Before the Passover

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Gospel of John 11:45-12:11

45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. 46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. NIV

“What are we doing? For this man is performing many miraculous signs. 48 If we allow him to go on in this way, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away our sanctuary and our nation.” NET

It is good to read that many believed in Jesus, though we do not know the depth of their belief. We should not be surprised that some of them were willing to turn him into the authorities.

It is sad to read that Jesus’ miracles had the opposite effect on the leaders. They even admitted that the miracles would cause people to believe in Jesus. Why did they resist belief?

People today often react much the same way. ‘Jesus did some wonderful things, Likely because he was a great magician. No one could do those things for real.’

 49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50 Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” 51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53 So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. ESV

The Chief Priest was Ciaphas, who held the office from 18 to 36 CE, as his family became rich by skimming money from the Temple treasury. He also had great political power because he worked smoothly with Pilate. For him, Jesus was a political problem, best eliminated.

He was correct, as far as it went, that the Romans would eventually see the large crowds following Jesus and would have sent in the troops to execute as many as possible, perhaps including the Jewish leaders who did not handle the growing threat. He had the most to fear.

God and His Son—before creation—worked out the best possible time for the Son to walk on earth, be executed, and rise from the grave to accomplish what no human could do—defeat death. God and His Son knew the religious leaders of Judea would kill the Son in an attempt to save the nation. They also knew Judea would be lost anyway in 70 CE. None of the leaders, especially Ciaphas, could understand that God knew how they would react, and He built His plans around their reaction.

Bringing Lazarus back to life so near Jerusalem was designed to force the Temple leadership to call for Jesus’ arrest. Jesus entered Jerusalem several times over the three years, but always retreated when it got too hot. Now is the time to stay for the showdown. On earth, only Jesus knows the outcome.

In verse 52, John shows insider knowledge at the highest level. He could have learned a great deal of information over the years by talking with the servants of the high and mighty.

54 Thus Jesus no longer went around publicly among the Judeans, but went away from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and stayed there with his disciples. 55 Now the Jewish Feast of Passover was near, and many people went up to Jerusalem from the rural areas before the Passover to cleanse themselves ritually. 56 Thus they were looking for Jesus, and saying to one another as they stood in the temple courts, “What do you think? That he won’t come to the feast?” 57 (Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who knew where Jesus was should report it, so that they could arrest him.) NET

There is no certainty as to the location of Ephraim. Most scholars place it north of Jerusalem in Samaria, about a day’s walk from the city. That location would make sense in that Jesus would be safe from arrest there until he is ready for his big entry. Jesus knows that Lazarus was the deciding event, so leaving Judea will not change the arrest plans, just delay them. He still has some work to do with the Twelve.

In verse 55, we learn that many people arrived in Jerusalem early to go through the ritual cleansing before Passover. Most planned to offer other sacrifices, so they had to come even earlier to get it all done in time. The lines were long, with most waiting several days. It was necessary for the ritual cleansing to be done in Temple-approved mikvahs. Of course, only the men needed cleansing.

In all of that, the authorities were searching for Jesus, willing to pay for information on his whereabouts. The people were also debating whether he would dare to come at all.

12 1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. NIV

In 11:55, we read that the ‘Passover is near.’ We do not know how many days Jesus spent in Samaria, but it could have been a week or more. We should remember that preparations for Passover began a month before the event. Still, the same verse mentioned that people were entering the city would suggest no more than a week’s stay.

Even though bringing Lazarus out of the tomb was described in detail twenty or so verses ago, John still stresses here that it was the home of Lazarus. It seems clear that there were no living parents, so almost certainly, the house belonged to Lazarus. To our modern American eyes, Mary and Martha seem to be independent women, but they lived in a culture that did not allow them much freedom. Even so, the father may have left the house to the older daughter.

A dinner to honor Jesus would have been an important event in a small town. Everyone in the village would have been invited, not to mention the Twelve and all the other disciples still with Jesus. Since it was spring, they likely ate outside. Even so, they had a round table—shaped a bit like the letter C—with couches outside for reclining. Martha could serve them by stepping through the opening.

Another consideration would erase the above paragraph. Bethany was only a couple of miles from the city, so the town was a stopping place for many Passover pilgrims. Six days before the Passover, the village would have been overflowing with visitors. They would go to the Temple during the day and return to sleep in and around Bethany.

The dinner would have been much smaller and inside the house in that more likely event. Still, Middle Eastern social norms would have been hard to ignore completely, so Martha may have invited some townies. The table with couches suggests a larger than average house, suggesting again that Lazarus had some wealth.

Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. ESV

The Greek word translated pound is litra. It does mean a pound, literally. Only two read pound in the five translations I generally use.

Spikenard, also called nard, nardin, and muskroot, is a class of aromatic amber-colored essential oil derived from Nardostachys jatamansi, a flowering plant in the honeysuckle family which grows in the Himalayas of Nepal, China, and India. Wikipedia It grows above 9,800 feet.

The nard in this story was probably processed into a perfume commonly used throughout the Empire. All of the people invited to the dinner would have had their feet washed at the door as they entered. Only men would have been reclining at the table. Women ate together in another room, often the kitchen.

The men were likely barefoot, it being springtime. [In the winter, people wore socks with their sandals.]

In the other accounts of anointing Jesus, Mark and Matthew have Jesus in the home of Simon the leper where the unnamed woman pours nard perfume on Jesus’ head, a more common practice in the day.

Luke sets the scene at the home of a Pharisee. A ‘bad’ woman pours perfume on Jesus’ feet and wipes them with her hair.

Only John names Mary and connects the scene with Lazarus.

Why the differences?

The accounts came from oral stories shared by many people. Mark and Luke received the story second hand, at best. It was more likely passed around for a few years before they first heard it. Matthew seems to follow Mark completely, suggesting that he received the same story.

While John’s account is similar in essential ways, it is also notably different in other ways. As usual, John’s version has the eyewitness touches found in all his descriptions.

William Barclay describes three points about the love expressed by Mary. First, it is extravagant. A few drops of the powerful perfume would have been enough. Second, Mary displayed her humility by bowing down to anoint Jesus’ feet, wiping them with her hair. Appearing in a public setting with her hair down was only done by prostitutes; here, it symbolizes her love for Jesus. Third, the image of the scent-filled room is symbolic of anointing the whole church—the body of the Messiah.

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. NIV

First, we must accept that Jesus and the other disciples accepted Iscariot as a faithful follower. They only discovered his duplicity after he betrayed Jesus. John is looking ahead with these statements about one of the Twelve.

I have difficulty imagining how Judas could have stolen money for three years. He could not wire it to his bank, and they moved around too much to have stashed it anywhere. Where would he have kept it? I am not saying John was wrong, but I suspect the thefts only occurred in the last few weeks or months as he became more disillusioned. After the crucifixion, the others would have looked through his belongings, such as they were, and found the pilfered money.

I agree with John that Judas had little regard for the poor. But Judas was right about the amount of money involved—a pound of nard would cost at least a year’s wages. Even after his secret share, that would have kept them going for a few months.

I wonder if any of the eleven suspected Judas Iscariot was a thief?

Jesus said, “Let her alone. She’s anticipating and honoring the day of my burial. 8 You always have the poor with you. You don’t always have me.” MSG

This interpretation seems to capture the idea of a burial anointing. The literal Greek reads, said therefore Jesus, allow her; for the day of the burial of me she has kept it.

Helping the poor has always been a hallmark of Christianity, and Jesus does not denigrate that here. At least a billion people in the world live on less than five dollars a day. With the anointing of the church, we should accept this perfume as our blessing of the ministry to the poor.

Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, 11 for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him. NIV

Why would the chief priests want to kill Lazarus? A crowd of people, including Pharisees, saw a man dead four days walk out of the grave. That pocked two big holes in their position high atop the Judean hierarchy. If Jesus continued to pull off such miracles, the people would follow him en masse resulting in the Romans crushing Jesus, his followers, and, much more important to them, the powerful leaders in Jerusalem.

The second issue was theological. The priests were nearly all Sadducees who rejected any notion of life after death. Lazarus was walking proof they were wrong. Even worse, he was proof that the hated Pharisees were right.

Solution? Kill both the healer and the healed. It is the kind of solution a mob boss would like.

John tells us in a round-about way that the presence of the crowds put a stop to their plans for the people to tell them where Jesus was. The crowds were in Bethany, but none talked to the leaders. Instead of arresting him on that day, Jesus was able to parade through the city unmolested the next day. It would seem by the time they finally arrested Jesus and goaded Pilate into killing him, they gave up on Lazarus.

Do you think they watched their great plan unravel the following Sunday?

Be Righteous and do Good

Mike Lawrence

Lord, Your Friend is Ill

Gospel of John 11:1-44

The first eleven chapters have been about witnessing. First was the Baptizer, and then the disciples who witnessed by accepting Jesus’ invitation to follow him.

They were undoubtedly amazed when they watched Jesus turn water into wine, though it was a relatively private miracle because very few people saw it.

