Lazarus, Jesus, and the Silence of God.

Bible Study on Lazarus

Lazarus, Jesus, and the Silence of God.

by I Gordon


Well, Christmas has come and gone for another year, but I did find myself thinking this year 'what is it all about then?' You know, deep questions like 'What am I going to get?', 'what do I want?', and 'what am I going to get?' Those sorts of things! [1] Ok, there may have been the odd thought that was not completely shallow and self-centred! One aspect of Christmas is that it is the day that hope came into the world. You see, it is a day on which we celebrate the Saviour being born into this world. [2] And if there is a Saviour then there has to be hope.

Now, in this study I just wanted to look at one aspect of this hope. You see, I was reading in John, (while thinking about Christmas and the hope that we have in the Saviour Jesus), when I stumbled across a somewhat strange verse. Well, verses actually. Here is what I read in John 11:5-6

' Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. When he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.'

Strange don't you think? I mean, what I would consider 'normal', is for Jesus to leave straight away to help His friend. Or, for a wonderful miracle, I would have accepted Jesus speaking a word straight away which restored Lazarus to perfect health. But, instead we read that on hearing that Lazarus is sick, Jesus purposefully stays where He is. One thing for sure is that anytime Jesus does something out of the ordinary He wants to teach us something, and in the case of Lazarus, and us, it is one of the most important lessons that we can learn. So let's look at John chapter 11:1-43 and see what Jesus wants to show us.

Lack of 'immediate' action is not due to lack of devotion!

1-4 'Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 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. So the sisters sent word to Jesus, 'Lord, the one you love is sick.'

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 .' '

The first thing that is recorded is that Lazarus was Mary's brother. And note that Mary's previous devotion to Jesus is remembered, recorded, and recounted for all to hear. God is like this. Devotion to His name is always remembered and rewarded. (See Mal 3:14-18, Heb 6:10) So we see that the lack of 'immediate' response from Jesus to Lazarus' plight was not due to sin or any lack of devotion on the part of those needing help. No, it was for a far higher reason. Something that is the highest priority in God's order... that is, the present day glorification of His Son Jesus!

The Silence of God [3]

5-7 Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days. Then he said to his disciples, ' Let us go back to Judea.'

So here again is the verse we began with; a verse that exhibits the 'silence of God'. In this life you will experience the 'silence of God' many times. You will think that God isn't listening and wonder why He isn't rushing to help. Like the disciples in the storming seas you will wonder whether Jesus is going to turn up at all, and when He does, you will wonder why you had to be left seemingly alone for so long. [4] But always remember that if God doesn't say 'no' and He makes you wait, then it is to experience His best. And God is never late [5] as Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were soon to find out!

There is safety as we walk in the light

8-15 But Rabbi,' they said, 'a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?' Jesus answered, 'Are there not twelve hours of daylight? A man who walks by day will not stumble, for he sees by this world's light. It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light.' 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.' His disciples replied, 'Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.' Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. So then he told them plainly, ' Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe . But let us go to him.'

The disciples always crack me up. You see, before the coming of the Holy Spirit they very rarely seemed to understand what Jesus was talking about! But if Jesus couldn't communicate to them through His words, He sure could through His actions and in this passage we read that it was for the disciple's sake (and those with Mary and Martha) that He had delayed so long in going... 'so that you may believe'. Do you think that Jesus has changed now? Do you think that His method of teaching His disciples today is any different? (For a tiny clue see Heb 13:8) He still strengthens our faith today through this same method.

Vs 16 Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, 'Let us also go, that we may die with him.'

In other words, in a show of tremendous courage, combined with a complete lack of understanding, Thomas said, 'Guys, I don't have a foggy what Jesus just said. Something about the daylight and not stumbling when you walk. Who knows? Anyway, going back to what we were saying... He might get stoned back in Judea so let's be willing to die with Him!'

While the disciples didn't understand what Jesus said, we would do well to. Jesus said that there is no need to fear while we walk in the light of His Father's will. Jesus did this and no one could touch Him until the appointed time. And as we do this, we can be confident that all things are under the Father's care and we will not stumble.

With God it is never too late!

Vs 18-24 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. '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.' Jesus said to her, 'Your brother will rise again.' Martha answered, 'I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.'

'Four days late!' they would have cried. 'Why, oh why [6] was He late?' Of course, as we have already seen, God is never late, and He is never in a hurry. We see from this verse (and some verses to come) that Martha had hope for the future, but she didn't seem to have hope for today. What I mean is, Martha believed in a future resurrection but didn't see Jesus as the resurrection and the life right now. It can be the same with us. We believe and hope for things to come in the future, but don't fail to reckon on His life right now.

The central point of Jesus' lesson

Vs 25-27 Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?' 'Yes, Lord,' she told him, 'I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.'

'I am the life' Jesus said. 'Do you believe this?' It is a pointed and telling question for us all. When it seems that Jesus is '4 days late' in your life, do you still believe that He can turn things around? Is there still hope for today? What about you Abraham... though you were an old man of 99 years, and had waited the last 24 years without seeing the promise of God fulfilled, did you still believe that God would come through in time? 'Yes, my friend, though it was difficult at times, against all natural hope, yet in hope, I believed!' (Rom 4:18)

Jesus isn't 'insensitive'

Vs 28-36 And 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.' When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him...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.' When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled . 'Where have you laid him?' he asked. 'Come and see, Lord,' they replied. Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, 'See how he loved him!'

