This morning let’s consider number six of the seven signs, these amazing public miracles that Yeshua performed which are highlighted in John’s Gospel. So far we have studied Yeshua’s turning water to fine wine at the wedding in Cana of Galilee; we read about His healing the royal official’s son (also in Cana); His healing of the ungrateful man at the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem; His feeding of over 5,000 people in the Galilee, and most recently we read about His giving sight to a man who had been born blind, also in Jerusalem. I omitted one of Yeshua’s miracles as we made our way through John. I didn’t teach about His walking on water. If you consider that to be one of John’s seven selected signs, then today’s would be number seven. However, while Yeshua’s walking on water was indeed a miracle, I don’t think John meant it as one of the seven signs. First of all, it doesn’t seem to stand alone, but acts as a sort-of postlude to the feeding of the 5,000. Secondly, these signs seem to have been for the benefit of the Israeli public – to demonstrate the truth of His Messianic claim and to engender faith in Him; it wouldn’t be much of a public ‘sign’ if only the disciples saw it.
Today we’ll be reading from John chapter 11 about Yeshua raising a man from the dead. You might be inclined to see it as miracle #7 because the number seven represents completion and perfection, and wouldn’t raising the dead be the ultimate miracle? But I am of the opinion that Yeshua’s own death, His three days in the tomb and resurrection on the third day to be the seventh and ultimate sign. So whether you want to think of it as number six or as number seven, let’s read John 11 and witness a pivotal event, a turning point in Yeshua’s ministry.
Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. So the sisters sent word to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.”
Background on the village of Bethany
Bethany is from the Syriac words Beit (“House”) and Anyah (“Poverty” or “Affliction”). This small village is about a mile and a half from Jerusalem, on the south eastern slope of the Mount of Olives. Its name suggests that the village may have been a designated place for the caring of the sick and/or aid to the impoverished. Mark chapter 14 indicates that Bethany was the home of Simon the Leper, which further supports this notion. Bethany is regarded as a suburb of Jerusalem, though it is part of what is commonly misnamed “the West Bank”.
It has been suggested, on the basis of thousands of inscriptions on ossuaries excavated there, that Bethany in Yeshua’s time was settled by large numbers of Galileans. His close friendship with the family of Eliezer, Miriam and Martha would make sense then, since Yeshua Himself was Galilean. Perhaps they had all grown up together, and so whenever He was in Jerusalem, He would make the effort to see them.
Background on the family of Eliezer
We are told that this is the same Miryam who anointed Yeshua’s feet and wiped His feet with her hair when He had been at the home of Simon the Leper. Some mistakenly think this is the same event recorded in Luke 7, where a sinful woman of the city (presumably Jerusalem, since Yeshua was dining with one of the Pharisees, also named Simon) did the very same thing for Him. But this refers ahead to the events of chapter 12, verses 1-3.
That two similar events took place at different times by different women is not hard to accept. Further evidence that Mary was not the scandalous woman in Luke 7, is that every time Bethany is mentioned, it is referred to as a village, whereas Luke 7 records this woman as having been in the city, presumably Jerusalem where Simon the Pharisee lived. Simon the leper and Simon the Pharisee were two different Simons. Shimon was as common a Jewish name as “Jim” or “Steve”.
There was obviously a very good friendship between them all, chiefly between Yeshua and Eliezer, whose name means “My God is a help”. It might be difficult to think of Yeshua as having a “best friend”. Maybe it’s a stretch to assume that was the case. But rather than balk at the idea, I suggest it further attests to His genuine humanity. These sisters and their brother enjoyed a good friendship with Yeshua. What a privilege for these three, who otherwise lived in “the house of affliction”! As chapter 11 unfolds, we see how true and deep their friendship was. Here in the first three verses we find out that Eliezer (Lazarus) is sick – sick enough that his sisters sent word to Yeshua. And notice that they didn’t even need to say his name, instead simply, “He whom You love…” It demonstrates the closeness of the friendship between Yeshua and Lazarus.
At the end of chapter ten we are told that Yeshua was in the Judean wilderness, beyond the Jordan. Here’s a question: did Mary and Martha know this? Is it possible they assumed that Yeshua was still in Jerusalem, since according to the preceding verses in chapter 10 it was Chanukkah? We don’t know the answer to that, but even if they knew He was in the wilderness, it probably took at least a day or two to find Him. So by the time Yeshua receives word of Eliezer’s grave illness, precious time has been lost. But think about it: this is Messiah – He already knew His friend was sick.
But when Yeshua heard this, He said, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.”
Eliezer’s sickness would lead to death, but it would not end in death. But the disciples didn’t know what Yeshua meant. They probably thought it meant that Lazarus’ recovery from such a serious illness would bring glory to God. So, for the moment, they were relieved. But they had absolutely no idea what was ahead!