Jesus then teaches the Gospel to the Pharisee Nicodemus, and the Baptizer announces again that Jesus is ‘the One.’ Jesus then helps the Samaritan woman to become the first Christian missionary.

Jesus healed the son of a royal official by long-distance, no less. Then he entered Jerusalem and healed a man who could not walk.

Everyone’s favorite was the feeding of the Five thousand, followed by Jesus walking on water.

That feeding led to much dispute over who Jesus was and who he still is for us.

Chapter 9 has Jesus healing the blind man, resulting in more conflict between Jesus and the authorities.

In chapter 10, Jesus claims to be the Good Shephard. Now we come to the last witness before Jesus enters Jerusalem for the last time.

Now there was a man by the name of Lazarus who became seriously ill. He lived in Bethany, the village where Mary and her sister Martha lived. 2 (Lazarus was the brother of the Mary who poured perfume upon the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus: “Lord, your friend is ill.” Phillips

We should notice first that Lazarus does not seem to be very well known to John’s expected audience, but Mary is. In verse 2, John reminds all readers why Mary is well known.

Mark 14:3. Jesus himself was now in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper. As he was sitting at table, a woman approached him with an alabaster flask of very costly spikenard perfume. She broke the neck of the flask and poured the perfume on Jesus’ headPhillips

Matthew 26:6-7. While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the tableNIV

Luke 7:36-38. Then one of the Pharisees asked Jesus to a meal with him. When Jesus came into the house, he took his place at the table and a woman, known in the town as a bad woman, found out that Jesus was there and brought an alabaster flask of perfume and stood behind him crying, letting her tears fall on his feet and then drying them with her hair. Then she kissed them and anointed them with the perfumePhillips

John 12:1-3. Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, the village of Lazarus whom he had raised from the dead. They gave a supper for him there, and Martha waited on the party while Lazarus took his place at table with Jesus. Then Mary took a whole pound of very expensive perfume and anointed Jesus’ feet and then wiped them with her hair. The entire house was filled with the fragrance of the perfumePhillips

You can sort out the differences later. For now, we see that John alone connects Lazarus with Mary and Martha. As we follow the three in John, we get the idea that they were a prominent family, perhaps even well to do. Some scholars have even suggested that they were related to Jesus. The evidence is weak, but I like the notion.

Here is verse 3 from another source. So the sisters sent word to Him, saying, “Lord, he [our brother and Your friend] whom You love is sick.” Amplified Bible

The literal Greek is, Lord, behold, whom you love is sick.

Nearly all English translations include that Jesus loves Lazarus. We do not know why, but it seems Jesus knew all three of them well. Jesus may have stayed with them whenever he visited Jerusalem, either because they were early disciples or relatives or both.

Notice the sisters did not request Jesus come, but it was common for a rabbi to visit a sick disciple. It seems the women knew he would come.

But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. ESV

This illness does not lead to death. A strange statement, given what we read later. Keep in mind that the messenger took a day to reach Jesus, an important point later. If Jesus knew Lazarus was ill before the messenger arrived, he would have known all that was to happen. If the message was his first knowledge, I expect he quickly asked God what he should do. God assured him that what would happen would bring God and His Son glory.

The sisters said that Jesus loved Lazarus, now John clarifies that Jesus loved all three. John wants us to understand that Jesus takes care of his own. He does not do it out of any sense of responsibility; Jesus does it because he loves them, and he loves us.

Having made these points clear, Jesus hangs around two days before starting uphill to Bethany. Why? The text does not answer, but there seems to be some math involved. The count goes like this: one day for the messenger to arrive, wait two days, travel one day. That is a total of four days. Why is four important? Verse 17 will begin the explanation.

Then after this, he said to his disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples replied, “Rabbi, the Jewish leaders were just now trying to stone you to death! Are you going there again?” Jesus replied, “Are there not twelve hours in a day? If anyone walks around in the daytime, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if anyone walks around at night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11 After he said this, he added, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep. But I am going there to awaken him.” 12 Then the disciples replied, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 (Now Jesus had been talking about his death, but they thought he had been talking about real sleep.) NET

It is not clear that the disciples heard the message about Lazarus or Jesus’ statement that it would not end in death. Therefore, they thought little of sitting around for two days. When their Master said, ‘let us go to Judea,’ their spines tingled. Jesus had had a close call there on the most recent visit, in fact on several visits. ‘They just tried to stone you! Are you crazy?’ True, they may have been more polite.

