The miracle of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead as recorded in John 11 stands out in many ways.
First we should point out that Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead is a resuscitation, not a resurrection. The term resurrection is reserved for Jesus’ rising from the dead because of one important factor; Jesus rose from the dead never to die again.
Sadly everyone other than Jesus who was raised from the dead in the Bible, had to die again at some point, including Lazarus. But because of Jesus’ resurrection, when we are called out of our tombs on the last day we will be resurrected with glorified bodies to enjoy immortal life.
As Jesus tells Martha before he raises Lazarus: “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.” (verses 25-26)
So let’s get to some of the reasons this story stands out. First of all, it is a miracle involving people that Jesus loved.
So many times complete strangers would come up to Jesus for help and he healed them. A woman with a flow of blood came up behind him and touched the hem of his robe and was healed immediately. Four men lowered their paralyzed friend down through a hole in the roof of the house where Jesus was so that he could heal him. These people, and many, many others whom Jesus helped, were all strangers to him. Lazarus and his sisters were not.
Lazarus’ sister Martha had invited Jesus into her home and had cooked for him. Lazarus’ other sister, Mary, had sat at Jesus feet listening to his words and later would anoint his feet with expensive ointment.
And so, because of the friendship Jesus had with this family this is what happened as he approached Lazarus’ tomb:
When Jesus saw her [Mary] weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” (verses 33-36)
Even though Jesus knew that soon he would raise Lazarus from the dead, as he approaches the tomb he is deeply moved. And so we are reminded again that our emotions are important to Jesus and known by him. He experienced joy and sorrow just as we have. And since he loves us, when we experience grief and sorrow, joy and happiness, he does too.
Another reason why this miracle stands out is because it involves raising someone who had been dead for four days. There wasn’t anyone who doubted that Lazarus was dead.
Yet when Jesus said, “Lazarus, come out.” the dead man heard Jesus’ voice and came out of his tomb.
It is common for people to stand at the casket of a loved one and talk to them as if they were still alive. We know they can’t hear us and that it won’t change anything but still we talk to them.
When God talks to dead people they hear his voice, even in cases when it is not God himself talking. Ezekiel, chapter 37, tells the dramatic story of the time when the Prophet Ezekiel is instructed by God to speak to a valley full of dry bones. As he speaks God’s word to them, the bones come to life. They stand on their feet, “an exceedingly great army.”
Someday our dead ears will hear God speaking to us: In John 5:25 Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” So although the dead cannot hear our words, the story of Lazarus being raised from the reminds us that the dead can hear God’s Word loud and clear.
The things that took place after this miracle happened are another reason that this miracle stands out. So many people heard about the miracle and started to believe in Jesus that the Jewish leaders met together and decided Jesus had to die.
Some scholars believe that this was Jesus’ actual trial more so than his appearance before the Sanhedrin after his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. When this gathering of the Jewish leaders started, some of them had not yet made up their minds about Jesus.
But by the end of this meeting they had all made up their minds – Jesus must go. So then when Jesus was later arrested and actually appeared before the Sanhedrin it wasn’t really a trial at all since they had all already made up their minds.
The key to making up everyone’s mind was a prophecy that God made through the High Priest, Caiaphas, one of Jesus’ greatest enemies. As High Priest that year, God used Caiaphas to convince the Jewish leaders that if they did not have Jesus killed the entire Jewish nation would be wiped out.
The Sanhedrin was convinced that Jesus’ ultimate goal was an earthly kingdom which would remove them from power and they would do anything, even commit murder, to prevent it.
The same forces are at work today and we can be thankful they are. Any power, whether it is governmental or religious, that works to prevent Christians from establishing an earthly kingdom does us a favor. Christians need to keep focused on Jesus’ ultimate goal, to establish his kingdom in our hearts and then someday bring us to heaven.
The Apostle Paul puts it so very eloquently in the third chapter of his letter to the Philippians:
“For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” Philippians 3:18-21)
Even though Caiaphas’ prophecy came from God it still needed some explanation. John concludes his account of the meeting of the Jewish leaders where they decided to kill Jesus by saying that Jesus died, “Not for the [Jewish] nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.” (verse 52)
God gathers his scattered children together at the foot of the cross of Jesus to make us one. We are all equally sinners in need of forgiveness and the cross of Jesus is the place where God provides that forgiveness to us all.