Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, died. Even Jesus wept at this news (producing the shortest verse in the entire Bible at John 11:35). This prompted Jesus to go back to Judea, where the Jews wanted to stone Him. Finally, Jesus ends up raising Lazarus from the dead.
Illness, Sleep, and Death
I found it interesting that Lazarus’s condition was described using these 3 words. Here are the instances in order (based on ESV):
- “Now a certain man was ill“, verse 1, by the narrator.
- “… whose brother Lazarus was ill“, verse 2, by the narrator.
- “Lord, he whom you love is ill“, verse 3, by the sisters Mary and Martha.
- “This illness does not lead to death“, verse 4, by Jesus.
- “So when he heard that Lazarus was ill“, verse 6, by the narrator.
- “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him”, verse 11, by Jesus.
- “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover”, verse 12, by the disciples.
- “Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep“, verse 13, by the narrator.
- “Lazarus has died“, verse 14, by Jesus.
- “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died“, verse 21, by Martha.
- “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died“, verse 32, by Mary.
- “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”, verse 36, the Jews.
- “The man who had died came out”, verse 44, by the narrator.
Notice how in chronological order, it starts as illness, then sleep, then death. It appears more serious to the reader as the reader reads on, even though nothing has changed with Lazarus’s condition until Jesus resurrects him.
We’ve seen Jesus use sleep interchangeably with death before with the young girl (Matthew 9:24, Mark 5:39, Luke 8:52).
Sleep is a metaphor for death in the Old Testament. When kings died, they referred to them as sleeping with their fathers.
Also, think about this. We sleep everyday at the end of the day. In fact, we spend a third of our time asleep. During our sleep, we put our body and conscious mind to death until the next day.
I wonder if when we die, it will feel like sleep. We sleep until the end of time when everyone will wake up to face judgment.
Just a thought.
Being a Vessel For Glorifying God
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 11:4
I love how Jesus often speaks in third person. It just gives Him such a powerful aura.
Jesus says Lazarus is suffering so that He can be glorified. In context, this is His response to the sisters Mary and Martha, whom Jesus loves. I imagine the sisters were experiencing a range of emotions, such as confusion, hate, anger, desperation, etc.
I also wonder how Lazarus feels about this. Of course, Lazarus didn’t exactly have a say since it happened to him. And at the time Lazarus was nearing death (or sleep), I’m sure this was the last thing on his mind. He was probably focused on making peace.
Of course, after the resurrection, things are all good because the hardship is over and everyone is happy. But death is a pretty difficult ask if that’s what it takes to glorify God.
Even in the old testament, God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac as a test.
We are called to die so we can be reborn as sons and daughters of God. That way, we are no longer slaves to sin but followers of Jesus.
But are we really willing to be in Lazarus’s position to physically die so that God can be glorified? That’s a tall order.
Jews Divided Again
Many Jews who witnessed this ended up believing in Jesus, though some went to the Pharisees and told them about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.
The chief priests and Pharisees were worried that if Jesus continued to perform such miracles, they would lose their authority.
What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.John 11:47-48
It’s a selfish thought not unlike how many politicians today behave.
One veteran, the high priest Caiaphas, said that it’s better for Jesus to die than for the whole nation of Jews to die.
You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.John 11:49-50
And so the Jews start plotting to kill Jesus.
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