A fresh meditation on Lazarus

John Tinkler, Red Row, Morpeth, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]

Precious Seed

One cannot but delight at this incident recorded only in John chapter 11. Over the years we may have heard many approaches to this chapter and the subsequent events of chapter 12. It may have been the raising of Lazarus, or the serving of Martha, or the worship of Mary, or the criticism of Mary’s action at the supper.

We are aware, from our reading of the Gospel, that John is selective in recording the miracles of the Saviour. He refers to them as signs, John 20. 30. We can notice that the Lord is master of every circumstance, and that which is lacking is supplied by Him. In chapter 2 there is no wine. In chapter 6 there is no food. The words of the Lord’s mother in chapter 2 verse 5 should be noted, ‘Whatsoever he saith unto you do it’. It is a testimony to the hidden years of the Saviour bringing blessing.

The main characters in these two chapters are:

  • The Lord – ‘Jesus heard’, v. 4; ‘Jesus loved’, v. 5; ‘Jesus came’, v. 17; ‘Jesus wept’, v. 35; ‘Jesus said’, v. 39.
  • The Ladies – Mary and Martha. It is interesting to observe their reactions to the events that unfolded!
  • Lazarus himself – We could easily overlook the experience that was his.

In this article I would like to present four simple truths that are precious in the story of Lazarus.

Lazarus means ‘God hath helped’, or ‘God is my helper’. He is mentioned only in these two chapters, although another with the same name is mentioned in Luke chapter 16 in the story the Saviour told. Both were silent men.

The first truth for our encouragement is that which shines through the sacred text – He was loved by the person of Christ. Lazarus might have sought obscurity but we can see that, although he was a quiet and ordinary man, the most amazing miracle took place in his life.

Verse 1 tells us of the place: Bethany; the people who lived there; the predicament they were in, namely, Lazarus was sick. Verse 2 points to the incident in the following chapter – it has yet to take place. In verse 3 we are told the concern of the sisters. They sent a brief note to the Lord; they brought their sorrow and grief to the Lord: ‘Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick’. It is obvious that He made the Bethany household aware of His love for them. In their message they did not dictate to Him, but, in a few words, state the facts. They declare the Lord’s love for Lazarus, although they did not mention him by name.

In verse 5 we have the commendation of the sisters. Interestingly, Mary’s name is not mentioned, although we know she reveals her love for the Lord fully in the next chapter. All the family are loved by the Lord equally – He had no favourites at Bethany. In the midst of those who opposed the Saviour, it was good to know that this family were loved by the Lord, and the Spirit of God places it on record.

In verse 35 we notice the compassion of the Saviour: ‘Jesus wept’. He entered into their sorrow. The sympathy of Christ is seen in that He weeps with those that weep. What love, as He came into the circumstances of a friend who had died!, Isa. 53. 3. Coming into verse 36, the Jews noticed His weeping, and said, ‘Behold how he loved him’. They notice His love for Lazarus. This very Gospel presents to us the lovely truth that ‘God so loved the world’. What love is this! Jeremiah chapter 31 verse 3 records, ‘Yea I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with loving kindness have I drawn thee’. Romans chapter 5 verse 8, Galatians chapter 2 verse 20, Ephesians chapter 2 verse 4 and many more verses encourage the believer in any age that the love of Christ is impartial, universal, and yet personal. May our hearts be gladdened to be reassured that we, today, are loved by Christ.

The second thought in the experience of Lazarus was that he was loosed by the power of Christ. Why did the Lord not heal Lazarus at a distance, as he had done in John chapter 4? Why did he not come sooner, a sentiment expressed by both sisters, verses 21 and 32? If either of these options had taken place then we would not have recorded for us another ‘I am’ saying of the Saviour. In verse 25, the Lord states, ‘I am the resurrection and the life’. We know that the Lord’s delays are not necessarily denials. He first mentioned that ‘our friend Lazarus sleepeth’, in verse 11. Then, in verse 14, He said ‘Lazarus is dead’. Therefore, when He arrived at Bethany he had been buried. He had told His disciples that the sickness of Lazarus was ‘for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby’, v. 4. We notice the Lord arrives at the cave, and a stone was laid against it, v. 38.

At the word of the Lord, men could roll the stone away, but the display of the glory of God was His alone. The Lord gives the command in verse 39, ‘Take ye away the stone’ (remember, ‘whatsoever he saith unto you do it’). Martha was filled with consternation, but the Lord had already said they would see the glory of God. We note that verse 43 records that the Lord cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus come forth’; He calls His own sheep by name.

What a contrast to that which we find in Daniel chapter 6! King Darius, with all his power, might, and with 120 princes over the kingdom, and three presidents stood by the den of lions and cried with a lamentable voice. Psalm 29 verse 4 states, ‘The voice of the Lord is powerful’. Our Lord conquers death itself by a loud voice. 1 Thessalonians chapter 4 verse 16 reminds us of a day to come when ‘The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God’. In that day not one person but many will be raised. We are not surprised, then, when we read in verse 44, ‘He that was dead came forth’. Jesus said, ‘Loose him and let him go’. Death was not the real end of the incident but the manifestation of the glory of God. ‘O death! O grave! I do not dread your power’, Margaret Carson. As believers, we are loosed by the power of Christ, praise His name! Ephesians chapter 2 verse 1 states, ‘And you hath he quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins’. What a glorious truth – loosed by the power of Christ!

In chapter 12 Lazarus was linked with the presence of Christ. Verse 2 tells us, ‘Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him’. What a privilege to dine with Christ! Would it be his privilege to die for Christ, v. 10? John chapter 18 verse 26 records the question of the servant to Peter, ‘Did not I see thee in the garden with him?’ Peter wrote in his Epistle, ‘We were with him in the holy mount’, 2 Pet. 1. 18. The hymnwriter, Lizzie Edwards, reminds us of the privilege of keeping company with Christ, ‘I must have the Saviour with me, for I dare not walk alone’. Those who experience the night with Him will enjoy the eternal day with Him. In the meanwhile, He assures us of His presence, Matt. 28. 20.

What a position is ours: loved by the person of Christ, loosed by the power of Christ, to be linked with the presence of Christ.

Finally, in John Chapter 12 verse 9, we note Lazarus is the living proof of the purposes of Christ and people wanted to see him. Some had witnessed his burial, but now he was raised from the dead. To think that Lazarus had only been raised from the dead, but they wanted him dead again! Thankfully, ‘many believed on Jesus’. Lazarus had a new life. A life transformed cannot be denied. A silent testimony may speak more of the power of Christ than the most eloquent of speakers. Of course, Lazarus would die again, but the scripture does not record the fact. Dear child of God, wherever God has placed you and I, we are a living proof of the purposes of Christ. Hebrews chapter 2 verse 10 reminds us that the Lord is ‘bringing many sons unto glory’. We are watched by a wondering world. May our neighbours, relatives, and friends see we are lights shining in a dark place.

Lazarus was loved by the person of Christ, loosed by the power of Christ, linked with the presence of Christ, and living proof of the purposes of Christ. May the Lord bless our meditation on Lazarus and be an encouragement to every reader.

AUTHOR PROFILE: JOHN TINKLER is an elder in the small assembly in Red Row, Northumberland, England.