In these verses we will see an example of God’s will chosen over friendship, earthly love, and personal desires. Do you have a friend that you have known all of your life? Would you literally do anything to save that person from trials and suffering? Drive hundreds of miles? Donate money? An organ? Lazarus was a dear friend to Jesus and he did not want to inflict the sorrows of death upon his family, but those sorrows were a part of God’s plan for the village of Bethany.
Break It Down
Wait For God’s Will (John 11:17-19)
Did you read this and the background verses thoroughly? Jesus stayed where he was and arrived four days after Lazarus had been placed in the tomb. Lazarus and his sisters were very close friends of Jesus. It would seem that Lazarus died on the day that Jesus learned of his illness. According to their customs, he would have been buried that same day. Jesus stayed where he was for two days longer and then took a day to travel to Bethany. [i] Would you have rushed to the bedside of your sick friend?
Fifteen furlongs is how far Jesus traveled to Bethany. In modern measurements, a furlong would be over 600 feet. Your own research may show 607 or 660 feet so we will just settle with a generalized “more than 600 feet.” Fifteen furlongs will equate to about two miles. Now you may question why it took seasoned foot travelers a full day to walk two miles. Remember, though, that Jesus was rarely able to travel uninterrupted.
He couldn’t hop in a limo and work on his most pressing issues while someone else did the driving. Jesus was continually thronged with people; whether they had a need to be met or just wanted to see the man able to perform such miracles. The Matthew Henry Commentary says that a blind man was healed and the well known Zaccheus conversion happened on this trip to Bethany. [ii] This trip to raise a man who had been dead for four days was coupled with additional events in a gradual buildup which climaxed with God’s resurrection of His son from a borrowed tomb. The biggest difference between this resurrection and Jesus’ own is that the soul of Lazarus was taken from God’s presence to die again while Jesus was taken bodily from the tomb to sit at the right hand of God until his return to rapture all believers.
Verse 19 says that “Many of the Jews came … to comfort them.” Lazarus and his family were apparently quite well respected within their community. These mourners, it can be believed, were witnesses to the resurrection of their friend Lazarus. They would have been able to say that they saw his lifeless body placed in the tomb four days earlier. They can attest to the fact that “he stinketh” (John 11:39). They can also go into the nearby villages and tell everyone of witnessing the miraculous revival of a dead body and soul into a walking, breathing man.
Accepting God’s Will (John 11:20-23)
In this section we will look at the conditions of accepting God’s will in our lives. Have you seen a youngster throw a tantrum because he wants something and is told “no”? Have you ever seen one of those tantrums end with the parent finally giving in and being told that it is no longer desired since it was not given upon the initial demand? Do we approach God with this same attitude? We know that we are on God’s time and he will provide what is best for us when we have been properly prepared to receive it. Yet we approach God with an attitude of “I want it now!!” and expect the creator of the universe to bow to the demands of a mere human.
That would seem to be the way that this starts out in verse 21 where Martha tells Jesus that her brother would not have died if he had been there. She softens her tone in verse 22 by stating that she knows that whatever Jesus asks of his father will be granted. Martha was human and susceptible to human needs and emotions, just as we are. She also had enough faith in God, as all Christians should strive for, to acknowledge that God’s will is going to happen in all circumstances.
The good news comes in verse 23 when Jesus tells Martha that her brother will rise again. Do you believe that you could have the faith to understand and believe this statement? We will see in the next section that even though Martha’s faith is much stronger than many can claim, she did not fully understand the meaning of Jesus’ statement. It is easy for us to say that we would have believed fully, but we cannot know for sure and certain unless we actually experience the situation and manage to apply strong faith in God to survive it.
Understanding God’s Will (John 11:24-27)
Verse 24 shows Martha’s extensive understanding of the prophesies and scriptures. She knows about the resurrection that all believers have to look forward to. She has faith in God that the resurrection is a certain event in the future. The thing that she is missing out on here is that Jesus is not speaking of a time so far into the future. The resurrection of Lazarus is much sooner than she knows.
Do you believe that verse 25 is discussing raising Lazarus back to life here on earth or the spiritual eternity that comes for Christians after life here on earth ends? Jesus speaks of death and life in this single verse. Every person has to die a physical death unless the rapture occurs in his/her lifetime. Every person does not have to die the second death of condemnation to an eternity of suffering. As this verse states, Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Whoever will accept him as savior will be resurrected by him and will receive eternal life with Jesus.
Verse 26 makes a statement that we should all memorize and live by. It uses an all-encompassing word – whosoever. That means that not a single person is exempt from God’s love. Yes, Adolph Hitler is included and someone you may be more familiar with, Saddam Hussein, is eligible to receive God’s grace also. Adolph Hitler is long gone, but we do not know what commitments and repentance he may have had in the final moments of his life. Nobody has sinned enough to fall out of God’s grace. Psalm 139:8 tells us that God is present with us if we “make our bed in hell” and when we ascend up to heaven. God is present with us in all places, situations, and mindsets. Although we can turn from him, the love that he has for us will never stop.
In verse 27 Martha validates her knowledge of who Jesus truly is. He is the son of God who has come into this world. This is a knowledge that we have been exposed to and have to make our own choices and decisions about. In the previous paragraph you saw that God is present with us everywhere and in all situations. You also saw that whosoever (you, I, and even those who have committed heinous crimes) can receive his grace regardless of what acts may have happened in life. You have heard the resurrection story many times. Jesus died on the cross for all who would believe in him. He died for the thief who confessed his sins there on the cross beside of him. He died for Judas Iscariot who betrayed him. The word, whosoever, includes them and all others who have gone before, after, and into the future. You are not exempted by race, handicap, or even religious beliefs. The only thing that can exempt you from his grace is your own beliefs and unwillingness to accept him.
In these verses we have experienced the effects of death on the surviving family members. If you have not experienced this in your life consider yourself to be quite blessed. You can be sure that you will not witness the resurrection of your loved one who has passed away. One other assurance that you have is a reunion with your saved loved ones as long as you, also, have accepted Christ as your savior.
Something To Think About
Have you experienced the loss of a loved one?
Can you look back now and see the positive results that came from a situation that was perceived as negative at the time?
Do your Christian beliefs support the fact that Christ can provide new life and relationship in any circumstance?
[i] Jamieson Fausset Brown Bible Commentary, Sword module version 2.2 (Electronic Edition)
[ii] Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible, Sword module version 1.6 (Electronic Edition)