Lazarus: The Beginning (John ll:1-45)

By | February 26, 2012

Cross Examinations: #1
Examining Key Witnesses In The Jesus Conspiracy


     May God bless the reading, seeing and hearing of God’s Word and all the people said, “Amen”

     And thus it begins. Most people think that Holy Week begins with the Palm Sunday Procession and in one sense it does. However, this was the pivotal event, this was the proverbial final straw that broke the camel’s back and the patience of the Sadducees and Pharisees. Lazarus rising from the dead is what finally kicked the Jesus Conspiracy into high gear.


     As we begin Lent and begin looking at the aspects of Lent through the lives of the main eyewitnesses, we have to begin with Jesus’ friend Lazarus. Before we get to the actual Conspiracy, let’s look at a little background on Lazarus and the town of Bethany. Simply put Jesus and Lazarus were friends, John tells us that. When the sisters send for Jesus they reminded him of his friendship with Lazarus. The curious thing is that apart from the raising of Lazarus from the dead, there is no record of any other miracles taking place in Bethany. Yet Bethany is mentioned often in the Scripture.

     Bethany was a village about 2 miles from Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives. It’s not inconceivable that the Olive Garden in Gethsemane on the Mouth of Olives might have been owned by Lazarus. But the important thing is that Bethany was where Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha lived.

     Time and again in the Gospels we find Jesus or Jesus and the disciples in the home of Lazarus, Mary and Martha. Their home was a safe haven; a place of respite, a place to simply sit with friends, laugh and relax. Everybody needs one of those. Everybody needs friends to whom they can turn, if for no other reason than a few minutes or hours of diversion from the hectic pace and stress of life. That’s what the home of Lazarus was for Jesus. They were close friends.


     A. And that’s where the dilemma comes into the story. Jesus isn’t in Bethany. He’s on the road again, preaching and teaching with the disciples. Jesus and this family were such good friends that when his sisters sent word that Lazarus was sick and dying, they fully expected Jesus to drop everything and come running.

     But he didn’t. It surprised the sisters and it surprised the disciples. The Gospel of John is very clear, “after having heard that Lazarus was ill, Jesus stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’” [6-7]

     That delay cost Lazarus his life, at least that’s what Mary and Martha both thought. That’s what they said to Jesus. “If you had been here you could have saved his life.” The anger of their grief bled over into their relationship with Jesus just like the anger of grief does for most of us.

     Even the crowds of friends and neighbors had that accusatory anger of grief, that sense of disappointment that the outcome of the illness hadn’t been different. They were moved by Jesus’ grief but still there were those comments. Some of them said, “He healed the blind man, why couldn’t he save his friend?”

     When confronted by Martha, Jesus said, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha thought Jesus was talking about the general resurrection to come for all the faithful. So, Jesus rephrased his statement. “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” And he asked her, “Do you believe this?”  

     And Martha said something very bold and filled with hope. Something that probably shocked the Sadducees and Pharisees and even some of the crowd. Martha looked Jesus in the eye and said, “Yes, Lord, I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” I think they locked gazes and Jesus looked deep into her soul for the proof. And then He sent for Mary, who was still at home.

     She came running and greeted Jesus with her own accusatory words, “If you had been here you could have saved him.” Jesus ignored the words spoken in grief.


     A. He ignored those words because Jesus knew where they were really coming from. He also knew the postponement of his return had a much deeper purpose. So, instead of chiding Mary, he simply asked, “Where have you buried him?” and went to the tomb.

     It shocked them all when Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Thinking Jesus simply wanted to visit the body and pay his respects, Martha, the practical sister, objected. “Lord, he’s been dead four days. His body is already starting to rot. It’s going to stink.”

     They rolled away the stone and sure enough, it stunk. Eyes were watering, people were holding their noses, the whole nine yards. But Jesus didn’t go in. Instead he invited Lazarus out. Actually it was more than an invitation, it was a command. A command like only the Son of God, for who and through whom everything was created, could make.

     With a shout loud enough to wake the dead, Jesus commanded, “Lazarus, come out!”

     And to everyone’s amazement, he did. Jesus told them to remove the grave clothes and set him free.

     B. I think there are a couple of details that John and the early church thought were very important to include. First, Jesus didn’t enter the tomb when he brought Lazarus back to life. He stood outside and called Lazarus out so that no one could say it was just a cheap parlor trick. But also, so everyone could see how powerful the words of the Son of Man, the Son of God, the Word made flesh, really are.

     Second, the author is very clear that Lazarus had been dead four days and that his body was already starting to deteriorate and decompose. And it was starting to stink. Why is that important?

     One of the reasons is that in the Jewish culture of that time many people believed that once the body had died, that the spirit or the soul of the individual hovered over the body for three days before going to wherever it went after death. It hovered in case something happened and the body was revived. That way body and soul could reunite. It had been 4 days. So, by all spiritual timelines both Lazarus and his soul were beyond their shelf life and expiration date. No one would have or could have expected him to live again.

