The raising of Lazarus is the seventh and final sign in the first section of the Gospel of John. With it Jesus proclaims himself to be the resurrection and the life.
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Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
Lazaraus was sick and near death. Jesus loved Martha Mary and their brother Lazarus. So why did he wait. It would seem to make more sense to say that Jesus loved them, “so her hurried to get to Bethany.” But this is Jesus, and he is right, and he waited two days longer.
I am something of a failed bonsai hobbyist. I’ve tried to grow the little tress and have at times succeeded, even for years at a time with a single tree. The trick is to keep them growing almost indefinitely, like trees in the wild. The longer they live the more your work pays off, and the work tends to be mostly toward the beginning.
In order to properly train a bonsai tree you have to be patient. You bend a branch or guide the trunk to a certain angle and then you wire it in place. Then you have to wait weeks or months to bend it more. To try to bend too much at once can break the branch. Eventually, you get the desired shape and then you leave it. The tree will mature, but adapting to the careful training you gave it right from the start.
God knows how to train us. He knows how to bend us into shape. And that does not always come all at once. Martha and Mary had to wait for Jesus while watching their brother die. Jesus loved them and somehow knew that it would be better for all concerned if Lazarus was in the grave for four days before Jesus arrived. I’m not sure what was going on in the hearts of the two sisters during that time, but we may speculate that the waiting did them good.
The same goes for us. As we wait for the answers to unanswered prayers, sitting patiently when there is little else that we can do, that may be evidence of the love of God. He is forming our character, testing our faith, and building our strength to persevere under trials. This is all for our good. Love and waiting are often intimately tied.
In this climactic miracle of Christ’s earthly ministry, Jesus reveals his authority over death..
A dinner given for Jesus just days before his crucifixion gives us the opportunity to reflect upon our levels of worship, service and simple devotion to Christ.
John 12.1-6.mp3 (Paul Lange)