There are 37 recorded miracles of Jesus in the Bible; 37 times that Jesus did something inexplicable in any other way than that God had powerfully acted. And of course, the writer of one of the Gospels, the Apostle John, tells us that “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” (John 21:25)
But of all the miracles that we know about, those that were written down, surely the most extraordinary, the most astonishing, the most amazing, were the three times that Jesus gave life back to someone who was dead. Three times when Jesus refused to accept that death was irreversible, final, and gave someone another chance at life.
And in looking at those three occasions, three very different people, three very different sets of circumstances, we can see that once again, as in so many of his miracles, Jesus is teaching us something each time too.
So in this three-part series, let’s have a look at them, in the order that they appear, and think a little about what these most astounding of all Jesus’ miracles show us about him, about the person he raised from the dead and their circumstances, and maybe even about us.
The story of Lazarus takes place in Bethany, to the east of Jerusalem. This is a place that Jesus knows well and a family that he is particularly close to. Lazarus is the brother of Mary and Martha. Only John records the story, but in some detail, in Ch 11 v1-44
Jesus raises Lazarus
Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” 4 When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, 7 and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
8 “But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. 10 It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.” 11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”
12 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. 14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 Then Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. 21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there. 32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. 35 Jesus wept. 36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odour, for he has been there four days.” 40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” (John 11:1-44, NIV)
Again, there is so much here that it’s hard to know where to start. One thing that really sticks out for me though is an almost throw-away line in v5-6 “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days…” What? Jesus loved them, but did nothing for two days when he heard that Lazarus was sick? During the delay, Lazarus dies, something his sister Mary berates Jesus about when he finally arrives, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” You can imagine how, as Lazarus was approaching death, Mary must have been wondering where Jesus was, why he wasn’t there.
But Jesus knew what was going on, he knew that Lazarus would die and that he would raise Lazarus back to life again in another spectacular demonstration of the power and glory of God. This wasn’t about Lazarus’ timing, or Mary and Martha’s timing, it was all about God’s timing through Jesus.
Sometimes, often, we can be like Mary. Impatient for action, wondering where God is and why he isn’t doing what we want him to do… now! Note the subtly different response that Martha had had to Jesus’ seemingly late arrival; “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” She said the same thing Mary was also to say, but qualified it, she still hadn’t let even Lazarus’ death take away all hope. She will have known of the stories of the son of the widow of Nain, and of Jairus’ daughter; she still had faith, and hope!
What does this teach us?
There’s probably another book worth of learning here too! But there are some really important points for us to take away from this story, so let’s consider these:
- Just as Jesus received the message from Mary and Martha, God hears us. Our prayers are not ignored.
- It’s about God’s timing, not ours. We might find that hard, as the sisters did, we might wonder where God is, as I’m sure the sisters did too, but God’s timing is always, ultimately, eternally, best.
- And while we’re wondering where God is, he’s right there with us. Jesus wasn’t physically there, but in his spirit he was with them. He knew when Lazarus has died.
- Mary had abandoned hope, and seemingly blamed Jesus. We can be like that, blaming God when things don’t go as we had hoped. Martha still believed, still trusted, still held on to a shred of hope. Let’s be like Martha.
In this series we see three very different stories, three very different people and situations, but what links them all is that Jesus chose them to be the three people whom he raised from the dead, gave new life to, transforming theirs and their families’ situations. And in each case Jesus taught us something wonderful, including about compassion, faith and hope.
Whatever our situation, however hard things are for us, they are unlikely to be as bad as the situation of the son of the widow of Nain, Jairus’ daughter, or Lazarus. That isn’t to diminish our own struggles and challenges in any way, far from it, it is to remind us that the Jesus who can raise from the dead, the Jesus who can bring transformation to the bereaved, the Jesus who defines compassion, faith and hope, can and does bring those things, and more, to us too. Why not ask him?
Raised From The Dead: The Son Of the Widow Of Nain
Raised From The Dead: Jairus’ Daughter
New International Version (NIV)
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