Thus begins the story of the remarkable raising from the dead of Lazarus by Jesus. The scene is set out for us by John: the lack of urgency displayed by Jesus, the disciples' understandable misunderstanding of what Jesus meant by 'sleeping' and the arrival of this group led by Jesus to visit the now-grieving sisters. What adds to the poignancy of their loss is that they were good friends to Jesus and He had often stayed with them as it was only a short distance from their home to Jerusalem. What a treasure for Jesus and what a joy for Mary, Martha and Lazarus! To have the Son of God eating, conversing and sleeping in your home! Hospitality is such an underrated but vital gift; people have entertained angels unaware and recently I have heard of a greater commitment to hospitality within Bearfield, for which my heart rejoices!
Some things we can take away from this well-known text:
1. Lazarus's sickness was to bring glory to God, just as with the man born blind recorded in an earlier chapter. If you are facing health issues, remind yourself of this.
2. Things were getting dangerous for Jesus and He knew that to visit a place so near to Jerusalem would bring trouble on His head. Jesus accepted the cross to help His friend.
3. Jesus does not respond to pressure from others. Even in this time of urgency, Jesus waits until the Holy Spirit prompted Him to move. We are not told what He did in those 'waiting' days, but we are reminded that sometimes we are not called to immediate action, but to wait.
4. Jesus used the word 'sleep' to denote Lazarus' condition, but He used it in the same way as when He talked about Jairus' daughter (Matthew 9 v 24) and from later references by Paul it implies that the person's death is temporary, they await the great resurrection (1 Thessalonians 4 v 13, 1 Corinthians 15 v 6).
5. Thomas is our man here. He recognised the clear signs of danger, he was fearful, yet he committed himself to Jesus even if that meant his death.
6. We can note that, along with many other countries with hot climates, Jews buried their dead almost immediately. Jesus arrived after Lazarus had been dead for four days (we are not told how far He travelled to get there) and there were all the signs of a funeral in progress; lots of people milling around including those employed to weep and wail.
These opening verses prepare us for something extraordinary. Are we prepared to witness the extraordinary power of God in our lives and in those we love?