Reading the bible, especially as a newcomer or skeptic, can be daunting. There often feels like there is a pressure to understand a verse or parable and we can feel downtrodden when we can’t understand part of the bible – but this shouldn’t be the case.
Oftentimes, being able to discuss the bible and attempt to understand its passages with others and through teachings can be where you find the biggest breakthroughs. Just because you struggle with something doesn’t mean that your faith is less than another believer.
One particular story in the Bible that can be hard to draw obvious and practical lessons from is the story of Lazarus. Most people, even the non believers, will recognise the story of Lazarus and his name as it is often referred to a lot outside the bible in popular culture.
While many of us recognise the story it can still be hard to discern how to use this story in your daily life. In this article, we have taken the time to go through the story of Lazarus and provide some study afterwards so we can understand what lessons can be taken from this story. Read on to learn more.
The story of Lazarus is one of miracles, faith, and trusting in God. The story is told by John and covers chapter 11, verses 1-45.
Lazarus of Bethany is the brother of Mary and Martha and also a follower of Jesus Christ. The sisters tell Jesus that Laazarus is sick, they tell him ‘he whom thou lovest is sick’ (John 11:2).
Rather than acting in haste, Jesus tells the sisters ‘This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son Of God may be glorified thereby.’ (John 11:4) What Jesus is alluding here, is that Lazarus’ death is not the end, and God has a plan for him like everyone else.
This must have been hard to hear for Mary and Marth as their brother remains ill. Jesus proceeds to spend two days where he is before travelling to Lazarus in Bethany.
We are not told much about the sisters feelings during this time, but their faith would surely be tested as they watch Jesus seemingly do nothing while their brother dies.
After two days, Jesus suggests that he and his disciples enter Judea and go to Bethany. The disciples are hesitant as the Jews are still very hostile towards Jesus. ‘Rabbi, the Jews were but now seeking to stone thee; and goest thou thither again?’ (John 11:8)
Jesus proclaims that Lazarus has ‘fallen asleep; but I go, that I may wake him out of sleep.’ alluding again, through his refusal to use the word ‘dead’, that Lazarus journey is not yet over.
The disciples misunderstand Jesus: ‘Now Jesus had spoken of his death: but they thought he spoke of taking rest in sleep.’ Until Jesus clarifies ‘Lazarus is dead’. Then Thomas, or Didymus at this point, says ‘Let us also go, so that we may die with him’. (John 11:13-16)
By the time Jesus and his disciples reach Bethany, they find that Lazarus has been dead and entombed for four days already.
Martha says to Jesus ‘Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.’ Jesus consoles her ‘Thy brother shall rise again.’. Martha misinterprets Jesus as questioning her faith and is quick to reassure him that she knows he will rise again in Heaven.
To which Jesus replies a popular and well quoted verse from the Bible: I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believes in me shall never die.’ (John 11: 25)
Mary then comes to Jesus, and is clearly more shaken up than Martha. Her weeping, along with others in the area, upsets Jesus. Jesus commands ‘Where have ye laid him?’ and is brought to Lazarus’ tomb.
Once he rolls away the stone entombing the corpse, Martha questions Jesus and declares that his body would have decayed already having been entombed for four days. To which Jesus replies ‘Said I not unto thee, that, if thou believest, thou shouldest see the glory of God?’ (John 11: 40)
In front of the crowd Jesus speaks directly to God: ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me.
I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.’ (John 11: 42-43) Jesus then cried out into the tomb: ‘Lazarus, come forth!’ and shockingly to all who watched on, Lazarus walks out of the tomb bound in his ‘grave-clothes’ and Jesus commands ‘loose him, and let him go’.
Because Jesus successfully raised Lazarus from the dead, he gained a lot of believers from the crowd that day, but his actions were also reported to the Jewish authorities.
Within the Biblical narrative, this miracle is a serious turning point in Jesus’ story. It is this miracle that directly leads to the Caiaphas and Sanhedrin, the jewish high courts, to order the death of Jesus.
What can we learn from the story of Lazarus?
On its surface, this story seems to just be Jesus flexing his otherworldly powers in order to convert the Jews of Bethany. However, there is much more to this story for us to learn beyond the spectacle of resurrection.
If anything, this is a story of faith. Just put yourself in Mary and Martha’s shoes. Their brother is on his deathbed and they are aware that Jesus has the powers to potentially heal their dying brother.
When Jesus calmly chooses to stay where he was and not choose to act, Mary and Martha’s faith is seriously being tested.
This is a problem we all face sometimes. It isn’t hard to recall times when a family member or friend has been in a bad situation and we have prayed to God to miraculously solve our real life issues.
But sometimes God has a plan that reaches far beyond what we understand.
Furthermore, in these situations it can be truly hard to keep your faith strong in the face of such tragedy, but this story demonstrates how we should ground our strength in faith.
As Jesus explains to Martha ‘I am the resurrection, I am the life, he who believes in me shall never die.’ What we can take from Jesus’ words is that we have trusted him before and it has always worked out, so why in this situation might we choose not to have faith?
The story of Lazarus demonstrates that if we put our faith in God, even in the most uncertain and tragic circumstances, he will always pull through and even grant us life again, should we simply believe in his teachings.
Faith and trust are often treated as interchangeable concepts, but it isn’t always that simple. While we may have faith in God and his powers, it can still be hard to trust that he can pull us through.
