John 11:1-4 “Sickness for the Glory of God”

Introduction: Jesus, after the Jews had tried to stone Him on at least two different occasions and tried to arrest Him several times removes Himself from Judea to a region called Perea.  This is on the eastern side of the Jordan River about 20 miles from Jerusalem. 

            Based upon the following facts we may make some profound conclusions which make this story even more amazing than it first appears.

Fact number one: It takes just under a day to walk from the closest part of the region of Perea to Bethany.

Fact number two: Jesus waited two days after hearing the news about Lazarus before going to Bethany.

Fact number three: Jesus arrived to find that Lazarus had been in the grave for four days.


            Here is the account of these events as this writer sees them:

Lazarus was gravely ill and on Friday, sometime during the day, they sent a messenger to Jesus to let Him know that Lazarus was sick.   Just after the messenger left town Lazarus died.  Because the Sabbath day was drawing near they had to anoint the body of Lazarus and wrap it for burying the same day he died.  Just before sunset they placed his body in the tomb.  The messenger arrived at the town where Jesus was staying and waited until day break of the Sabbath day to find Jesus and give Him the message.  He finds Jesus and after Jesus hears the message He sends a message back to Mary and Martha that this sickness is not unto death.  Jesus knows that Lazarus has already died and that the messenger will arrive back at Bethany on Sunday to find that Lazarus has already been buried. Jesus waits deliberately two days or until Tuesday to go to Bethany.  He arrives in Bethany late Tuesday afternoon to find that Lazarus has been in the tomb for four days. 


(John 11:1)  Now a certain [man] was sick, [named] Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.

            It is the lot of man since the fall of Adam that he is plagued with illness.  Jesus had healed many who were sick.  Peter’s mother-in-law was sick with at fever and Jesus healed her.  Not having modern medicines often sick people did not recover from their illness.  Notice that this was not a plague where many were sick but that only a certain man was sick.  Would Jesus, the great physician, travel a great distance to heal just one person?  Had it been a large number of people that were sick with the same disease then the need would be greater and the outcome more glorious.

            According to Easton’s Bible Dictionary the name Lazarus means “whom God helps.”  What an appropriate name for this man for God will indeed help him.  There are two men bearing this name in the scriptures.  One is a beggar who died and went to “the bosom of Abraham” and the other is this man whom Jesus will raise from the dead.  All men are men whom God helps.  Those who have faith in God know this and know that God helps them daily for which they are thankful.  Those without faith in God are still help of God for He sends the rain on the just and the unjust.

            Bethany is a town of about at days journey from Perea where Jesus is residing.  It is the town of Mary and Martha.  These two women must have been well known and well respected members of their community.  As we shall discover there are many who have come to mourn with them and to comfort them in their time of grief.  It was Martha who complained to Jesus that Mary was not helping her serve to which Jesus replied that Mary had chosen that good part which could not be taken from her. Martha has grown spiritually since that day for she will go to Mary and invite her to come to Jesus instead of insisting that she leave Jesus.


(John 11:2)  (It was [that] Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.)

            Mary is now identified to the reader as the one which anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped His feet with her hair.  This event has not taken place yet but is a note for the reader to know that this is the same person who preformed that most famous of deeds.  Mary had chosen the one needful thing which Martha had missed.  She saw the importance of spending time with Jesus.  Her faith is not perfect for she thinks that Jesus is limited in His power and authority.  Had she been like the centurion of Matthew 8:8 she would have known that Jesus could have healed Lazarus from any distance.  Had she believed the message that Jesus sent back to them which we shall discuss at length in a moment she would have known that some how her brother would live.


(John 11:3)  Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.

            Because Lazarus was sick and his sisters knew he was gravely ill they sent word by a messenger to Jesus.  They know where Jesus is staying and that it is but a day’s journey from them.  Their hope is that He may be reached in time to save the life of their brother.  The message is brief and to the point. It acknowledges that Jesus is Lord.  This is to say that He is God and that He has authority over everything and everyone.

            The message makes no request for help of the Lord but only consideration of the problem.  They want Jesus to “behold.” They want Him to be aware of the situation that Lazarus is in currently.

