The raising of Lazarus from the dead is significant because Jesus used this historical event to prepare the world for the most incredible miracle yet to come: His death and resurrection, which proves that Jesus is God, the world’s Savior.
“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him” (Luke 10:38).
Martha, who lived in Bethany with her brother Lazarus and sister Mary, was well known for her hospitality. When Jesus arrived in Bethany, Martha invited Jesus and His disciples to her house for dinner and rest. After Jesus and the disciples had left Bethany, Lazarus became sick. Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus to come and heal him.
Having witnessed Jesus perform miracles, they knew that Jesus could heal Lazarus. He loved them all, so surely, He would come immediately to heal Lazarus. Such was not the case, as Jesus stayed away for four days.
“When he heard about Lazarus’ illness, 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.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, (4 total) and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea” 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.” His disciples replied, “Lord if he sleeps, he will get better.” Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake, I am glad I was not there so that you may believe. But let us go to him” (John 11:4-7, 11-14).
During Jesus’ delay, Lazarus died. He was like a brother to Jesus, but Jesus did not go to him. From our human perspective, none of this makes sense. Jesus loves and is a healer. Jesus is kind and caring. The choice to not come back seems to go against everything the disciples knew about their Rabbi. Jesus never can go against His character, so there must have been a reason more significant than we can imagine as to why Jesus did not go immediately to His friend.
When they were close to Lazarus’ home in Bethany, Martha, who was grief-stricken, ran out to Jesus to tell him that Lazarus had not only died but was buried in a tomb. “Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world” (John 11:23-27).
Soon she went to get Mary, who was also saddened, disappointed, confused, and frustrated with the loss of her brother. She, and some friends who were at her house, went to Jesus. He was filled with love and compassion and assured them that Lazarus would rise and live again.
“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” John 11:33-34
“Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said. When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with linen strips and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” (John 11:38,39,43,44).
Lazarus came out of the tomb not as a Zombie but as a living, breathing human being. His sickness, death, burial, and restoration to life, was used by God to bring many to faith. HIs death and restoration were like a dress rehearsal for Jesus’ own death and resurrection. Jesus hoped that the disciples would understand that the same was about to happen to him.
After Lazarus was raised from the dead, he returned to the home he shared with Mary and Martha (John 12:1–2). Before Jesus went to the cross to die for our sins, He again went to Martha’s home. Martha and Lazarus were present when Mary poured expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair. Mary knew what was about to happen to her friend. She was overcome with love, compassion, and gratitude for what Jesus was about to experience on the cross that she went to extravagant lengths to honor Him.
With the news of what had happened, the chief priests and Pharisees plotted to stop both Jesus and Lazarus. Many had witnessed the miracle of Lazarus walking out of the tomb, and the excitement was spreading. The religious leaders knew they could not stop it. Not only must Jesus die, but also Lazarus.
“So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus” (John 12:10,11).
The significance of what God did in restoring Lazarus to life cannot be overstated. The eyewitnesses to Lazarus coming back to life would never be forgotten. Of all Jesus’ miracles, this is the one that paved the way for people to understand a greater miracle. Christ came to fulfill His purpose for coming to earth: to die and rise again to pay for the sins of all humankind.
Understanding that God also has a plan for us. He wants us to live out our purpose of trusting Him in all circumstances even when we do not understand the “whys” of God’s desires for us. From Martha and Mary’s perspective, allowing Lazarus to die seemed overwhelming and unfair. They learned, as can we, that God can be trusted when nothing makes sense. We can always trust that God is in control and can lead us to bring glory to Him!