Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep” (Joh 11:11). While this phrase may have confused His disciples, the Lord Jesus is patiently priming their minds for what He is about to teach them. He plans to instruct them in sympathy as they witness His compassion for the sisters at Bethany. They will be educated about future events when He discusses resurrection with Martha; furthermore, their faith will be strengthened when their dead friend is raised to life. Most importantly, though, as with the events surrounding every other “I AM” statement, this journey to Judea will highlight specific virtues of the Lord Jesus and demonstrate His Messianic claims.
In these articles, we aim to be taught in the same school. Following Him from Bethabara to Lazarus’ tomb, we will appreciate the character of our High Priest as He weeps with them that weep. Listening to His conversations, we will note the value of resurrection to the grieving and, through a survey of the Scriptures, we will learn the order and significance of resurrection, never forgetting that the emphasis is not just on life from the dead but on the preeminence of the Life Giver.
Martha and Mary were convinced that their brother would not have died if the Lord had been there (vv21,32). We picture the two at the bedside of their terminally ill sibling. Helpless and fearful, no doubt they wondered, Does the Lord know? Does He even care? With their prayers clouded by the “if only’s” of grief and their minds full of uncertainty, they couldn’t consider the greater goal. But what purpose could there be in such pain and loss? The answer is found in the Lord’s words before He ever moves toward the eastern slope of Mt. Olivet.
When first told of Lazarus’ sickness, the Lord said this was “for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby” (v4). But there was also a purpose here that was to be very personal and practical. When He said, “I am glad” (v15), it was not only the potential for displaying God’s power that He was rejoicing in but “for your sakes.” Effectively, this event was permitted for the glory of God and the development of their faith. This is emphasized in the words “that ye might believe.” Those standing by would see the mighty works and believe, bringing glory to God, and those who were already believers would be strengthened in their faith and drawn closer to Him (vv15,42,45).
Witnessing a true Shepherd caring for His sheep, we see two keys to understanding the basis of Christian consolation. First, there is the compassion displayed in the personal contact between the Comforter and the comforted; we will call this “Consoling Tenderness.” Then, under the title of “Comforting Teaching,” we will learn the importance of sound doctrine as a ballast in life’s storms.
While the Lord Jesus did not become our Great High Priest until after His ascension, we are given glimpses of His priestly activity in His earthly ministry. At the graveside, the ultimate “time of need,” John reveals the character and conduct of the Supreme Succourer, touched with the feelings of our infirmities (Heb 4:15-16).
His compassion is evident as He became inwardly troubled and openly shed tears (Joh 11:33,35). However, at the same time, the Lord was moved with indignation. This righteous anger may have been directed toward sin and death or at the unbelief of the onlookers, but, at the very least, we notice that the Lord Himself had a mixture of strong emotions in this crisis. Having perfect faith and complete understanding, He still experienced the grief of loss and empathy for the bereaved. Let us learn to be diligent in guarding against unhealthy bitterness in our sorrow but also to be careful to avoid the feelings of guilt that come with raw emotion. Grieving, with all of its dejection, is normal and acceptable.
But don’t miss it: the very presence of the Tender Teacher brought solace to the sorrowing sisters. He came to them, spoke to them, wept with them, exhorted them to believe and prayed in their presence (vv17-42). There was no doubt in all in attendance that this Man cared, and that was comforting.
While sympathy is necessary when shepherding in a crisis, we now move on to what has often been overlooked: the importance of doctrine for stability in a trial. The Scriptures are full of this principle, as the NT epistles brim with exhortation and consolation based on the solid rock of unchanging truth. Often, we mistake the existence of emotion for its priority. In other words, in a time of trial, we focus on our feelings rather than our foundation. The Lord Jesus was careful to give Martha something that surpassed the shifting sand of feelings and provided a permanent basis for strength. That something is doctrine.
While Martha’s heart was in the grave with her brother’s body, the Lord directed her mind beyond the grave to focus on a future certainty: the literal, bodily resurrection of saints. Admittedly, their conversation is nuanced by the immediate raising of Lazarus. Still, the teaching of future resurrection has been used in the Scriptures and down through the ages to minister to bereaved believers. To the Thessalonians, who feared that loved ones had missed the Lord’s return, Paul says, “The dead in Christ shall rise first,” comforting them with these words (1Th 4:16-18). And to those shaken by false doctrine concerning the dead, he says, “Now is Christ risen” and “the dead shall be raised” (1Co 15:20,52). Combined with the reality of the Rapture, the overwhelming thrust of this teaching is that the knowledge of resurrection gives relief in our grief. If we are convinced of the truth, we will be helped in the trial.
With His words to Martha, He goes further, not just teaching the details of life from the dead but showing that He Himself is intrinsically connected to this doctrine. The following article will delve into some details but remember the point: without Him, resurrection would be impossible, and apart from His personal presence, no future resurrection would occur. For, says He, “I AM the resurrection and the life.”
 Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV.
 cf. Joh 10:40; 1:28
 Heb 4:14; 6:20; 8:4
 ἐµβριµάοµα – “Used of men … to be painfully moved; to express indignation against” in Vine’s CEDNTW (Nashville, TN: T. Nelson, 1996), 96.