The raising of Lazarus offers us an intimate portrait of Jesus’s life and ministry, but it also neatly sums up one big theme in John’s Gospel: Jesus is the one who gives life to the dead by the power of his word. (John 5:29). By giving us such an intimate portrait John is challenging us to see the reality of Jesus authority in our own lives and everyday circumstances rather than something theoretical. How would your life change if you had witnessed Jesus call Lazarus from the tomb?
Two big pictures emerge from the story. Firstly, the absolute authority of Jesus Word. Lazarus was convincingly, stinkingly dead and yet Jesus called him forth from the tomb whole and alive. However much our senses rebel or our hearts convince us that something is impossible, the one thing that is really real is what Jesus says to be true. His word is the final authority (Isaiah 40:8, Matthew 24:35) and one day the whole universe will hear and respond to the same voice of command that called Lazarus forth from the tomb.
Secondly, we see the compassion of God. Here we see Jesus deeply moved and weeping at the tragedy of death and a broken world. Although we read that God had allowed Lazarus’ death to show his glory (John 11:4), God was not dispassionate or calculating in allowing it to happen. Knowing that God shares our feelings about injustice and pain helps us to have the right view of him. We are not pawns in his plans, but dearly loved children, he feels and shares our sorrows and joys – or we might say, more accurately, we feel and share his sorrows and joys.
1. After Lazarus was raised the Pharisees ignored that definitive demonstration of Jesus’ power and made plans based instead on their fear of the Romans. (vs 48) In a similar way, sometimes we ignore God’s Word and make plans based instead on fear, selfishness or in the name of common-sense. When God’s Word and our feelings are at odds, God says we should build our lives on the authority of his Word.
2. Martha doubted Jesus’ command to open Lazarus’ tomb because “by this time there is a bad odor” (vs. 39) Likewise, Lazarus walked out of the tomb despite being bound, face, hand and foot in grave clothes. Yet, Jesus’ authority overruled these practical problems. In our own lives sometimes to believe God’s word means to believe against the odds or despite insurmountable problems or complications, confident that what Christ commands he can make happen.
3. Mary and Martha brought Lazarus’ illness to Jesus attention and when he arrived apparently late he spoke to him with faith in his power (even if it wasn’t perfect faith). In the meantime Jesus said that Lazarus’ illness and death would display God’s glory. This illustrates nicely what our attitude to petitioning God in prayer should be. There is great reassurance in knowing that God providentially rules our lives in such a way that even our suffering and tragedies give him glory and produce good in our lives. But that doesn’t mean we have to relate passively to him never expecting things to change. We can be content that when he delays or doesn’t seem to answer our prayer there is good reason for it, yet we can still be confident in his power to miraculously act in our lives.
4. God loves to display his power in apparently insignificant places. Here in the small town of Bethany (which means House of The Poor) among this small family, God’s power was displayed for generations to witness the authority of Christ. God doesn’t wait for important people, dramatic stages or big moments, but he delights to reveal his power and love in lives as ordinary as yours and mine.