Since it’s been two weeks we were last in John — and on account that while we worked our way through the text of Jesus’ resurrection of Lazarus we were only able to scratch the surface concerning the application, I want to begin by re-reading the entirety of the story.
John 11:1-3, “Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. Therefore the sisters sent to Him, saying, ‘Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.’
John 11:4-7, “When Jesus heard that, He said, ‘This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was. Then after this Jesus said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’
John 11:8-11, “The disciples said to Him, ‘Rabbi, lately the Jews sought to stone You, and are You going there again?’ Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.’ These things Jesus said, and after that He said to them, ‘Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.’
John 11:12-16, “Then His disciples said, ‘Lord, if Lazarus sleeps he will get well.’ However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus said to them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him.’ Then Thomas, who is called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with Him.’
John 11:17-22, “So when Jesus came, He found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles away. And many of the Jews had joined the women around Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother. Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house. Now Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.’
John 11:23-27, “Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to Him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.’”
John 11:28-31, “And when she had said these things, she went her way and secretly called Mary her sister, saying, ‘The Teacher has come and is calling for you.’ As soon as she heard that, Mary arose quickly and came to Him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the town, but was in the place where Martha met Him. Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and comforting her, when they saw that Mary rose up quickly and went out, followed her, saying, ‘She is going to the tomb to weep there.’”
John 11:32-35, “Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.’ Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled. And He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to Him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept.”
John 11:36-38, “Then the Jews said, ‘See how He loved him!’ And some of them said, ‘Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?’ Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it.”
John 11:39-42, “Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, ‘Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?’ Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.’
John 11:43-44, “Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth!’ (This can be translated as “this way out!”) And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with grave clothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Loose him, and let him go.’” (It’s interesting we have no attempt by John to describe an emotion — likely because no human words can be applied.)
In our previous study I noted that this crisis in the life of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus was nothing more than an opportunity for Jesus to reveal an important aspect of Himself they’d never known otherwise. They already knew much about Jesus and even considered Him a personal friend. They confessed Him as “the Christ, the Son of God,” heralded Him their “Lord” and “Teacher,” and were confident Jesus had the power to heal.
Once more, as illustrated in their initial appeal, Mary and Martha were willing to trust that in His love for them, upon receiving word Lazarus was sick, Jesus would act accordingly. And yet — in an even greater act of love than they knew — Jesus allows Lazarus to die so that they could see and believe in Him as “the resurrection and the life” — something far greater!
From the macro-perspective, this story is important for it illustrates that grief and loss are not allowed into our lives to cripple us, but to deepen our understanding of who Jesus really is!
The second challenging aspect of this story is the fundamental question… Are you willing to trust that Jesus always has a reason for the things He does? These two women believed if they got word to Jesus Lazarus was sick, because of His love for them, He would immediately drop what He was doing and come to Bethany to heal their brother.
It would appear Jesus’ decision to tarry for two days — in effect allowing Lazarus to die — proved to be difficult for both Mary and Martha to reconcile. Though separately, they both approach Jesus with the same complaint, “Lord, if You had been here, Lazarus would not have died.” In effect these women are asking why Jesus hadn’t come sooner!
There is no question the answer to their inquiry was found in what immediately happened when Jesus “cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth!’” To everyone’s dismay Lazarus “came out bound hand and foot with grave clothes!” In light of Jesus’ clear and undeniable resurrection power the very basis of their complaint now seemed utterly ridiculous.
Understand… What the resurrection of Lazarus intended to communicate to Mary and Martha specifically was that Jesus’ decision to tarry had been intentional — there was a purpose and reason behind His actions. Jesus wanted Lazarus to be so dead — which is why he waited until the fourth day — no one could question the power behind the miracle!
For you and I there is a lesson we need to learn… When we come to Jesus and make our requests known to Him we must trust that whatever happens next is part of His perfect will for our lives. If Jesus waits to work, always know there is a reason.
The third observation I want to make from this story — and it dovetails from the previous two — is that the knowledge Jesus is in control intends to provide comfort. In response to message that Lazarus was sick, Jesus doesn’t ignore them. He replies, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
It’s not an accident later in the story when Jesus commands them to “take away the stone” and Martha replied, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days” He again reiterates, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” It seems this message intended to provide a measure of comfort — if believed.
Friend, in the moment of crisis, when life takes an unexpected turn, and you find yourself coming boldly before His throne in desperation — the knowledge Jesus loves you and is in complete control over all is designed to provide you solace! Sure, you might want more information — you’ll want to know how He’ll work — to know what the purpose is; and yet, instead of a when or a what Jesus more often replies with a WHO! “Will you trust Me?”
Again, while Jesus might wait to work, He’ll never leave you without a promise… The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:28, “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Hebrews 13:5, “For Jesus Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’”
One of the other things I’m struck with about this passage is the way Jesus ministers to the grieving soul. Here you have Mary and Martha who are both dealing with an identical pain and articulate the same message in their grief; yet, Jesus handles them very differently.
