Raising Lazarus from the Dead-Part 1
"For God's Glory"
There are either five or (arguably) six passages in the scriptures that mention Martha, Mary, or Lazarus--siblings that Jesus was intimately acquainted with during His time and earth and with whom He stayed during His travels. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus do not appear to have been travelling with the party of disciples, but instead were apparently fixed in Bethany--the reason for this not scripturally clear, but it is something worth consideration, for Jesus never once suggests that these siblings are anything other than devout and faithful servants and disciples of His, and they repeatedly are praised for their faithfulness--the divinely inspired revelation of the sisters preserved repeatedly in scripture--three (possibly four) times the story of Mary's anointing of Jesus Christ with costly oils, once of Mary's desire to learn at the feet of Jesus, and once of Lazarus's resurrection and Martha's inspired statements concerning Christ at that time.
It is possible, given the very little detail that is included in scripture concerning this family, that Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were a part of a Jewish sect called the Essenes, whom the first century historian, Josephus briefly describes in The Wars of the Jews, Book 2 chapter 8. The Essenes (whose existence and precise customs and beliefs are disputed by historians) lived lives committed to celibacy (which might explain why Mary, Martha, and Lazarus appear to be bucking cultural norms and remaining unmarried), and might also explain why the siblings, though identified by the Lord as faithful followers, did not travel with Him and instead remained in Bethany at their home, entertaining Him when He came through their region.
It is well documented that Bethany contained a large population of poor and needy--particular lepers, and there is some historical evidence that points to the existence of an Essenes-run sick house there. It is possible, therefore, that Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were serving the poor in Bethany as hospital workers or aids as a part of their ascetic sect. This theory seems to be supported in part in context--Mary is berated for wasting costly oil that could have been used for the poor, and Jesus tells Martha that, "the poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me," while Jesus teaches in the house and Martha tried to get Mary to help her with her work in the kitchen.
Regardless of the historicity of this theory (and it is just that--a theory, one unverified within the Biblical text), we find Jesus' interactions with this family in this very sad time both familiar and warm. These people know Jesus, and Jesus knows them. There is mutual love--genuine relationship there. When Jesus discovers that Lazarus is sick, scripture repeatedly tells us that Jesus loved this man and His sisters. But, despite this, Jesus does not run off immediately to the side of Lazarus--he waits:
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.”
Jesus waits for two days before setting out to Bethany. Scripture tells us that the reason He did this was "for God's Glory". How precisely this waiting period accomplished God's Glory depends on your perspective and understanding of many things--geography, Jewish mourning customs, and even the exact timing of Lazarus's death. Regardless of the "how" this benefitted God's Glory, we can, from the text itself, determine the "why". This miracle--raising Lazarus from the dead, is going to set into motion the eventual death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. It was the beginning of the end.
The danger this journey and public appearance to the life of Jesus was not lost on the disciples:
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.”
The disciples recognized the danger--they were walking directly into the line of fire and into the midst of the Pharisees once more. Jesus tells His followers that, "anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble." Jesus, walking faithfully in the Light of the Father's plan, likewise cannot stumble, for He can see by the Light of God.
Jesus tries and tell the disciples what is about to happen, but in their typical fashion, the disciples misunderstand. Jesus clearly intends to brink the 'sleeping' Lazarus back from the dead. The disciples, however, believe that Jesus is planning to walk into His own death at the hands of these conspirators:
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) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
The plan, then, is a simple one. Jesus will go to the 'sleeping' Lazarus, raise Him up from the dead, and in so doing, the Glory of God will be fulfilled. Not only that, but for the sake of the disciples, Jesus is glad that God is commanding things be done in this way, so that they can learn an important lesson about death--that it is not a final destination, and that the soul of man does not depart the control of the Son of God--that Jesus Christ has power over death and the grave.
What we will see in the remaining parts of this story, however, is that the Glory of God will be fulfilled in more way than one through this miracle. That, even in the saddest and most desperate moments of our lives, when all hope seems lost, Jesus is a faithful High Priest, touched by our hurts, and faithful to intercede on our behalf. In this story, Jesus interceded in a very physical way--raising a dead man. But, the more miraculous intercession was yet to come. Jesus was going to intercede for our sinful souls and redeem our spiritual condition, bringing us too from death unto life.
And the ball starts rolling right here, at the tomb of Lazarus, where Jesus proves that He has the power over life and death.