Looking at the Light through John - Chapter 11

For the Glory of God

Sometimes events make no sense if viewed only from an earthly perspective. But knowing that the whole purpose of man’s existence on terra firma is to carry out the plan of God — willingly or unwillingly — puts things in the proper light and makes even death and tragedy understandable.

Such it was with Lazarus, friend of Jesus. Lazarus’ sisters were also well-known to the Lord, and He had even eaten a now-famous meal at Mary and Martha’s house. Jesus loved the family, and knew He could trust them not to lose faith in Him in a very challenging situation. So He was deliberately about to let Lazarus die, that He might carry out a larger plan, of which Lazarus’ death would play a key role.

The purpose of God for the life of every follower of Jesus is illustrated in Jesus’ comments concerning Lazarus. God has a perfect plan for every disciple, and every Christian needs to have the constant positive reminder that every circumstance is designed “for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified by it.”



Next Phase

The Lord Christ was, and is, capable of working with many people at different levels, all at one time and through one set of circumstances. When His friend Lazarus came down sick, Jesus intended to use this as a means of strengthening His disciples’ faith, setting the stage for His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and preparing all for His own resurrection from the dead. “This sickness is not unto death,” He affirmed, “but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified by it.”

As Jesus made preparation to raise Lazarus from the dead, He was working with many people at many levels, even at different time frames. The apostles have to follow Him implicitly into Judea again, not knowing why. The teaching was re-emphasized — the importance of all to walk in the light. The coming of Jesus to Lazarus’ tomb was a major next phase in the plan and passion of our Lord.



The Sleep of Death

Teaching, teaching, teaching! The Lord Jesus Christ was always teaching, focusing the attention of the disciples forward to the next development of His plan, moving their thoughts from the physical to the spiritual. “Are there not twelve hours in the day?” He challenged them as they contemplated the difficulties of charging back into hostile Judea. Then the teaching: “If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble because he sees the light of this world.” The real step contemplated here was for those immersed into Christ to walk without stumbling as they would be guided by the teachings of the new covenant and strengthened by the Spirit within. “But if anyone walks in the night,” was the contrasting comment, looking to the problems encountered by the non-Christian, “he stumbles, because the light is not in him!” Having taught some, the Master was now going to teach some more.

Lazarus slept the sleep of death, allowed to die by the deliberate inaction of the Christ. Furthermore, the Lord was glad for the apostles’ sake that He had allowed Lazarus to die, so that He could increase their faith. Jesus knew what no one else could possibly know, that Lazarus would “awaken” from his sleep, to the astonishment of both hostile and favorable witnesses. Praise the Lord for His wisdom in dealing with Lazarus, and for the record which also gives us hope in overcoming the sleep of death.



The Courageous Come

Jesus did not have to travel to Bethany to raise Lazarus from the dead. The Lord had healed a royal official’s son while the son was in Capernaum near the Sea of Galilee and Jesus was in the hill country at Cana, as the apostle John had recorded in the fourth chapter. Thus, when the Christ of God decided to go physically to Bethany to “awaken” Lazarus “out of sleep,” He had a deliberate propaganda purpose in coming.

The dangers of Judea around Jerusalem were not insignificant. The great Redeemer Himself primarily remained in secluded areas for the last months of His ministry, and His trip to Bethany had to be of major significance for Jesus to take His disciples along. And the apostles were aware of the peril. “Thomas, therefore, who is called Didymas,” noted John about the one whose name means twin, “said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with Him.’ ” (John 11:16). The apostles were not timid men governed by fear; they were clearly courageous, willing to die with the Master.

The courage of all involved is not to be minimized. The Christ Himself, having nearly been stoned during His previous visit to Jerusalem, exhibited great courage in arranging a display of His awesome powers in the presence of hostile witnesses. The apostles followed Jesus with thoughtful steps, certain that they were rushing to their own deaths. And Martha, knowing who they were who were comforters in the house, demonstrated her courage in coming all by herself to meet Jesus as He apparently had instructed. They had courage, because they trusted His judgment. May His disciples be courageous for the same reason today.



The Resurrection and the Life

Fear of death plagues mankind. It hangs like a cloud on the mountains, always ready to break loose and instantly rain on any of the daily parades. And where death has made its visit, grief and gloom surround the survivors, casting a darkening pall on activities that otherwise would be routine or joyous.

