68. LESSONS I LEARNED FROM THE LAZARUS STORY
(The Faith Forum Series – Batch 3)
About two days ago, I was reading the story with Martha, Mary and Lazarus, AGAIN and I thought, it would be nice to get some fresh edification from the story I had read so many times before. God must have heard my thoughts because fresh lessons from the story started flowing, so much so that, I ran for pen and paper to record them.
Here is what I’ve learned to apply in my own life, in my study of John 11:
1. EVEN WHEN WE GET SICK AND FEEL PAIN, JESUS STILL LOVES US
Even when we get sick are weak, feel horrible pain and are sorely discomforted (like Job), Jesus STILL loves us. In the story of Lazarus, he was very sick and given the severity of the illness, must have felt considerable pain, yet in verse 5 it reads, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister AND LAZARUS.”
2. EVEN WHEN OUR LOVED ONES DIE AND WE MOURN IN DEVASTATION, JESUS STILL LOVES US
Even when a loved one dies as a result of an illness or some other situation and God has allowed it, we may never understand why and in our pain and confusion, it may make absolutely no sense. We may even be tempted to feel that, had Jesus loved us, surely he would not have put us through this kind of pain and taken our family member or friend from us like that and at that moment.
Yet, even when we are hurting, we must be assured that although Jesus has allowed our loved one to die, he STILL loves us, the family members and friends of the deceased.
In the Lazarus story, Jesus allowed Lazarus to die, although he could have arrived earlier and healed him. Yet, this did not mean that he did not love Martha and Mary. They felt considerable pain at the loss yes and were understandably, in mourning but verse 5 still says that he “…loved MARTHA AND HER SISTER…”
3. SICKNESS IS SOMETIMES ALLOWED BY GOD TO BRING HIM GLORY
Not every sickness that God allows is because of our disobedience and a punishment. Sometimes, it is for the glory of God. In verse 4, when Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, he said, “This sickness is not unto death but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.”
Some sickness is therefore staged, so that God can get the glory. This is what happened with the man who was born blind as well. In John 9: 1-3, Jesus’ disciples asked him whether it was that man that had sinned or his parents, that had caused him to be born blind. Jesus answered, “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.”
God did the same thing with Job who suddenly lost his entire family (except his wife), all his wealth and then his health. He also did it with Zacharias and Elisabeth, who, although the Bible says that they were blameless before God and although they had prayed for a child seemingly for years and years, Elisabeth was barren and so God deprived them of having a child until they were stricken with age, when all hope seemed lost and when he was good and ready to grant their request because it wasn’t about them, it was about HIS purpose and HIS glory.
4. WE MUST TRUST GOD AND HIS GOODNESS WHEN HE DELAYS OR REMAINS SILENT AND NOT GROW BITTER
Sometimes, we take our problems to God early, asking that he intervene in our mess and he doesn’t. The situation goes from bad to worse but yet, he does not come and sometimes, even seems to go elsewhere.
In the story of Lazarus, Martha and Mary sent for Jesus to come early, before Lazarus’s sickness progressed even further, so that Jesus could heal him. Yet he did not come. In fact, after hearing the news and their petition, he remained where he was!
The Bible states in verses 3, 6 and 7:
- “Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick….When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he ABODE TWO DAYS STILL in the same place where he was. THEN AFTER THAT saith he to his disciples, LET US GO INTO JUDEA AGAIN.”
Lazarus was in Bethany and needed urgent attention but Jesus chose to remain two full days in the same place where he was.
I have learned from this, that even when we don’t understand why after we have prayed, fasted and genuinely sought his timely intervention, Jesus chooses to stay out of the situation, to leave us in the mess as it gets worse with each moment and to even go elsewhere, maybe to bless some other sister or brother with a new job, car, house, husband, baby or the healing that she or he has been asking for, we must trust him and not get bitter. We must trust that God always has a reason for what he does and he always has a plan. His ways are not our ways and his thoughts are not ours.
We may hate where we are at the moment and wish that he would just come and deliver us (I’m in such a place right now) but we have got to keep trusting, that his absence is for the best.
5. NO MATTER HOW IT LOOKS, GOD’S TIMING IS ALWAYS BEST
Although Mary and Martha had called for Jesus early on in the situation, he did not come when they wanted him to come and as a result, Lazarus died. In verse 21, Martha even told Jesus when he finally decided to come, that if he had only come earlier, that their brother would not have died!
I have learned though, that no matter how the situation looks and how much God delays and how much time has passed, God’s timing for intervention is always best. He is always on time, even when it does not fit our schedule.
In verse 11, after Jesus had spent a while in Judea, during which time Lazarus had died, he then told his disciples that he was going to visit him. He seemed out of time given that Lazarus had already departed this life but irrespective of how it seemed, he was STILL on time!
