1 Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. 3 Therefore the sisters sent to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.”
This chapter records the seventh and climatic sign miracle in Jesus’ ministry. A sign miracle identifies Christ as the Son of God. Raising Lazarus from the dead was proof of the statement “I am the Resurrection and the Life.”
Chapter 11 records the last of the seven pointing signs or pointing miracles; the resurrection of Lazarus took place four days after he died. This last miracle sign bridges the gospel of John from the authenticating of who Jesus is by miracles to His final week of crucifixion and resurrection.
The book of John is the only gospel that records the raising of Lazarus. The reason John includes this event is it centers on Christ’s deity. This is the seventh of seven sign miracles that prove the deity of Christ. It is culminating proof of Jesus’ claim that He is “the resurrection and the life.”
Now a certain man was sick,
This “certain man” was Lazarus.
Lazarus of Bethany,
Bethany was half a mile east of Jerusalem toward the Jordan River on the road to Jericho—on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives.
the town of Mary and her sister Martha.
This qualification of the town as Mary and Martha’s Bethany was to distinguish it from the other Bethany in Israel. This was not the Bethany of John 1:28.
Mary sat at Jesus’ feet to be taught by Him (Lu 10:39). This occurred before the event in this chapter. She was oriented to worship.
Martha was Lazarus’ other sister. She was too filled with anxiety to be hospitable to Jesus and His disciples when Jesus previously visited them (Lu 10:38-42). She was more of a compulsive worker who did not take time for herself.
It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair,
There were many women called “Mary” in the New Testament, so John named her as the one who anointed Jesus with spikenard. She was well known for this event; it was an act of singular devotion. Jesus said that this act would be remembered wherever the gospel was preached.
This action was well known to John’s readers by AD 90 and was again referenced later in John 12:3.
whose brother Lazarus was sick.
The grammar of “was sick” (periphrastic imperfect) indicates that Lazarus’ sickness was a deteriorating illness.
Therefore the sisters sent to Him, saying,
The sisters sent an urgent message by courier to Jesus. It would have taken at least a full day to reach Jesus.
“Lord, behold, he whom You love [friendship love] is sick.”
Mary and Martha may have assumed that Jesus would come immediately. The word “behold” conveys the idea of listen. The sisters wanted Jesus to urgently listen to what they had to say. They did not tell Him what to do but simply to take urgent note of their problem.
The sisters did not directly demand that Jesus come to Bethany. They knew what kind of danger He was under. They left the judgment about this up to Jesus.
Those whom Jesus loves are not exempt from sickness and suffering.
We should never interpret our problems by how they manifest themselves. This situation with Lazarus is a clear case of this point. God often has a much deeper reason for our suffering than what appears at first glance.
The delay of Jesus coming to Lazarus’ aid had to do with His mastery of death. If He were simply human, He would have rushed to Lazarus’ bedside. However, as God, He had complete mastery of resurrection and life.