Thus it was at Lazarus’ house. The beloved brother of Mary and Martha had passed from earthly life, and even the “Jews” came to console the ladies concerning their loss. Into this setting came the Son of God, and Martha, receiving word of His entrance to the village, went to meet Him.

Jesus the Christ was making His onslaught on the fear of death, delivering His followers and propelling them to the shores of hope. As He was about to prove, He indeed is “the resurrection and the life.”



“Everyone Who Believes …”

Earth is all the race of men knows. From his five senses man learns about the physical universe, and can even draw the conclusion that there must be a God. His history shows that he has a hope for a hereafter, as evidenced in his graves— whether it be the pyramids of ancient Egypt or a rude Rest-In-Peace carved on a nineteenth century marker along the Oregon Trail. But, because earthly existence is his only experience and his senses cannot penetrate the spiritual realm, he is open to deception and discouragement in his probing for hope beyond the grave.

There cometh, then, the Son of Man. “You are from below,” said He to earth’s vocal representatives, “I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world” (John 8:23). But the great Son of God did not plant His feet on earth to grind mankind’s face into the dirt; rather He came in the likeness of sinful flesh to open true understanding of the spiritual realm and to offer real hope of eternal life.

After expressing His powerful and life-giving statement, He then pressed Martha with a question: “Do you believe this?” The question still probes, and the finger of Jesus still points, seeking out each individual with that same question: “Do you believe this?”



Martha’s Confession

Jesus boldly proclaimed to be “the resurrection” and “the life.” Set against the backdrop of her brother Lazarus’ death, these words had to be stupendous, especially when followed by the statements that “he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.” Having uttered these magnificent words of hope and assurance, then the Lord asked this woman, who had ventured secretly to the edge of Bethany to see Him, “Do you believe this?”

The question was both challenging and fair; Jesus was asking her if she really believed her earlier statement, “Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” The words of her response were clear, and indicated how much of the teaching and purpose of Jesus she had been able to comprehend. “Yes, Lord,” she stated, “I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world” (John 11:27).

The apostle John, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, was laying the groundwork of understanding how the confession required of all who desired to be Christians in the first century came to be. As the Ethiopian stated, prior to his immersion at the hand of Philip the Evangelist, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” (Acts 8:37). May the words of the “good confession” never die!



Mary’s Meeting the Lord

Martha’s encounter with the Lord was intense. In the midst of the conversation, He had stated that He was the resurrection and the life; she had made the good confession that she believed that He was indeed the Christ, the Son of God, the One who was to come into the world. This, of course, was not exactly the type of interaction that people would normally have over tea at a garden table.

“And when she had said this,” noted the apostle, in regard to her confession that Jesus was the Christ, “she went away, and called Mary her sister, saying secretly, ‘The Teacher is here, and is calling for you.’ And when she heard it, she arose quickly, and was coming to Him” (John 11:28, 29). The situation was tense. The Lord Himself had been in remote Judea, away from the presence of the Jewish hierarchy, and now He came with a message for Mary to meet Him, knowing that in her house were those of that same hierarchy who would try to kill Him. Martha, discreetly not using Jesus’ name, then informed Mary that the “Teacher” was at the edge of the village, calling for her.

The Word came into the world to reveal the character of God. “The Son can do nothing of Himself,” stated Jesus, “unless it is something He sees the Father doing” (John 5:19). When the Son wept at Lazarus’ tomb, the Father “wept” in heaven. As the true “All Feeling, All Knowing, All Caring,” the great God still weeps with those who weep at the tombs of their loved ones, His eternal compassion mingles with the temporary tears of His beloved children as they wend their way through the trials of this earth.



Coming to the Tomb

It was an emotional moment for Jesus. Mary was weeping as she contemplated her brother’s death, presumably Martha was crying, and the Jews who had been with the ladies in the house to console them, were sobbing also. When the Lord thought about going to Lazarus’ tomb, even He was overcome by the sorrow of the moment, and in the shortest verse of the English Bible, the apostle John recorded, “Jesus wept.”

The Jews (the hierarchy, as contrasted to the “multitudes”) were split into two groups. Some were willing to give Jesus the benefit of their doubt, as the inspired writings note: “And so the Jews were saying, ‘Behold how He loved him!’ ” (John 11:36). There were, however, a certain percentage of those present who were hostile to the Christ regardless of what evidence could be marshaled before their faces. John observed, “But some of them said, ‘Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind, have kept this man also from dying?’ ” (John 11:37). Casting aspersion and doubt at every opportunity, even the gravity of the approach to Lazarus’ tomb did not stop the undercurrents of their agenda.