Let’s focus for just a moment on the fact that Messiah Yeshua referred to God and to Himself on equal terms. He said that this situation would glorify both God and Himself. The Bible consistently warns man not to accept glory or to give glory to other men, but that God alone is to be glorified. We are therefore left to conclude that Yeshua is deity, or else that He is a blasphemer.
He refers to Himself in third person as “the Son of God”. Sadly, many people have misunderstood what that expression means. Muslims reject it because they crudely and mistakenly think that such a title infers that God had sexual relations and bore a son. Most Jewish people don’t know what to make of it, but having been indoctrinated wrongly to reject a plurality in the Godhead, the idea of a divine Messiah is unacceptable. Even some people who believe in Jesus as the Messiah have failed to understand what the title “Son of God” meant in that Jewish context, and assume it means “less than God”. To read a Twenty-first century understanding back into a First century expression is to fail to do one’s homework. In ancient Israel, to be called a “Son of ” something, meant you were the epitome of that quality or virtue or, on the negative side, something terrible. A scoundrel might be called Ben Belial “Son of the evil one”. In fact, that was what Nabal, Abigail’s wicked first husband was called. A wise woman might be called Bat Or – “Daughter of Light”. Nobody took it to mean that literally light gave birth or that her father’s name was “Light”. It meant she was extremely wise. We have a New Testament example of just such a moniker: Joseph, a man from Cyprus who was nicknamed Bar Nabas– “Son of Encouragement” because he was a singularly kind and peaceable man (Acts 4:36).
But the expression “Son of God” – that title was held in reserve exclusively for Messiah. To be called “Son of God” (which is not at all the same as “sons of God”) is to be fully equated with God. So Rabbi Paul could attest “In Him all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form (Colossians 2:9).” And it is why the writer of Hebrews, the Letter to the Messianic Jews, could state categorically: “In these last days He (God) has spoken to us by his Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being (Hebrews 1:2-3a).” He is not an approximation of it, not a facsimile – He is the very radiance of God’s glory!
Now Yeshua loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was. Then after this He said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judeaagain.” The disciples said to Him, “Rabbi, the Jewish leaders were just now seeking to stone You, and are You going there again?” Yeshua answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”
Try to imagine how the disciples were feeling during those two days. Yeshua assured them that Lazarus’ sickness wouldn’t end in death, but right now he’s gravely ill, and he’s one of Yeshua’s closest friends, but He seems in no particular hurry to go to him! I’m sure they were wondering, and maybe even quietly discussing this inexplicable delay.
Finally, He announces that they’re returning to Judea. But instead of saying, “Lord, why did You wait so long?” they say, “Are you kidding? Just a few days ago the religious leaders were trying to kill you!” Maybe they figured that was what was behind Yeshua’s delay in going to see Eliezer. If word got to Jerusalem that He was in nearby Beit Anya, it might provoke another, possibly lethal confrontation. But of course this wasn’t about fear. As usual, it was Yeshua doing things according to the Father’s time frame. He never allowed people’s demands or circumstances to dictate how or when He would do things. He knew full well when that conflict was to reach its zenith, and did exactly what was needed, when it needed, to see it fulfilled.
Concerning the right time to do things, Yeshua tells the disciples, in essence, “Carpe Diem!” Sieze the Day! When action is needed, we shouldn’t delay. We must not let fear deter us. His analogy of day vs. night and walking vs. stumbling is a call to courage and determination. It is the challenge of the Good News. We need to preach it now, not later. We cannot allow fear of what people think of us to outweigh our determination to be obedient to the Great Commission.
This He said, and after that He said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep.” The disciples then said to Him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Yeshua had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep. So Yeshua then said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him.” Therefore Thomas, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, so that we may die with Him.”
I want you to note something here. Yeshua just told them they were going back to Judea, and here He specifically says it’s to see Eliezer, who lives in the village of Beit Anya, or Bethany. Today Bethany is calledAl Eizariya – so named after Eliezer. Bethany is considered part of the so-called “West Bank”. That’s whatIsrael’s enemies call it, and it’s what the mainstream media calls it. Yeshua calls it Judea. I think we should follow His example, don’t you?
Yeshua tells them that He is going to raise Lazarus from the dead, but He employs a common euphemism of the day, describing death as ‘sleep’. At first they don’t get it, and that’s understandable, since He already said it wouldn’t end in death. But finally He spells it out for them. Eliezer has died. He then says that for their sake He is glad that He wasn’t there so that they might believe. What does that mean, and why was He glad not to have been there? I think it means that Eliezer had to die, and if Yeshua had been there, He might have been tempted to prevent his death. But He knew it was necessary that the disciples personally see Him raise the dead, and He knew the outcome would be good.