Jesus’ miracle to bring about change is NEVER too late. We must get to the place where we trust his timing, even when this means that we must hurt and hurt while we wait on him to come.
6. GOD IS GOD AND CANNOT BE RUSHED
We must remember the Lordship of Jesus Christ. We can pray and cry and fast but God will still decide what timing is best to come and to grant us our petition, if he decides to do so. Our prayers will not make him hurry. God cannot be hurried.
Martha and Mary called for Jesus urgently, meaning him to drop everything and come immediately. Yet because Jesus was Lord, he decided not to. He waited until HE saw it fit to come, in HIS own unhurried timing.
We must completely surrender to God’s will and his divine purposes, even when we don’t understand them and he does not reveal all of his reasons for what he does or does not do to us. He did not reveal the reasons why to Job and Joseph in the Old Testament, when they suffered and waited and waited and suffered. When he was good and ready and without having to give an account to anyone, he intervened to change the situation and not a moment sooner.
7. WE ARE CHARACTERS IN GOD’S STORY, NOT OUR OWN
It is not about us. The story of our lives is much bigger than us.
All Mary and Martha knew, their brother was sick and close to death’s door, so Jesus needed to come quick, to save him. They were not thinking about God using the situation to obtain glory or that there would be witnesses when God eventually came and brought their brother back to life. They were not thinking that, based on what these witnesses saw, some of them would believe that Jesus was the Christ or that this story would be recorded in a book called the Bible for countless generations to read, long after they had departed this world.
Yet God had all this in mind when he allowed Lazarus to get sick, to die and when he delayed coming. Jesus told the disciples when he finally decided to go to Bethany, “…Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe…” (John 11:14-15).
When he finally went to Bethany and was taken to the grave where Lazarus was placed and right before he miraculously raised him up again from the dead, he said to God the Father, “And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me…”
God had allowed all that had happened for HIS glory. We must remember when things happen and life seems crazy, that God is writing HIS story and we merely have roles in it. We must therefore decrease so that he and his purpose for us can increase (John 3:30). It was never about us and never will be, so we must humble ourselves to this truth.
8. GOD’S WORD IS GREATER THAN WHAT WE SEE AND EVEN REALITY
It is what God says that matters, not what we see.
Before Jesus came, Lazarus was close to death as everyone around him could see. In fact, he eventually got so bad that he died and was buried in a grave where he lay stinking for four days before Jesus came. Yet, when Jesus heard that he was sick, he said, “This sickness is NOT UNTO DEATH but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.”
This statement seemed to defy reality and even seemed contradictory in terms of what eventually happened, as Lazarus did die. However, God is a God of truth and he does not lie. Whatever he says, is GREATER than even what reality shows. This was also the case with Jairus’ daughter, where, in the midst of everybody wailing and crying over her death, Jesus stated that she was not dead but asleep. They laughed him to scorn but it was what HE said that had the preeminence and in keeping with HIS Word, he raised her back to life again.
In my case, one Saturday afternoon in 2013, I suddenly found out that the guy I thought was possibly THE ONE for me was getting married to someone else. To make matters all the more hurtful, the Wedding was carded to take place within a few short months. The news was quite devastating to me at the time and what I believe God had told me just the day before, did not seem to make any sense.
I believe that, while reading the Bible on the very Friday preceding the day I got the awful news, God told me from his Word, by planting two verses deep into my spirit, that (1) I would be a joyful mother of children (Psalm 113:9) and (2) that me and my children would increase and increase (Psalm 115:14).
In response, I rushed up immediately from where I was sitting on my bed at the time and called my mother to tell her what I believe God had just deposited into my spirit. Never before had I had an experience like that while reading the Bible. I felt that the words literally jumped up off the page and jumped right into my heart.
Provided that God did indeed tell me what he told me, it would mean that he told me this about my future, knowing that the very next day, I would get some shocking news that seemed completely to the contrary. After all, the man that I had hoped and dreamed to be building my life with was about to get hitched… with somebody else!
My world shattered but I STILL believed that God’s Word was true. In the midst of the pain (and it was intense), I knew that even if the man I had mistakenly thought and hoped was THE ONE wasn’t, that God would still fulfill his Word and send the right ONE in his perfect timing, if he had really told me what I believed he had. I chose to believe God’s Word OVER reality.
I am writing this Article in 2017 and THE ONE has not yet come but I STILL believe God. Once God said it, then it WILL come to pass. In the Lazarus story, reality said that Lazarus died but yet God’s Word was true. Jesus raised him back up again and God’s name WAS glorified!
