Jesus has received an urgent message from some of his closest friends, Mary and Martha. Their brother Lazarus, also one of Jesus’ best friends, is sick. Very sick. Deathly sick. What does Jesus do in response? He waits…two more days. He doesn’t immediately gather up his disciples and head out on the road. He waits. It seems cold, callous, doesn’t it? His friend is sick, and you’d think the one who loves him like a brother would go to be with him and heal him.
But in our previous post we learned a clue about why Jesus waited. Jesus told his disciples that this situation will not end in death. Instead, Jesus says, God will be glorified.
So Jesus lets two days pass, and then says to his disciples, “Ok, time to go to Judea,” which was the region where Lazarus’ village of Bethany was located. The disciples, however, are concerned about this idea, as we read in John 11, verses 8-16.
“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? A man who walks by day will not stumble, for he sees by this world’s light. It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light.” After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Woo-boy. Thomas is not liking this plan. Thomas is the one we Christians sometimes call “Doubting” Thomas, and here we get an inkling of where that nickname comes from. In a later passage, which we’ll study a few months from now, we’ll learn more about the reason for Thomas’ nickname. For now, though, Thomas is scared, and snarky. Look at the sarcasm he uses, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
By going to Judea, where Jesus is hated by the religious leaders, where the religious leaders have their headquarters and loads of power, and where the religious leaders had previously tried to kill Jesus, Thomas is basically saying, “Go back to Judea? We’re walking right into the lion’s den, and they’re going to rip us to shreds, and we’ll be as dead as Lazarus.”
But let’s back up, because in verse 4 in the previous post we read that this sickness would not end in death, and now Jesus says in verse 14 that Lazarus is actually dead. What? Jesus explained to the disciples that he had been speaking in riddles. Yes, Lazarus has died. The sickness was too much. What Jesus wants his disciples to know is that Lazarus’ death is not the end of the story. Jesus hints at larger purposes. In verse 15, he says that this situation will serve to help the disciples believe.
There we have another key term in the Gospel of John. In the previous post, it was “glory.” Now it is “believe.” The linguists tell us that this is “to believe to the extent of complete trust and reliance.” This is not mere intellectual assent. Jesus is not interested in faith that resides in the mind; that intellectual faith is simply agreeing with ideas. Jesus wants his disciples to actually trust him with their lives, because he is trustworthy, because he is who he says he is. Because his ways are worth walking through the fear, knowing he is walking with us.
In our blog series, we’ve skipped a few chapters because I was in India, and we had guests at Faith Church who preached on John. I decided not to blog their sermons, so I could focus on my time away. The last guest preacher covered the first part of John 10. We’re going to go back to last section of John chapter 10 in the coming weeks. This week I skipped ahead to John 11, and that will become clear in the next post. In the meantime I need to refer back to John 10:30. There Jesus says, “I and the Father are one.” He is making a very clear statement that he is God. What Jesus meant is confirmed by how the Jewish leaders respond, picking up stones to stone him. When Jesus confronts them, the Jewish leaders affirm that they know he was claiming to be God, and in their viewpoint, Jesus was just a human, not God, and by claiming to be God, he was committing the sin of blasphemy, which is punishable by death. Thus they believed they were justified, according to Jewish law, in stoning him. But Jesus escapes, besting them yet again.
Like I said, we’re going to talk about that more in the coming weeks, but for now I mention it because Jesus wants his disciples to really, truly, deeply trust him that he is God. He wants them to rely on him, give their lives to him and his way of life. When we say we accept Jesus, we are saying we think his ways are the best ways, and we will follow his ways. It belief that leads to action. That’s what he means when he says in verse 15 that he wants them to believe. He wants this Lazarus situation to deepen their belief. But how? Lazarus is dead. And Thomas is not wrong. It is a bold, risky move for Jesus to head right back to Judea where he is a wanted man.
Look at verses 17-24.
“On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. “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.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
Lazarus has been dead four days. There is no embalming in that culture. The Egyptians did embalm. But not the Jews. Four days of bodily deterioration is awful.
Four days also allowed time for people to show up to comfort the sisters in their loss. A little crowd has formed by the time Jesus shows up. The first sister to meet him is Martha. Look at her words again in verse 22, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” Amazing.
Even now, even after four days, she knows that Jesus can heal her brother. I love her confidence. She knows what Jesus can do, even in a situation that is by all appearances over and done.
Jesus responds to her that Lazarus will rise again. Martha’s response is very theological. “Yes, I know, Jesus. Lazarus will rise in the last day, when all the dead rise.” I’m not going to get into what the Jews believed about the future resurrection of the dead, the afterlife, heaven and hell. That’s not the point. The point is that Martha thinks Jesus is talking about all that, and he corrects her. What he says is of utmost importance, and we’ll learn what he says in the next post!
 Ibid, 375.
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