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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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What a friend we have in Jesus | Now Jesus loved… Lazarus

Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (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.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, ‘Lord, the one you love is sick.’

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.’ 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, and then he said to his disciples, ‘Let us go back to Judea.’

…When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. ‘Where have you laid him?’ he asked.

‘Come and see, Lord,’ they replied.

Jesus wept.

Then the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’

JOHN 11:1–7, 33–36


 

Lazarus was Jesus’ friend. In fact, he wasn’t just Jesus’ friend – he was the disciples’ friend, too (John 11:11). And so it made perfect sense that when there was trouble in Bethany, Jesus would go to Lazarus’ side. For Jesus loved Lazarus and he loved his sisters, too. Perhaps he had spent many happy times at their home historically, a stop-off en route to Jerusalem or even his home-from-home when travelling for the Jewish festivals.

As Lazarus got sick, his sisters had sent for Jesus. They’d reminded him it wasn’t just another villager who needed him. It wasn’t a stranger, but a beloved friend lying there in that bed. Lord, the one you love is sick, they said.

The one you love.

So Jesus went. Not immediately, granted. But Jesus went to help his friends.

By the time Jesus arrived, though, Lazarus was dead. And Jesus had known it, telling his disciples as much. He knew he was not to heal Lazarus but, rather, to raise him from the dead.

Now, if Jesus knew the Father intended for him to raise Lazarus from the dead, why did he stand weeping at his tomb? Why was he then ‘once more deeply moved’ (John 11:38)? If the Lord of all knew he was about to restore life to his friend, who had been four days in the tomb, why was he not rejoicing?

The answer is there in the text. The Jews themselves saw it, saying, ‘See how he loved him!’.

Jesus loved his friend Lazarus. And he loved his friends Mary and Martha. He grieved that they should have had to bear such loss. And though knowing that Lazarus’ return to life would mean great rejoicing, Jesus knew also, I think, that the fact of Lazarus having died and of Jesus not having been there would leave an indelible mark on the psyche of each of his friends.

Jesus loved them and that meant he cared for every aspect of their wellbeing. The suffering that was somehow for God’s glory might complicate how this family experienced friendship with Jesus but it would not negate Jesus’ deep friendship-affection for them. The true friend grieved their suffering.

He grieves yours, too. In the face of the unexplainable in your life, the painful and the earth-shattering, the true friend knows both the redemption that is coming for you and also weeps with you in the brokenness.

See how he loves you.

Dr Chloe Lynch

Lecturer in Practical Theology, London School of Theology

Wisdom Lab: Friendship on the Frontline

In a culture of widespread loneliness, discover more about how would Jesus have us befriend those beyond the church.

Comments

  1. Thank you for this message.
    Jesus explains, ” …..This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.’….
    How is this to be understood, please?

    By Bennett  -  12 Jun 2023
    • Hi Bennett, great question – and on such a sensitive topic. We were just praying yesterday with a dear friend who is still processing the loss of her mum; understandably, she has so many questions about why God didn’t seem to intervene at all. Simply saying, ‘it was for God’s glory’ brings little comfort, however theologically robust this phrase may be.

      In context, John’s Gospel is all about Christ being the light, and life – the personal force animating all that is, and bringing freedom both now and into the future. So every miracle is framed as a ‘sign’ – it embodies the good of God’s reign, even as it points toward what the world will be like when Christ is fully seen as king, death has been vanquished, evil is no more, and all things are made new, reaching their telos/purpose.

      Each ‘sign’ becomes a window through which we can see the fullness of God’s plan in the fullness of time. And this gives us all hope in the here and now, while we wait for this cosmic restoration.

      So, Jesus – knowing that he would raise Lazarus as a sign – waited until he had passed away, revealing what awaits all of us in this life. And he genuinely weeps in grief over this loss, and with Mary and Martha in their pain. But by raising Lazarus from the dead, this sign proves Christ is Lord of all, even death. And in this, we find grounds for our ultimate hope that all will be made well, seen in the resurrection. All of which brings joy to us and greater glory to God than would happen had Jesus merely preserved Lazarus’s finite life.

      It parallels the mercy of God, post Adam and Eve’s fall, to evict them from the garden barring access to live forever in a fallen state, pointing to the sacrifice necessary to cover their shame, unwrap the grave clothes (like Lazarus), and discover the life of the ages (‘eternal life’) only found in Christ who is the tree of life.

      Shortly after this passage, Jesus teaches in John 12:24-25 (NLT):
      ‘I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives. Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity.’

      No question, there’s a mystery in this. But it’s never a callous organising of events and people like pawns on a board to bring God a greater amount of this abstract quantity of ‘glory’. Rather, it’s the God with scars, Jesus the compassionate, who works all things for good – even life, suffering, and death, so ultimately we grow in how to love and be loved, until one day we enter the eternal embrace of the Father.

      Hope this helps.

      By Dave Benson (LICC Director of Culture and Discipleship)  -  12 Jun 2023
  2. Great article. I`ve felt Jesus sitting near me when I was afraid, due to politics changes, that I would lose my actual job. I was so anxious. But one night, after praying to God I`ve felt such a peace and saw like a great light in my mind. I understood through that situation that God has the control over every detail of our lives.

    By Diana Cueto  -  12 Jun 2023
  3. The most meaningful, yet challenging times when Jesus sits with me in my brokenness is when the brokenness is not healed, restored or brought back to life. At least not yet. And when it goes on and on, the necessity of knowing Jesus is God and knows all and loves all according to His infinite knowledge, and will one day sort it all out and make it right is indispensable to live as exiles in a broken world.

    By John Spadafora  -  12 Jun 2023

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