The message has been sent to Jesus that Lazarus is sick and is going to die. Rather than going to Lazarus immediately so he could heal him, Jesus remained where he was and let Lazarus die. Once Lazarus dies, Jesus and his disciples begin to travel back to Judea, to the town of Bethany, so that Jesus can “awaken him” (11:11).
Jesus and Martha (11:17-24)
When Jesus arrives at the tomb of Lazarus, Lazarus has been in the tomb for four days. This is a significant statement. The Jewish mind considered a person truly dead with no hope of resuscitation or resurrection on the third day. The reason was obvious. For the first three days there is no physical appearance of decomposition. On the fourth day the human body shows visible decay. This is called the bloat stage in forensics. The color of the skin of the body changes dark red. The body bloats due to putrefaction and the abdomen turns green. The smell of the body is distinct, horrible smell as gases are entering the body and will begin to force the liquids of the body out. This is the state that Lazarus is in. Notice in John 11:39 that the family is aware that this is the condition of Lazarus’ body. He’s been dead four days and he is going to stink. Most of the translations are softening the language for our human sensibilities. The Greek is simply, “He already stinks.” The NLT reads, “The smell will be terrible.” People are not walking into this stinking tomb. Further, we need to have in mind the condition of Lazarus as Jesus begins talking to Lazarus’ sisters.
When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him. Mary did not go out to meet him but remained in the house. Listen to the hard, painful words of Martha. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you” (11:21-22). We should not read these words as a condemnation of Jesus. These are the words of painful regret. If you had been here, my brother would not have died. She had hoped Jesus would have come at her message. She is declaring faith. I wish you would have been here because I know that my brother would not have died. She is absolutely acknowledging the power of Jesus. Verse 22 is just as important as she expresses her dependence on Jesus’ will in this matter. We must observe that Martha is not asking Jesus to raise Lazarus from the dead. She is not expressing that. The reason we know this, even though her words sound like the desire for Jesus to raise Lazarus from the dead, is it is Martha in verse 39 who resists the removal of the stone from Lazarus’ tomb. She is not thinking about Lazarus raising from the dead at all. Rather, Martha is expressing her continuing faith in Jesus even though she is disappointed. Even though my brother died, I still believe even now that you can do whatever you ask of God. This is what she is declaring.
This is the faith of a true disciples. True disciples maintain their faith in the face of disappointment. She recognizes that she is the disciple and Jesus is the master. This is what it means to call Jesus, “Lord.” Jesus is the master and we are the servants. The will of the servant is not the goal. The will of the master is everything. Martha understands this. She is crushed by disappointment. Her brother has been dead for four days. She is wrapped with grief. Even more so, she knows that her brother would not have died if Jesus has been there. Though she is hurting, grieving, and disappointed, she knows that Jesus is the master and God will do whatever he asks. She declares great faith.
Jesus says something that sounds like the comfort that many would have given Martha. “Your brother will rise again.” Martha acknowledges this truth. “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Martha has taken Jesus’ words as generic words of comfort, just as we do at funerals. We say these kinds of things to each other at a funeral. “He is in a better place.” “He is not suffering anymore.” “He is home with God.” We say these things and it sounds like Jesus is saying something similar. “Your brother will rise again.” You can almost see her nodding through her tears that she knows her brother will be raised in the last day.
I Am The Resurrection and the Life (11:25-27)
But this is not what Jesus means. “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Jesus gives life because he is the life. Jesus gives life to the dead. Jesus teaches something so amazing here. Physical death is not the important thing. As humans we think that physical death is everything. People live to do everything they can to avoid physical death. Jesus teaches that physical death is not important. Believers may die (that is, that they no longer live on this earth) but they do not die in the sense that matters most. Death is the gateway to further life and fellowship with God. The one who believes in Jesus has eternal life that transcends physical death. Jesus’ teaching is just amazing! If you believe in Jesus, you live even though your physical body dies. In fact, whoever believes in Jesus will never die. Now, here is the big question. “Do you believe this?” Martha says that she does believe this. Martha has faith in Jesus. Martha has faith in Jesus as the Messiah, as divine, and as the Deliverer of their souls. She has a high view of the person of Jesus. But she does not believe Lazarus is alive because she is going to resist opening Lazarus’ tomb. Martha says she believes but it appears to fall short as we read through this event.
