Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” (John 11:1-4).
One of the most familiar miracles Jesus every performed was the raising of Lazarus from the dead. The only account of this miraculous event is found in John 11. The miracle illustrates, as the feeding of the 5000 taught that Jesus is the Bread of Life (John 6) and the healing of the man born blind that Jesus is the light of the world (John 9), that Jesus is also the resurrection and the life (John 11:25-26).
John 11 marks a significant shift in focus by the Apostle John in his treatment of Jesus’ life and ministry. John 10:40-42 signaled the concluding record of Jesus’ public ministry. From John 11:1 on through the remainder of John’s Gospel, Jesus moved into seclusion and ministered to his own disciples and those who loved him as he prepared to face death by crucifixion. John 11-12 form the transition to chapters 13-21 which record the passion of Christ.
Dr. John MacArthur writes, “As chapter 11 begins, Jesus stands in the shadow of facing the cross. The little time that he had in the area beyond the Jordan (cf. Matt. 19:1–20:34; Mark 10:1–52; Luke 17:11–19:28) would soon come to an end. John picked up the story (John 11:55–57) after he moved back into the area of Jerusalem, and his death on the cross was only a few days away. In those last few days before his death, the scene in John’s Gospel changes from hatred and rejection (10:39) to an unmistakable and blessed witness of the glory of Christ. All the rejection and hatred could not dim his glory as displayed through the resurrection of Lazarus.”
John records Jesus saying that Lazarus’ illness would not lead to death but rather it would be for the glory of God. The raising of Lazarus from the dead displays Jesus’ glory in three ways: 1) it pointed to his deity; 2) it strengthened the faith of the disciples; and 3) it led directly to the cross (12:23).
During the next several days we will be studying this familiar story. The chapter can be divided as follows: 1) the preparation for the miracle (11:1–16); 2) the arrival of Jesus prior to the miracle (vv. 17–36); 3) the performing of the miracle (vv. 37–44); and 4) the results of the miracle (vv. 45–57).
Lest we think that this story is just a story rooted in the biblical history of Jesus’ life and ministry, we should realize that Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from his physical death illustrated our Lord’s giving resurrected life to sinners from their spiritual death.
Ephesians 2:1-5 says, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—.”
As Jesus raised Lazarus, so too Jesus raises unto new life all those called by God the Father, through the preaching of the Gospel and by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. Let us read and study this familiar story with fresh eyes and understanding of our place in the narrative.
Soli deo Gloria!