Theme: A Striking Story
In this week’s lessons on the raising of Lazarus, we see that it points to Jesus as the only one who can take us from the state of spiritual death and make us spiritually alive.
Scripture: John 11:1-44
We come now to John 11 and the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. There are several striking things about this story—two of them in particular. One is that this story is not found in any of the other three Gospels. That really is surprising because it is certainly a great miracle. While the other Gospels do record Jesus’ raising people from the dead, the resurrection of Lazarus is particularly noteworthy because it occurs in Jerusalem at Passover, just before Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion.
Why isn’t this story in the other three Gospels? We are not sure. One explanation could have to do with the dating of the other three. It’s thought that they are all written considerably earlier than John’s Gospel, which is dated in the 90s. Perhaps they were shielding Lazarus for some reason by not recording it. We are told in John 12 that some were trying to kill Lazarus as well, because many people were believing on Jesus because of him. It may have been that he and his family were in danger, and so the other Gospels didn’t tell the story for that reason.
Now that might be enough to explain why Matthew, Mark, and Luke do not record the raising of Lazarus, but we are still left with the question of why John records it to the extent that he does. He relates the story of Lazarus’ resurrection in much greater detail than he does to the resurrection of Jesus. So why does John include this story, and to the length that he does?
The answer to that needs to be found in what I said earlier, when we were looking at the story of the healing of the man who’d been born blind. And it’s in terms of this word “signs” which John uses to describe the miracles. When we considered the healing of the blind man, I said that a sign is something that points to something else, and tells something about it. So a sign that has the name of a certain restaurant on it is obviously not the actual restaurant itself. Rather, the sign tells you things about the restaurant that other people want you to know, with the idea that you will actually go to the restaurant and eat there.
That’s what these miracles in John’s Gospel do. They’re historical events and are therefore significant in themselves, but in John’s handling of the miracles, they’re used to point to Jesus Christ and tell us something about him. John himself gives the clue to that at the end of chapter 20, when he writes that Jesus did many other miraculous signs that he has not recorded in his account. But then he adds that the ones he did include are with the intention that those who read it may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and by believing they may have life in his name. So the reason this story is treated at such length is that we might learn something about Jesus Christ.
All the miracles do that. Each one teaches us about Jesus. And yet, it’s particularly true of this one because it deals with life. This is a story of a resurrection, the giving of life to one who is dead. And right in the middle of it we see another of these famous “I am” sayings from the Gospel. In verse 25 Jesus declares of himself, “I am the resurrection and the life.”
Earlier, in John 6, Jesus said he is the bread of life. This means that if you want to be nourished spiritually, you must come and feed on Jesus Christ. You come to Jesus Christ and learn about him, and begin to think his thoughts after him, and to seek his will. And as you’re nourished spiritually you also become a blessing to others. Or another example, in John 8 Jesus says he is the light of the world. Jesus is the light that has come into the world, and yet most of the world didn’t see the light because the world is blind to spiritually things and cannot perceive it. Nevertheless, Jesus is the light and he gives the light, as he does to the blind man, such that the blind man was able to see. In that story, Jesus shows how the man who was born blind physically not only had his physical sight restored, but he came to see spiritually as well. Meanwhile, the religious leaders, who had the ability to see physically, were spiritually blind and, more than that, became even more blind as the story went on, because they rejected Jesus Christ. This is the same kind of thing Jesus is showing in his raising of Lazarus.
What reason was suggested for why the other Gospel writers do not include the raising of Lazarus?
In the Gospel of John, how do Jesus’ miracles function as signs?
To what does the resurrection of Lazarus point?