            The request is made on behalf of one whom the Lord loves.  Now we know that God loves the whole world.  So great was His love that He gave His only begotten Son to die for our sins. But here it speaks of a special relationship which our Lord had with Lazarus.  This same relationship seems to be true of John, the writer of this Gospel.  John is described as the disciple that Jesus loved.  Those who are willing to be a friend will have a closer relationship with anyone over those who prefer to distance themselves from relationships. 

            Let it be noted that even this very close friend of Jesus had to endure sickness.  Jesus does not keep His beloved from every hurtful thing.  He will with each trial and temptation provide a way of escape.  His grace is sufficient for us.


(John 11:4)  When Jesus heard [that], he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.

            Remember that Jesus knows that Lazarus is dead even as the messenger has arrived with the message of his illness.  I believe that Jesus sends a message back to Martha and Mary which, if believed, will be a great comfort to them.  The message gives comfort in that it explains that the outcome of this illness will not be death.  The message also comforts because it gives purpose or reason as to why this bad thing, this hard time has come upon this family. 

            Jesus knows that He is going to raise Lazarus from the dead and knew this when the messenger arrived. When He said that this sickness was not unto death He meant that the end result would be that Lazarus would live again. If the words of Jesus are believed even though it is difficult if not impossible to know how these things will be, this troubled family can have peace even joy during this difficult time.

            Let us learn from this story that God’s promises are true.  When He says “all things work together for good to them that love the Lord and are the called according to His purpose” we can know that all things will work out for good some way or some how.  Job understood this concept for when disaster struck his home and family He gave the proper response “The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord.  Through our infirmities the Lord God is glorified and that is, after all, our purpose for living, to bring honor and glory to God.

            The purpose of this illness was for the Glory of God.  This means that God the Father would receive glory.  The word “Glory” has many meanings in the scriptures.  Here are some of the ways this word is used in scripture.


            1. Brightness; 2 Peter 1:17 speaks of the cloud which covered Jesus on the mount of transfiguration.

            2. Superior, preeminent; Exodus 8:9 Moses told Pharaoh to “Glory over me.”

            3. Splendor, magnificence; Matt 6:29 “Solomon in all his glory”

            4. Praise, adoration; Luke 2:14 “Glory to God in the highest”

            5. Celestial bliss; Psalm 73:24 “…afterward receive me [to] glory.”

            6. Divine presence; 1Sam. 4:22 “…the glory is departed from Israel

            7. Divine perfection; Psalm 19:1 “…the heavens declare the Glory of God”

            8. Honorable representation; 1 Cor. 11:7 “…he is the image and glory of God”

            9. That of which one may boast; Isa 13:19 “…Babylon, the glory of kingdoms,”

            10. To rejoice; Psalm 105:3 “…Glory ye in his holy name…”

            11. Boastfulness, Pride; Gal. 5:26 “…Let us not be desirous of vain glory…”


Jesus is saying here that the reason Lazarus is sick is to cause men to praise God having seen Him work so wondrously through this illness.  People will be giving God the Father the credit for this miracle and for His grace and mercy. Many souls will be saved because of this illness.  Lazarus, Mary, and Martha do not know the future and can not know what the outcome of this storm in their lives will be.  But Jesus has said that it will bring Glory to God and that should be the outcome of not only our troubles and trials in life but our good times as well.

            The second purpose for this illness is that Christ himself will be glorified thereby.  This event will cause a multitude of people to join a parade laying down palm branches and crying “Hosanna to the Son of David.”  Jesus will be praised and exalted in the eyes of men because of this illness.  People will come to know Jesus as their savior and will be called, forgiven, pardoned, redeemed, justified, exalted, glorified, and sanctified.  All because a certain man was sick whose name was Lazarus. 

            The purpose of the Gospel of John is stated in (John 20:31)  “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” If you will hear the words of this text and believe that what it says is true you too can know Jesus Christ as your savior.

            Jesus was indeed glorified by this man’s illness.  Jesus can be glorified by anyone’s illness.  In good times and bad give God the glory due to His holy name.