Hi I’m Josh Hawkins, welcome to Episode 105 of Opening Up the Gospels. In Episode 104, we came to the end of Jesus’ Perean ministry, the time period that Luke and John’s Gospel narrate for us, stretching from the fall of 28AD into the Spring of 29AD. Almost two years have passed since Jesus began His public ministry by turning over the tables of the money changers in the Temple, and so much more has happened - the Gospel has been preached, the sick have been healed, storms have been calmed, multitudes have been fed, and even the dead have been raised. Jesus came to Israel seeking the fruits of repentance, and even after all of the teaching He’s done and the signs He's performed, all of the the Jewish authorities and most of the people have refused to hear his message. Only a small remnant of them have repented and believed that Jesus is indeed their promised king who will sit on David’s throne in Jerusalem and reign over the house of Jacob forever. Remember, Jesus’ mission is in complete continuity with the story of the Old Testament. I’ve said it many times before throughout this series, but understanding the chronology of the Gospels is so important to understanding the mission that Jesus is on.
Well in today’s episode, I want to look at what the Gospels narrate next for us in the chronology, and that is the raising of Lazarus from the dead. It’s such a dramatic event, not only because somebody who was dead for 4 days gets up out of the grave, but because of where and when it takes place. But before we look at the story in John 11, let’s do a little review. Recall that this entire period of Jesus’ public ministry began with His final days in Capernaum and His departure for the Feast of Tabernacles in the fall of 28AD all the way back in Luke chapter 9. I showed back in Episode 85 that Luke narrates Jesus journeying toward Jerusalem three times between Luke 9:51 and Luke 17:10. John’s Gospel fills in the gaps, so to speak, by talking about Jesus’ activity in Jerusalem three separate times for the feast of Tabernacles, the Feast of Dedication, and the final Passover. Now take a look at these passages for a second - Luke 17:11 says that Jesus is heading back to Jerusalem, and as we’ll see, this is where Luke begins to describe His final journey to the city before being crucified. If you remember, John 10:40 said that Jesus had withdrawn to Bethany beyond the Jordan, and then in John 11:54 Jesus goes to a place called Ephraim, and then just a few verses later in John 12:1 we see that the Passover is at hand, and Jesus’ crucifixion is just days away. So what we’re going to look at today in John 11 takes place at some point before the final journey into Jerusalem. So let’s read a little bit from John 11:
"Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”"
(John 11:1–16 ESV)
So John starts off by telling us a few things about Lazarus: that he was from the town of Bethany and that it was his sister Mary was the one who anointed Jesus with her expensive perfume and wiped his feet with her hair. Now this event doesn’t happen until later in the chronology, and we will look at it in John 12. But this story was something that early believers would have known because of how extravagant the act was. I’ll talk more about that when we get to John 12. We met this same Mary and Martha back in Episode 89 when we saw Jesus heading to Jerusalem for the feast of Tabernacles. Jesus had likely lodged with them for the feast, which is probably how he got to know them well. Now John says that the sisters had sent word to Jesus saying that their brother Lazarus, the one whom Jesus loved deeply, was ill. Jesus is likely still in or around Bethany Beyond the Jordan at this point. But instead of heading toward Bethany to heal Lazarus, John says that he stayed two days longer where He was, and dismissed the messenger from Mary and Martha by saying “this illness does not lead to death, but is for the glory of God, so that the son of God may be glorified through it”. I think they would have naturally inferred that Lazarus was not going to die, and that he would get well and that would glorify Jesus. But it’s clear from the rest of the passage that Jesus had something else in mind. Truly His power would be displayed in a miraculous way to confirm His identity as the Messiah, the son of God.
Now when Jesus said he wanted to go back to Judea, specifically to Bethany, the disciples reminded Him that last time He was near there in Jerusalem, they wanted to stone Him. When was the last time He was there? Several months ago for the feast of Dedication in December, where according to John 10, they picked up stones to stone Him in the Temple. Despite the disciples’ reservations, Jesus goes to Bethany to raise Lazarus from the dead to once again strengthen their faith. Let’s read a bit more in John 11:
"Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. 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 from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”"
(John 11:17–27 ESV)
So here’s where this gets pretty crazy - Lazarus has been dead for 4 days, and Martha approaches Jesus with faith in her heart, confident in the promise from the prophets that God will anoint a final Davidic king and raise the dead from their graves on the last day. And Jesus affirms the fact that He is the one who not only embodies but will bring to pass those promises. Martha again expresses her confidence that Jesus is that one - that He is the Christ, the son of God, that final Davidic king who will reign forever. This is such a beautiful confession of faith, like Peter’s back in Luke 9. In the midst of confusion, pain, misunderstanding, and even death, the flower of faith blooms from its deeply watered roots.
Now the next part of the story you can read on your own, but it’s where Jesus weeps with the sisters. Here, Jesus’ humanity is so beautifully seen. He’s not a stoic, flat-faced, emotionless man who just waves His hand and heals people. He weeps with those who weep, and mourns with those who mourn. And at the same time that the perfection of His humanity is shining forth, the brilliance of His divinity radiates from Him as He gives life and breath to a dead man. There were only two other times where the Gospels record Jesus raising someone from the dead - back in episode 66 with the widow’s son in Nain and again in Episode 71 with Jairus’ daughter. Lazarus was wrapped up in grave clothes, and his body had already started to decompose and stink. For Jesus to raise him is a big deal, and I am sure He knew the implications and did it this way on purpose, knowing the statement it would make. Because Bethany is right on the doorstep of Jerusalem, word of Lazarus’ raising wouldn’t take long to reach the Jewish authorities and the people there, and as we’re about to see, they will most certainly react strongly. Let’s keep going in John 11:
"Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and there he stayed with the disciples."
(John 11:45–54 ESV)
So the message reaches Jerusalem, and the council gathers and they say “we’ve been unable put a stop to this thus far, and now this Lazarus thing is too public… Too many people have seen this to deny it, so what are we going to do? If we let him go on, Rome is going to come away and take away our power and the whole system we have going here will be shut down.” John says it was from this point on that the Jewish authorities actively made plans to put Jesus to death. The event of Lazarus being raised from the dead is so significant in that it further incited the leaders of Israel to want to kill Jesus. Think about the hardness of their hearts here. They acknowledged that Lazarus really did come out of his tomb, and their response was not to rethink their views on Jesus. They didn’t say “hey maybe we should reconsider what we’ve been saying about Him.” Instead, the raising just hardened them even more as they clung to their power, privilege, money, and control that Jesus was rightly due as the Messiah. Sure, the Jewish authorities believed He was blaspheming, but at the end of the day, their motivation was that they didn't want to lose their power. But how crazy was that, right? Because they didn’t even have power - Pilate and Rome were the ones with the real power and the Jewish authorities were just puppets.
Well we are out of time for this episode, but there are so many things to meditate on in this scene so I would encourage you to take some time to do that. The raising of Lazarus is a prelude to the resurrection of Jesus Himself as well as to the future resurrection of those with faith in Him. We have a great hope that death will be no more, if we continue in the faith and don’t harden our hearts like the Jewish authorities did. In the next episode, we’ll look a little bit more at this scene and follow Jesus to Ephraim with the Twelve. As always, you can find all the past episodes in this series on my website, www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. God bless, and I’ll see you next time.