“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.””
John’s Gospel is a marvellous piece of writing. It has the purpose of bringing the reader to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. John tells us that this is his purpose as he writes towards the end of the Gospel these powerful words. “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His Name.” (John 20:30-31) In the first half of the book John presents teaching, statements which point to the identity of Jesus as the Christ, based upon the Old Testament Scriptural teaching, as well as seven miraculous signs which call us to faith in Him. In this eleventh chapter we have the seventh sign. Of all that Jesus has done so far this has to be considered the greatest sign.
It begins with another crisis. This is an urgent request for Jesus to attend to the sickbed of a man, Lazarus by name, who is part of a family which is beloved by Him. If He can get to Lazarus on time then the Great Physician can certainly heal him. The call is urgent. There is really only one thing that Jesus should do. His friend needs Him so He must go back into Judea even though that will create considerable danger because the Jewish leaders have recently tried to stone Him. So far Jesus has escaped their designs, but now events have conspired against Him.
The Lord Jesus is never one to live under the control of what others consider urgent. The plan for His life and His death is under His own control. He waits for an additional two days, telling His disciples that this sickness is not unto death. There is another, greater purpose to Lazarus’ illness. It is to Glorify God as it glorifies the Son of God. What Jesus is telling His disciples is that Lazarus’ illness will bring Glory to the Father, Son, and Spirit by demonstrating clearly that even death, that great enemy of the human race has been triumphed over by the Lord Jesus Christ. This illness is not unto death because Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life.
I believe that Jesus is pointing beyond the restoration of Lazarus’ life here however. He tells them that He personally is the Resurrection and the life. He will triumph over death and be the first fruits of those who are raised. In John’s Gospel the Glory of Christ is revealed in the cross and resurrection. To be raised, to triumph over death, Jesus must first die. This is the work which He has come to do. It is completely in His control as to its timing and manner. It is not a defeat or a tragedy; it is the way to real and abundant life.
For Lazarus to be raised he must first die. This points our attention ahead to an even more important death and resurrection. Life comes as death is triumphed over by the Lord Jesus Christ. Verse sixteen of this chapter has the disciple Thomas voice a prophetic statement which points to the way of the disciple. “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.” It is entirely possible that Thomas was simply expressing his view that Jesus was following a risky course of action. We can see loyalty and even some courage in him. I am convinced that John presents the statement however as a prophetic call to the way of discipleship. Those who would be disciples of Jesus must, Deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). To follow Jesus as a disciple however is the road to abundant life. The Puritan writer John Flavel expressed it this way.
“The Christian shall gain that which he cannot lose, by parting with that which he cannot keep.”