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THE DEATH OF LAZARUS
The raising of Lazarus in this chapter is a striking witness to the fact that the plotting of the Jews to kill the Lord Jesus was vanity; for He Himself is superior to death. Since He is able to raise Lazarus, then supposing they do kill the Lord, He will rise again. Besides this, the eternal life with which His sheep are blessed, given them on the basis of the sacrifice of Himself, the Good Shepherd, is here clearly implied to be resurrection life, a life linked with Him now beyond the power of death. How futile and foolish then is the murderous opposition of the Jews!
The Lord's company had no doubt been deeply valued at Bethany before this time (Luke 10:38-42), and the sickness of Lazarus turns the thoughts of the sisters to Him as their true resource. Verse 2 is an interesting note here, of which the history is found in chapter 12:1-8. The message they send is only to the effect that Lazarus is sick, but with the reminder of the Lord's love for him: the sisters are evidently confident that the Lord would know what to do.
For the time however He does nothing; but speaks of the sickness as being not unto death. Not however that Lazarus would not die, but the end in view was not death, but for the glory of God, and that the Son of God would be glorified. It was to be another clear proof of His glory as Son of God (cf. Romans 1:4; Romans 1:4).
Because of his love for the two sisters and Lazarus the Lord remained where He was for two days. His delays in answering prayer are always because of a love that is wiser than we understand.
But when He announces to His disciples that they are to return to Judea, they can only think of the danger of His being stoned (v.8), for the animosity of the Jews toward Him had had little time to abate. The answer of the Lord is important. He always walked "in the day" of His Father's guidance, not in any measure of darkness. Those who walked in the night would stumble, for they had no light internally. But the light of the Father's presence and direction was always in Him.
He speaks to them of Lazarus sleeping, and of His intention of wakening him. Considering the time it would take to journey to Bethany, His disciples ought to have realized that He spoke of something more than literal sleep, but not so: they reason contrarily to His words, thinking that sleep would be good for him; so that He plainly says, "Lazarus is dead." (v.14). To the Son of God death is no more than sleep. But for the sake of (not only Lazarus and his sisters, but ) the disciples, He was glad that He had not been there. If He had been, no doubt Lazarus would not have died (vs.21,32), but it was necessary that he die if the Lord were to show in him His resurrection power, and stimulate reality of faith in His own.
Thomas, in verse 14, shows evident doubt that they might be preserved from death if they went to Judea, yet he had genuine love toward the Lord in his willingness to go. Of course implicit confidence in the Lord's pure love and wisdom would have been far better, but this he seems to have little known until his experience ofJohn 20:24-29; John 20:24-29).
It is likely that Lazarus had died before the message of his sickness had actually been received by the Lord, for when He arrived at Bethany, Lazarus had already been four days in the grave. v.17). The Lord knew this to be the precise testing time for the sisters, and of course such time having elapsed left no doubt that death had actually taken place.
Bethany being only about two miles from Jerusalem, many from there had come to comfort Martha and Mary. Martha, anxious to speak to the Lord when she heard He was coming, went to meet Him. Mary, more quiet and less impulsive, remained in the house.
No doubt the words of Martha, repeated by Mary in verse 32, show what had been continually in the minds of the sisters: "Lord, if You had been here." Yet there is no value in brooding over an "if." How little she realized that the Lord knew well what He was doing! Still, she did give Him credit with such a relationship with God as to receive from Him whatever He asks.
He answers this simply, "Your brother will rise again" (v.23). But she can think of this as nothing but the orthodox doctrine of a future general resurrection. How little comfort even true doctrine has in it apart from the person of Christ! Marvelous indeed is His reply, "I am the resurrection and the life." In Him personally is the answer to her every need, as of all creation, "I Am" implies His deity, and certainly resurrection and life are resident only in God. He does not merely say that He can raise the dead and give life; this whole subject is rather dependent on His person.
The question of resurrection is met in the end of verse 25, that of life in verse 26. The full truth of this could only be manifested in His own (then future) resurrection, but identification with Him by faith was the certain means of one Him would never die (v.26). That is, the life He gives is not at all subject to death: it continues vital and real, even if natural death takes place. The words He speaks are spirit and they are life, not material and fleshly.
He asks her, "Do you believe this?" Though doubtless she did not fully understand His meaning, yet her answer is good. She believed Him, for she was persuaded that He was Christ, the Son of God (v.27). What He said she knew was right, however feeble her understanding may have been.
MARY AND THE MOURNERS
Then she left to call Mary, her sister, with the message that the Lord had called for her. In so many words the Lord had not said so, but Martha no doubt sensed that the words of the Lord were more for Mary than for herself, Mary having a more meditative and understanding mind, and choosing the habit of sitting at the Lord's feet (Luke 10:39-42).
Such a message brings her quickly to the Lord, outside the town. (v.29). How little the Jews understood her haste; certainly if she were going to the grave, it would not be with such alacrity: it was the One in whom there is life by whom she was attracted. This time, rather than sitting at His feet, she falls down at His feet, her soul in deepest sorrow and need; and she repeats the heart-wringing words of Martha, not even with the addition of confidence that even now God would answer His prayer in some helpful way.
