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Dead or Asleep?

Key References: John 11:1-16; The Desire of Ages, chap. 58, pp. 524-527; The Bible Story (1994), vol. 9, pp. 22-27; Our Beliefs nos. 26, 9, 8

Power Text

“I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God” (Job 19:25, 26).

Power Point

Jesus gives me peace when I face suffering and death.

Have you ever experienced the death of someone you loved dearly? Did you turn to Jesus for comfort? Even when we can’t understand why He is allowing us to go through the pain, we can trust that He has a plan, and we can focus on His power.

Mary and Martha were worried about their brother, Lazarus. His very high fever had seemed to come on overnight. One day he was busy about his usual business, and the next he was lying in a sweat, practically delirious from fever. The only thing to do was to let Jesus know. Jesus was like another brother to them. He was the One who had healed so many people over the past three years. The sisters sent a message to where Jesus was with His disciples. Then they waited with patient faith.

When Jesus received the message, “Lord, the one you love is sick” (John 11:3), He responded calmly, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it” (verse 4). The messenger waited for Jesus to say something else. Instead He turned His attention to other people who needed His help. Obviously the Master was not planning to return to Bethany right away, so the messenger hurried back without Him.

“Where is Jesus?” the sisters asked the messenger upon his return. But the messenger shook his head.

“The Master says, ‘This sickness will not end in death,’ ” he replied.

Mary and Martha were overjoyed at the news. Tenderly they tried to relay the message to their almost-unconscious patient. Eagerly they watched for signs of his recovery. Bitterly disappointed, they watched Lazarus die. In their grief they were comforted by grace from Jesus. Not once did they doubt or blame Him.

The disciples, on the other hand, were puzzled by Jesus. He seemed a little cold to them. They remembered when He hadn’t responded to the imprisonment of His cousin John. Why not? Why did He not rush back to Bethany? Why did He go on teaching as if nothing had happened? They knew what a comfort His presence would be to the family He loved so much. His behavior was a mystery to them.

For two more days Jesus went about His business. He didn’t once mention Lazarus.

Jesus’ enemies, the Pharisees, also had noticed that Jesus had not rescued John the Baptist. To them it was a sure sign that He wasn’t who He claimed to be—the Son of God. “If He is the Son of God, if He has so much power,” the Pharisees reasoned, “why did He let His cousin die? Why did He did not heal His friend?”

The disciples were troubled during these two days. Jesus had been talking about trials, losses, and persecution. Would He forsake them during those trying times the way He seemed to have forsaken John and Lazarus?

After two days on the other side of the Jordan Jesus turned back toward Bethany. Even though they wanted Jesus to comfort His friends, the disciples were alarmed. “This is where the Jews tried to stone You,” they reminded Jesus. “Are You sure You want to go back to Bethany?” But Jesus was not worried for Himself; the Holy Spirit was leading Him.

“Lazarus is sleeping,” He explained. Now the disciples were even more surprised. If Lazarus was sleeping, that would be a good sign for his recovery. They didn’t understand that Jesus was 81 talking not about a natural sleep, but about death.

“Lazarus is dead,” Jesus explained further. He added: “For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him” (verses 14, 15).

The disciples turned with Jesus toward Bethany. They didn’t understand why Jesus was allowing His friends to face suffering and death, but they trusted that He had everything under control.