With Martha, Jesus uses theology — He engages her mind. With Mary, Jesus simply weeps — He identifies with her pain. Because everyone grieves differently, the truth is we must be sensitive to the reality there is no templet for how to comfort the grieving soul.
A few years ago our church experienced the unexpected death of a brother we all loved dearly and this reality became so apparent to me. For some, I needed to answer their very real and raw questions — which required a theological discussion. And yet, for others all they needed was someone to share their pain and harmonize with their tears. Jesus knew what each of these ladies needed, because He personally knew each of these ladies.
One of the other aspects of our story I find incredible is that believing was not a pre-condition for the miracle. Jesus repeatedly told them Lazarus would be fine, but no one understood what He meant. Even when Jesus asks them to remove the stone from the face of the tomb in no way does anyone expect or believe He would resurrect him from the dead.
It’s true that if the work of God in this world was dependent upon the faith of men, it’s likely God would never work! I’m so encouraged Jesus worked in spite of Mary and Martha and not because of them. Even Lazarus did nothing to foster the miracle itself — he was dead! Thankfully, Jesus didn’t base His involvement on anyone’s faith.
Before we place this story into its larger context and finish out the rest of the chapter, it would be hard to leave such a text without taking just a moment to make an observation about the afterlife… While Lazarus was physically dead, he was very much alive! How else would he have been able to hear and obey the command of Jesus to “come forth?”
And not only that, but Lazarus remained Lazarus! When Jesus cried out, “Lazarus, come forth!” He was speaking to more than a man’s body who’s ears had decomposed beyond the point of functioning. Jesus was talking to an individual who was conscious. Though dead, Lazarus was very much alive and his identity intact. What this tells us is that you are much more than the physical. The real you — the soul — is immaterial and lasts forever!
Again, before we work our way through the rest of this chapter, I want you to note two reasons Jesus performed this miracle: First, Jesus wanted His disciples to believe He had the power to raise the dead. In just a few weeks from this very moment Jesus will head to Jerusalem for Passover, be betrayed into the hands of His enemies, and crucified.
Undoubtedly, this would rock His disciples world. Jesus knew they’d all be thrown into a crisis of faith. Peter would deny Him. Judas betray Him. And the remaining ten ran for cover! Jesus is trying to prepare these men for what was coming. While on three occasions Jesus will predict His coming death and resurrection on the third day, raising Lazarus after four days sought to bolster their faith in His ability to do what He’d promised.
Jesus raised Lazarus in order to substantiate His claim of being “the resurrection and the life.” “He cried” to Lazarus “with a loud voice” commanding him “to come forth!” In doing so Jesus was demonstrating His authority beyond the grave. The Omnipotent summoned and Lazarus came forth! The tomb could not stop resurrection and life was victorious over death!
Up to this point Jesus has already raised the widow of Nain’s son as well as Jairus’ daughter, but these resurrections occurred the same day as their death. Allowing Lazarus to marinate for four days intended to demonstrate the ease in which He could resurrect in just three!
That being said… Please understand the resurrection of Jesus would be a much greater miracle! Not to get to far ahead of ourselves, but — as John recalls this amazing story — he notes that Jesus had to instruct those present to “loose Lazarus and let him go” because “he came out bound hand and foot with grave clothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth.”
Now fast-forward to John 20:1-9 where John tells us, “On the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved (this other disciple is actually John), and said to them, ‘They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.’
Peter therefore went out, and the other disciple, and were going to the tomb. So they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first. And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in.
Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who came to the tomb first, went in also; and he saw and believed.”
Notice John observed that Lazarus was resurrected from the dead, but was unable to loose himself from the burial garments. In contrast, Jesus rose from the dead and had no issues at all. What this tells us is there was a difference between the resurrection experienced by Lazarus and the one experienced by Jesus — mainly Jesus was resurrected to glory and Lazarus to the flesh. Tragically, Lazarus would have the unique opportunity to die again!
The second reason for this particular miracle is that it again illustrated a consistent theme Jesus has been articulating about “everlasting life.” Not to belabor this particular point, but the resurrection of Lazarus demonstrated the fact, as “the resurrection” Jesus provides a “life” that begins today — this very moment — which lasts for eternity!
In closing… There is one more point I’d like to make about Jesus’ resurrection of Lazarus. How do we know Lazarus heard the word of Jesus and experienced resurrection life?
Don’t overthink it… The answer is not all that complicated. We can be confident Lazarus experienced resurrection life because he came walking out of the tomb! You see there was evidence and that evidence tangible. No one could deny it! He’d been dead. Now he was alive! A real change occurred! Can the same be said of you?
Example (if time permits): One of my favorite movies is “Weekend at Bernie’s!” Two low-level insurance employees Larry and Richard go to visit their boss Bernie Lomax at his Hamptons beach house to celebrate Labor Day. Upon their arrival they discover Bernie’s been killed, but they end up pretending he’s alive so they can party and enjoy the weekend.
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