John 11:1-16. Back to Bethany

John 11:1    Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” 

4    When he heard this, 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.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.  6 So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days,  7 and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

8    “But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?” 

9    Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. 10 It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”

11    After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” 12    His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.”  13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. 14    So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16    Then Thomas (also known as Didymus ) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” 

The mercy call to attend to the ailing Lazarus presented a dilemma. Having just made a ‘tactical retreat’ to the wilderness, the possibility of returning to Bethany– just outside Jerusalem– is dangerous. Jesus had narrowly avoided being stoned on his last visit (v8). But Lazarus is “the beloved”. How can Jesus not go to him? Indeed, the message has come from Mary– the same Mary who would pour perfume on the Lord and wipe his feet with her hair (anticipating John 12:3). Jesus has a special love for this family (v5), and yet, he waits two more days.

Does Jesus’ delay represent indecision? Not at all. God’s timing is once again paramount. The entire narrative is framed as an occasion for the God’s glory to be revealed, and that Jesus himself will be glorified through these events (v4, recall also John 9:2-3). At the climax of the narrative, just as the stone is rolled away from the tomb, Jesus will say, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” (John 11:40, see also v42, 45). So God is glorified through these events, even though the family Jesus’ loves will experience pain and grief in the process. This is worth remembering when we go through hard times.

Eventually Jesus makes plain the circumstances into which they will enter as they go to Bethany (v9-15). Lazarus is not resting. He is dead. They are going into danger, but they are going ‘in daylight’. That is to say, they are going to do good (walking in the light) rather than with evil intent (darkness, which results in stumbling).

The final words of Thomas before departing for Bethany are chilling (v16). Thomas– not at all a doubter– is a realist and foresees that returning to the Jerusalem area will result in Jesus’ death. Fully committed to Jesus, Thomas is ready to die with him and urges the others to prepare for the same.

Lord, help me to always be ready to ‘take up my cross and follow’. Whatever situations I may come across today– whether danger or death, sickness or opposition– let me follow you. And through these situations, will you please reveal your glory. Let your fame shine forth so that many will praise you. Amen.