Lazarus: The Man Who Came Back For Dinner

Karloff wasn't the first.  Lazarus was!

Karloff wasn’t the first. Lazarus was!


John 11, 12


Lazarus is another bit player in Scripture.  Most of us know the one thing Lazarus was famous for:  he came back to life at the Lord’s command.  Still, he is a bit player, albeit an important one for some important reasons.

A quick reconnaissance of John’s Gospel shows us how it is laid out.  In the first 10 chapters, we see Jesus moving and preaching, revealing Himself to more and more people on a large scale. His ministry began at the wedding feast in Cana and spread out from there.  Chapter 11 is different; this time Jesus is not preaching to crowds of listeners, instead, we see the beginnings of His private ministry to specific individuals.   Those individuals included Lazarus and his two sisters.

Not a whole lot is said about Lazarus, hence his “bit player” status.  But he is vitally important because what happened to him answered a burning question:  Is Jesus more powerful than death?  If Jesus really was the Messiah—the Son of God—as He claimed to be, then He must be!  The Lazarus incident proves that Jesus Christ does indeed hold the power of life and death.

It also proves that our Lord is interested in individuals, not just in groups of people, like Israel.  Is Jesus concerned about you personally?  Does He know about your problems?  You bet He does!  And what He did for Lazarus and his sisters proves that, too.

The Hebrew form of Lazarus is Eliezer, meaning “God my helper.”  He was aptly named, considering how he was helped by God!   We can learn a lot about ourselves and how we have been “helped” spiritually by taking a look at this man who came back, Lazarus.

1.  Sickness

Do you remember Mary, who poured the costly perfume on Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair? Well, her brother Lazarus, who lived in Bethany with Mary and her sister Martha, was sick.  So the two sisters sent a message to Jesus telling him, “Sir, your good friend is very, very sick.”  (John 11:1—3  TLB)

The characters of this drama are introduced to us quickly in these verses.  By the time this Gospel was written, around 90 AD, Mary seemed to be fairly well-known and her name is linked to her home town of Bethany.  She was known for anointing the feet of Jesus with some precious perfume.  Doing anything meaningful for Jesus always carries lasting value.

For I considered all this in my heart, so that I could declare it all: that the righteous and the wise and their works are in the hand of God.  (Ecclesiastes 9:1a  NKJV)

Lazarus, we are told was very sick.  He was loved by the Lord, yet eaten up with sickness.  Lazarus is the perfect picture of the sin-sick man; loved by God, yet eaten up with sin—the whole reason Jesus came in the first place!

He sent His word and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions.  (Psalm 107:20 NKJV)

Sickness is a double-edged sword as far as the believer is concerned.  There is a corner of Christianity that teaches God makes people sick.  Then there is the rest of Christianity that recognizes no evil thing comes from God.  But, God does allow sickness for a very specific purpose:

But when Jesus heard about it he said, “The purpose of his illness is not death, but for the glory of God. I, the Son of God, will receive glory from this situation.”  (John 11:4  TLB)

Everything, even very bad things, happen for a purpose, and God may be glorified even in our sickness and distress, especially if we behave in a Godly manner.

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.  (Romans 8:28  NKJV)

Jesus knew something Lazarus and his sisters did not know:  this sickness was not going to kill Lazarus.  Death would not be the final result of this sickness, but rather the final result would be the glorification of God.

2.  Death

In spite of what Jesus just said, that Lazarus’ sickness would not be the cause of his death, Lazarus did, in fact, die.

Then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead.”  (John 11:14a  TLB)

So, did this death catch Jesus by surprise?  Not at all!  Remember, this sickness’ purpose was NOT to take Lazarus home, but to glorify God.  Had Jesus been present during Lazarus’ decline, everybody would have expected Jesus to heal him.  Now, the healing of a sick person is a miracle, to be sure, and it can be a faith-strengthening event (especially for the one healed!), but how much more powerful is raising a dead man to life?

Sickness in no way means that God does not love you.  Or that you have displeased Him in some way.  You can’t look at a person’s circumstances and declare whether or not God loves that person.

Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts.  (1 Corinthians 4:5  NKJV)

In other words, you can’t always trust what you see.  To onlookers, it may have looked like Jesus didn’t really care that Lazarus was sick.  Yet we know how the depth of Christ’s affection for not only Lazarus but also for his sisters.

