"Then Jesus told them plainly, "Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him." So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him."
-- John 11:14-16, ESV
The death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ may have never happened except for the death and resurrection of a dear friend of His named Lazarus. Grab a seat in front for the first scene and see a special man, extraordinary love, pure sacrifice, and some surprising faith.
A special man
His name is "Lazarus," which is the Greek version of the Hebrew name "Eleazar," which means, "God helps." There are seven men with that name in Old Covenant literature, and all of them are good men who, with God's help, helped others to know and love God.
God's specific plan for this certain man is calculated, planned out to the minute. It is the same for you and me. It is so ordered "for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it" (vs. 4). Whatever happens to one of God's children, even something as appalling as death, can set a stage for God to act for His ultimate glory and our overall good.
A higher love
Though Jesus obviously had a special relationship with Lazarus and his sisters, I'm not sure they knew how much Jesus loved them until death placed them on this particular stage. Sure, the message Martha and Mary sent said, "Lord, he whom you love is ill," but they word they chose for "love" is phileo, friendly love, family love, fond love. It's as if they said, the one you are so fond of is dying.
Jesus was fond of this family. He liked talking to Lazarus. He liked teaching God's word to Mary. He liked Martha's cooking. But the Apostle John, who could look inside Jesus' heart as well as anyone, found in Him a higher love. John wrote, "Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus" (vs. 5). In a world where koine Greek was the official written language, John could have used eros, selfish and sensual love, but he did not. He could have repeated the word the sisters used, phileo, friendly love, but he did not. He used agape, a higher love, a deeper love, a sacrificial love. This is John's favorite word to describe the love of God, and for good reason, for such great love requires great sacrifice.
A great sacrifice
Jesus did not merely say a prayer or send an encouraging word. He walked a hundred miles to be with the family in person. In doing so, He put Himself at great risk. Jesus was sacrificing His own life by going to see Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. He knew the risks of going to Judea, He new the next Passover was at hand, and He knew this time, He would be the lamb.
When you commit to a life that honors and obeys the will of God, and you do so in response to God's great love for you and your true love for Him, you will sacrifice. You will always sacrifice your time, often your resources, sometimes your health, and maybe even your life. Yet, as we will see in the subsequent acts of this great play, no child of God ever really dies.
A surprising faith
Thomas was not his real name. Thomas was his nickname. Everyone called him the twin, didymus in Greek, to-ma in Hebrew, Thomas in English. Thomas is shrouded by doubt now everywhere he goes. But he should not be called Doubting Thomas, he should be called Courageously Faithful Thomas.
When the other disciples were trying to talk Jesus out of going back into Judea, listen to what Courageously Faithful Thomas said, "Let us also go, that we may die with him." It takes a special man to say that. It requires a higher love to say that. It involves personal sacrifice to say that. It is not doubt, but a strong and living faith in Jesus Christ.
You are special to God. His love for you is higher than you could ever know. He has sacrificed for you, He gave His life for you. Are you willing to give your life to Him?
Chuck DeVane is the pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs. He is a graduate of Valdosta State University, Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He has served churches in Arkansas and Georgia, and preached the gospel across the United States and other countries. Email him at [email protected]