     With the popularity of zombie and vampire movies I need to let you know, Lazarus was not one of the undead. He was raised from death to new life. He didn’t become an immortal like some of the comic book characters. Lazarus eventually grew old and died a natural death again. The second time there was only the resurrection into life eternal that Jesus promised.

     He wasn’t stuck in reliving his life over and over again like some Biblical Bill Murray in Ground Hog Day. When Jesus approached the tomb and told them roll away the stone, In the words of the Munchkins from the Wizard of Oz, Lazarus, “was morally, ethically, spiritually, physically, positively, absolutely, Undeniably and reliably dead! He was not only merely dead, He was really most sincerely dead. And that is what shook up the Sadducees and Pharisees.


     A. So, what was it that got their knickers in a twist? The first twelve chapters of the Gospel of John have often been called The Book of Signs. The reason is that in these chapters there are seven major signs which Jesus performs which both reveal and prove who he truly is. They are all in fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah 61, which you may remember Jesus read in his home town synagogue one Sabbath morning, claimed to be who it was talking about and was run out of town.

     Luke records this incident:

[18] “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,

[19] to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

[20] And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.

[21] Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

     B. Jesus’ first six signs were Changing Water to Wine; Healing the official’s son; Healing the paralytic by the pool; The Feeding of 5,000; Walking on water and Healing of a man born blind. He brought good news to the poor, healed, set the oppressed free and brought sight to the blind. With water to wine, feeding 5000  and walking on water he proved that he controlled nature and creation.

     But number seven, the raising of Lazarus from the dead was the biggie, the “piece de resistance” It’s also the one that tipped the scales for Sadducees and Pharisees.

     Their response was the Jesus Conspiracy. No sooner had Lazarus walked out of the tomb, than the toadies all ran to the High Priest to let him know what was going on. Then they gathered. “What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him.”

     In verse 53 John then tells us that, “from that day on they planned to put him to death.”

     Jesus purpose was to show, through biblical signs and miracles that He was the Messiah, the Son of the living God who came to remind them of God’s love, mercy and grace. He came to bring forgiveness, redemption, and life eternal for all who believe in Him and follow. That Good News for the poor, the lame, the captive etc., lead directly to the plot and the Jesus Conspiracy.


     You might be asking yourself, so what? Well, that’s a good question. What difference does all this make? What are we supposed to learn?

     Well, for starters this passage challenges us to trust Jesus as much as both Mary and Martha did, despite their grief. When push came to shove, they trusted Jesus, they had faith in Jesus. It may have been difficult and their grief may have been overwhelming but Jesus used it for the glory of God.

He said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

     Then Jesus asked them and us, “Do you believe this?” If we do, that has deep spiritual implications for how we live our lives.

     This passage shows a very deep personal relationship between Jesus and Lazarus and his family. That relationship points to the relationship Jesus wants with each of us. He doesn’t want just a Sunday morning relationship, Jesus wants an everyday Bethany kind of relationship. The kind of relationship we can draw strength from. The kind of relationship Jesus had with them. Jesus wants to be that place of respite and relaxation for our souls. A place and a person with whom we can let our hair down so to speak; someone we can turn to any time.

     And finally this passage reminds us Lent is a journey, a road trip, so to speak. Every road trip has ups and downs, twists and turns. There’s traffic jams caused by other drivers or accidents. Sometimes on road trips we have our own accidents, flat tire, busted fan belt, running out of gas. Sometimes we stay longer than expected in one place and we have to recalculate and make adjustments to our trip. But we don’t give up, we don’t go home until we’ve reached our destination.

     It’s the same with our Lenten Journey. There are going to be hiccups and accidents, things we didn’t plan for. We may break our Lenten vow of self-denial or personal vow of a renewed daily spiritual life. But don’t give up. Don’t surrender and think you can’t go on. The ultimate goal of this road trip is Easter and the Empty Tomb.

     And don’t forget that the last few miles of the road trip are going to be difficult as we confront denial, betrayal, brutality, fear, and injustice. Don’t forget that our journey to Easter has to first go through Jerusalem and the dark and shameful events which took place there. Don’t forget that the only way to Easter and the empty tomb is through the pain, agony and horror of the cross.

     For all intents and purposes, the original cross seemed to have put an end to the Journey the Disciples and Jesus were on. Just like everyone thought Lazarus was dead and Jesus had let them down. But Easter changed all that. Easter changed all that because no matter what the plot, no matter what the problem, with God, nothing is impossible. Trust Him.

      Put your hand in the hand of Jesus. Listen for His call in your life. Whether it be the tomb of sin that has you trapped or grief that has gripped your heart, trust Him to bring new life, healing and wholeness to your life.

     Let Jesus be your respite.

This is the Word of the Lord for this day.