Martha was at least more matter of fact, Mary so crushed by her sorrow as to be hardly able to look up. This, together with the weeping of her comforters, deeply weighed on the spirit of the Lord Jesus. How real is His sympathetic concern for the sorrows of mankind occasioned by sin! To His question as to the grave of Lazarus they answer, "Lord, come and see" (v.34). This expression has been used twice in chapter 1, first by the Lord, inviting others into His circumstances (v.39), and by Philip inviting Nathanael to see the Lord (v.46). But all that man has to show the Lord is a grave! How could He forbear thinking of His own imminent death and burial for the sake of mankind in its sinful, ruined state? He wept. But this was not merely for Lazarus, as they supposed (v.36). His was genuine sympathy for the sake of the sisters, and no doubt true, divine sorrow in contemplating the sad results of sin in the world. Some made the suggestion, could He not have prevented the death of Lazarus, since He had done other amazing works? How much greater was He than they supposed! But He made no reply to this.
LAZARUS RAISED FROM DEATH
They come to the grave over which a heavy stone has been rolled. When the Lord commands that the stone be taken away, Martha, allowing her practical mind to take precedence over faith, objects to the removal of the stone (v.39). The Lord firmly reproves her unbelief. Natural thought must not intrude itself when the Lord of glory is working. Let us note that, while only the Lord can give life, others can remove the stone. So the stone reminds us of the hard, cold demands of law that virtually keep man shut up in bondage, in a state of death, never able to give life. By the preaching of the gospel of pure grace we may remove the stone today.
When this was done the Lord first prayed (vs.41-42), not asking for the resurrection of Lazarus, but in calm, conscious unity with the Father, to show those who stood by that he did nothing apart from the Father's will. The Father heard Him always: He did not plead with Him at all; for He speaks not as the dependent Man in Luke, but as being One with the Father. With a loud voice He calls, "Lazarus, come forth!" It is not therefore in answer to prayer that Lazarus was raised, but by the Lord's own authoritative, divine word. In spite of being bound hand and foot with graveclothes, Lazarus came forth. His face too was bound (v.44): he could not see where he was going, but the power was in the voice that called him, the power of resurrection life. The miracle is accomplished fully and perfectly.
Then again others may do their work: "Loose him and let him go," the Lord says (v.44). The graveclothes would speak of law in a different way than the stone; for the law too can keep in bondage one who truly has life. A renewed person is not to be left fettered by these, but set free. For grace, not law, is to be the power of the new life, and God's servants are to be the ministers of grace. But life itself is entirely in the hands of the Son of God.
FURTHER PLOTTING OF THE JEWS AGAINST HIM
Many of the Jews could not but be brought to believe in Him after such things. On the other hand, some, currying the favor of religious leaders, report to the Pharisees what the Lord had done (v.46). These, with the chief priests, become more deeply alarmed, rather than deeply impressed, and gather a council to consider how they may silence One who, as they admit, does many miracles: the pride of their own position was in jeopardy.
They were well able to disguise their motives with the foolish suggestion that if they let Him alone, it would lead to the Romans taking the Jews captive (v.48). Their reasoning is that He would become a leader who would challenge the authority of Rome. But they knew well that there was no slightest indication of political aspirations on His part. In fact, their not leaving Him alone, but crucifying Him, led to the very thing they claimed to fear. Selfish pride, as seen in the expression "our place and nation," was the means of defeating its own end.
Caiaphas, we are told, was high priest that year, for Herod set up and deposed high priests to suit himself at any time, of course a contradiction to God's original appointment. Evidently inflated with the pride of his own position, Caiaphas haughtily declares the ignorance of his cohorts, and indicates his superior wisdom in finding some justification for their murdering the Lord Jesus. "one man," he says, "should die for the people (vs.49-50).
Behind his words of course was subtle wickedness; but here is a striking illustration of how God can use the evil of man, and have him speak words which have a far higher meaning than the man himself intends. Christ's death would not save Israel from being scattered and decimated at that time, but it would accomplish a greater end. Therefore, though it was with wicked motives that Caiaphas spoke of one man dying for the people, yet God, in allowing him to speak, had higher thoughts in these very words, words too which are applied not only to Jews, but to Gentile believers scattered abroad, for the death of Christ was the means of gathering them together in one (vs.51-52), though Caiaphas would have resented the very thought of such gathering together.
The Jews then are easily persuaded that it is right to put Christ to death, for they have the plausible excuse of trying to save their nation: they agree in plotting His murder Still, His hour had not come: He withdrew to a city called Ephraim, to the north and east, on the edge of the desert (v.54). In spite of all these occasions in which the Pharisees were frustrated in their efforts to arrest Him, they seemed blinded to the significance of this fact. In fact, when they did take Him (at God's time), it was at a time when they had planned not to do so (Matthew 26:5).
The Passover being near, many were drawn to Jerusalem with the intention of being purified before the day of the feast (v.55). There is much speculation: will the Lord come, or will He not, for the feast? Little indeed did they know that He Himself is "our Passover" (1 Corinthians 5:7), and it was on that day that God had ordained that He should be sacrificed. Certainly therefore He would willingly come.
The chief priests and Pharisees had by now increased their evil efforts to take Him, by ordering that any of the people who knew His whereabouts should inform them (v.57). Being the willing tools of Satan, they were blinded to the fact that God is in control of all these things.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on John 11". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter