One of my favorite stories in the the gospels is the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead, found in John 11:1-46. Lazarus was the brother of the Mary and Martha whom Jesus visited in Luke 10. Jesus loved Lazarus dearly (John 11:5) and his sisters must have been deeply distraught when Lazarus fell seriously ill (John 11:1). They immediately sent messengers to Jesus, but surprisingly, Jesus did not go immediately to Lazarus. Rather, he remained in the place where he was for two days, and told the messengers, “Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.” (John 11:4).
What good news for Mary and Martha! Jesus Christ had clearly stated that the sickness would not end in death. But only a few verses later, we find a shocking plot twist. Jesus tells his disciples, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but now I will go and wake him up.” (John 11:11). The disciples thought he was talking about natural sleep, so they said, “Lord, if he is sleeping, he will soon get better.” (John 11:12). They did not realize that Jesus was talking about the sleep of death. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead” (John 11:14).
What a shock this must have been for the disciples! I think many of us, familiar with the resurrection of Lazarus, do not realize the full emotional impact of those three words: “Lazarus is dead.” Jesus had clearly said that the sickness would not end in death, and yet, just two days later, he said, “Lazarus is dead.”
Had Jesus failed?
The disciples must have been terribly distressed, so much so that Thomas said, “Let us also go, so that we may die with him” (John 11:16 KJV).
And so they set off for the house of Lazarus, and when they arrived, his body had already been laid in a tomb for four days (John 11:17). The scene there was one of total chaos. The Lord had said that the sickness would not end in death, yet Lazarus was dead. Mary and Martha must have been horribly distraught and confused. Why had Jesus waited two days instead of coming immediately to heal Lazarus? Now it was too late! Martha and Mary both blamed Jesus, saying, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21, 32). Some of those present even mocked Jesus, saying, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?” (John 11:37).
In the midst of all this confusion, John tells us that “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). John does not tell us why Jesus wept, but I believe he wept over their unbelief. Jesus had promised that the sickness would not end in death, yet no one believed him. The one who performed many miracles and healed many people seemingly failed to heal Lazarus before it was too late. They blamed him for foolishly waiting two days instead of coming immediately. They mocked him. They had no faith. Jesus wept.
Yet it was all part of God’s plan. It was God’s will that Jesus wait two days instead of coming to Lazarus immediately. One of the great lessons we can learn from this story is that even when the situations and circumstances of life seem utterly helpless, even in those darkest moments, God is ultimately working all things together for good for His glory (Romans 8:28).
Here is the part of the story I find most fascinating and significant:
John 11:23-26 – Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.” “Yes,” Martha said, “he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day.” Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?”
Contrast the doubt of Martha with the faith of Abraham. Abraham, when tested by God, was willing to offer up his son Isaac, because God had promised to make a great nation through Isaac. Abraham knew that God could not break his promise (Numbers 23:19) and therefore, Abraham believed that even if Isaac died, God would be faithful to raise Isaac from the dead (Hebrews 11:19).
Martha had also received a promise – that Lazarus’ sickness would not end in death. This means that even if Lazarus died, his death would not be the end. Jesus Christ would be faithful to raise Lazarus from the dead, “so that the Son of God will receive glory” (John 11:4). Martha believed that everyone who has ever died will be raised at the end of the age (Revelation 20:13), but she had lost hope in the power of Christ in the here and now. Before her stood the Son of God who possesses all power in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18) even the power to raise Lazarus from the sleep of death immediately. Jesus had said, “I will go and wake him up” (John 11:11). But instead, Martha was waiting for the end of the age.
Martha put her faith in a future event, instead of in the person of Christ.
Christ’s response to Martha is one of my favorite sayings of Jesus: “I am the resurrection and the life.” Martha had put her faith in her theological understanding of the future resurrection, without realizing that Jesus Christ IS himself the resurrection. He IS the life-giving spirit (1 Corinthians 15:45) and the fountain of living water (John 4) that heals us today (Isaiah 53:5). Martha had faith in the Kingdom coming in the future, but no faith that the King standing before her could work a miracle in the present!
When this evil age comes to an end, there will be established a Kingdom on the earth where all who are made righteous in Christ will be raised from the dead to live with God forever (Revelation 21). But the Kingdom of God is not only our future hope, but also our present hope as well. Jesus is already King – his victory has already been won, his throne has already been established. From the right hand of God, he is ruling and shepherding his global Body and he’s ready to work mighty miracles if we would turn to him in faith. Thus, Jesus says to us, “the Kingdom of God is already among you” (Luke 17:21).
We may have a great understanding of what Jesus accomplished, historically speaking.
But do we know what he is accomplishing in our lives right here and right now?
We may have a great understanding of Jesus, theologically speaking.
But do we know who he is, personally?
Brother Yun is a Chinese Christian evangelist who founded many underground churches in China and was imprisoned and tortured for his faith. In his book The Heavenly Man, he describes his miraculous escape from Zhèngzhōu Maximum-Security Prison.
According to Yun’s own account, each door opened before him and he heard the voice of Jesus instruct him to walk out of the prison. At the risk of being shot to death by the guards keeping watch from the towers, he obeyed the voice of Christ and walked out through the front gate. Miraculously, no one saw him, as if he had become invisible. He is the only prisoner in history to have escaped from that prison.
Brother Yun makes an insightful observation on the story of Lazarus on pages 74-75 of his book Living Water:
When Jesus informed Martha that he had come to raise Lazarus from the dead, Martha resorted to her theological knowledge by saying, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (John 11:24). This is a chief attribute of Christians who only know Jesus from a theological viewpoint. They know about the history of God’s workings with humankind, and they know that in the future God will make everything right. But they do not know Jesus in the here and now. Jesus has become a historical and a future figure, but not a present figure in their daily lives. Many churches are spiritually dead today because they keep Jesus at a “safe distance” while they control their own lives and make their own plans. Until you realize that Jesus Christ wants to be a major part of everything you do, you will not see revival. Until He is rightfully enthroned as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, your plans will continue to be frustrated and you will see little true blessing of heaven on your activities.
We too often intellectualize Jesus into a mere historical figure. It’s easy to think of him as the one who died for our sins, and will come again to rule the world, yet completely forget about the work he is accomplishing right here and right now in our 21st century lives.
I don’t want to treat Jesus as merely a historical figure or settle for merely knowing about him.
I want to know him personally, right here and right now. I want to have a relationship with him!
Most of all, I want to see his power manifested in my life. I want to hear his voice daily and follow his direction in my life. As Jesus said in John 10:27, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”
Do you know Jesus… or do you only know about him?