“The miracles of our Lord are so full of incidental lessons that a study of those incidental lessons is much like going to a river and trying to drink it dry.” (W. Gaddys Roy, Sermon outlines on the miracles of Jesus, p.viii). How true this is!
Lazarus is sick (John 11:1). Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha, send word to Jesus, who is about a day’s journey from them. The message is simply “Lord, behold, he whom you love (Phileis, friendship love) is sick” [(John 11:3). Notice: They do not even mention Lazarus’s name, Jesus and Lazarus’ relationship was that close]. Where else could they turn?
Jesus does not immediately leave, but delays two days before leaving (John 11:6). Jesus knows that Lazarus is now dead (John 11:14). In fact, he must have died the day the messengers were dispatched to Jesus [cf. John 11:17 (4 days – 2 days of delay – 1 day travel to Jesus – 1 day Jesus travel to them)].
Jesus, after two days, says “Let us go to Judea again…Lazarus is dead” (John 11:7, 14). This troubles the disciples (John 11:8 cf. 10:22, 31-33, 39-40). This could well mean their lives. Thomas courageously responds, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16). Paraphrase: “We’ll go with him. If we die there, we’ll die there. But, let us follow him.”
As they near the house, a large number of Jews are gathered around Mary and Martha. Martha receives word that He is nearing, and goes out secretly to meet with him. She says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21). Ouch! Martha leaves, and secretly summons her sister to Him [It is possible that not all the visitors were friendly toward Jesus (cf. John 11:45-46)]. Mary also says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:32). Many tears were shed (John 11:33). Jesus also would weep (John 11:35).
Jesus is led to the grave, a cave sealed with a stone (John 11:34, 38). Some of the Jews say, “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?” (John 11:37).
Jesus instructs, “Take away the stone” (John 11:39). Martha objects, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days” (John 11:39). Jesus replies “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:40). The stone is removed. After Jesus prays to the Father, he commands “Lazarus, come forth!” (John 11:43). He did. Jesus then instructs that they loose him from his binding grave-clothes (John 11:43).
Why had Jesus waited to come to this family? Perhaps, it was so that the decay process would be well under-way. Jesus had raised others (Luke 7:14-16; Luke 8:52-56). However, Lazarus had been dead four days (John 11:17; 39). The length of time strengthened the witness of the sign. “Rabbinical writings indicate a common superstition among the Jews, that the soul of a deceased hovered around the body for three days in hopes of reunion with the body, but took its final departure when decomposition began the third or fourth day. (Gary Fallis, Brown Trail class notes on John).
The purpose of this sign is clear. Jesus, in prayer to the Father, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me…that they may believe that you sent me” (John 11:42-43).
Jesus raised the dead. Jesus later proclaimed “I have the keys of Hades and of Death.” (Revelation 1:18).
Jesus said “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he may die, he shall live.” (John 11:25). Meaning: Though one may die (physically), yet through belief he may live in glory (cf. John 5:28-29; Roman 2:7-11; Colossians 3:4).
Jesus also added. “And whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:26). Meaning: Possibility one- This refers to those who are alive at Jesus’ return (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52). Possibility two- Whoever lives (spiritually) shall never see death (ref. to Second Death- Revelation 2:11; 20:6, 20:14; 21:18). This seems the best explanation, harmonizing with John 8:51.
Jesus wept (John 11:35). He cares. It has been said: because “Jesus wept,” we can “rejoice evermore.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16). Such is a play on the two shortest verses in the New Testament. (John 11:35 is 9 English letters, or 16 Greek letters. 1 Thessalonians 5:16 is 15 English letters, or 14 Greek letters. Each consists of just two words).
Jesus didn’t save Martha, Mary, or Lazarus from experiencing sorrow and pain in this life. However, he did furnish these faithful friends with joy after heartache. Even so, the faithful today may experience heartache in life. However, joy awaits the faithful.