A number of readers have asked about the statement recorded by John where Jesus said:
The final result of this sickness will not be the death of Lazarus; this has happened in order to bring glory to God, and it will be the means by which the Son of God will receive glory.John 11:4
Their question was framed in terms of how can a death be to the glory of God? Well, let’s investigate that very question. By investigating the Lazarus story carefully we can learn a lot about Jesus attitude and feelings about death and from it understand more about death in the context of the Glory of God. Come with me on this investigation. As I indicated in the previous Nugget, this will be a single Nugget in the Puzzling Paradox series where I address this issue and then I will move on in the following Nugget to address the issue of whether healing is ours by right or not.
John’s Gospel is interspersed with miracle stories. It is interesting to note that normally John makes the miracle stories short and punchy. His purpose is to gather these stories to demonstrate his theme of who Jesus is. But the brevity of the stories is remarkable. The Feeding the 5000 is covered by only 15 verses in John. The story of Lazarus is by far the longest one of all at 56 verses. John drew our attention to the significance of this miracle story by the time he spent telling the story. In fact he tells us “as a result of this Jesus stopped his public ministry” (John 11:54). The ironic twist is that Lazarus’ resurrection from the dead led to Jesus’ death and resurrection. Of course this all fits if this One before us is The Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25). This story is the culmination of the everlasting life theme, the proof of the raising up at the last day motif. So it stands to reason that John will make much of it and that is indeed what he did.
As result of Lazarus’ resurrection Jesus became the centre of attention.
When all the people heard of Jesus’ arrival, they flocked to see Him and also to see Lazarus, the man Jesus had raised from the dead. Then the leading priests decided to kill Lazarus too.John 12:9-10
It is possible that the Lazarus incident also had a significant influence on the crowd’s response. This story is highly significant in the Gospel of John and is like the crowning example of the miracle stories so that after this event John announces that “Jesus stopped his public ministry among the people and left Jerusalem. He went to a place near the wilderness, to the village of Ephraim, and stayed there with His disciples”. The rest of his time in the Gospel of John is spent with his disciples before the events leading to the crucifixion. Lazarus’ resurrection was so that they who witnessed it (and we who read it centuries later) would see and understand this One is who He says He is and has power over life and death. There is no other like Him. Since Chapter 5 of John we have had these themes of the dead hearing his voice, being raised to life on the last day and none being lost. Interesting that in the Lazarus story we see all the culmination of these themes.
The story of Lazarus is filled with elements that emphasize the love Jesus had for this Bethany family, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in particular. The four Gospels record that he spent a lot of time in Bethany. John stacks this chapter with little reminders of Jesus connection with this family.
- “Lord, Your dear friend is very sick.” (11:3),
- although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, (11:5)
- Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep (11:11)
- See how much He loved him! (11:36)
Are you getting the message? Jesus loved this family. They had a special place in His heart. He had visited them many times. So the two sisters sent a message to Jesus telling Him of Lazarus’ illness and He stayed where He was for the next two days. . . . “for your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there”. That doesn’t sound like the words of a friend, does it?
When Jesus arrived at Bethany, He was told that Lazarus had already been in his grave for four days – many people had come to console Martha and Mary in their loss. Jesus wasn’t so concerned about consoling the family. He planned to restore Lazarus back to life.
“Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them. But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.”John 11;39
It is the nature of human bodies that in four days a great change takes place after death if nothing is done to halt the process. After seventy-two hours the body of a person naturally tends to putrefaction; and the Jews say that by the fourth day after death the body is so altered that one cannot be sure it is a person. The Pharisees and teachers of the law believed the soul stayed in the body for three days. Jesus deliberately waited beyond their time scale to demonstrate Lazarus was indeed dead and as a result the soul should have left him. He was stinking, no doubt that he was dead.
Imagine being there that day. That is pretty spectacular.
- Would you rather have Jesus come and console you in the loss of your loved one?
- Or come sooner so that the one you loved didn’t die in the first place?
- Alternatively, would you rather see a demonstration of Jesus’ power over the grave?
I think I would choose the latter. Imagine how the memory of that would be imprinted on your mind forever more. No wonder Mary is willing to give anything to Jesus in her gratitude; no gift would be held back, which is exactly what we see in the next chapter. I have told you already of my connection with Dominggus Kenjam. My memory of staring at the back of his neck as he shared his testimony of being raised to life again after almost being decapitated stays with me. I know that I know that Jesus can raise the dead. The memory will stay with me until I see him again in heaven. I can pray with confidence for people to be healed knowing that God moves in ways we cannot imagine. Imagine then the impact of being there when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. It must have been a crowning moment in everyone’s experience. It is a crowning moment in John Gospel. It ought to be!
Yet there are elements in this story that don’t really seem to make sense. Jesus was the one who indeed could have kept Lazarus from dying but he chose to delay so that God will be glorified. As several of you have evidenced by your questions there are some puzzling parts to this story. There are some incongruities in the story which leave us with questions.
When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within Him, and He was deeply troubled. “Where have you put him?” He asked them. They told Him, “Lord, come and see.” Then Jesus wept. The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much He loved him!” But some said, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t He have kept Lazarus from dying?” Jesus was still angry as He arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance.John 11:33-38
What a strange passage! He deliberately delays going, to make sure he is outside the Pharisees’ theological time frame of when the spirit leaves the body. He tells all those around him on a number of occasions that this is all so that God can be glorified and so that you might believe. But then Jesus gets deeply angry, deeply troubled, cries and remains angry for sometime afterward. Why? He is certainly not manifesting the usual human emotion. Normally we cry at funerals because we are saddened by the departure of a close friend or relative. If the deceased was a Christian then we are really crying for ourselves because we will not see them again in this life and will miss them. But Jesus can’t be crying for that reason. He plans to raise Lazarus from the dead. It would be more fitting for Him to stand there and laugh at death in the midst of the funeral.
a deep anger1 welled up within Him, and He was deeply troubled2John 11:33
Jesus wept3.John 11:35
Jesus was still angry1 as He arrived at the tomb,John 11:38
What was really going on here? Jesus seems to have had some very strange and out of place feelings or reactions. I have marked the relevant verbs with footnotes in order to explain what it happening here.