But think about this: 11 of these 12 men would become apostles, whose teaching would become the bedrock of the Faith. It was vital that they be absolutely clear on just how much authority Messiah Yeshua had. Furthermore, their confession of Yeshua would eventually cost each of these men their lives. Seeing Him raise Lazarus from the dead would, in retrospect, help cement their faith and enable them to be resolute in the hour of their testing.
Thomas pipes up and says, “C’mon guys, let’s go and die with him!” Quintessential cynicism, and perhaps a hint of wry humor – but that’s our Thomas. I mean, how ironic is this bold declaration of willingness to die for Yeshua, coming from the one who ended up skeptical about His resurrection. But the truth of the matter is that an authentic disciple is prepared, if need be, to forfeit his life for his Lord and Messiah.
So when Yeshua came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days.
That little detail “four days” is enormously important! A common Jewish belief of the day was that a soul would hover around the grave for three days, hoping to be reunited with the body. But after three days any sort of resuscitation was considered beyond hope. The rabbis employed a euphemism: “On the fourth day the appearance has changed,” referring to rigor mortis. Yeshua delayed those additional two days so that by raising a man who had been dead for four days, any attempt to argue that the man wasn’t really dead, or somehow resuscitated, would be seen as utter foolishness.
Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off; and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother. Martha therefore, when she heard that Yeshua was coming, went to meet Him, but Mary stayed at the house. Martha then said to Yeshua, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” Yeshua said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Yeshua said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this? She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Messiah, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.” When she had said this, she went away and called Mary her sister, saying secretly, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and was coming to Him.
The family was sitting shiva, the seven days of mourning customary to Judaism, where the mourner remains in the home and receives friends and loved ones bringing consolation. Naturally many of their Jewish friends came to offer sympathy. For Martha to suddenly get up and leave the house was a break with custom, but the news that Messiah Yeshua is approaching the village impelled her to get up and run to meet Him. John tells us that Mary stayed at the house, but the word “stayed” is actually a form of the verb meaning “to sit” may be translated “remained sitting”. We may take it to mean sitting shiva.
Martha’s referring to Yeshua as “the Teacher” brings to mind Yeshua’s words to His disciples, “You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:13-14) and the words of Isaiah, “Although the Lord has given you bread of privation and water of oppression, He, your Teacher will no longer hide Himself, but your eyes will behold your Teacher.” Messiah Yeshua is, in fact, The Lord and The Teacher – our Supreme Rabbi!
Martha came to Yeshua, lamenting that He had not been there to save her brother, but declares her faith that even now she believes He has the authority to raise him up. What a powerful confession! Yeshua tells her that Eliezer will rise again, and she naturally takes Him to mean at the resurrection at the End of the Age, which she along with the vast majority of Jewish people for thousands of years have believed, based on the words of the prophets, such as those of Daniel:
Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake:
some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.
Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens,
and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever!
But Yeshua had something more immediate in mind, saying, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” It’s beyond me how anyone can read this and go on to say that Yeshua was merely a “great moral teacher”. If Yeshua were not the Messiah, the Son of God, it would have been beyond audacious; it would have been blasphemous to say these things. He is saying that He is the one with the authority to raise the dead, and is the very source of life itself. There’s no getting around this. Paraphrasing C.S. Lewis, as has often been done, you either have to dismiss Him as a complete lunatic, or consider Him the “father of lies” satan himself, or you fall at His feet and worship the One who is fact IS the resurrection and the life! And so he puts the question to Martha – and to you:
Do you believe this?
Martha again affirms her faith, saying, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Messiah, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.” Good for you, Martha! You have believed well, and spoken well. And then she takes off for the house to get Mary, for apparently Yeshua asked for her. I don’t think we need to make too much of the fact that Yeshua didn’t enter the house and sit shiva with them. Considering what He was intending to do, it would have made no sense. Mary gets up immediately and comes quickly to see Him.
Now Yeshua had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha met Him. Then the Judeans who were with her in the house, and consoling her, when they saw that Mary got up quickly and went out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. Therefore, when Mary came where Yeshua was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Yeshua therefore saw her weeping, and the Judeans who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” Yeshua wept. So the Judeans were saying, “See how He loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?”
Miriam says the very same thing Martha had said. We don’t know whether she was scolding Him for not having come sooner, or simply affirming her faith that He had the power to save her brother. And that isn’t the point. What we should get from this is the deep sense of loss and grief over the death of their beloved brother and Yeshua’s beloved friend. Yeshua takes in the scene, the weeping of the sisters and those who had come to mourn with them, He Himself was deeply moved.
But the word translated “moved” isn’t typically used of grieving. In other literature of the time the Greek verb that John uses here is for the angry snorting of a horse. It conveys a sense of indignation. Yeshua was angry. But with whom? Certainly not with the sisters, despite their lament at His absence. Their grief was completely understandable. And probably not with the Jewish mourners, several of whom would have been professionals – people actually paid to come weep and wail at the shivas of complete strangers. D. A. Carson points out that “Jewish funeral custom dictated that even a poor family was expected to hire at least two flute players and a professional wailing woman (Mishnah Ketuboth 4:4)”. Some point to the hypocrisy of such a callous, opportunistic form of profit-making as the reason for Yeshua’s anger.