There is no story in the bible that demonstrates our struggle with this than in the story of Lazarus.
Mary and Martha have to trust in God’s plan, which sometimes isn’t obvious. The miraculous quality of the events in this story are a way of demonstrating that the Holy Trinity is so strong it can bring back people from the dead.
This demonstrates how far our trust should go with God, that even in death he can still save us, all he asks is that we simply believe.
The fact that Jesus can raise a person from the dead is exactly why we should trust in him and believe him. We can view it almost as a ‘I told you so’ moment, Jesus is demonstrating the extent of his power so that we can truly understand what our faith is worth.
Or rather, the power of God is being demonstrated to us through Jesus.
It is often overlooked how pivotal a moment the resurrection of Lazarus is for Jesus himself. We don’t really consider what Jesus is sacrificing here.
Surely, Jesus is aware that this sort of miraculous event could cause a stir, especially as he is in the middle of Judea, a hostile territory. Jesus is sacrificing his safety in order to demonstrate the power of faith to us.
We too must sacrifice in order to truly believe. We must sacrifice our physical form and time on earth in order to move into Heaven.
Sometimes we must sacrifice reason in the name of faith. The story of Lazarus demonstrates that God will never turn his back on us even in our most tragic and dire moments.
The Power of the Spirit
Another thing worth taking away from this story of Lazarus, is the spiritual power of faith. Even in death Lazarus’ belief and faith in Jesus is so strong that he can be brought back from the dead.
Moreover, this faith is so spiritually strong that it transcends his physical form.
This is an important lesson, that our faith empowers our spirit not our physical form. We must accept that our life on Earth is finite, and that in death our faith will protect us from any harm and only bring us good.
If anything, the story of Lazarus can teach us not to be attached to our physical form, but rather to our spiritual strength.
The resurrection of Lazarus also reinstates the power of the Holy Trinity. Even Jesus himself recognizes that he is more than simply a physical form. The resurrection of Lazarus is a combination of the Spirit, God and Jesus.
One thing worth noting in this story, is one of the few occasions we see true emotion from Jesus being recorded in the gospels. It’s rare that Jesus gets over emotional as he is usually calm and stalwart in most situations.
However, when Jesus sees Mary and Martha weeping he weeps too. It is noteworthy that ‘Jesus wept.’ is written in this story. This is to demonstrate how much he genuinely cares.
The resurrection is not an act to show off power or cause fear, it is a genuine act of kindness as Jesus sees the agony and sadness that the death of Lazarus has caused.
We can also learn a lot about fear in this story, that if we trust in God our fear will be no more. Regardless if we are fearful of death we don’t need to be as Jesus demonstrates that while our physical bodies are potentially weak, our spiritual strength is strong.
One lesson we can gain from this story is that the delay of deliverance is not the denial of deliverance. This is what Mary and Martha had to deal with and understand, and something we must come to understand too.
When we pray to God and ask him for things we don’t necessarily get it immediately. The concept of deliverance relies on trust and faith. Often, in our own lives, God won’t deliver us from our problems immediately.
It’s not a simple act of praying for deliverance and we receive it immediately. There are often trials to go through, tests of our faith, before we can truly be rid of the issue.
Trusting God’s Plan
Part of this story is a demonstration that God has a plan for us all. He tells Mary and Martha that the delay of their deliverance is in order to honour and glorify God’s name.
What he is referring to here is the miracle that shows glory and in turn converts the crowd.
What we can take from this and apply to our own lives is that God may have a plan for us too, and at times it may be confusing what this is.
But we should always trust that this plan is to bring God’s glory to us. This can also be a reassuring thought when considering God’s plans for others.
Sometimes we may see a friend struggling with a tough time, while we should still offer them kindness and sympathy, we should understand that it is all part of God’s marvellous plan.
Imagine you are approaching a maze, the only way to figure out how to get to the centre is by literally walking through it, you cannot predict what the path will be from the outside.
We can imagine God has a bird’s eye view of the maze, he already knows which path we will walk to get what we want.
He can understand and plan things for us, and we simply must trust he can see the way through as we cannot see it the same way he does.
The Take Home
The story of Lazarus is a challenging one that requires a certain abandonment of reason. Moreover, the story can seem interesting but also hard to draw practical conclusions from such a miraculous event.
One helpful way to begin to understand this story is to forget about the actual act of resurrection and see it more as symbolic of God’s power than getting lost in the details of resurrection.
It’s also important to point out that simply because you believe in God, he’s not literally going to resurrect people in your life. This is a specific circumstance and most people understand the story to be symbolic rather than literal.
This dichotomy between the literal and the symbolic is one of the hardest balances to get right when reading the bible, and understanding the story of Lazarus is a good way to practice this approach.
Moreover, the biggest thing to take home from the Lazarus story, and the thing most worth spending your time thinking on, is the concept of faith and how this is tested in the story.
We must understand that deliverance is not always immediate, sometimes God has plans that we cannot realise yet but we must trust he always has our best trust at heart.
We should engage in these tests and strengthen our faith as this story is a demonstration of the power that God has, and while he may not resurrect someone in your life, if we simply believe in him then his power is endless and omnipotent.
It’s also worth considering what Jesus was sacrificing in the story, adn how he knew what was coming his way, but chose to honour our faith rather than protecting himself. Sometimes we must sacrifice our reason, and our need to understand everything in order to have true faith.