It happened pretty close to Jesus’ own death and resurrection, probably just a week or so before. After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, the plot to kill Jesus develops quite a lot of momentum. Passover is near, and plans begin to take shape to arrest Jesus during the big Passover feast, which he would surely be attending. (John 11:45-57)
The point of Jesus’ raising His good friend Lazarus from the dead was not that Lazarus would not have to face physical death, because Lazarus’ physical body did eventually die for good. Jesus gives the point of this miracle in John 11:4: “It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Our lives are to be lived for the glory of the One who created us for His glory. (Isaiah 43:7) If Jesus’ goal had been to save Lazarus from physical death, then he would have rushed to him before he died. When we believe that God’s purpose is our comfort, our convenience, our glory, then the things that He does hardly ever make sense. This is the problem many people have with God. They say things like, “if there is a God, then why do so many bad things happen?” This statement implies that God’s chief concern is that nothing bad would happen to anyone. God’s chief concern is His glory, not mine or yours. The entire creation proclaims the glory of the Creator. (Psalm 19:1) The issue that puts us at odds with God is that OUR main concern is not His glory, but OUR OWN. The Bible teaches that this pride, this self-glorification instead of glorifying God is the root sin from which all other sins originate. (Romans 1:18-25)
So, when Jesus delayed in coming to Bethany, He did so for the same reason He did everything else He did – so that His glory would be revealed. When Jesus tells His disciples that Lazarus has, in fact, died, He says that He is glad this happened so that they (His disciples) would believe. (John 11:14-15)
I love the exchange that happens between Jesus and Martha, Lazarus’ sister in John 11:17-27. Martha wishes Jesus had come sooner and clearly doesn’t understand that Jesus has power even to reverse death. And then, Jesus’ big reveal occurs. In one of the many places in the gospels where He declares Himself to be God, Jesus says this:
“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)
That is the question that Easter is all about, isn’t it? This Sunday, there will be three kinds of people in every church. They are the same three kinds of people that exist every other day of the week, both inside and outside of every church in the world.
- There are the people who would honestly answer “yes” to Jesus’ question. They do believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. They absolutely believe that whoever believes in Jesus, though he die, will yet live. They absolutely believe that everyone who lives and believes in Jesus shall never really die, because they will live with Jesus for eternity. For these people, of whom I am one, every day is a celebration of the resurrection – not just Easter Sunday. Because of Jesus’ resurrection and His power over death, I need not fear death or the grave and I can live with the assurance of eternal life with Christ.
- There are the people who would honestly answer “no” to Jesus’ question. They absolutely do not believe the assertions I made above. They may believe that Jesus was a simply a good moral teacher. (You’ve heard my response to that statement. How could Jesus be a “good moral teacher” if He wasn’t who He said He was? That would make Him either a liar or a crazy man – neither of which qualifies, in my opinion, as a “good moral teacher.”) They may believe that He was simply a historical figure like Ghandi or Muhammad. But we know where Ghandi and Muhammad are buried. Where is Jesus’ body buried? Or they may believe that He never really existed at all. He was simply a fable created by the writers of the New Testament. But most of those writers – Paul, Peter, James, etc – were martyred for their teaching about Jesus, usually in horrific ways. That seems like a high price to pay for a fable.
- Finally, there are those who would simply say, “I don’t know.” Maybe you are in this last category, and you just say, “I don’t know what I believe about Jesus.” For those who would answer Jesus’ question with this third response, I am praying that this Easter would be a time of serious and sober reflection and weighing of the evidence. If the rest of Jesus’ statements in the gospels are true, then the answer we give to this question affects both our eternity as well as the quality of life we have here on earth.
“It is recorded of Lazarus, that after his resurrection from the dead, he was never seen to laugh, his thoughts and affections were so fixed in heaven, though his body was on earth, and therefore he could not but slight temporal things, his heart being so bent and set upon eternals.”