Raising Lazarus: John 11:30-57

So far, in recounting of the raising of Lazarus, Jesus seems rather stoic. He heard the news of Lazarus’ illness with an assumed shrug. Neither was there much emotion displayed in His conversation with Martha. But the final part Lazarus’ story is loaded with emotion.

Preceding verse 30, we see Martha leaving Jesus and returning to where Mary was mourning. John doesn’t record Jesus telling Martha to call for Mary, but that is what Martha reports. John records, “Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and consoling her, when they saw that Mary got up quickly and went out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”” (John 11:31–32, NASB95)  Mary’s comment to Jesus is the same a Martha’s. And as before we don’t know the tone and emotions Mary wrapped her words with.

When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled,” (John 11:33, NASB95) Some translations connect deeply moved and troubled with anger and indignation. We aren’t told what moved Jesus, but His actions speak volumes. His anger didn’t lash out at Mary or the mourners but seems to be at death itself. In response, Jesus asked to be shown Lazarus’ tomb. Arriving there, John simply states, “Jesus wept.”

Some of the Jewish folks with the family wondered about the proverbial elephant in the room. If Jesus could heal the eyes of someone born blind, surely He could have healed Lazarus. Whether it was the doubt of that sentiment or indignation over death, Jesus was again deeply moved.

Jesus commands the stone covering the small cave of Lazarus’ tomb to be removed. Ever practical Martha reminded Jesus of how bad it would smell after four days. “So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. “I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” (John 11:41–43, NASB95) And Lazarus did. What follows in verses 46-57 is the formation of a conspiracy to kill Jesus.

The story of Lazarus is wonderful and glorious, yet filled with mystery. There is much we don’t know. Why did Jesus wait? What emotions and feeling are not in the text? What did Lazarus think about all of this? Why did Jesus get angry? What’s the backstory of Jesus’ relationship with Martha, Mary, and Lazarus? Why was all of that left out?

I think we can answer the last question. John wasn’t telling a story to entertain or recount an event. John’s purpose in this pinnacle sign and wonder is to confirm, highlight, underline what he had been shouting all along. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. This is the belief stated by Martha and proven when Lazarus hobbled out of the cave.

From the first words of John’s Gospel and through these eleven chapters, the proclamation of Jesus’ identity is John’s primary motive. To close his gospel John writes, “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:30–31, NASB95)

Sometimes skeptics will point out that Jesus never plainly said: “I am the Christ, the Son of God.” But as we’ve seen in John’s Gospel, that point is spoken and demonstrated time and time again. Jesus never refuted it or told someone that it wasn’t so. He encouraged that belief, and through conversations, wonders, and teachings provided us a more expansive vision of who He is. Everyone Jesus encountered had their own idea of what the Messiah, the Christ, would say and do. Jesus consistently blew away their notions and provided them a much larger picture.

For the moment, we are going to pause our journey through John’s Gospel and pick it up again in a few months. The final ten chapters recount Jesus movements and teaching leading up to the climax of His crucifixion and resurrection. And we will pick them up again, probably next January.

Dale Heinold
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