John 11 – The Untimely Death of Lazarus

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Today’s PassageJohn 11

Is it fair to call Lazarus’ resurrection the second-biggest resurrection in the Bible? If you’re going by volume, absolutely. John devotes an entire chapter, 57 verses long, to Lazarus’ death, return from the dead, and the fallout of his resurrection. The only resurrection that gets more scriptural air time is, of course, Jesus’ own. And coming back from the dead is kind of a big deal in itself, so Lazarus’ return is a big deal among big deals.

Lazarus is a big deal to Jesus. He and his sisters, Mary and Martha, are minor characters in the gospels, and Lazarus doesn’t even get a mention in the synoptics. Yet he’s a close friend of Jesus; before he dies, the sisters send Jesus the message: “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick” (3). It strikes me that Jesus probably had any number of good friends that didn’t make it into the gospels. One only has so much ink and parchment, and so many hours in the day to devote to recording the events of Jesus’ life. Even so, the gospels consistently show Jesus Christ as a man for whom human beings matter.

But Jesus initially seems nonchalant about Lazarus’ sickness, waiting a few days before leaving for Bethany. And when Lazarus eventually dies, Jesus appears confident that it’s not the end of the line for the man, describing his condition as “sleeping” (13) and telling Martha, “Your brother will rise again” (23). Does he really matter that much?

For the answer to this question, I turn to the shortest verse in the Bible. The summer after my sixth grade year, I spent a week at Eagle Lake Camp with my brother and two of my cousins. One of the cousins was thwarted from getting points for memorizing the verse by the stipulation that verses memorized had to be ten or more words long. This wasn’t the counselors’ first rodeo. (For what it’s worth, my cousin ended up going with John 4:26: “Jesus said to her, ‘I who speak to you am He.’”)

But the shortest verse in the Bible is, of course, “Jesus wept” (35). This puts Lazarus in good company with the entire city of Jerusalem, over which Jesus mourned while prophesying its destruction in Luke 19:41-44. Jesus knows Lazarus’ life on earth isn’t done. He’s known from the outset he’s going to bring Lazarus back. But he still can’t keep the separation from hurting: can’t keep it from hurting Lazarus’ sisters, can’t keep it from hurting himself. Death still rakes its claws across the face of the world. There’s still something very wrong in time and space, and so Jesus cries.

I learned a few useful skills in college. I learned to dissect texts. I learned to nap. And I learned to cry. Some things are worth crying over, like the death of a close friend, even if you’re the Son of God and you’re some fifteen minutes from calling him out of his tomb back to the land of the living.

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