9. WHEN WE ASK JESUS FOR HELP, THE STORY ALWAYS ENDS WELL
When we invite Jesus into the picture, no matter how long he takes to come, no matter how bad the situation grows, no matter how much pain we feel while we wait, he will eventually come and we can rest assured, that no matter the outcome, the story will ALWAYS end well.
In verse 23, Jesus told Martha against all the odds and in the face of what seemed like utter hopelessness, “Thy brother shall rise again.”
10. THERE IS ALWAYS HOPE IN JESUS
There is no situation that is too far gone or too difficult for Jesus to change. When the Lord Jesus Christ went to Lazarus’ grave, he had been dead, decaying and stinking, for four days! His condition was therefore really bad and seemed beyond redemption.
Yet because Jesus had arrived on the scene, it was still possible for a miracle to be done and him raised out of his dead situation because there is ALWAYS hope in Jesus. No matter what we go through in life or what we face, there is always the possibility that Jesus could change things.
He can change and transform ANY situation and he can bring to life ANY dream, provided it is within his will to do so. What he requires to operate though is for us to have unshakable faith in him, who he said he is (the Son of God) and his mighty power. He wants us to not look at the situation or what people have to say but to look at him, for there is no situation that has ever been a match for Jesus.
Like he asked Martha therefore, when we look at the size of the storm or the difficulty of the situation or how much time has passed and are tempted in our moment of weakness to become anxious or to stop believing, his question to us before he makes what seems impossible, possible is: “Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?”
11. LAZARUS’ RESURRECTION DEPICTS THE PROCESS OF SANCTIFICATION IN THE LIFE OF THE CHRISTIAN
What the Lord Jesus did for Lazarus, he does in the life of the person who becomes a Christian.
When Jesus arrived in Bethany, Lazarus was dead and in fact, had been that way for four days. When Jesus went to the grave and commanded that the stone be rolled away however, the Bible states in verses 43 and 44 that:
- “…he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus come forth. And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin.”
This is a perfect picture of salvation. Although we were spiritually dead in trespasses and sin and had been a long time rotting in that vile, condemned position, Jesus came to earth, paid the sacrifice for our sins, rose again and now has the power, which he exercises once we invite him into our lives, to raise us from our spiritually dead condition.
Spiritual death means that, although we are physically alive (for now), our souls (which live on after we die physically) are estranged from God and destined to hell when we die or the world ends, due to the sin that has enslaved our lives and the fact that we have breached God’s commands.
It is a horrible condition to be in therefore, yet because we are all born with sin in our DNA which came from our ancestors and can be traced right back to the garden of Eden where the first two people sinned against God by disobeying him, we are ALL born into this world, spiritually dead and therefore destined for hell when we die physically.
Yet, once we invite Jesus into our hearts, just as he did with Lazarus, he is able to raise us from our spiritually dead condition, no matter how long we have been in it and no matter how offensive the decay in our lives and the stench.
At Jesus’ command, the Bible states that Lazarus “…came forth” in that he was raised from the dead. Also, he did not remain in the grave which was for dead people but changed position and came out of it.
This is exactly what happens when a person believes on the Lordship of Jesus Christ and confesses him as same. He cannot remain in his sinful condition but is passed from death to eternal life which God gives and his position immediately changes because he is no longer spiritually dead but now alive in Christ Jesus. He therefore comes out or comes forth out of the world system.
This is referred to as POSITIONAL SANCTIFICATION and it also means that the person who was previously a sinner but now a believer in Jesus Christ (a Christian) has been re-positioned as a child in God’s Kingdom and delivered from the PENALTY or the wages of sin, which was the wrath of God and hell fire to come.
Of this movement frome death to life and from the devil’s domain of darkness to God’s kingdom of light, John 5:24 states of such a person, that he “…shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.”
Colossians 1:13 also states that God “…hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son.”
However, when Christians accept Jesus Christ into their heart and are therefore saved from spiritual death, they still have ‘issues’ that need to be worked out and from which the Lord Jesus Christ needs to heal them. As a Christian begins his walk with Christ, as he leaves the grave site of the world and comes forth to Jesus, the Lord intervenes to help him drop off bad habits and sins that were characteristic in his life and behaviour, so that he can be shaped and moulded into Christ-like and godly character.
Although Lazarus had been raised from the dead, he was still bound with things that were hampering his new found freedom from the grave. His hands and his foot were still bound with graveclothes and his face with a napkin. There was therefore need for Jesus to intervene further, to get those things removed from him. He no longer had need for those things. He was alive!
When Lazarus changed position therefore and came forth with all his dead clothes baggage, verse 44 states: “Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.”