Jesus and Mary (11:28-37)
Now Jesus calls for Mary to come to him. Jesus still has not come into the village of Bethany, but remains on the outskirts. At the word, Mary immediately gets up and goes out to Jesus. The crowd in the house think that she is going to the tomb to mourn, so they follow her out. When Mary comes to Jesus, she falls at the feet of Jesus saying, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” She says the same words as Martha, expressing the same faith in Jesus that he had the power to stop her brother’s death. Like Martha, Mary also appears to fall short in fully understanding what it means that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.
Something unusual happens here that we are not used to seeing in Jesus. Notice in verse 33, “He was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled” (ESV). In verse 38 we will see this again in Jesus, “Then Jesus, deeply moved again….” “Deeply moved” is a very generic expression for what this Greek word means. The HCSB and NLT read “angry” but this might be a little too strong for what is being communicated. I am going to give you what different scholars say this word means so you can get a feel of what this Greek word is trying to get at. D.A. Carson says, “Outraged in spirit.” Andreas Kostenberger says, “Bristled.” Gerald Borchert says, “Disgusted, angered.” Others say it was used in the Greek of a horse snorting from agitation and indignation. So you can see that the translation “deeply moved in his spirit” is a broad way of incorporating these ideas. The point is that Jesus is not moved with sadness but with indignation. Jesus is bristling.
So we must ask: What is Jesus bristling at? It does not seem likely that Jesus is indignant and bristling about the death of Lazarus or at having to raise Lazarus. It is not that Jesus is deeply moved because Lazarus died. Remember, Jesus waited and let Lazarus die. Jesus said he was glad that he let Lazarus die so that the disciples would believe (11:15). So why this response? Let us look carefully at the text. The first time Jesus expresses this is because of the weeping and wailing of Mary and the crowds (11:33). The second time is when the people say, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” I believe the problem is that no one sees who Jesus is. Jesus is not a helpless human being in the face of death. Jesus’ grief and his troubled spirit are not about Lazarus but over so much unbelief. No one believes that Lazarus will live. No one recognizes that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. If you believe in Jesus, then you understand what it means to believe in Jesus. It means understanding that Lazarus did not die. It means understanding that in Jesus is life. Life is in believing in Jesus.
Lazarus Raised (11:38-44)
This is what Jesus needs us to see in him, which is what John records for us. Jesus says to take away the stone. Martha basically says, in the nicest way possible, that it is too late. This is what Martha, Mary, and the crowds have all been saying. If you had been here. But now it is too late. They do not understand who is standing before them. So Jesus says, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” It is time to see who Jesus is. It is time to bring faith to a greater level. So Jesus prays in a way so that people will “believe that you sent me” (11:42). We need to learn that Jesus is working the plan of the Father and relying on the Father. Jesus then cries out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The man whose body is decaying, a body that has turned red and bloating with putrefaction, comes out. That body of flesh was ruined. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Jesus put that body back together and out comes Lazarus, as if untouched by death. “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (11:25). Those who believe in Christ do not die.
I want to key on the purpose of this account. In verse 15 Jesus was glad that Jesus was not there in Bethany to heal Lazarus so that his disciples will believe. Jesus prayed to the Father in verse 42 “so that they may believe that you sent me.” Jesus said that he is the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Jesus will never die. He then asks Martha, “Do you believe this?” Everyone said that they believed in Jesus. But we must truly believe in the power of Jesus because that changes everything about how we live life. This faith changes how we look at death. This faith gives us the hope upon which we stand.
Paul wrote to the Thessalonians that true believers do not grieve over disciples whose time on earth ends like others who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). The death of the body means nothing to Jesus who has the power and exercised the power to raise those he loved from the dead. When we read Revelation 7 we see the servants of God are all sealed on the earth. They are chosen by God and loved by God. But the book says they are going to be killed for their faith and testimony in Jesus. So where do we need see these servants of God in Revelation 7? These servants of God were standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white, with the palm branches of victory in their hands (Revelation 7:9). They are not dead! They are with the Lord!
To say with your lips that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God means that there is a great unchangeable truth: those who are in Christ never die. Therefore, physical life is not the goal. Eternal life is the goal. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Your life is in Christ alone. Your life in Christ means the glory of God will be put on display one more time when Christ returns and the body is transformed from perishable to imperishable. Oh the joy we have in this life knowing what we will receive from our Lord! Give your life fully to Jesus. Life is in him. Give him your life and he will give you life.