Imagine getting a phone call telling you a close friend is in the Intensive Care Unit. No doubt, our fears, and worries would be overwhelming. We would drop everything and try to see them as soon as possible. If that was impossible, then we’d find other ways to communicate with them and their family. In our next event in John’s Gospel, Jesus receives a similar message but has an entirely different response.
“Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. So the sisters sent word to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” But when Jesus heard this, He said, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was.” (John 11:1–6, NASB95)
(spoilers) You probably know the story. Lazarus died, Jesus went to Bethany and raised him again to life. After this story, John’s gospel turns towards the week leading up Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection. But there is much to glean from Lazarus’ story.
Lazarus’ story is a turning point in John’s Gospel. There are several ways to digest John’s Gospel, all of them good. One way is to highlight the “I Am” statements. Another is to see John as two “books.” The first book, chapters 1 through 11, provides seven signs. Of which, the raising of Lazarus is the pinnacle sign. The signs are
- Changing water into wine at Cana in John 2:1-11 – “the first of the signs.”
- Healing the royal official’s son in Capernaum in John 4:46-54
- Healing the paralytic at Bethesda in John 5:1-15
- Feeding the 5000 in John 6:5-14
- Jesus walking on water in John 6:16-24
- Healing the man blind from birth in John 9:1-7
- The raising of Lazarus in John 11:1-45
Other gospels reveal many more miracles. John highlights these seven as evidence of Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. The second “book” is a slower-paced dive into the days leading up to Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection.
Turning back to Lazarus. Why Jesus hesitates is one of those mysteries which cannot be fully answered. The disciples assumed that it was because the Jews tried to stone Jesus during His last visit to Jerusalem. Bethany is only two miles from Jerusalem’s gate. But after a couple of days, Jesus changes His mind and announces His desire to go to Judea. The disciples reminded Jesus about the last time. Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. “But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” Okay, can we agree that that is a strange answer? And yet it fits.
There are times we see clearly the path before us. We may have a sense of call or feel the pull of the Holy Spirit. The road map is clear, and the GPS is working. There are also times of darkness and confusion with unknown dangers. Most often, in my experience, we only see a couple of footsteps at a time with darkness beyond that. We may not know where the path is leading just the steps in the light are leading us at the moment. The point is this, are we walking in the light or trying to stumble about in darkness? Is the light of Christ in us? That is the light by which our way is revealed.
At that moment, Jesus is saying, “I see the path, let’s go.” The disciples aren’t so sure this is going to end well. And since Jesus revealed that Lazarus is dead, what’s the point? But Jesus knew something they didn’t. And that is often how our path with Christ flows. We take the steps of faith and are often surprised where they take us.