Summary: Jesus’ raising of Lazarus sent the people running for cover, and it should also send us running for cover too. We and they finally see that Jesus is Lord and liberator of all the people of God.
The passage from John 11:30-47 shows Jesus at some of the highest and lowest points in his ministry. Jesus was told a few days earlier that his friend Lazarus was sick, but he waited for two days before he and the disciples went to the home of Mary and Martha, who were Lazarus’ sisters. By the time he arrived, Lazarus had been dead for several days, so it’s not surprising that Mary and Martha were disappointed with Jesus.
Sometimes Jesus disappoints us as well. We’ve prayed, but no answers have come. We’ve pleaded, but God has delayed. We’ve waited, but he hasn’t arrived. Why has Jesus waited? Possibly it is because our faith and hope in Jesus have to be proved and/or tested. Our faith depends on the faith that comes from experiencing God’s power in our lives. That faith needs to be as deep as Martha’s was when she said that God could do for Jesus whatever he asked. She had a faith experience because she had seen him work miracles throughout his ministry and she knew what he was capable of.
When he saw the mourners and their raw grief, Jesus wept. Why did he weep? There are several possible reasons. Jesus could have been genuinely moved by his grief and that of the other mourners. After all, Jesus was both fully God and fully human, and as a human he experienced human emotions. Jesus was also in awe of the power of God that was about to flow through him to triumph over death. Jesus’ tears could also have been caused by grief for a fallen world that is caught up in sorrow and death caused by sin.
Jesus could have also been grieving because the people could not see that the Messiah had come and therefore they could not see what God would do through him. This is a good lesson for the church to learn. The church can be unbelieving, unconcerned and indifferent toward Jesus and God. Regardless of the reason for his weeping, the knowledge that resurrection and joy would follow were the underlying points of his grief.
It might be hard for us to believe that Jesus could cry. After all, we’ve been told for years that only babies cry, but as Dr. Phil said in a recent episode of the Dr. Phil Show, “Big boys don’t cry, but real men do”. I’ve even cried. I cried during my mother’s knee replacement operation last year. Jesus wept because he was sad and hurt, and his tears provided relief. Jesus was sad over Lazarus’ death. He could have spared everyone grief by coming sooner, but he didn’t because it benefitted them in the end to witness his power over death. His actions proclaimed his power and glory. )
Jesus’ prayer to God shows the intimacy of their union and the gratitude that God heard and answered Jesus prayer. Jesus always did what his father asked him to do, so all he does is in reality a prayer to God. Jesus hoped that everyone who heard him pray to God would know that he was the long-promised Messiah.
Our suffering and grief matter to Jesus, and he wept in empathy many times. When we get to heaven, there will be no more sorrow, pain or tears. We will experience love like we have never experienced it before. This miracle set the stage for Jesus’ death and resurrection. It was his last miracle. Some of the people who witnessed the miracle reported it to the Pharisees, and that led to Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion and resurrection. If Jesus can raise Lazarus from the dead, and if Jesus can rise from the dead, he can bring new life to us as well if we are willing to profess our faith in him.
Jesus asked the people to unbind Lazarus and let him go. He could have done it himself, but when human beings are capable of doing something themselves, God will not intervene. Jesus calls us to unbind people as well-people who are bound up in prejudices, bad habits or other problems. They’ve heard the saving word of Christ, but they still need to be delivered from the bondage of sin. That is the ministry we care called to. When we unbind people, we show God’s love.
There is a lot of emotion in this story-grief/sorrow, sympathetic neighbours who shared the grief of Mary and Martha, Jesus weeping. In the midst of these emotions, there is an abundance of faith-faith in the words of Mary and Martha and faith in Jesus’ prayer to God. The most important feature in this story is the love of Jesus, especially as shown in his weeping. His love shows us God’s mind and nature, especially his compassion and sympathy.
The people were sad because they were stifled. Their lives were constricted. They could only see the darkness and finality of death. They knew that when Jesus’ hour came, he had to meet it and that there was no way out, and they also knew that the same thing would be true for them. They could not see the sunlight and eternity of life with Jesus in heaven until he died and rose again. Only then did they realize that Jesus made it through the valley of the shadow of death and came out on the other side. The other side was filled with light and glory.