Lazarus Was Already Dead Jesus was at Bethabara, about twenty miles from Bethany (John 1:28; 10:40). If the one traveled quickly the trip could be completed in one day. So, a messenger arrived with news that Lazarus was sick. Then, Jesus sent the messenger back the next day. Then Jesus waited two more days before leaving for Bethany. By the time Jesus and the disciples arrived, Lazarus had been dead for four days. Therefore, Lazarus had died the very day the messenger left to contact Jesus.
Day 1—The messenger comes to Jesus (Lazarus dies).
Day 2—The messenger returns to Bethany.
Day 3—Jesus waits another day, then departs.
Day 4—Jesus arrives in Bethany.
The two sisters did not tell Jesus what to do in their request. They simply informed him that there was a need, and they reminded him of His love for Lazarus. Like the apostles, they knew that it was dangerous for Jesus to return to Judea. Perhaps they hoped that He would “speak the word” and their brother would be restored to health. We can all agree that Jesus could have prevented Lazarus’ sickness or even healed it from where He was; but He chose not to. He saw in this sickness an opportunity to glorify the Father. It is not important that we Christians are comfortable, but it is important that we glorify God in all that we do.
Two Sisters Jesus seems to have performed many miracles as an investment in the spiritual maturity of the apostles and his friends, like Mary and Martha (John 11:26, 40). Each experience of suffering and trial should increase faith, but such growth is not automatic. One must respond faithfully to the ministry of the Word and the Spirit of God. Jesus had sent a promise to the two sisters (John 11:4), and then he discovered how they received it.
The familiar story recorded in Luke 10:38-42 makes it clear that Mary and Martha had very different personalities. Martha was task oriented while Mary was the contemplative who sat at the feet of Jesus and listened. Jesus did not condemn Martha’s service, but He did rebuke her for being “torn apart” by so many things. She needed to set priorities and center her activities on the things of God.
Martha did not hesitate to affirm her faith when she met Jesus on the road to Bethany. She used three different titles for Jesus: Lord, Christ (Messiah), and Son of God. The words “I believe” are in the perfect tense, indicating a fixed and settled faith. “I have believed and I will continue to believe!”
Mary is found three times in the Gospel record, and each time she is at the feet of Jesus (Luke 10:39; John 11:32; 12:3). She sat at His feet and listened to His word; she fell at His feet and poured out her sorrow; and she came to His feet to give Him her praise and worship. Mary’s only recorded words in the Gospels are given in John 11:32, and they echo what Martha had already said (John 11:21).
Mary did not say much because she was overcome with sorrow and began to weep. Her friends joined in the weeping, as Jewish people are accustomed to do. The word used means “a loud weeping, a lamentation.” Our Lord’s response was to groan within and “be moved with indignation.” At what was He indignant? At the ravages of sin in the world that He had created. Death is an enemy, and Satan uses the fear of death as a terrible weapon (Heb. 2:14-18).
It is interesting that Jesus asks in John 11:11, “where is Lazarus buried?” The Lord doesn’t seem to use divine power when normal human means will suffice.
“Jesus wept” is the shortest and yet the deepest verse in Scripture. His was a silent weeping (the Greek word is used nowhere else in the New Testament) and not the loud lamentation of the mourners. But why did He weep at all? After all, He knew that He would raise Lazarus from the dead John 11:11).
The one person who declared her faith was Martha (John 11:27), and she failed at the last minute, “Open the tomb? By now he smells!” Jesus gently reminded her of the message He had sent at least three days before John 11:4), and He urged her to believe it. True faith relies on God’s promises and thereby releases God’s power. Martha relented, and the stone was rolled away.
Conclusion A quaint Puritan writer said that if Jesus had not named Lazarus when He shouted, He would have emptied the whole cemetery! Because of the great change in Lazarus, many people desired to see him; and his “living witness” was used by God to bring people to salvation (John 12:9-11). There are no recorded words of Lazarus in the Gospels, but his daily walk is enough to convince people that Jesus is the Son of God. Because of his effective witness, Lazarus was persecuted by the religious leaders who wanted to kill him and get rid of the evidence.
As with the previous miracles, the people were divided in their response. Some did believe and on “Palm Sunday” gave witness of the miracle Jesus had performed (John 12:17-18). But others immediately went to the religious leaders and reported what had happened in Bethany. These “informers” were so near the kingdom, yet there is no evidence that they believed. If the heart will not yield to truth, then the grace of God cannot bring salvation. These people could have experienced a spiritual resurrection in their own lives!
John 11 reveals the deity of Jesus Christ and the utter depravity of the human heart. The rich man in hades had argued, “If one went unto them from the dead, they will repent” (Luke 16:30). Lazarus came back from the dead, and the officials wanted to kill him! Miracles certainly reveal the power of God, but of themselves they cannot communicate the grace of God.
*Bible Exposition Commentary (BE Series) – New Testament – The Bible Exposition Commentary – New Testament, Volume 1.