John’s Gospel records seven miracles which serve as signs of Jesus’ identity. The raising of Lazarus is the seventh and climactic sign, and probably the most famous. Martha, Mary and Lazarus, three siblings, were very close friends of Jesus. This fact is emphasized several times in the text. Lazarus was very sick, and by the time Jesus arrives, he has died. Since “signs” have the purpose to showing us who Jesus is, let’s see what we learn about his identity. Our story begins with everyone grieving, and Martha and Mary blaming Jesus for his death (v. 21 & 32). Two women, same situation, same kind of grief, same words—but interestingly, Jesus’ response to the two is radically different. With Martha, he seems to resist her sorrow and calls her to hope. He exhorted regarding her lack of faith (v. 25). But with Mary, Jesus just enters right into the sorrow (v. 33-35). He’s sort of pulled in with her, and all he does is weep. He doesn’t say a thing. He just grieves with her. This is profound. With Martha, he’s claiming to be God; with Mary, he’s showing his humanity. Together, Jesus shows himself to be the great God-man! The power of deity and the vulnerability of humanity. When the Son of God, the eternal second person of the Trinity, took on human nature, he emptied himself of his heavenly glory—but not of his deity (Philippians 2:5-11). Martha needed a bracing, faith-inspiring response; Mary just needed him to enter into her sorrow and grieve with her. Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor (Isaiah 9:6; Hebrews 4:15-16)!
The combination of Jesus’ deity and humanity embodies absolute beauty—and this points to a problem: our loves are out of order. All human love will at some time disappoint you, and unless you love God most you won’t be able to love others well (because at some time or another you’ll refrain from doing what’s in their best interest because you fear their disapproval). The way to grow in your love of God is to get to know him for who he really is. The problem, of course, is that God is invisible. But Jesus, the great God-man, reveals him perfectly. “[Jesus] is tenderness without weakness, strength without harshness, humility without the slightest lack of confidence, unhesitating authority with a complete lack of self-absorption, unbending convictions without the slightest lack of approachability, power without insensitivity, enthusiasm without fanaticism, holiness without Pharisaism…” (Jonathan Edwards). There is no one else like Jesus. Just as you cannot look directly at the sun without a filter—it will blind you— you cannot see God clearly without the filter of humanity.
John 11:33 & 38 says that Jesus was “deeply moved” at Lazarus’ death. This is a very strong word in the Greek; it means “to be indignant.” Jesus advanced to the tomb as a champion preparing for conflict. Jesus won our salvation, not in cold unconcern, but with fiery wrath against our sin, Satan’s malicious trickery, and the misery that sin inflicted on us. Our sin indeed deserves death, but how can Jesus destroy sin and death without destroying us? He does so by dying in our place. The raising of Lazarus forms a “hinge” in John’s gospel: chapters 1-11 are all about Jesus’ life and ministry, but from chapter 12 to the end, it’s all about Jesus’ death. Unlike the others, this was a very public miracle, and as a result the religious leaders decided to kill him (11:53). The raising of Lazarus sealed Jesus’ doom. It was too much. He had gone too far. His enemies said, “Now he has to die.” This was the turning point. But of course, Jesus knew what he was doing. When he said, “Lazarus, come forth!”, he was signing his own death warrant—and he knew it. Jesus loves us as he loved Lazarus (11:5, 35-36), and he came to die so that we can life forever (11:25-26 and 20:30-31)!
APPLICATION / CHALLENGE
- Don’t be angry at Jesus for your suffering. To truly love is to suffer.
- Take all limits off of your allegiance to Jesus.
- Don’t let fear of death control you.
TAKE ONE STEP
Each week, write down one doable concrete step of obedience, small or large, that you will put into practice this week. (James 1:22: “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”)