Read John 11:1-44

Jesus said, "This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory, so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” (John 11:4)

This is the seventh miracle in John’s gospel and, clearly, the most outstanding. Jesus is preparing the disciples for what is to come, teaching them everything they will need to know to enable them to pass on the amazing truths of the kingdom of God after He has gone. The threat of death does not deter Jesus from obeying His Father’s instructions, blessing His close friends (Mary and Martha) and showing everyone the amazing power of the living God.

As their brother became really sick, Mary and Martha turned to Jesus for help. Having seen previous miracles, they thought He would be the one to help them in their hour of need. Jesus really loved this family and had spent some time staying with them, but now He decided not to go to them as soon as they called Him, but to wait another two days. He declared in advance what He expected would be the outcome of this dire situation. This whole event looks very different when seen through each of the main characters’ eyes.

Jesus' perspective

Jesus knew Lazarus well. They had spent many happy hours together and Lazarus had probably recognised that Jesus was the Son of God. Jesus must have realised that the enemy was again stealing a co-worker in the kingdom of God, as he had stolen John the Baptist. Nevertheless, Jesus did not respond to the problem from an emotional standpoint, but from His knowledge of the will of the Father. Although everything in His human nature would have wanted to go to Mary and Martha to comfort them, Jesus knew that He had to obey the Father. In turn, God the Father knew what He wanted to do, in order to demonstrate Jesus as His Son in the most spectacular way thus far. (John 11:4) The Jewish people believed that the spirit left a body on the third day after death. Jesus knew that God’s timing was paramount.

When the time was right to go to Bethany, the disciples reminded Jesus of the dangers to His life, but He responded that He was "walking in the light" (or living in the knowledge of God’s will) so would not stumble. As Jesus approached Mary and Martha’s house, Martha came out to meet Him, but Mary stayed inside. Martha had not lost hope. She believed that Jesus was the "anointed one" (Messiah) sent by God and was convinced that she (and, presumably her brother) would be raised again "at the last day". Jesus tells her: "I am the resurrection and the life... do you believe this?" (John 11:25) Mary responds positively, but does not make any connection between a future promise of resurrection and the immediate situation of her brother having just died. “Let us never stop trusting Him. This high priest of ours understands our weaknesses, since He had the same temptations we do, though He never once gave way to them and sinned. So, let us come boldly to the very throne of God and stay there to receive His mercy and to find grace to help us in our times of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)

Martha returns to the house and tells Mary that Jesus has arrived, so Mary goes out to greet Him and is joined by relatives and friends who have gathered to mourn Lazarus. Jesus is deeply moved with the compassion of His Father, combined with sadness at the general lack of faith shown by everyone. Despite His own strong emotions, Jesus is sure of what His Father wishes to do next and He offers up a public prayer. He thanks His Father for the miracle that is about to take place, then calls Lazarus out of the tomb. A figure emerges, still bound in grave-clothes and Jesus asks people nearby to release him. (Even in amazing miracles, Jesus sometimes used ordinary people to help out.)

From this time forward, Jesus’ days were numbered. (John 11:54) Of course, His life was still totally under the control of the Father. Remember: nobody could take Jesus’ life from Him. He freely gave it up for us.

Mary's perspective

Mary had spent many long hours previously at Jesus’ feet. (Luke 10:38-42) She had taken to heart His teachings, had faith in His words and had sacrificed her most treasured possession for Him (when pouring perfume over His body). (Matthew 26:6-13) She certainly had her priorities right, but this was a trial of her faith. She did not run straight out to Jesus when He came, but had to be urged by her older sister. When she did speak to Him, she was unable to see past the overwhelming impact of her brother's death. She believed firmly that, had Jesus arrived earlier, He could have healed her brother, but her unspoken question comes across loud and clear: "Why did You not come sooner?" Sometimes, the immediate and impending impact of some looming disaster can be enough to shake our faith and take our eyes away from Jesus. But, Jesus is still very much in command of every situation. Very soon, He transformed Mary's sorrow into overwhelming joy and thankfulness.

Martha's perspective

Martha rushed out of the house, which would not have been considered good behaviour at that time, but showed her impulsive, honest way of dealing with a problem. Jesus had a brief conversation with her as she struggled with her emotions. She must have been so thrilled that Jesus had come and, although she did not think that He would change anything, she knew who He was and was probably expecting an explanation and some comfort for her and her sister. She must have been wondering why Jesus had apparently not responded to their cry for help at their time of greatest need. She was a practical, hard-working person, focused on the immediate problems and needs around her, but didn't see the wider picture.

As it happened, Jesus arrived at precisely the right moment, with a blessing for them, that went far beyond their wildest dreams. When Lazarus came out of the tomb, Martha was probably there to fuss over him, get him a drink and mother him, whilst Mary was still crying and worshipping at Jesus' feet.

Lazarus' perspective

We know relatively little about Lazarus, other than the fact that he and his sisters had provided regular hospitality for Jesus and, when he had fallen ill, his sisters had asked Jesus to come, saying, "Lord, the one you love is ill." (John 11:3) When Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb, we do not know for sure what sort of journey Lazarus had been on or what, if anything, he might have remembered from it. When he came out of the tomb, he was still bound and needed help to get rid of the grave-clothes that enveloped him. As he saw Jesus for who He really was and as he heard all that the people had to tell him, he would have certainly known that: “He whom the Son sets free is free indeed”. (John 8:36)

As Jesus is the same today as He was then, we need to expect and be looking for these miracles to happen in our midst. Apply the following plan to your problem and see a miracle!

ABC of Miracles

“A” Agree with the word of God.

“B” Believe the word of God.

“C” Confess the word of God.

“A” - Agreement

Faith is not a formula. It is a command: "Believe in God." (John 14:1) Without it, we cannot please God. (Hebrews 11:6; Romans 14:23) Do not worry about having faith, as everyone has been given a measure of faith. This is how we come to believe that Jesus is the Son of God in the first place. (See Ephesians 2:8-9.) Just believe what the Bible says about your situation. (That is what is meant by "walking by faith".) When we live this way, however we may be feeling doesn't really make any difference. We need to pay attention primarily to what God has said about how things will be. As we accept and trust God's word, there may be no change in our feelings, but we start to see everything come into line with what God has said. Like Jesus, we come to the point where we give thanks in a situation before we see the outcome. In this way, we exercise our "faith muscles".

“B” - Belief

This just means behaving as if the word of God is true. Imagine Jesus standing in front of us - in person - and telling us how our situation is going to work out. Having completed step "A", now is the time to praise God for who He is, how great and powerful He is and how honest and faithful He is. He has not let us down and He will come and work a miracle for us at the right time. We have to plan as if our prayers had been answered and start to see ourselves in the place that we have imagined in our prayers. Then we can participate in doing things that we couldn’t do before. If we have a financial problem, we can offer something - even if it is just a penny, we can give something. If we have a physical need and cannot do much, we need to start doing a little bit of what we think we cannot do. We are not just hearers of the word but doers!

“C" - Confession

This means acknowledging a fact as truth and speaking it out. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” (Proverbs 18:21) Having found out what God says about our situation and, being in agreement that what He says is true, then believing that it will happen just as He has said (Mark 11:23) and rejoicing in Him, we now need to speak out the answer and stop worrying about the problem.

Let's learn to feed our faith and starve our doubts! Let's starve our unbelief by focusing all our attention on God and His word.

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