "God, why do You permit the righteous to suffer and the wicked to proper?" seems to lie at the foot of almost all the biblical and rabbinic complaints. NO Jewish text has ever answered this questions satisfactorily, although the prophets repeatedly insist that because God is good, justice will one day triumph. Contemporary Jews, most of whom lack the prophets' religious faith, do not usually find this response consoling."
Consider this opinion in contrast to a Yiddish proverb, and a passage in the New Testament.
The proverb, "As Gott will einem das hartz opschtoissen. Git er ihm a groissen sechel."
When God wants to break a man's heart, He gives him a lot of wisdom.
In the New Testament we read something even more amazing.
"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those
who love him, who have been called according to His purpose." (Rom 8:28)
Let's look at this word "so" in the passage, and see what Y'shua is trying to teach us.
Why does He just let his friend die and his sisters mourn and grieve? Is there anything,
it seems so heartless and pointless? In fact Y'shua says, "He's glad it happened.."
What kind of an attitude is that? Is that representing a God of love and compassion?
In order to understand a bit more we need to get the background.
By the time we meet this family, quite a lot has happened in Jesus' life and ministry. He's healed people from all sorts of complaints in previously unheard of ways - just healed someone born blind. Previously he's turned water into wine, showing He has power over the laws of physics and creation. Then He heals a fatally ill boy from a distance. Then He healed a man unable to walk for 38 years. Next He feeds five thousand men and then women and children from just 5 loaves and 2 fishes and walks on water. As you can imagine people were pretty impressed by all of this and many flocked to Him to see the show. But this wasn't all that came with Y'shua. This was all done Y'shua said, merely as signs to prove His message and claims.
In the passages leading up to this event, Y'shua made some pretty bold claims about Himself, that He was the Bread of Life like manna, that He was the living water, that He was the light of the world, and that He was the true Good Shepherd. But the most significant and consistent claim of Y'shua, the one that caused so much unrest, was linked to His proclaiming forgiveness of sins - something only the God of Israel could do.
This introduction is made of Him by the disciple Yochanan, right at the start of this book.
John 1: 3-4 "Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.
In Him was life, and that life was the light of men."
Y'shua John 5:20-21 - Y'shua under pressure from the authorities says, like His Father He works 7 days.
(The passage says - equaling Himself with God). Then He says, "For just as the father raises the
dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it."
The claim Y'shua makes is that His name is literal. God to the rescue.
He is the fulfillment of Zec 2:10-11. And He is willing to show this to the
world and especially to the ones He loves because they need to KNOW the truth
and fullness of Who God is. For God is the God of creation, the God who has
power over death and destruction, forgiveness and life. We see this as He starts
towards Lazarus' house. The disciples are full of fear for Him, as His life really
is in danger. But Y'shua calmly tells them with such authority, that while His time
is still on earth, nothing in heaven or on earth can disrupt His mission.
The characters in the scene are these: Firstly, Lazarus - El-Azar - God helps.
We know Y'shua had a very close relationship with him because of verse 3.
The other main characters are Mary (Miriam probably) and Martha (Smada?). Miriam was
probably someone who had really lived a very ungodly life before meeting Y'shua, if
she was the same Miriam called Magdalen referred to in the other Gospels. This seems
likely because of the perfume incident. Takes place in Bethany - just south-east of
Jerusalem in the Judean hills. Y'Shua (Jesus) has become friends with Mary (Miriam), Martha and
Lazarus. Y'shua is the other side of the Jordan as the episode starts. It takes place
soon before Y'shua's final Passover, and His own death and resurrection. So you can see
this is very very symbolic. In fact a lot is generally given to the fact that this is
about to be Y'shua's greatest miracle - the seventh recorded in the book of John - the
Jewish symbolic number of perfection.
Well, Y'shua is told his friend is deathly ill, and He first gives a great promise.
"It will not end in death." But then, He seems to contradict Himself, by doing nothing.
Kind of like God's promise to Abraham of Isaac to have descendents, and then asking for
him to be sacrificed. Consequently Lazarus dies, and after a couple of days, Y'shua sets
out to be with the sisters. By the time He gets there the body has been in the tomb 4
days so all in all, Y'shua has taken about a week. This might not seem too long in our
standards normally, but what about for Lazarus, his sisters and their relatives. I don't
know how conscious Lazarus was, but if he was conscious, he probably wasn't all that happy
about the idea. And I'm certain Mary and Martha weren't too into it. Why couldn't their
miracle producing friend care enough for them to turn up? Then it's too late. There's no hope,
just a noble sentiment of saying he's in heaven.
In fact we know from this and from Martha's later statement that this family were Pharisees
as they believed in the resurrection.
Lazarus dies and is buried. We can tell Lazarus was wealthy, and regarded with respect.
This is due to the fact his burial place was not outside the town, and due to the fact that
the mourners were there from the Jewish religious leaders. Even though Lazarus and his family
were connected with Y'shua, they were obviously still on good terms within the synagogue.
