Summary: Why do Christians still wear ’grave clothes’ when they ahve been raised from the dead?


Even the most biblically illiterate person has heard the story of the raising of Lazarus. It is a very familiar story to many of us. Yet the truth is it is a story that we rarely read, fail to understand and more importantly I believe wonder how it actually applies to our daily lives. So this morning let us turn together to John 11 and look again at this familiar story.


Lazarus was the brother of Mary and Martha. Their home in Bethany, a village some 2 miles outside Jerusalem, was obviously a place where Jesus was made welcome and felt very much at home. We know from John 10.40-42 that Jesus was presently staying in the area of Perea, some 20 miles from Bethany, across the Jordan. So Jesus is about a days journey away from the home of Lazarus. In opening couple of verses in chapter 11 we learn that Lazarus is ill and that Mary, his sister, on a previous occasion had poured perfume on to the feet of Christ and wiped it with her hair, a very intimate act. Mary and Martha send word to Jesus that Lazarus is ill (verse 3) and the implication in the message is that He should come immediately.


Read verses 4-6. Do you not find this a strange reaction of Jesus to their message? He delays. They have sent word, obviously urgent word, that Lazarus their brother, the ‘one Jesus loved’, is ill and yet Christ delays. Not just for a few hours but for two days. Why? Why delay like this? Does Jesus not really love Lazarus? Is He indifferent to the suffering of Mary and Martha? Does He not actually care after all? Or is He afraid to go back to Bethany? After all it is in Judea and there was a price on His head in Judea. Well the reasons for the delay is given to us. In verse 4 the reason is ‘God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.’ Then if you turn to verse 15 we read that the reason for the delay ‘that you might believe’ and again in verse 42 ‘for the benefit of the people…that they may believe.’ Here are the reasons for the delay in going to Lazarus. Mary and Martha wanted an immediate response, as we often do. To delay would seem to be cruel, indifferent and uncaring. But that is because we do not have the full picture. The truth is delays are inevitable in this life. Truth is delays are always from our perspective because we live within time – but God is not limited by time and therefore His time of answering is always right – never late and never early. God’s love is not the love of an indulgent parent who gives in to every whim of the child. God’s purpose is to make us holy, not (contrary to all the propaganda) to make us happy. God allows things into our lives which our self-centred pursuit of happiness would never allow. So Jesus delays in going to Bethany. He delays – remember that – it is not that He refuses to go. It is not that He does not care or that He is indifferent to Lazarus, Mary or Martha. The delay is for the glory of God and for their greater good – that they may believe. It is exactly the same in our lives. So remember that when you are attempted to give up in prayer or to start to believe that God is uncaring, indifferent and will not answer. His delays are the means of bringing glory to the Father and to bringing faith into the hearts of men. Jesus knew that He was in this world to serve the Father, to bring the Father glory by doing His will. He was not in the world to answer the ‘felt needs’ of the world. He was not at the ‘beck and call’ of the world but in the world to do the perfect will of the Father.

Verse 7 – after twp days Jesus announces that He is now intending to go to Bethany. The disciples, with the exception of Thomas, try to dissuade Him from going. ‘It is far too dangerous’ they say in verse 8. Then in verse 11 Jesus tells them why they are now going – Lazarus is ‘asleep.’ They misunderstand Him, thinking He means literal sleep when Jesus is in fact saying ‘Lazarus is dead’ (14).

Mary and Martha.

Then in the next section of the passage we encounter Martha and then Mary. Look at verse 17 – Lazarus has been in the tomb 4 days. At the time of Jesus many believed that after 3 days the soul departed the body and that the body would then begin to decompose. The body would be anointed on the third day and then the tomb would not be opened again. So in this little snippet of information John tells us there is no doubt Lazarus is dead and that his body was now decaying. It also tells us that by the time Jesus received the news that Lazarus was ill he had in fact already died. So you see the delay was not responsible for his death but would be the means of his resurrection from the dead.

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