We’re continuing our fascinating teaching revealing the deeper insights concerning the resurrection story of Lazarus. We invited Doug Greenwold, a Bible scholar who serves as the senior teaching fellow for a ministry called Preserving Bible Times, to our television program Christ in Prophecy. Doug uncovers often missed insights into dramatic biblical stories by digging deep into the overall biblical context that provide poignant spiritual applications to the reader today.
Doug Greenwold: After some back and forth between Jesus and His disciples over the safety of returning to Jerusalem or not, Jesus revealed in John 11:11, “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.” After some confusion by the disciples, Jesus flatly states, “Lazarus is dead.”
Lazarus had died. Jesus had tarried in Perea two days too long. By the time He left for Bethany, Jesus wouldn’t arrive until the fourth day after Lazarus had died. If He had left at once it would have only have been the second day. He never would have made it on the first day. Freeze these thoughts.
When Mary and Martha originally sent the message, Lazarus had only been deteriorating. The women thought, “No problem, Jesus will be here before the day ends.” Well, He didn’t arrive, and on purpose. By waiting four days, Lazarus had reached becoming dead-dead.
Wouldn’t you be disappointed if you were Mary and Martha? Would you become disillusioned with Jesus? Would you become angry? Absolutely, you would! Consternation would be the word.
The messenger finally returned to the women and reported Jesus’ reply. He said, “Boy! Do I have good news for you. Lazarus’ illness will not end in death.” You can imagine the look on the sisters’ faces. With bitterness they likely replied, “We’ve got news for you. He’s already dead. Are you sure that’s what Yeshua said?” He could have said, “Oh, I heard it right. I know what Jesus said was so important I memorized it word for word. Your brother just can’t be dead.”
Now, get this. The women heard the promise. They just couldn’t believe it. Ever been there? We can relate to this story.
Whether Mary or Martha came to this conclusion first, who knows? One of the sisters could have been thinking, “Ah! I’ve got this figured out. Yeshua is going to bring our brother back from the dead, but just before the end of the third day before the nephesh flees. This is going to be a really special event. Get Bret Baier and Wolf Blitzer on the line. Get the crews out here. This is going to be something. I knew it! I knew we’d be special. Yeshua really does love us.”
But, the third day had come to an end — no Jesus. Now, what do you do if you are Mary and Martha? How do you process this? You have been let down. Jesus didn’t deliver. Hope is now gone.
Doug Greenwold: Finally, word came early in the afternoon on the fourth day. “Jesus is coming! He’s approaching.” So, Martha went down to the well at Ein Shemesh, a place you can still visit to this day, and intercepted Jesus. John 11:20-22 picks up with the story:
“Now Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house. Now Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.'”
Jesus answers simply in verse 23, “Your brother will rise again.”
By verse 28 the sisters switch roles. They basically say the same thing to Jesus, like their statements had been rehearsed. In verse 32 Mary accuses, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”
We finally get to the tomb. Jesus orders in verse 39, “Take away the stone.” Because of the amount of time since Lazarus had died, the sisters naturally protest. “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.”
After Jesus consoles them and assures them that everything will be alright, the Son of God ordered in verse 43, “Lazarus, come forth!” Behold! Out of the tomb, all wrapped in burial clothes, Lazarus hobbles out alive.
Let’s place this story into a contemporary setting. Say the mayor of your city dies. He was loved by everyone. He lies in state for three days while everyone comes and views his corpse. By the beginning of the fourth day, his will specified that he was to be cremated, so he’s cremated. Now, in this example, Jesus walks into the crematorium and asks which chamber the mayor resided in. “The fourth one? “Open it up.” So, the morticians open the crematorium up and Jesus looks down into the chamber and sees a remnant of ashes some six foot two inches long, weighing about two pounds. The ashes remain still a little moist and heated. Jesus orders, “Mayor, come forth!” And out of the crematorium crawls the mayor.
This is the significance of the fourth day. Jesus’ delay was intentional. His wait was deliberate. A fourth day resurrection, why there’s no question now that Jesus was the Messiah. The argument about three days and the nephesh and the other two resurrected possibly really being in a coma, well, that’s all gone. Lazarus is Exhibit A that Jesus is clearly the Messiah.
By the way, Lazarus is now a wanted man. His miraculous resurrection stands out blazingly as Exhibit A. They Jewish leaders have got to get rid of Lazarus. And, they know they also have to get rid of Jesus or lose their positions of authority to the actual Messiah. Lazarus may have been better off dead. He and his sisters must flee to Ephraim, to a city of refuge, and then travel back in to the Judean Valley until the last week of Jesus’ life.
What’s just happened? Lazarus became like the Good Year Blimp flying over Jerusalem proclaiming, “Yeshua is Messiah! Yeshua is Messiah!” They religious leaders know it. There is now no more argument. And so, the Sanhedrin convened a covert meeting and concluded, “It’s Him or us. Jesus has got to die.”
The raising of Lazarus sealed the deal for Jesus. The Messiah must die. At the same time, the whole Lazarus scenario foreshadowed the empty tomb and the risen Christ. That’s the beauty of this passage. The story of the resurrection of Lazarus completely foreshadows Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. What a beautiful story!
Doug Greenwold: What have we learned?
For one, God is unpredictable.
Two, His followers can’t manage Him. They can’t manipulate Him.
Three, in the end what Jesus does is all about His glory. This word glory means to accurately reveal and portray. That’s exactly what Jesus was doing. He accurately revealed and portrayed what He was about to do. That’s the word glorify in John 11:4. That’s the Hebrew understanding of the word glorify.
And, fourthly, if we’re dead centered in God’s will, like Mary and Martha and Lazarus, life won’t be easy. When you obey the calling of Jesus to be your Savior, life no longer means tip-toeing through the tulips and everything’s convenient and easy. What God achieves is all about His glory, and rarely about our convenience.
Lazarus learned this truth the hard way. Lazarus had to make the ultimate sacrifice to prove Jesus was the Messiah. Think about this as well, Lazarus had to die again. He didn’t stay alive forever. Mary and Martha would have to grieve again.
Our earthly life’s about God’s glory, and very little about our convenience.Our earthly life's about God's glory, and very little about our convenience. Click To Tweet