But maybe it was something else altogether.
Perhaps in that moment the Omniscient, all-knowing Messiah looked across the span of time, both back to the murder of Abel and to the end of human history, and considered the collective grief of a thousand generations of human mourning for dead friends and loved ones, and in that moment burned with anger at the one truly responsible for it all – haSatan – the devil. I see Him ignoring the heartless and insensitive speculation of the Jewish mourners about whether or not He could have prevented Eliezer’s death.
But He wept. Messiah’s humanity was real. He is fully God and fully man, and in His 33 years of life in this fallen world, Yeshua experienced every weakness and grief and despair that any of us have ever felt, and no doubt more than all of us combined. He wept with them. He is able to identify with our weakness. He knows our pain. Come to Him with the things that trouble you, and let Him heal you.
So Yeshua, again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Yeshua said, “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” Yeshua said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” So they removed the stone.
Just a short time earlier, Martha had confessed, Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” Well it’s one thing to believe and it’s another thing to act on that belief. If the Lord told you to do something really radical, something certain to be misunderstood, would you be prepared to do it? Under ordinary circumstances, Yeshua’s instruction to remove the stone was scandalous. You just don’t do that. But what He was about to do was extraordinary. Martha initially protests on the basis of what is certain to be the stench of a rotting corpse. And make no mistake about it – after being dead four days, that’s exactly what was in that tomb!
Then Yeshua raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.”
Messiah Yeshua prayed out loud, not as a show of piety, but for the sake of those standing at that tomb, which included Martha and Miriam, His disciples, and who knows how many other Jewish people who accompanied them there. But as I said earlier, this was especially for the benefit of His disciples, whose faith in Him would eventually be put to the ultimate test. They had to see this, and they had to understand the extent of Yeshua’s authority.
When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!”
And I’m sure there was a hushed pause, just like right now, and people wondering, “Can He really do that?” They didn’t have to wonder very long…
The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Yeshua said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
Eliezer of Bethany was alive again! Dead four days, beyond any hope of resuscitation, he walked (really shuffled) out of that tomb. Can you imagine the shock and amazement of the people gathered there? Even the disciples, who had witnessed many other miracles, had to be standing there with their mouths wide open in amazement. Yeshua had raised at least two other people from the dead that we know about (the widow of Nain’s son and Jair’s daughter); but this was after four days! By fiat, Yeshua of Nazareth spoke life back into the dead body of Lazarus. If He is M’chayei Mayteem, the one who gives life to the dead, then He is Lord and God and can do all things!
And just imagine if He had left off Lazarus’ name and just said, “Come forth!” (which one day He will) It could have been the resurrection of all mankind!
Therefore many of the Judeans who came to Mary, and saw what He had done, believed in Him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them the things which Yeshua had done.
As we have come to expect by reading John’s narrative, there was a mixed reaction to the wonder-working Rabbi. Some of the paid professional mourners put their trust in Him right then and there. Others went off to tell the religious leaders what had happened.
What about Martha, Miriam and the disciples, who already believed Him to be the Messiah? I’m sure they experienced a kind of deep, almost inexplicable validation of their faith, and were overwhelmed with a mixture of awe and rejoicing in receiving back their brother and dear friend.
We find out in chapter 12 that this event made Eliezer into something of a local celebrity. A short time later Yeshua and the disciples held their Passover Seder at Lazarus’ house, and everyone was coming around to see the guy who had been raised from the dead, and the One who raised him up. But the Jewish religious leaders, now thoroughly terrified of what this miracle meant, and jealous for their position, acted just like Pharaoh of old, and just like Herod, and began plotting to murder him. They also planned to murder Lazarus. After all, you can’t have a resurrected guy walking around influencing people…
Well, so what? What’s the point of this? After all, Eliezer was eventually going to die again. And not very much later the religious leaders got their wish when Messiah was put to death, courtesy of a Jewish mob and a spineless Roman procurator. The point is this: If you are a loyal follower of Yeshua, you are going to meet this guy Lazarus; and you’re going to meet his sisters, and you’re going to meet the 11 apostles. And you’re going to meet Messiah Yeshua – all on the day when He Himself summons us up from the grave to meet Him face-to-face. Blessed are you, who didn’t personally see these things take place, and yet believed.
And if you aren’t yet a loyal follower of Yeshua, here’s your opportunity. Let Him who gives life to the dead breathe life into what is spiritually-speaking the corpse of your life. He who raised the dead eventually surrendered His own life, to make complete atonement for your sins and mine, and He beckons you to come today and become one of His followers.
Will you do that?