Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha, were dear friends of Jesus. When their brother fell ill, the sisters sent a messenger to Jesus to tell him Lazarus was sick. Instead of hurrying to see Lazarus, Jesus remained where he was for two more days. When Jesus finally arrived in Bethany, Lazarus had been dead and in his tomb for four days. Jesus ordered that the gravestone be rolled away and raised Lazarus from the dead.
Through this story of Lazarus, the Bible delivers a powerful message to the world: Jesus Christ has power over death, and those who believe in him receive resurrection life.
The Raising of Lazarus Story Summary
The story takes place in John, chapter 11. Lazarus was one of Jesus Christ’s closest friends, so close that we’re told Jesus loved him. When Lazarus fell ill, his sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” When Jesus heard the news, he waited two more days before going to Lazarus’ hometown of Bethany. Jesus knew that he would do a great miracle for God’s glory and, therefore, he was not in a hurry.
When Jesus arrived in Bethany, Lazarus had already been dead and in the tomb for four days. When Martha discovered that Jesus was on his way, she went out to meet him. “Lord,” she said, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Jesus told Martha, “Your brother will rise again.” But Martha thought he was talking about the final resurrection of the dead. Then Jesus said these crucial words: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”
Martha then went and told Mary that Jesus wanted to see her. Jesus had not yet entered the village, most likely to avoid stirring up the crowd and calling attention to himself. The town of Bethany was not far from Jerusalem, where the Jewish leaders were plotting against Jesus.
When Mary met Jesus, she was grieving with strong emotion over her brother’s death. The Jews with her were also weeping and mourning. Deeply moved by their grief, Jesus wept with them.
Jesus then went to the tomb of Lazarus with Mary, Martha, and the rest of the mourners. He asked them to remove the stone that covered the hillside burial place. Jesus looked up to heaven and prayed to his Father, closing with these words: “Lazarus, come out!” When Lazarus came out of the tomb, Jesus told the people to remove his grave clothes.
After Lazarus was raised from the dead, the chief priests and Pharisees plotted to kill him because so many witnesses to the miracle believed in Jesus (John 12:9–11). The enemies of Christ couldn’t deny the blessing; the next best thing, in their view, was to destroy the evidence—in this case, the evidence was a living, breathing person. But they couldn’t stop the truth from spreading.
What Lazarus’ Story Teaches Us
In the story of Lazarus, Jesus speaks one of the most powerful messages ever: “Whoever believes in Jesus Christ receives spiritual life that even physical death can never take away.” As a result of this incredible miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead, many people believed that Jesus was the Son of God and put their faith in Christ. Through it, Jesus showed the disciples, and the world, that He had power over death. It is essential to our faith as Christians that we believe in the resurrection of the dead.
Jesus revealed his compassion for people through a genuine display of emotion. Even though he knew that Lazarus would live, he was still moved to weep with the ones he loved. Jesus cared about their sorrow. He was not timid to show emotion, and we should not be ashamed to express our true feelings to God. Like Martha and Mary, we can be transparent with God because he cares for us.
Jesus waited to travel to Bethany because he knew already that Lazarus would be dead and that he would perform a fantastic miracle there for the glory of God. We often wait for the Lord amid a terrible situation and wonder why he doesn’t respond more quickly. Usually, God allows our problems to go from bad to worse because He’s planning to do something powerful and wonderful; He has a purpose that will bring even greater glory to God.
The raising of Lazarus teaches us another lesson, though. When God seems to be doing nothing, He may be doing more than you could ever imagine. Jesus had declared that Lazarus’ sickness was for the glory of God. Jesus knew God would be glorified in the situation at hand. When Lazarus died, Jesus was just getting started. He used Lazarus’ case to bring the utmost glory to His father. No, he didn’t do what we expected (heal Lazarus) — He did something better.
There will be times in the future when God doesn’t do what we expect or think He should do. I know in every situation. However, He can and will bring greater glory to Himself. If He doesn’t do what I think He should, it is very probable that God has something better in mind. Are you dealing with disappointment right now? Has God acted in a way that you would not have expected?
Don’t be troubled or discouraged. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. He can breathe life into any situation you are dealing with. Entrust your situation to God. Then ask God to use your circumstances for His honor and glory. Entreat Him to bring forth the most excellent glory possible in your life and situation. And then watch out to see what God does. It may seem like He is doing nothing now, but He may be doing more than you could ever imagine. You must trust that He is in control. If you don’t think so, ask Lazarus. And that’s the Word.