The Talmud actually says that people had to rejoice at the death of an apostate and clothe
themselves with white. This was not some out of the way beggar's cemetery with no mourners.
So into this scene Y'shua finally arrives, late - too late for any hope in this life.
First, Martha rushes up to Him, confronted with Y'shua, although she didn't hear His words
on the eastern side of the Jordan she does seem to understand at least a little. Remember,
Y'shua said, "This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's
Son may be glorified through it." The second bit of the phrase is the most important here.
Martha gets it right - she believes and she declares, I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of
God who was to come into the world. Previously she was criticized for being too active and not
just sitting and listening to Y'shua as he taught. This time Mary lags behind while Martha seems to
understand the point.
Mary again shows the same impulse - "if only You'd come sooner." How, often we say the same.
If only God, You'd done this or that sooner...But like Y'shua's disciples, we forget verse 4 -
"It's for God's glory." Reminiscent of chapter 9 - "Neither this man nor his parents sinned.
This happened so the work of God may be displayed in His life."
Another thing we need to bear in mind. Lazarus is really really dead by this point. He hasn't
just died. His body is not warm. Nor is it trapped in ice. In fact it was a common Jewish
idea that after the third day the Spirit left and corruption of the body took place. Lazarus
was really really really dead.
And so we get to the climax. Firstly, as Y'shua approaches the tomb, He weeps. The people around say,
"see how He loved him." But maybe there's more to it than that. Firstly, we see He is deeply moved
in the spirit - groaning. Then, we see, He weeps. This emotion is deep and heartfelt and emphasized.
The God of creation is groaning for it's falleness. "Y'shua was deeply moved". "Groaned in the Spirit"
Does this have a parallel with the passages saying He takes on our sicknesses - Isaiah 53 - is substitute -
the only substitute? And then, we see, Jesus weeps. Luke 19:41ff - Only other time Y'shua is recorded weeping.
'As He approached Jerusalem and saw the city, He wept over it, and said, "If you, even you, had only known on
this day what would bring you peace - but no it is hidden from your eyes..."' Is there another lesson from the
God-man here for us? If only His people could see, but they are dead - locked up in a tomb.
The question of the people then is, Couldn't this man have kept Lazarus from dying? That's the
human point of view. Like saying, "couldn't I have been born a millionaire?" But Y'shua's view
is different. In the next chapter of John He says, John 12: 24-25 "I tell you the truth, unless a
grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies it
produces many seeds. He who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this
world will keep it for eternal life."
You see, the key is in His words to Martha a few verses before. She says she'll see her brother in
the resurrection. Y'shua says perhaps His most dramatic statement of all - just before He enters the
city of Jerusalem to die for our sin. "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will
live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die."
And He who spoke creation into life, through whom all creation is made, simply speaks resuscitation to
Lazarus, and he comes back fully to life and physical health. (He's recomposed!)
7th of the miracles in John - fitting climax - symbolic perfection. Here we see the full revelation of
who Y'shua is. God in the flesh. He had raised the dead in far off Galilee, but now He raises the dead
at the very gates of Jerusalem (to quote [Alfred] Edersheim).
In Y'shua, we have a proof of the miracle, in Him, "in whose Presence the continuance of disease and
death was impossible." (Edersheim). And then He went into Jerusalem to make a way for us to follow
Him and know that resurrection power today.
But what does that have to do with us today? Do you notice how Y'shua finishes talking to Martha in
verse 26? "Do you believe this?" This is the crux of the matter for Israel and the reason for Y'shua's
tears over Jerusalem. The people He created have free will, and to see God's glory we need to turn to
Him in faith. Martha displays this faith. So finally does her sister. Here again we see faith in
those around the miracle. Yair (Jairus) had faith in Y'shua before his daughter was brought back from
the dead in another Gospel account in Mark and Luke. (This took place earlier in Gallilee). All the
others who were healed had faith, or their friends, parents, masters had faith. It is obvious Y'shua
will do the miracle anyway, but it is also interesting the partnership with the faith of Martha.
Remember, Y'shua couldn't do miracles in his hometown because of the people's lack of faith.
I think that means more, it wouldn't be a testimony, rather than Y'shua was physically incapable.
As He is God, He can do what He wants, but He does seem to have made the rules that faith be an
ingredient to a miracle worked out on earth.
And notice, for the miracle to be the great testimony to the glory of God that God wants it to be,
it can sometimes take a long time - seemingly too long a time. A week isn't that long to us, but to
a person who's only been given three days to live it's way too long.
For those of us today are these questions:
1) Do we really see what this miracle speaks of? Not fiction, not intellectual idea. God of Israel
come in the flesh. What are we going to do about it? Do we want to be Lazarus, or one of the ones
Y'shua weeps over who are blind and dead?
2) Is God slow to answer us in our time of need because He doesn't care? Is He going to come too late?
Perhaps this event recorded in the history of the ages, will help us see things from a different perspective.
Lazarus did rise from the dead. Y'shua's followers did see answer to prayer. God's power and glory for those
who believe was displayed for everyone.
Let us pray ...