Lazarus! Part One — John 11:1-16
By Pastor Lee Hemen
June 28, 2015
Roger Miller was a folk singer from the sixties and he wrote a song called, “Lou’s Got the Flu” and one of the stanzas went something like this, “Some people bad and some people good; Too bad the bad can’t be like the good. But everything changes a little and it should; Good ain’t forever and bad ain’t for good.” Sadly, far too many have this view of their lives because they think that good is forever and bad ain’t for good! However, Miller meant it as a play on words, meaning that bad people aren’t good for anything, yet there are those who think that God winks at our living dangerously. He does not. They forget what God’s purpose is for their lives.
The final days of Jesus’ life is winding to a close and John takes the next eleven chapters to share with us in intimate detail what occurs. Each part of the gospel narrative from here on is important for us to understand. I believe John wanted future believers to fully understand what Jesus was about to do, why it occurred, and exactly what happened. This is why I divided the story of Lazarus into two parts. Today, we will discuss Lazarus! Part One!
Here in John’s gospel we find a familiar story about a man named Lazarus, who dies suddenly and his sisters Mary and Martha. What is interesting is how Jesus handles the situation and how others, including his own disciples, perceive what occurs. John teaches us that…
I. Some folks misunderstand God’s purpose! (Vv. 1-4)
Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” When he heard this, Jesus 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.”
1. John begins this section of his gospel narrative with, “Now a man named Lazarus was sick.” We will discover later just how important Lazarus is to Jesus and what his story means to the history of Jesus and how he related to his friends. We have to understand that the historians and writers of Jesus’ day were not as interested in getting things in a rigid chronological order like we are now. Instead, they were more interested in getting the story right. So, we find John making reference to “Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.” Within the weave of the tale we discover a family of three siblings; one brother, Lazarus, and two sisters, Mary and Martha. No mention of husbands, a wife, parents or others, just these three. And evidently they were close to Jesus because we find that “the sisters sent word to Jesus.” It is notable to see that they let Jesus know. Evidently Lazarus was one of the few folks Jesus had affection for outside of his inner circle of disciples. Contrary to some extreme liberal theological opinions, the sister’s mentioning Jesus’ love for Lazarus has nothing to do with any sexual proclivities on either man’s part. Instead it is a common way close friends of this era addressed one another. The term here is the word phileo, meaning to be a friend of or brotherly love and has nothing to do with physical affection; those who do not know Jesus often struggle with a believer’s affection for another Christian because of the commonality of Jesus they share. The sisters appeal to the one they know who might possibly help their ailing brother. What they did not know is what God already had planned for Lazarus. After learning of what was happening, Jesus responds, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” God had a reason for Lazarus’ ailment. Some folks misunderstand God’s purpose.
EXAMPLE: We can often wonder or lament when things go wrong, “Why is this happening to me?” Yet often as not when we look back on what occurred we discover how God worked through the situation to strengthen and encourage us. When things do not go always as planned or when life just seems to get in the way of things, I am reminded of what God told the prophet Jeremiah when he was dismayed over the course his life was taking and the fate of his people, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV) Lazarus’s sisters, like many do today, misunderstood God’s purpose.
There are those who think that when the Bible speaks about the light of God or Jesus being the Light that he meant it in a metaphysical sense. He did not. One either has the light of God or they have the darkness of sin, there is no in-between. Here, in John’s gospel we discover that…
II. Some folks misunderstand the light! (Vv. 5-10)
Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days. Then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.” “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.”
