Welcome to Becomning Closer! 

Life of Christ (1996-1998)

The Raising of Lazarus

John 11

In no other story of the New Testament do liberal theologians find so much trouble as this, barring the Resurrection itself. It is frequently argued that this must be some invention of a later time, because the incident of Mary (unidentified as such in the other Gospels) anointing the feet of Jesus is recorded – but the resurrection of Lazarus is not. Grotius, the scholar of the late Middle Ages, pointed out the likely reason. John wrote his Gospel many years after Matthew, Mark and Luke. They probably wrote when Lazarus was still living, and to include his story would have made him subject to persecution. John wrote in Ephesus, long afterwards. Likely enough that Lazarus was dead by this time, and no harm could come to him from this powerful story.

The power in this story comes from the revelation of who Jesus is: the Resurrection and the Life. First, however, the preliminary at Bethany.

Preliminary in Bethany

(John 11:1-16 NIV) Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. {2} This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. {3} So the sisters sent word to Jesus, "Lord, the one you love is sick." {4} When he heard this, Jesus said, "This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it." {5} Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. {6} Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days. {7} Then he said to his disciples, "Let us go back to Judea." {8} "But Rabbi," they said, "a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?" {9} Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours of daylight? A man who walks by day will not stumble, for he sees by this world's light. {10} It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light." {11} After he had said this, he went on to tell them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up." {12} His disciples replied, "Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better." {13} Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. {14} So then he told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead, {15} and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him." {16} Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him."

(The Mary in this passage is identified in John 12 as the one who anointed his feet. She should not be confused with the sinful woman in Luke 7:37-38 who anointed his feet, as this happened in a very different locale. Mary is the one who sat at Jesus feet while her sister Martha served – a bit of character which will play its part in the sections to come.)

Lessons for our prayer life

It may seem surprising that there are lessons for our prayer life in this passage. But consider: what is prayer but a conversation and relationship with our Lord? Note the following lessons here:

·         Mary and Martha do not tell Jesus what to do. They do not say, “please heal your friend Lazarus.” They content themselves with telling Jesus the problem.

·         This, then, implies they will be content with whatever God decides to do about it. Most of us are anxious not only to have God solve the problem, but solve it our way.

·         Even though God knows the problem, they repeat it anyway – as if to say that they are concerned, and are laying the problem before the throne of grace. It is an exalted form of prayer.

·         God’s reaction is somewhat strange to our modern, 22 minutes for action and 8 for commercials, ears:

·         First, John tells us that Jesus loved Lazarus and the sisters. Sometimes we need that reassurance, especially in light of what Jesus did not do (immediately).

·         Then Jesus delays two days. How difficult it is to “wait upon the Lord!” Yet Isaiah tells us, (Isa 40:31 NIV) but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

·         Finally, Jesus tells us that the answer to prayer is not so that we will be gratified. It is for the glory of the Lord. How often we forget whose servants we are!

Lessons in daily living

There are lessons in daily living here, too. Indeed, the passage is very rich in one line lessons.

One of those lessons is “twelve hours.” Jesus tosses off this line which has a certain obviousness to it. Everybody knows you have about twelve hours of daylight; so what?

·         First, it may mean that God provides us with ample time to do his work. If we complain to the contrary, it means that we have not “redeemed the time.”

·         Second, it also means that God will not provide us an indefinite, endlessly extended amount of time. Get it done and get it done deliberately but swiftly.

·         Finally, it may also mean that the darkness is coming. There will come a time when it will be too late to do the work of God, and what a dark day that will be.

Another of the lessons is this: sometimes we just don’t get it. Sometimes God talks to us, and we just don’t understand. When that happens, God is not angry – but he does expect us to get the explanation. Then we can look back and say, “Oh, I see what he was talking about.”

There is also the lesson of Thomas, known later as doubting Thomas. He may be from Missouri (“show me”), but there is nothing wrong with his stout heart. He has a quick readiness to go where his master leads him – even if that means death. There is a great example for the follower of Christ here.

The Meeting with Martha

We now come to one of the great statements of Scripture:

(John 11:17-27 NIV) On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. {18} Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, {19} and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. {20} When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. {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." {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. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; {26} and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" {27} "Yes, Lord," she told him, "I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world."

Martha, if you will recall, is the sister who complained that Mary was not helping her with the dishes. The incidents here complete her character:

·         She is the one who served. While the spiritual is the better part, somebody has to do the dishes.

·         She is the one who acts. There are those of us for whom contemplation is delightful, but action is still required.

·         She is the one who believes. (Indeed, the NASV makes it clear this is not a new discovery on her part). Her actions reflect her belief.

The Resurrection and the Life

The student of the Bible must recognize the fact that God reveals himself to us (historically and personally) in a progressive manner – step by step. Martha shows that for us here:

·         First, there is the personal and corporeal God: “if you had been here.” God could do anything, were he but on the spot.

·         Next, there is the personal God for whom time and space are nothing: “even now, I know…”

·         Finally, there is the Lord Triumphant, the one who will return and judge the living and the dead. At that time all will be revealed, and righteousness will triumph. Her brother will live again. Even at that, there is one more revelation to be made.

Who do you say that I am?

