Why Did Jesus Wait to Go to Lazarus?
My youngest son, Caleb, is a mess. People probably think that his first name is “Careful” and his middle name is “Caleb” because of the number of times my wife and I utter, “Careful, Caleb!” during a normal day – which when Caleb is involved is far from normal.
We lovingly call our three-year-old “Hurricane Caleb.”
He is spirited. A handful. High energy.
The other day, my wife texted me at work to tell me that Hurricane poked himself in the eye with a fork. (He’s fine.) That’s our Caleb.
Now, suppose one day my wife ran into the room and exclaimed, “Hurry, Brian! Caleb fell and is really hurt! We need to get him to the doctor!”
What do you suppose I would do? Do you think I would tell my wife to hold on while I brewed a pot of coffee for the drive first? Tell her that the movie I was watching only had 20 minute left? Flip on my tablet and check my calendar for a convenient opening in my schedule to take him?
Of course not! I would drop what I was doing, wrangle up my oldest two kids, get everyone into the van and take off to the doctor as quickly as I could!
The reason is simple: I love my boy and his health would be of paramount importance in that moment.
Now, file that away for a minute or two.
John 11 opens with word reaching Jesus from the town of Bethany that Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, was sick. These three siblings were close to Jesus. In fact, other than the inner circle of the disciples (Peter, James, and John), these may have been three of Jesus’ closest friends. Notice how the sisters report that Lazarus, the one You love, is sick and later how John tells us point-blank that Jesus loved these three.
When we read ahead, we discover that Lazarus didn’t just have a sniffle here – he was deathly ill. Literally. Clearly, the sisters knew this and knew that Jesus could heal their brother, so they sent word to Him about Lazarus’ illness assuming Jesus would rush to His friend’s side and heal him.
After all, Jesus loved Lazarus. And when you love someone, that’s what you do, right? You rush to the aid of someone you love. You don’t waste time.
I would rush to help my son, Caleb, and surely Jesus is more loving than I am, right? That’s probably why it was so shocking to read verse 6 for the first time:
So when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was.
Now we have to be careful here. John is not telling us that Jesus was just really busy for two more days before He could break away. John is not suggesting that Jesus couldn’t get a flight out and had to wait on stand-by for two days.
It’s just the opposite. Jesus intentionally chose to wait for two days.
Why? Well, John tells us in this verse. Notice the little word, “so.” The little words of the Bible can be so incredibly important. They are the unsung hero of Bible study! This little word presents a cause and effect to us. What follows the “so” is the effect and what precedes it is the cause.
“I am hungry so I ate.” My hunger is the cause. Eating is the effect.
Here the effect is Jesus waiting. What is the cause before the “so”? Verse 5. Jesus loved these three.
His love caused Him to wait for his friend to die instead of rushing to his side.
Sure seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Why would love prompt Jesus to wait instead of rushing to his side?
Let’s keep working backward and see. Here’s verse 4:
When Jesus heard it, He said, “This sickness will not end in death but is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
Jesus knew that his friend’s illness would result in death, but not end in it. That’s because Jesus also knew that He would shout “Lazarus, come out!” and life would fill his friend once again and a man who was once dead would walk out of the grave. This is why He waited. He wanted Mary, Martha, Lazarus, and His disciples to experience something that would completely change them from that day forward.
Mary, Martha, Lazarus, and the disciples had seen Jesus heal plenty of people. Remember, that is most likely what prompted the sisters’ message in the first place. But Jesus wanted them to experience something more. Something much more. Jesus wanted them to see that He has power over death because that is what they would need to know about Him when they would see His lifeless body in a tomb not long after this.
Basically, Jesus used this miracle to help His disciples take a big step forward in developing saving faith in Him. Skip down to verse 15 where Jesus tells the disciples this:
I’m glad for you that I wasn’t there so that you may believe. But let’s go to him.”
Jesus’ delay led to Lazarus’ death which led to Jesus’ miracle which led to faith (v. 15) which always leads to God’s glory (v. 4).
Had we written the script, we would have settled for so much less, wouldn’t we have? Our version would have had Jesus rushing to Lazarus’ side to heal him followed by a festive party of some sort. And we would have missed so much more that Jesus actually gave to His beloved friends. Jesus gave His friends a great gift when He allowed Lazarus to die. He gave them the gift of advancing their faith and drawing them that much closer to eternal life in Him, the Son of God.
The resurrection of Lazarus is a wonderful demonstration of the power of Jesus, foreshadowing of Jesus’ resurrection, and picture of our new life in Jesus.
Enjoy the opportunity God has given you to show kids that Jesus has power over death for all who believe. Do your best to show them the heart and intention of Jesus in allowing Lazarus to die and then raising him back to life.
Here is more help for leaders preparing for the January 25, 2015 session (Unit 29, Session 5) of The Gospel Project for Kids.
Brian Dembowczyk is the team leader for The Gospel Project for Kids. He served in local church ministry for over 16 years before coming to LifeWay in 2014. Brian earned an M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a D.Min. from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Brian and his wife, Tara, and their three children – Joshua, Hannah, and Caleb – live in Murfreesboro, TN, where Brian enjoys drinking coffee and teaching 1-3 graders at City Church.