“Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. (It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.) Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick. When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby. Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was. Then after that saith he to his disciples, Let us go into Judaea again. His disciples say unto him, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou thither again? Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world. But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him. These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him. Then said Thomas, which is called Didymus, unto his fellow disciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him.Then when Jesus came, he found that he had lain in the grave four days already. Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off: And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother.” John 11:1-19
We are continuing our study of the Fourth Gospel. The Prologue of the Gospel has informed us that, “in him (that is in the Word of the Father) was life and the life was the light of man.” Life and light are in the Word’s interior life, they are not reflections from some other source. He, his life, his being, is the origin of life and light. We have followed Jesus, along with two of his disciples, from the Jordan River where John the Baptist identified him as the Lamb of God; but we know that very shortly the two disciples came to believed that he was the Messiah. Jesus declared to Israel that he is both true life and true light, which is to say they will abide in him. His true disciple will come to him and trust in him and they will walk in the light. Nicodemus walked out of the darkness of the night and came to Jesus the Light of the world. But after their conversation Nicodemus turned from the Light of the world, walked back into the dark streets of Jerusalem right to the Temple where the Rulers were gathered, which had become a pool of darkness. Jesus’s disciples on the other hand were not in the Temple, but, like his sheep, they were gathered around him and they were bathed in his light. He promised them that they were absolutely safe in his hands and they could be sure that he would give them life everlasting.
Now his disciples, and more, were gathered around him at the very place where the whole terrestrial narrative had it’s beginning — at the Jordan where John had first baptized. They were gathered around a man. They heard him teach, make promises, eat, and they, some of them anyway, felt his hands touch them and they had touched him as well. Once again we shall see that Jesus’ flesh is the place of judgment and anyone who denies or slackens the particularity, the specificity that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is according to the author of John’s Gospel, an anti-Christ which is to say an enemy of the Church, an enemy of God. In his first epistle John declares the concrete fact and the concrete actions of Jesus:
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.” I John 1:1-4
Behind those words are John’s recollection of the time Jesus, after the third or fourth attempt on his life, after he had given sight to the man born blind, went away to the Jordan where the Baptist first pointed him out, to await the right time when he was raised his friend Lazarus from the dead and then enter Jerusalem where his body of flesh would be nailed to a cross for the life of the world. The flesh of Jesus is the place where the whole world is judged, and we shall see his life of flesh in ways we have not seen before; we shall see emotions rise up from within his interior life and take hold of his biological, somatic life, take hold of facial and verbal expression as he readies himself to raise Lazarus from the dead.The Beloved Disciple means to drive home the apostolic dogma that all the Church believes to be true about Jesus is truth manifested in his historical action, that is the decisive actions of the human life of Jesus Christ. If there is mystical, spiritual, sacramental truth that transcends space and time (and such truth is certainly there) it is laid hold of not through Christian mysticisms, but through believing in the historic acts and teachings of Jesus and following him as Lord and Savior.
This is probably one of the best known stories in the Bible and it stands on its own as a literary unit. We have example of such miracles in the synoptic gospels. The daughter of Jarius in Gospel of Mark and the widow’s son in Luke as well as his event recorded in Matthew when the Baptist’s disciples came to Jesus on his behalf when he was about to die in prison:
“Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another? Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” Matthew ll:2-6
However the miracle of raising Lazarus is exceptional in comparison to any of these. Jarius’ daughter and the young son of the widow has just died and the funerals were just underway. Lazarus was a full grown man, the funeral was past, he had been dead four days — Lazarus’ biological life, his life of flesh, in the Eastern heat, was well into the process of corruption, that is decomposition and rot.
But lets begin at the beginning. Jesus is still at a place called Bethany beyond the Jordon where the Baptist preached. There are two Bethanys – this one and the one where Mary, Martha, and their brother Lazarus lives. We do not know how long Jesus and his little flock were at the Bethany beyond the Jordan, but we do know they went there right after he had healed the man born blind and after the Temple officials had tried to stone him two times at the same event. He receives a message from the two sisters in the other Bethany that his friend Lazarus, “he whom thou loves,” is ill. They have made no specific request, only the information that Jesus’ friend Lazarus is ill. Jesus replies that Lazarus’ sickness is not unto death but for the glory of God and in fact it will glorify Jesus himself. This shows us that this is a family of disciples and in fact that they are close personal friends of Jesus:
“Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was.” John 11:5-6
It is likely that his disciples as well as the sisters took Jesus’ words and actions to mean that Lazarus’ sickness was temporary and he would soon recover. But to Jesus knew full well that Lazarus would die and to him his word mean that Lazarus’ death will be only temporary. Jesus knew exactly what he would do and so the death of his good friend provided another very public opportunity for a miracle which would not only glorify God, but it would be such an astonishing miracle that it would show his disciples that he was the very source of life itself.
Two days after he first received the message from Mary and Martha, he gathered up his disciples to journey to the other Bethany where the family lived. But his disciples were worried since he has just left Jerusalem with two attempts on his life and to return that way so soon was dangerous.
“His disciples say unto him, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou thither again? Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world. But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him. These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep.”
Jesus disciples still seriously worried over the threats on his life respond to him by saying that if he is sleeping he will certainly get better and maybe it would be better for them all to stay on this side of Jerusalem. But that kind of fear has no place in Jesus’ life nor should it be given place in the life of his disciples. Jesus mission very much involves dying in Jerusalem at his own time and place and will for the salvation of the world. Though his words to his disciples about walking in the day, that is in the light, may have been obscure to them, they are not obscure to the Beloved Disciple’s audience. There is an hour of darkness coming in Jesus’ life and in the life of his disciples. He will be handed over to the powers of this world, to the powers of evil. His sheep will be scattered. But while they are with him, while his life of flesh, is moving forward to fulfill his personal destiny, his personal mission, they must travel with him to remain in the light and not stumble into evil themselves.
“Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him. Then said Thomas, which is called Didymus, unto his fellow disciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Jesus now speaks plainly to his disciples and explains that Lazarus is dead and it is his intention to raise him from the dead — “I go that I may awake him out of sleep” — which is good for them and for us because it will deepen and stiffen their faith and understanding of Jesus. But in the recollection of the Beloved Disciples there is more to this than raising beloved Lazarus from the dead, for this marks the beginning of Jesus’ Hour of Passion that will burst into blossom on the wood of the Cross, and come to its most glorious and beautiful finality in the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah from the dead. Thomas, either holding over some of the disciples original fear, or grasping in part Jesus’ finality declares his own intention to have nothing but Jesus in his life or else die with him. His is a desperate misunderstanding, yet lovely and loving and with those words in his heart and on his lips he encourages the whole band of disciples to march on with Jesus to certain death.