Jesus does the same with the Christian, although progressively in stages. This is why a person would find for example, that after they were made spiritually alive in Christ through salvation, they may have still continued to attend drinking bars and parties but eventually lost their appetite for this or was convicted of it and therefore stopped doing so. Although they used to curse a lot and maybe continued doing so after they became a Christian, they found that in time, their vocabulary was changing and they no longer used curse words.
In essence, that was Jesus taking the graveclothes off. This process of removing the Christian’s dirty, sinful habits, activities and ways is referred to as PROGRESSIVE SANCTIFICATION. It is where Jesus daily works in our hearts (because when we have spiritual life, the Holy Spirit comes to live in us) to deliver us from the disastrous POWER of sin over our lives.
When all the graveclothes and napkins were finally removed from Lazarus, he would have experienced complete freedom, in that he was now alive and perfectly free from all his vile garments. The same holds true for the Christian. The process of our being cleaned up starts from the moment we accept Christ into our hearts as Lord and Saviour and continues for the rest of our lives here on earth. When we die however, we die in Christ but our souls, which were made spiritually alive, go to be with God in heaven. At that point, sin can no longer get to us and we become perfected, in that we experience complete freedom from all sin. This is referred to as GLORIFICATION and in essence, it means that we have been delivered from the PRESENCE of sin.
(Written on 11th March, 2017, points 10 and 11 added on 23rd September, 2018)
On 14th June, 2021, as I reflected again on the Lazarus story while re-checking another Article I had written entitled: ‘JESUS- WHO IS HE?’, two more lessons from the Lazarus story came to mind, which I simply must share:
12. SOMETIMES JESUS DELAYS TO COME, SO THAT THE MIRACLE THAT HE WORKS WILL BE BIGGER THAN WAS ANTICIPATED
Jesus was notified by Mary and Martha, that Lazarus was sick. In John 11:3, it states that Lazarus’ sisters “…sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.”
No reason is given as to why they saw the need to notify him but given Jesus’ reputation to that point, of having healed many people of all manner of sickness and disease, the sisters most likely sent for Jesus in the hope that he would get to where they lived before Lazarus died and heal him.
They knew and may have already previously witnessed his healing power and so they knew, that once Jesus willed their brother to get better, no matter how sick he was and close to death’s door, he would recover.
Surprisingly though, in response to the message, Jesus did not rush to where Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived. Verse 6 states, “When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was.”
In fact, Jesus only paid a visit to Mary and Martha after Lazarus had grown worse, succumbed to his illness (died) and had been rotting in his grave for four (4) days. Yet, Jesus delayed deliberately, although he could have come earlier. He told his disciples before he even stepped foot where Mary and Martha lived, “…I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him.”
This highlights a very important fact. Jesus knew that his disciples, Mary, Martha and other people knew that he had the power to heal sickness and disease. However, it is highly likely that they had limited his power in relation to human beings, to just that.
He wanted them to understand, once and for all, that as the Son of God and God the Son, he did not just have power to heal a person so as to prevent him from dying but he had power over the grave and death itself, so much so, that he could raise someone who had died, back to life again, even after they had already been decomposing for four (4) days!
He wanted them to grow in their knowledge of him by not just seeing him as the one who had power to feed the hungry and to heal the sick but as the very source of life, the one who had the keys of hell and death (Revelation 1:18) and could give life whenever he pleased, even to the dead. Hence the reason he told Martha, “I AM the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.”
In the Lord refraining from coming earlier therefore, he was able to work a much bigger miracle than anyone thought possible. For, he did not just come and heal a very sick man and keep him from death. He came four days late, when that man had already died and was undergoing decay and brought him back from the dead.
This reminds me that, in our own lives, sometimes, even after asking God for his intervention when in dire straits or we have a desire that only he could provide for, sometimes, he deliberately comes late, at a time when everybody has given up on the miracle they were looking for and thinking the situation to be dead and hopeless, only to work a much greater miracle than anybody had envisioned.
It is all about ministry. The bigger the miracle, the more opportunity there is for people to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that he is alive and well (after having been crucified) and that he is indeed the Saviour of the world.
13. GOD MAY TAKE HIS TIME BUT HE DOES COME
My last point is self-explanatory. It is a point I have been making for years now but only just realized that it fits here perfectly. It is simply this: When we ask God genuinely for his help, he may take his time but he DOES come.
(Addendum written on 14th June, 2021)
Dear Reader, if you found the above Article to be interesting, informative, edifying or beneficial, you may also be interested in the following:
- Note 126 – ‘A Hopeless End Or An Endless Hope?’
Additionally, under the ‘COURTING OR ENGAGED Daughters’ page:
- Note 30 – ‘What Will Be Your Wedding Day Message’?