What did Jesus mean by ‘twelve hours?’ On the surface, it means daylight is limited. People then did very little after sundown. They worked in the sunlight. Jesus meant that there is plenty of time for the day’s work, but he also meant there is only so much time. Do today what needs to be done.

Jesus contrasts day and night by talking about stumbling around in the dark, or worse, getting up to no good. Drive through any small town or large city at three in the morning, and you will see troubled people doing things they hope will make them feel better but fail.

The deeper meaning Jesus has in mind takes us back to John 1: In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. NIV The Son of God is always the light.

‘Fallen asleep’ was and still is a common metaphor for death. You would think the disciples could follow Jesus’ ideas a little better after three years, but no, they are still obtuse. ‘Right, Jesus, he’ll wake up soon.’

14 This made Jesus tell them quite plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and I am glad that I was not there—for your sakes, that you may learn to believe. And now, let us go to him.” 16 Thomas (known as the twin) then said to his fellow-disciples, “Come on, then, let us all go and die with him!” Phillips

Two different things happen in this section. First, Jesus announces that he knows that Lazarus is already dead, even though no one has come to let him know. He also tells the Twelve that Lazarus’ death is for the benefit of the Twelve. Second, Thomas is sure Jesus will be killed, so they might as well die with their Master.

Jesus shows patience. I wonder if he asked God, ‘are you sure these blockheads can get the church up and running?’ We see Jesus giving them what they need for the job to come without demeaning them or breaking them down. He is our example as well.

We also see the loyalty of the Twelve. Whatever their faults, they were willing to die with him. All but one will die for him (Judas died but not for Jesus). John alone died of old age, and I believe because he needed sixty years to get this Gospel right.

17 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20 So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. ESV

If you follow the timing, the messenger walked for a day to inform Jesus that Lazarus was ill, but he likely died shortly after the messenger left Bethany. Jesus then waited two full days, going on the fourth day after the messenger left Bethany.

This is God’s timing. Whether Jesus knew the details or not, God knew Jesus would be in the grave for three days. God wanted Lazuras to be so dead in the eyes of the witnesses that they could never say that he was just ‘asleep.’ It was true in ancient times that people were buried, only to revive days later. It became common knowledge that no one survived four days in the grave.

So, why was Jesus only in for three days? Most importantly, he was tortured by professionals and executed on the cross—no one survived that.

Being close to Jerusalem—with Passover around the corner—word spread about Lazarus’ death, and friends and family came to mourn and honor Lazarus. Mary and Martha were sitting shiva. Jews to this day follow the seven-day practice. The immediate family sits in the house after the burial (on the day of death) in straight back chairs and receives visitors. Neighbors and friends bring in food for them.

Martha broke shiva to meet Jesus on the road. Martha behaves the opposite of what we read in Luke 10.

38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” 41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” NIV

Mary is honoring her brother by staying to properly greet the guests while the older sister (probably) goes to Jesus.

21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” NIV

We should be clear that Martha is a believer; she is short on understanding, but she knows Jesus is of God. She shows her belief that Jesus’ power comes from God, that all he has to do is ask, and it will happen. Here, we see her making a backhanded request to do something he has done for others.

An additional possibility is that Martha realized that Jesus was in great danger, so she went down the road to stop him before all the Jews from the city saw him.

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” NIV

Martha continues to reveal her faith. The idea of resurrection was a Pharisee belief, one rejected by the Sadducees. We cannot be sure of the general population, but a large portion of them certainly agreed with the Pharisee’s thinking on life after death. Martha likely had a stronger belief on the matter as a friend and follower of Jesus.

Now we have I Am number five. I am the resurrection and the life. Jesus is not here only to bring one man back to life; he is here to bring the world back to life in God. In a way, this resurrection is unfair to him. Lazarus will die a second time. But he will know that his return is a powerful witness to the resurrection of Jesus.

To live in Jesus is to defeat death. Death will win now, but not in the forever.

Martha completes her faith statement. ‘I believe you are the Messiah and the Son of God.’

28 When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. ESV 

Martha could have explained to Mary the exchange she had had with Jesus, but instead only says that Jesus is asking for her. This suggests that Jesus told Martha to do only that. We see that Jesus remains outside of Bethany to wait for Mary. He may have wanted a private word with her, but it is not to be.

31 When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” ESV

Mary also shows her faith by kneeling before Jesus and saying the same words her sister used to greet Jesus. John does not have Jesus go through the same exchange; instead, he jumps to Jesus’ reaction of grief.

‘Mary, where is Lazarus?’ Mary answered, ‘Come, I will show you.’