1. Again, we find the usage of the term phileo, friendship, when John relates, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” And no, this is not some conspiracy on the part of John to mislead the reader on Jesus’ love for Mary. This is the convoluted thinking of folks like Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code, who ran with his own demented version of historical facts that the intellectually inept are apt to actually believe as factual. Curiously, “Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.” This is affirmation of God’s plan. He knows what he is doing and we often only see and are consumed by the moment. However, as tough as it would be for the sisters Mary and Martha, it would end in the fulfillment of God’s plan. After a few days had passed Jesus tells his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.” Unbeknown to them, he is headed for Lazarus’ tomb. They rightly protest, “But Rabbi, a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?” They do not see the big picture yet. They are concerned for the moment, the danger for Jesus’ life, and had not yet learned to trust in their Master’s decisions. He had just gotten through explaining to all who heard him that he and the Father were One. He was God and they still did not understand his plan. His delay was not due to a lack of concern or love for his friend Lazarus. Why would Jesus risk his life? He responds by telling them, “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.” During that time people got up with the sun, did what they needed to do, and went to bed when it got dark. They worked, played, and did what they had to do in the light of the world. When one tried to walk or work at night, they often stumbled due to poor lighting. In the spiritual realm when one lives by the will of God, the light, he is safe. Living in the realm of evil, sinful darkness, is dangerous and one stumbles. Some folks misunderstand the light!
EXAMPLE: We do not walk in darkness as believers; we walk in the Light of the World, Jesus Christ. Yet far too many focus their eyesight on only what they see in front of themselves. When they do, they will spiritually stumble. We begin to live for the moment, for what concerns us for the day. Instead of seeking the light of God we seek instead to illuminate our lives with what we desire, want, or think we need. We begin to use worldly thinking and say things like, “I need this. I deserve this. I want this.” We live by the dimness of our emotions instead of the Light of God. In the gloom of our lives we wonder why we are not experiencing God as we were promised and forget that we are using our own artificial light instead. We become dim bulbs for God. Some folks misunderstand the light!
Not only do most folks have a misunderstanding concerning the purpose of their lives, but they struggle with the end of their lives as well. We have become so captivated with our lives that we have an unhealthy view of death. Here in John’s gospel we discover that…
III. Some folks misunderstand death! (Vv 11-16)
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.”
1. As John continues to recount the tale to us of Lazarus he begins to share why Jesus did not hurry to his friend’s side right away. The disciples had misunderstood God’s plan and they could only see what was right in front of their eyes. They forgot who was to light their way. Jesus goes on to tell them why he is going to go back to Judea and into possible danger, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” Now there are those who think that the term “sleep” here means a soul kind of sleep, but there is no such thing ever mentioned or even alluded to in Scripture. The term Jesus used here meant Lazarus was dead to the mortal world, but only asleep as far as the power of God was concerned. Make no mistake; Lazarus was morally, ethically, spiritually, physically, positively, absolutely, undeniably and reliably dead! He was not just merely dead, he was most sincerely dead! But Jesus was “going to wake him up!” Not understanding what Jesus was talking about his disciples thought, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” But we categorically see that while his disciples thought Jesus was talking about natural sleep, “Jesus had been speaking of his death.” This is how we know for certain that anyone who teaches death is just sleeping from this passage is ignorant of Scripture and what the Jesus taught about death. To make absolutely sure they understood what was about to happen, Jesus tells 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.” Did you ever get frustrated in having to explain over and over what you mean about something very simple to understand? It is natural for adults to have to explain directions several times over to preschoolers. “Put your clothes in the dirty clothes hamper, not your head! Eat your peas, but do not stick them up your nose!” Can you imagine Jesus’ frustration when Thomas said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Some think Thomas was referring to the Roman mystery religions where part of the initiation was to symbolically “die” and then live for your teacher afterwards. But this makes no sense in the context here. Rather I believe Thomas was simply saying that if they could not dissuade Jesus from Going back to Judea and face possible death, then he was willing to go and face it with him. See, some folks do misunderstand death!
EXAMPLE: We cling to this life with such might that we often forget that this is not all there is, we live on either separated from God or in his presence. This physical life is but a momentary blip on the eternity we have facing us. So important was the concept of our spiritual eternal nature that Jesus spoke and taught about it often. Jesus spoke about the fact of judgment and that those who fail to trust in him “will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:46 NIV) and “that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life, for God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:15-16 NIV) We have learned that God’s “will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and [Jesus] will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:40 NIV) Some folks misunderstand death!
Some folks misunderstand God’s purpose! Some folks misunderstand the light! Some folks misunderstand death!
This article is copyrighted © 2015 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.