3.  Life and liberty

And Lazarus came—bound up in the gravecloth, his face muffled in a head swath. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!”  (John 11:44  TLB)

The life-giving power of Christ could only have been manifested in the case of a dead person.  A skeptic could claim a healing was really just the body healing itself.  But only God can return life to a corpse.  This is why things happened this way; there could be no question that Jesus was who and what He claimed He was.

Jesus Christ came into the world to do for sinners spiritually what He did for Lazarus physically.

The thief ’s purpose is to steal, kill and destroy. My purpose is to give life in all its fullness.  (John 10:10  TLB)

Jesus Christ came to give spiritual life to spiritual corpses!  That would be you, if you aren’t born again.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.  (Romans 6:23  TLB)

Life is the free gift of God!  And that life, which comes from Jesus Christ, is more than just life, it’s abundant life—life to the fullest!  Tired of the everyday way of living?  Try the life that Jesus offers.

Lazarus was physically dead and bound up tightly in his graveclothes, but when life returned to him, he was also set free—he experienced liberty.  This is also part of the abundant life:  liberty in Christ.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.  (Galatians 5:1  NIV’11)

When Jesus gives you new life, He sets your free from sin.  You are no longer its slave.

So if the Son sets you free, you will indeed be free…  (John 8:36  TLB)

4.  Fellowship

A banquet was prepared in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus sat at the table with him.  (John 12:2  TLB)

Christians have such free access to the presence of Christ that we often take Him for granted.  Here, in the shadow of the Cross, we see Jesus at a dinner party given in His honor.  Lazarus was right there with Him.  He had been dead, but now he was alive and enjoying fellowship with the One who gave him life.  Jesus had said this:

“I am the one who raises the dead and gives them life again. Anyone who believes in me, even though he dies like anyone else, shall live again.”   (John 11:25  TLB)

Lazarus experienced first-hand the truth of this verse in the physical sense, and it is the privilege of all redeemed sinners to experience its spiritual truth.  Once we were dead in our sins—we had NO fellowship with God because we were, for all intents and purposes, dead to Him.  But now, filled with new life from Him, we are able to enjoy blessed fellowship with Christ all the time!  We are alive to Him and He is alive to us.

Lazarus ate with Jesus.  Every time we pray and read the Word and even fellowship with other believers, we are also having fellowship with Jesus!   We may not be eating a meal with Him—yet—but we are fellowshipping with Him nonetheless.

5.  Testimony

Then the chief priests decided to kill Lazarus too, for it was because of him that many of the Jewish leaders had deserted and believed in Jesus as their Messiah.  (John 12:10, 11  TLB)

These priests were ruthless.  In order to kill Jesus, they would have to kill Lazarus too.  He had become an offense and threat to them.  These chief priests were Saducees, and since they did not believe in the resurrection, they were obligated to get rid of any evidence that was contrary to their teachings, and that meant Lazarus.

Such is the testimony of any believer!  A true believer is an offense and a threat to Satan and his work among sinners.  Think about Lazarus; everybody in Bethany knew he had died, many of them had witnessed his resurrection, and even more of them had seen him walking around town, the picture of health.  What God did for Lazarus was UNDENIABLE.

A Christian who is living his life to glorify God will have the same effect on sinners as Lazarus did—

it was because of him that many of the Jewish leaders had deserted and believed in Jesus as their Messiah.

Never discount the influence of Christ’s risen life in us!  What did Jesus say?

And when I am lifted up on the cross, I will draw everyone to me.”  (John 12:32  TLB)

Jesus isn’t on the Cross anymore, but He is in you, and if you are living for Him, people will be drawn to Christ in you.

Yes, Lazarus is an important bit player in Scripture.  He is a practical illustration of what Jesus does for each and every individual who comes to Him for salvation:  He resurrects them spiritually.  Lazarus’ new life is also an example to us.  Many sinners came to know Jesus because Lazarus lived his new life out in the open, for all to see.  Are you living your new life in Jesus like that?

Don’t hide your light! Let it shine for all; let your good deeds glow for all to see, so that they will praise your heavenly Father.  (Matthew 5:15  TLB)


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