Now the Jews who heard the exchange start to take sides. Some stress Jesus’ love, and some wonder why he did not heal his friend. The healing would have been long-distance, suggesting that the people had heard of other such miracles.

Verse 35 is the shortest sentence in the Bible. John wants us to see the humanity of Jesus. Healing a blind man he did not know was one thing; seeing the tomb of a friend was quite another. Even as he prepared himself for the resurrection of his friend, he allowed his grief to show.

38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. ESV

There is a translation issue in this verse. The Greek word embrimaomai means to snort like a horse, to snort with anger, to have indignation, to blame, to sigh with chagrin, groan, murmur against. That is a wide range of options. It is up to the translators to read the entire section and select the best meaning for this context.

Groaning in himselfAmerican Standard Version Deeply moved within [to the point of anger]. Amplified  Terribly upsetContemporary English Version Moved with deep angerTLV 

It is not easy to decide who has the best translation with all these options. It is clear from the Greek that the emotion was ‘in himself.’ In verse 33, we read that he was—embrimaomai—deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. The word again indicates that Jesus had the same reaction as in v. 33.

Several leading modern translations have gone with ‘deeply moved,’ or its variations. That seems too weak. William Barclay points out that John was writing for a Greek audience. They had no notion that any god could feel emotions. They reasoned that to make a god feel some emotion gave us power over them; therefore, they were without feeling.

John’s message to the Greek Christians with the account of Lazarus is that the Son of God had the same feelings we humans have. John has already destroyed many Greek ideas with Jesus wept. Now he describes Jesus as snorting anger. We cannot know why he was angry, only that he was. That powerful emotion may have been necessary for Jesus to do this sign.

However you choose to read the phrase, read it as powerful.

39 “Take away the stone,” said Jesus. “But Lord,” said Martha, the dead man’s sister, “he has been dead four days. By this time he will be decaying ….” 40 “Did I not tell you,” replied Jesus, “that if you believed, you would see the wonder of what God can do?” Phillips

We read in verse 38 that Lazarus’ body was placed in a cave. The practice was to seal the opening for one year, at which time the family would move the bones to a permanent shelf or box.

The stone would have weighed several hundred pounds and required several men to move it away from the opening.

From what little we know of her, Martha seems to be practical. ‘Don’t unleash that stink!’

Now, we see Jesus calmer as he rebukes Martha. She believes Jesus, but not after four days. ‘I have heard about all you have done, but even you can’t pull this off.’ We should not blame her; even his Twelve were doubtful.

We need to believe in the wonders of God.

41 Then they took the stone away and Jesus raised his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I know that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of these people standing here so that they may believe that you have sent me.” Phillips

For his prayer, Jesus looks up to Heaven. Through the centuries, we Christians developed the attitude of bowing our heads for prayer. One reason was Jesus’ instruction to us in Matthew 6:6. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseenNIV When in public, closing our eyes duplicates the closing door.

But I think there is another explanation. The European culture, which was true in the rest of the world, stressed that commoners should not look directly at their betters. Whenever a person of rank or title came by, people would bow their heads until he passed. It makes sense in that culture to bow before the one who is greater than a king. So we bow our heads in the presence of God.

We quickly learn that Jesus is speaking more to those around him than to God. He and God are in constant communication, so such a public prayer is not about God but about witnessing to the Son of God.

We do not know how loudly Jesus spoke, so we cannot know how many people heard him. The most important people around him would have been Martha, Mary, and the Twelve. I believe they were the primary target.

Jesus is a witness to himself again.

43 When he had said this, he shouted in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The one who had died came out, his feet and hands tied up with strips of cloth, and a cloth wrapped around his face. Jesus said to them, “Unwrap him and let him go.” NET

Jesus’ shouting teaches us two things. He spoke to a corps, so he needed to ‘wake’ him. There was no need for him to shout; he could speak to the soul of Lazarus with his mind. The shout was for the living—another witness.

The second point is the contrast to the quieter prayer, heard only by those close to him. Jesus goes from speaking to a few—for their spiritual growth—to impressing the crowd with his power over death.

Some have quibbled over the cloth wrappings, saying he could not have stood up if he was wrapped like a mummy. But if God could bring a man dead for four days back to life, a few cloth strips would be no problem. Additionally, the cloth was mainly used to hold in the spices and herbs; mummies were an Egyptian thing.

You may wonder why they wrapped Lazarus in strips of cloth and Jesus in one long cloth. With Jesus, there was too little time, so they had to take shortcuts. More on that later.

Be Righteous and do Good

Mike Lawrence