John 11 is a tough chapter because it brings us to again look at how to handle pain, suffering, and death. A man is ill and his name is Lazarus. Lazarus is the brother of Mary and Martha. We know Mary and Martha fairly well from the various accounts in the gospels. These three are close disciples of Jesus. Jesus would stay with these three in Bethany because it was less than two miles from Jerusalem. We know they loved Jesus. Verse 2 tells us that Mary was the one who anointed Jesus’ feet, which is recorded for us in chapter 12. Not only did these three love Jesus, but Jesus loved them. Listen to the message the sisters send Jesus in verse 3: “Lord, he who you love is ill.” Jesus loved Lazarus. Jesus loved Mary. Jesus loved Martha. One of Jesus’ dear friends and disciples is ill. He is not merely sick but is going to die with this sickness. This is why the sisters are calling for Jesus.
It Is For The Glory of God (11:4-6)
Verse 4 sets forward the message of this whole chapter. Jesus 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.” This is an amazing statement. We begin with, “This illness does not lead to death.” Jesus was not mistaken about what was going to happen to Lazarus. In verse 14 you will notice that Jesus knows when Lazarus dies without any messenger coming to him. Jesus knew the outcome of Lazarus’ illness yet could say that this illness does not lead to death. Jesus knew the future and he knew what he was going to do.
Now John reminds us again of something very important. In verse 5 we are reminded that Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. Jesus is not indifferent to these disciples. Jesus cares about this family. Therefore, when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two days longer (11:6). Notice how John paints the scene. Jesus knew what was going to happen. Jesus loved them and therefore he stayed where he was two days longer, rather than going to Bethany. The two day delay was motivated by Jesus’ love.
This is hard for us to get our minds around. How can it be that Jesus loved these three and did not come when they asked him to come? How can the Lord wait? Let us put this scene in stronger terms so we feel the weight of what has happened. Jesus let Lazarus die. Jesus let Lazarus die. He did not let Lazarus die because he did not love Lazarus. He did love Lazarus. Jesus did not let Lazarus die because he did not love Mary or Martha. Jesus did love Mary and Martha. Look at verse 5: Jesus loved all three of them. Look at verse 6: So Jesus let Lazarus die (he stayed two days longer). How is it love to let Lazarus die?
The answer to these questions is found in verse 4. “It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” This constitutes an occasion for the glory of God to be put on display. Somehow, this delay is for the good of all concerned. It is good for Jesus’ disciples, as Jesus says in verse 15. It is good for Lazarus, Mary, and Martha because the text tells us twice that Jesus loved them (11:3,5). I need you to hear this truth:
The Lord loved them but did not immediately act.
This is a truth that is hard for us to deal with. With this message, Jesus stays where he is for two more days. It looks like the Lord ignored their request. The explanation in verses 4-5 gives us a second critical truth:
They were allowed to suffer, though they were loved by the Lord, so God’s glory could be displayed.
No one at this moment could see how God could possibly be glorified by this. No one could comprehend how this would be the love of God. The family could not understand how this was for God’s glory. The disciples could not comprehend how this was for God’s glory. Think about Lazarus’ point of view: it would look like to him that Jesus did not care to come. Who could understand this decision by Jesus? Where are you, Lord? Why don’t you do something? I thought you loved us! Jesus loved them and let Lazarus die so the glory of God would be revealed. The glory of God is the ultimate goal.
Walk In The Day (11:7-16)
After the two days have passed Jesus tells his disciples that it is time to go back to Judea. The disciples are concerned about this because they are trying to stone Jesus in Jerusalem. This is what we saw in John 10:31,39 and John 8:59. The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem are looking to kill Jesus and now Jesus wants to go back to Judea! This region is too dangerous to go back to, Jesus!
But Jesus’ response in verse 9 is encouraging. Basically, Jesus wants to know what they are worried about! If you walk in the day, then you do not stumble. Deal with your fear by relying on the presence of the light of the world being in your midst. As long as you are with Jesus, the light of the world, they are secure and have no need for worry. But if they are away from Jesus, then there is cause for stumbling and cause for worry. This is a message that we see so many times in the scriptures. When the disciples are in the boat on the Sea of Galilee, sinking the boat, the disciples are panicking, believing they will perish. Jesus is asleep on the boat. There is no reason to fear when you are with Jesus. This is the glorious truth of Psalm 23. Listen to its words again:
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4 ESV)
When the Lord is your shepherd, then you have the comfort of the Lord with you. Jesus says that they need to go back to Judea. But you are walking in the day because you see the light of the world. Your soul is safe with the Lord. So Jesus explains why they must go. “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” We are going to Judea to wake up Lazarus. Notice that the disciples misunderstand what Jesus means. We have seen this problem many times in this gospel. We lack a depth of faith and lack a spiritual vision that we are unable to comprehend what Jesus is saying. So Jesus is blunt. Lazarus is dead. But notice that Jesus does not say that he is going to raise him from the dead. Jesus says he is glad he was not there so that you may believe. The point is that if you are afraid of death, then you do not know who Jesus is! So I want you to see something so that you may believe. This event is to put faith in our souls.
I love the words of Thomas in verse 16. He is often called “doubting Thomas” and unfortunately gets a bad reputation for that one event. But listen to this courage. “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” The disciples do not understand that they are walking in the day and if they are with Jesus, everything is okay. But the courageous faith to go with Jesus to the death is on display. They think that there is no way they will make it if they go back to Judea, but they are ready to go!
1. What God does for his glory and for our good we will not understand. A series of massively difficult events in life put me in a position to a be glorifier of God and a teacher of his word. Without those events, I sincerely doubt I would be teaching God to the world. But if we are fortunate, perhaps we see a glimpse of these things later in life. Maybe we will never see exactly how God’s glory was put on display through our suffering and difficulties. When we are in the midst of the suffering we never see how this is for God’s glory. Lazarus did not see it. The sisters did not see it. The disciples did not see it. But Jesus did. Just because something defies human reasoning does not mean that the glory of God is not the driving motivation.
2. God always acts for his glory and purpose. Therefore, if my prayer is not answered in the way I desire, I rest in the knowledge that God still loves me. The Lord loved Lazarus and he died. The Lord loved the apostle James and he will killed by Herod. The Lord loved his mother and his mother watched him die. The Lord loved Mary and Martha and they watched their brother die. The Lord’s love does not mean that he saves us from our pain and suffering. The Lord’s love means that he will act for his glory. So I can put my faith in that truth. My life is for his glory. My death is for his glory. My everything is for his glory. The psalmist said the same.
My lips will glorify You because Your faithful love is better than life. (Psalm 63:3 HCSB)
3. If you are with Christ, then you have true life and you will be okay. I don’t know of another way to put that point. You can have peace and rest in the middle of complete life chaos because you are with Christ. It will be okay. We may walk through the valley of the shadow of death. We will face seemingly insurmountable obstacles and pains in our lives. If you are walking in the day and see the light of the world, then you are secure and you will come through this. If you are walking the night, then you will stumble. Ask yourself how what is happening today can be for the glory of God. Paul sat in a Roman prison and could speak how it was for God’s glory because he was teaching the Praetorian guards. Will God be glorified through your life and through your circumstances? Or will you stumble from the Lord because you are focused on his glorious light that leads to the Father?