Flashback Episode — Lessons Leading Up to a Miracle: John 11:1-44

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In our year moving through the gospels looking at Jesus’ miracles, we come to the miracle that takes up the greatest space of any single miracle in the gospels, and strangely this miracle is only included in John’s gospel. Part of me wondered if it was so well known of an event that the other gospel writers decided to exclude it because of its fame.

However, because it is such a long miracle, we’ll split our discussion on this miracle into two parts, because not only will that give us more time to understand Jesus’ teaching surrounding this miracle, but we can focus in on more than one theme that we can learn from this event.

So without further delay, let’s dive in to what we can learn from this miracle. Our passage is found in John’s gospel, chapter 11, and we will be reading from the Contemporary English Version. Starting in verse 1, John tells us that:

1-2 A man by the name of Lazarus was sick in the village of Bethany. He had two sisters, Mary and Martha. This was the same Mary who later poured perfume on the Lord’s head and wiped his feet with her hair. The sisters sent a message to the Lord and told him that his good friend Lazarus was sick.

When Jesus heard this, he said, “His sickness won’t end in death. It will bring glory to God and his Son.”

Jesus loved Martha and her sister and brother. But he stayed where he was for two more days. Then he said to his disciples, “Now we will go back to Judea.”

“Teacher,” they said, “the people there want to stone you to death! Why do you want to go back?”

Jesus answered, “Aren’t there twelve hours in each day? If you walk during the day, you will have light from the sun, and you won’t stumble. 10 But if you walk during the night, you will stumble, because you don’t have any light.” 11 Then he told them, “Our friend Lazarus is asleep, and I am going there to wake him up.”

12 They replied, “Lord, if he is asleep, he will get better.” 13 Jesus really meant that Lazarus was dead, but they thought he was talking only about sleep.

14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead! 15 I am glad that I wasn’t there, because now you will have a chance to put your faith in me. Let’s go to him.”

16 Thomas, whose nickname was “Twin,” said to the other disciples, “Come on. Let’s go, so we can die with him.”

17 When Jesus got to Bethany, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Bethany was only about two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many people had come from the city to comfort Martha and Mary because their brother had died.

20 When Martha heard that Jesus had arrived, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 Yet even now I know that God will do anything you ask.”

23 Jesus told her, “Your brother will live again!”

24 Martha answered, “I know that he will be raised to life on the last day, when all the dead are raised.”

25 Jesus then said, “I am the one who raises the dead to life! Everyone who has faith in me will live, even if they die. 26 And everyone who lives because of faith in me will never really die. Do you believe this?”

27 “Yes, Lord!” she replied. “I believe that you are Christ, the Son of God. You are the one we hoped would come into the world.”

28 After Martha said this, she went and privately said to her sister Mary, “The Teacher is here, and he wants to see you.” 29 As soon as Mary heard this, she got up and went out to Jesus. 30 He was still outside the village where Martha had gone to meet him. 31 Many people had come to comfort Mary, and when they saw her quickly leave the house, they thought she was going out to the tomb to cry. So they followed her.

32 Mary went to where Jesus was. Then as soon as she saw him, she knelt at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33 When Jesus saw that Mary and the people with her were crying, he was terribly upset 34 and asked, “Where have you put his body?”

They replied, “Lord, come and you will see.”

Let’s stop reading here for this episode, because we have hit a number of huge themes already, and we haven’t even hit the point in our event where the miracle happens.

The first thing I see is that looking at the spans of time given in the first part of the miracle, there would have been no way for Jesus to have arrived on time to save Lazarus – unless God had made the situation known to Jesus before the news officially arrived. We can conclude this using simple math: Jesus stayed where He was for two more days, and when He ultimately arrived, Lazarus had been in the grave for four days. The best-case scenario was that Jesus arrived two days earlier and Lazarus had been buried the day or two before that. It’s likely that the messenger who brought the message to Jesus learned that Lazarus had died after arriving back telling those present that he found Jesus and gave Him the message.

It may have even been a four-day journey between where they were and where Lazarus was buried because it appears that Jesus didn’t even start traveling in that direction until after describing Lazarus as asleep, or more specifically as dead.

This leads us to conclude that sometimes when it feels as though God, or Jesus, arrives too late, it may be because Jesus has a miracle in mind. If we focus on what we think should have been, then we might miss the miracle God really wants to accomplish. John writes in verse 15 that Jesus tells the disciples this event will now give them the chance to put their faith in Jesus. Maybe the disciples had been hesitant about putting their faith in Jesus, or maybe Jesus is giving them one more reason to believe in Him. Regardless of the reason, this miracle that hasn’t actually happened at this point in our event is pointing us towards a reason to believe in Jesus!

We discover what Jesus may have wanted to teach the disciples in this event when He repeatedly uses the concept of sleep to describe death. If Jesus did not want His followers to connect the idea of sleep and death together, then this would have been a great opportunity for Him to stop the analogy. Instead, everything in this event points to a believer’s death being temporary, just like sleep is temporary, and that we don’t need to fear it.

For a follower of Christ, death is insignificant because it is temporary. Death simply pauses consciousness like sleep pauses consciousness. If Jesus didn’t want us to think this way, this event would have been the perfect place to correct His followers.

Instead, Jesus stresses the sleep metaphor in both His conversation with the disciples, and in His conversation with Martha, Jesus reiterates how death, like sleep, is temporary.

The last big idea that we have time for in this episode is the truth that Martha shares about Jesus before going to get Mary. Martha tells Jesus in verse 27, “I believe that you are Christ, the Son of God. You are the one we hoped would come into the world.

Martha has one of the most powerful declarations about Jesus anywhere recorded in the gospels, and it’s likely Mary would have had a similar conversation except for the crowd of people present with Mary who weren’t there when Martha talked with Jesus.

In the first portion of this event, there is a lot we can discover, and when we pick back up with this event in our next episode, discover what else we can discover as we focus in on the longest miracle in the gospel record.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

Always seek God first and put your hope, faith, trust, and belief in Him. Believe, like Martha, that Jesus is the One God sent into the world, and the One that God promised would come to pay the penalty for our sins. Trust in the ministry of Jesus, both the ministry that happened while He was here on earth, and the “ministry of intersession” He is doing now in heaven on our behalf.

Also, as I always challenge you to do, continue praying and studying the Bible for yourself to learn and grow closer to God. Through the Bible, we can learn what God wants to teach us about life, and about the future life He has promised for all His followers.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or deviate away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Year of Miracles – Episode 41: In the longest single miracle event recorded in the gospels, discover some big truths John included in His gospel leading up to what was likely the most famous miracle Jesus ever did leading up to the cross.

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