The Meaning of these Key Words
1 [ἐμβριμάομαι] embrimaomai (em-brim-ah’-omai) βριμάομαι brimaomai (to snort with anger); to have indignation, that is, to snort with indignation or react against smtg.
2 ταράσσω tarassō ( tar-as’-so ) to stir or trouble the waters, to be troubled
3 δακρύω dakruō (dak-roo’-o) to shed tears, weep, cry
Jesus’ feelings have to be connected with something bigger than Lazarus being dead. In a few short moments he won’t be dead. Having researched the words in the text we gain a better idea of what is happening. Jesus anger is a snort of indignation in the spirit. Deep seated indignation against what should not be. Death has come into this world through sin. Being at a friend’s funeral with the mourners wailing touches Jesus’ spirit and He reacts with a snort of indignation. A sense rising up against that which has ruined the plan for Life as God designed life to be; no death and no suffering in the world He (Jesus) had a part in creating. Jesus’ feelings are rooted deep in the big picture. He knows His time has not yet come to deal with sin and death and judgment. Later he will shout “It is Finished.” But for the moment He must put up with a sin stained universe. That makes Him snort in indignation at the enemy of our souls, satan.
The second verb is simply the verb to cry, to shed tears. Why is Jesus crying? I refuse to believe He is crying at losing Lazarus. That can’t be the reason. He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead. Jesus’ crying or shedding tears can’t be for the same reasons you and I cry at funerals. There must be another reason. It has to be a continuation of the feelings of indignation and frustration at this universe crying out waiting for its redemption. Was He crying at the state of things as they were? Following that, we are told that Jesus was still “angry” when He came to the grave. His spirit groaned within him again. For me it is either because of the continuation of the feelings of indignation or it’s maybe as a result of the comments made by the people. When Jesus wept there were different interpretations placed on His weeping.
Some said “See how much He loved him!”John 11:36
But others said, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t He have kept Lazarus from dying?”John 11:37
The second comment contains an element of disbelief. He healed the blind, can’t he do more? Why not? Prove yourself by showing us another stage in your power. My summation of all this is that the series of Jesus’ emotions don’t mirror normal human emotions at funerals. Rather Jesus’ feelings and reactions must have been a continuation of His indignation at the satanic effects on this created world. The fact that death had entered His Father’s perfect world in the first place. Now that makes more sense. John recorded for us all, the disciples at the time and all who would follow Jesus down through the ages, the words from Jesus mouth at the outset of the call for help from the family. We would expect Jesus to respond immediately in order to heal Lazarus like all the other people who were sick and Jesus healed. John leaves us with clear statements that Jesus’ actions in this instance were to demonstrate something more. To demonstrate what Jesus thought of death and to provide evidence that He was indeed the Resurrection and Life, the Life Giver, the One who had Power over Life and Death. If you had been there at the time you would have been left with the assurance and the trust that Jesus had power over life and death. My recollections of Domi’s story leave me in no doubt as to the Truth of all Jesus claimed to be and the genuineness of all the biblical accounts about him. Such an event as the raising of Lazarus or the raising of Dominggus Kenjam, Yohanis Mantahari or Fatmawati and many others I can name, convince us of the truth of all that Jesus claimed.
But stop and think for a moment on another level. If indeed Jesus was angry and indignant at the fact that death had entered the Kingdom of God, then why does He not do more than simply raised SOME people from the dead. In all of Jesus’ ministry there are only three people whom Jesus raised from the dead.
- Jairus’ daughter
- The widow’s son in Nain
- Lazarus of Bethany
In all of the Bible there are only ten+ people who are recorded as being raised from the dead.
- The widow’s son in Zarephath (1 Kings 17:17-24)
- The Shunammite’s son (2 Kings 4:18-37)
- The Israelite man whose body touched Elisha’s bones (2 Kings 13:20-21)
- The Widow at Nain (Luke 7:11-17)
- Jairus’ daughter (Luke 8:49-56)
- Lazarus of Bethany (John 11)
- Jesus Christ
- An unspecified number of departed believers in Jerusalem (Matt 27:50-54)
- Tabitha or Dorcas (Acts 9:36-42)
- Eutychus (Acts 20:7-12)
Now that is revealing in and of itself. Why are there not more people who were raised from the dead. Resurrection from the dead is not a common occurrence. Neither God nor Jesus nor the Spirit of God intervene regularly or often to raise people from the dead. Yet I am suggesting the text of John 11 indicates that Jesus was indignant at death entering his Father’s Kingdom. So why didn’t He or God the Father do something about it more regularly. Because I have told you already God seems reluctant to reverse the process of the curse or to reverse the course of the natural and spiritual laws governing the universe until the final coming of the Kingdom in its fullness at the appointed time. Yet we have these ten plus occasions in Scripture where it did indeed happen, given to us I suspect as a promise of what is to come.
I could say more but I feel to leave it there for the moment. Next week I will address the issue of healing in the atonement and following that I will move on to a different set of real life stories.