Jesus now reveals to her the great surprise of the ages: standing before her is the Resurrection and the Life. The words themselves are exceedingly interesting:

·         The word for life is actually the Greek word zoe, which means biological life.

·         The word for resurrection is anastasis, which means “to stand up again.”

·         Hence, from the earliest days of the church, we have taught the bodily resurrection at the judgment. How the plain sense of this has been distorted by liberal teachers is beyond me.

Martha’s reply

Martha, in her classic reply, identifies our Lord in three ways:

·         He is the Christ (Messiah), the Holy One of Israel.

·         He is the Son of God – God in the flesh.

·         He is the one who is prophesied – much of the Old Testament is now fulfilled in Him.

It is an astonishing grasp of who He is – which I suspect comes of much contact with the one and only God.

The Raising of Lazarus

The main action, of course, is found here:

(John 11:28-45 NIV) And after she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. "The Teacher is here," she said, "and is asking for you." {29} When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. {30} Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. {31} When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there. {32} When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." {33} When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. {34} "Where have you laid him?" he asked. "Come and see, Lord," they replied. {35} Jesus wept. {36} Then 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 have kept this man from dying?" {38} Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. {39} "Take away the stone," he said. "But, Lord," said Martha, the sister of the dead man, "by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days." {40} Then Jesus said, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" {41} So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. {42} I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me." {43} When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" {44} The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, "Take off the grave clothes and let him go." {45} Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him.

The Reaction of Jesus

Often in my writing I have portrayed Jesus in the logical, thinking sense. This is so, but we must remember that he was completely man as well as completely God. He has feelings, and he displays them here.

·         In various translations Jesus is “deeply moved” or “groans inwardly.” The Greek word is the almost unpronounceable embrimaomai, which carries with it the idea of a horse snorting in disgust, or a sigh of chagrin. Can you picture this of Jesus, that he was upset with their lack of faith?

·         It is said that he wept. Mourners at a Jewish funeral (often paid mourners) wept aloud, but the word here is for silent weeping. Jesus is clearly upset at what is happening. The nearby Jews see it as a sign of his sincere love for Lazarus; not the wail of the paid mourner, but the silent tears of a true friend.

The Actions of Jesus

The Christian should remember that he is to imitate our Lord, and here is a good set of actions to imitate.

·         First, he goes to the spot. How dishwater it sounds to say, “I’ll pray for you!” How much more effective to go to the person, to visit the sick in the hospital instead of five seconds of prayer.

·         Next, he takes direct action (“take away the stone”) – based upon faith. He does not do what common sense would tell him, but he relies instead upon the God He knows.

·         Note something here: there is always some reasonable person – in this instance Martha – who has a good reason why this won’t work. Expect it.

·         He gives us the principle of such action: if you believe, you will see the glory of God. If you don’t, you will see the glory of man, whatever that might be.

The Prayer of Jesus

Indeed, the prayer looks short – but it is very strong.

·         Even Jesus begins his prayers with thanksgiving – and do we remember to thank our Lord?

·         God always hears Jesus. Did you ever consider that you are the son of God, joint heir of the kingdom, and that your Lord’s voice is always heard by the Father?

·         The prayer is public – the object is that they (and we) may believe.

And what a demonstration of proof!

Prophetic Words

Not everybody was happy with this:

(John 11:46-57 NIV) 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. "What are we accomplishing?" they asked. "Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. {48} If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation." {49} Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, "You know nothing at all! {50} You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish." {51} He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, {52} and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. {53} So from that day on they plotted to take his life. {54} Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the Jews. Instead he withdrew to a region near the desert, to a village called Ephraim, where he stayed with his disciples. {55} When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover. {56} They kept looking for Jesus, and as they stood in the temple area they asked one another, "What do you think? Isn't he coming to the Feast at all?" {57} But the chief priests and Pharisees had given orders that if anyone found out where Jesus was, he should report it so that they might arrest him.

The uses of the ungodly

It sometimes comes as a surprise to Christians that God will use the ungodly. That he will use the Christian is obvious, but he will also use the ungodly for his purposes as well. He is supreme.

·         First, there is the testimony of the ungodly. Note the problem these folks have: they can’t deny the miracles, and must figure out some way to neutralize this Jesus. In so doing, they testify to the truth of the Scripture – despite themselves.

·         Even though Caiaphas is a corrupt tool of the Romans, he is still High Priest. As such, he has the duty to be the spokesman of God. God allows his wickedness to serve the cause of righteousness.

The purpose of Christ

To make sense of the New Testament you must know the purpose of its true author, Jesus Christ. John tells us here.

·         He came to die. The Crucifixion is not an afterthought, or a plot out of control – it is the central purpose of his coming.

·         He came to die (and this was a revelation to the hearer) not just for the Jews, the chosen ones of God, but for all the world.

·         He came to die to make them one – a new thought, radical indeed.

The time is at hand

We are quickly approaching the last week of Christ’s ministry. The Passover referenced here is the one at which our Lord was sacrificed for us. In a very real sense, time was short, measured in hours. Perhaps we too should consider that there are only twelve hours of daylight in a day – and that our Lord’s return is very near.

Previous     Home     Next