The Lord had been operating on the basis of the deliberate plan to let Lazarus die so that He could raise Him from the dead in the presence of both favorable and hostile witnesses. When Martha tried to stop the opening of the death cave, Jesus rebuked her. Those standing around heard the exchange, and the scripture then recorded: “And so they removed the stone.”



Praising and Raising

Quite the scene unfolded at Lazarus’ tomb. Mary, Martha, and the mourners huddled together, all watching closely the actions of Jesus of Nazareth. Some were scornful, some were hopeful, but all were intent as He gave the orders for the stone in front of the cave to be removed.

Martha put the first roadblock in the proceedings, protesting that since Lazarus had been dead four days, a stultifying stench would dampen the hour. The Lord Jesus, firmly in control as always, put her in her place by reminding her that He had told her to believe.

The stone was removed, and the way was now cleared for the action of Jesus.

Jesus praised the Father and raised the dead. Some of the Jews present shifted their allegiance over to the Christ, but some of them intensified their resistance. The plan of Jesus was at work; He had allowed Lazarus to die, that He might raise Him from the dead in the presence of both favorable and hostile witnesses. Both sets would now continue to execute the master plan, set in motion before the foundation of the world.



Conspiracy in the Council

Jesus Christ performed a spectacular miracle when He raised Lazarus from the dead. “Smoking gun” evidence was presented to the Jews — some of whom were well-connected to the Pharisees and chief priests — that Jesus was indeed the Son of God, for who else could call the dead back from the realms of Hades and issue the command for men present to unbind Lazarus and let him go? “Many therefore of the Jews,” noted the inspired record, “who had come to Mary and beheld what He had done, believed in Him.” But the power of earth pulled on some, and their desire was more to please their “betters” than to see the truth of God. The apostle John observed, in their cases, “But some of them went away to the Pharisees, and told them the things which Jesus had done” (John 11:45, 46). This was first-hand, “reliable” eye-witness accounting for the Pharisees of the power of Jesus. Something had to be done!

The solution was clear; get Jesus out of the way, everything would return to status quo, and their place and position would continue secure. “So from that day on they planned together to kill Him” (John 11:53). Who says conspiracies don’t exist?



Caiaphas’ Amazing Prophecy

There are pieces of information tucked away throughout the gospel according to John that open up major doors of understanding and significant keys to Old Testament prophecies. One of these occurs in a very unlikely spot, where Caiaphas the high priest made a pragmatic comment regarding the elimination of Jesus of Nazareth. While the other men in the secret council engaged in hand-wringing about the progress of Jesus’ movement, Caiaphas noted that there was a simple solution: “It is expedient,” said he, “that one man should die for the people.” Simple, straight-forward, brutal! There are men who can calmly sit in meetings and plot the destruction of millions of souls, or the death of the Son of God. Caiaphas and the Jews present were of this mindset.

But Caiaphas’ pragmatism was serving another purpose. While he was planning the elimination of a bump in his road to continuing power, the Holy Spirit was using the occasion to make a major prophecy and unbolt locks on Old Testament prophecies. If a donkey could speak to Balaam, then it was not outside the range of God for Caiaphas to prophesy also.

Many passages of the Old Testament are now made clear as the Old Testament writings are viewed through the eyes of the inspired New Testament writers, as John and the Holy Spirit interpret the prophecies concerning the entrance of the Gentiles into God’s plan. How blessed it is that He is gathering “together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.”



Increased Pressure

The conspiracy was strong. Fearful of losing their place, both the Pharisees and the chief priests, although normally hostile to each other, combined in a plot to put Jesus to death. The matter-of-fact recording of their intention is chilling: “So from that day on they planned together to kill Him” (John 11:53). Outwardly righteous, their smiling death head skeletons were revealed in their cold-blooded murderous conniving to execute the Son of God.

Their network was not small. For over 150 years the Pharisees had been setting up their system inside Judaism to enforce their interpretation of the Law, and the chief priests had been active politically to secure their position at the behest of the Romans. Ruthless conspirators, these men had their own version of the Mafia in place, so strong that Jesus Himself had in some degree to keep out of their way until He was ready to accept His own crucifixion by their action.

The pressure on Jesus was strong indeed, and He had, for the most part, to stay hidden in the wilderness. But He would make one more daring foray into the teeth of the Jews’ opposition before He let Himself be taken under their control.