Even in a world that is often Biblically illiterate, the name LAZARUS is something of a social meme. We all know the story: guy with interesting name who comes back from the dead.
While many people know this story, there is a depth to it that many people miss. Jesus, close friends with Lazarus, actually had the chance to keep Lazarus from dying, but did not go for it. Why? The answer is a testament to Christ’s absolute commitment to the will of God, and His desire to provide help to all people, not just His personal favorites.
To set the stage, understand that Lazarus and his family were some of Jesus’ closest friends. With the stressful, often sleepless, schedule of His ministry, Jesus had a rare chance to relax in the home of Lazarus. We see Him there nearly every time He visited that region of the country, reclining at their table, sharing their food, and finding a chance to catch His breath for a moment in the home of His good friends (Luke 10:38-41, John 11:2, 11:5, 12:2-3).
That being said, Christ’s life was that of a deity. It wasn’t just about what He found comforting and familiar as a human being; it was also about His God nature, His thirst to do the will of the Father. Multiple times in the Bible, we see Christ have to make a decision between human comforts and the will of God (Luke 4, Matthew 12:45-47, Mark 14:35-36). Put another way, the Cross that Jesus bore in life was not limited to the place where He was crucified. A cross was a meaningful daily struggle, a decision to choose between personal will and the will of God (Luke 9:23).
This was put to yet another test in the area around the Jordan River. Following the will of the Spirit that had guided Him thus far, Jesus received His daily mission. This time, it was to preach to the people of that area.
While preaching to the crowds, Jesus received disturbing news. His friend Lazarus, whom He loved dearly, lay suffering and dying. ‘Fortunately,’ the messenger must have reminded Jesus, ‘he lives only 2 miles from here, so you can easily go to his house and heal him.’
Jesus had a choice to make. Should He stay where He was, preaching to the group of people God had sent Him to? Or should He delay the ministry for a day, attend to His personal friendships, soothe His friend, and then return?
So what did Jesus do? He remained where He was, doing the work the Father had given Him to do, and did not stop until He was finished teaching the people.
While Jesus was still working, Lazarus died.
Even with His personal, human love for Lazarus, Jesus’ desire to reach out to everyone who needed Him, and to finish the work God had given Him to do, was stronger. Jesus was so absolutely committed to the guidance of the Spirit that abandoning God’s task for Him for just one day, even when it was a matter of life and death, was unacceptable.
Now some may hear this and think it means somehow that God will abandon people who are suffering. That is not the case. This was an incident borne of Jesus’ time spent living in the flesh, when He was unable by the laws of being human to be two places at the same time. Only after His death could He really be everywhere at once (John 14:25-26). This was also a heartbreaking decision for Jesus to make. The shortest verse in the entire Bible, “Jesus wept,” (John 11:35) came from the moment when Jesus arrived at His late friend’s home. He was extremely sensitive to the grief of Lazarus’ family, and comforted them. And if there is any further doubt of His commitment to His friend, John reminds us of how dangerous it was for Jesus to travel to Bethany, Lazarus’ hometown, and implies that the miracle Jesus performed there was what sealed His fate with the religious leaders (John 11:8, 16, 45-57).
In the end, of course, Jesus set everything right. He raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:43). Lazarus’ family immediately forgot their grief and soon threw a feast. And Lazarus’ death was not in vain, because his raising was what brought a large number of people to faith in Christ.
But it was a few weeks later that Jesus really set everything right again. Shouldering a heavy cross, He bore the sins of Lazarus, the sins of Lazarus’ family, and the sins of you and I, as He readied Himself to die.
God bless y’all, and have a great weekend.
P.S. – these images are just the result of a Google search for “Lazarus”. I’m not endorsing any products depicted.