Another point we should see here is that even though Jesus knows all that is going to occur, it doesn't make Him insensitive to our needs and emotions. In the verses above we read that 'Jesus wept'. He knew that he was going to raise Lazarus. He knew that everything would end in glory for God. Yet He was still connected with the very real difficulty that Mary and the others presently went through and because of this He was 'deeply moved in spirit'. It's quite amazing really... [7] and comforting.

Vs 38-44 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 'Take away the stone,' he said. 'But, Lord,' said Martha, the sister of the dead man, 'by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days .' Then Jesus said, 'Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God? ' So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, 'Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 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.' When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, 'Lazarus, come out!' 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.'

'Oooooooh, he's gunna be a stinker!' Martha said showing that her hope was still in a future resurrection, not in the living Lord today. But Jesus was still trying to show her the hope for today - as He does us. And Lazarus came forth! [8] King David knew of this hope when he wrote ' I would have despaired, unless I believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living .' (Psalm 27:13)

Always remember that God is never late, and He is never in a hurry! Nothing takes Him by surprise. The Lord God will do what is right.

I lift up my eyes to the hills - where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip - he who watches over you will not slumber;
Indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD watches over you - the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.

[1]  Larry Norman summed up the 'silly season' when he sang 'Santa Claus is com'in and the kids are getting greedy... do do... do do... It's Christmas time! They know it's in the story cos they've seen it on the TV... do do... do do... It's Christmas time!' And so on... Ok, so you have to know the song!

[2]  I know, Christmas Day isn't when Jesus was born and yes, it does have pagan origins. And you are also correct that God doesn't want us celebrating the fact that He became a man on just one day of the year. He's not really into rituals and traditions not based on His word. But the Christmas silly season did get me thinking again and this study is part of the result. Ok? So go easy on me.

[3]  In Oswald Chamber's 'If you will ask' he calls these two verses (John 11:5-6) 'God's Silence'. He writes 'How many of us have been blind in our prayers? Look back and think of the prayers you thought had not been answered but now find that God has answered with a bigger manifestation than you ever dreamed... Some prayers are followed by silence because they are wrong, others because they are bigger than we can understand. Jesus stayed where He was - a positive staying, because He loved Martha and Mary. Did they get Lazarus back? They got infinitely more; they got to know the greatest truth mortal beings ever knew - that Jesus Christ is the Resurrection and the Life.'

[4]  See Mark 6:45-52. Jesus left the disciples all night out in the boat, straining on the oars because of the waves and contrary wind, and didn't come until the fourth watch (between 3-6am). And then when He did come he 'intended to pass them by.' But when He did come, He came walking on the water, and the wind and waves stopped and they learned that truly He was the 'I AM' - Some things require the 'silence of God' before we can see God's best.

[5]  Quite a few years ago we had this slightly odd family doctor who told my mother that she might have cancer. To complicate matters there was a three week waiting list at the hospital for the proper tests. So my mother had to wait... and stress... all the while not knowing whether she had cancer or not. At the end of the first week she had lost a considerable amount of weight. Everyone knows that this is a sign of cancer, right, so it made her feel even more anxious! In the midst of her anxiety, wondering why she had to wait and thinking that the cancer would spread while she could do nothing, she suddenly heard the Holy Spirit say to her 'Have you ever known God to be late?' She thought for a while and the image that came to her was of Mary with Joseph, travelling all that distance while pregnant, but God still got her safely to the manager in Bethlehem, in perfect time, to have the child and fulfil prophecy. So no, Mum answered, 'I have never known God to be late.' The next question that came to her was 'Have you ever known God to be in a hurry?' She again said 'No, God is never in a hurry because He is never late!' This was all that needed to be said and she had peace once again. God is never late, and He is never in a hurry 'cos He is never late! Remember that. As it turns out, she didn't have cancer and the weight loss was simply due to stressing out!

[6]  It is true that from an earthly point of view we often don't see 'why' things happen or 'why' there seems to be a lack of action on God's part sometimes. Later we can look back with greater understanding. I have been getting into cycling a bit lately so I decided to read Lance Armstrong's story in his book 'It's not about the bike.' If you haven't heard of Lance Armstrong, he has won the 5 previous Tour de France cycling contests (which is a tied record) and all this after recovering from cancer! The guy is a freak! But anyway, one thing that stood out to me was a letter Lance received from another cancer patient while he was going through the chemo treatment. It said 'You won't understand it now, but we are the lucky ones.' And he was right. Lance didn't understand it at the time. But later after recovering from cancer and seeing the new outlook on life that it gave him, Lance could start his book by saying 'The truth is, that cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me. I don't know why I got the illness, but it did wonders for me and I wouldn't want to walk away from it. Why would I change, even for a day, the most important and shaping event in my life?' Despite the difficulty that he had to go through he did learn the he was one of the 'lucky ones' for having had cancer. How much more then should we who know the Lord have hope in the midst of difficulties, and see them as an opportunity for the Lord's best to be worked out in our life?

[7]  The other thing, which I'll let you think about, is why didn't Martha bring out the same reaction in Jesus that Mary did? Why was Mary able to touch His heart in such a way? What does this mean for us?

[8]  Someone once said they were glad he named Lazarus else everyone would have come forth! There is also a useful picture of evangelism in this passage. The Lord asked the people to roll away the stone just as we are used to remove things that hinder people from coming to the Lord. But then it was the Lord that gave Lazarus life just as it is only the Lord that can give spiritual life to the dead... we can't save anyone. Only the Lord can. But then the Lord asked the people to unbind Lazarus. This is discipleship, the unbinding of the old grave clothes, so that a new man in Christ will emerge. This is a responsibility that the Lord gives to His people today.