February 16th, 2020 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
[Jhn 11:1-44 ESV] 1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 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.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9 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. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11 After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” 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. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” 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. 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?” 38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
The Lord indeed works in mysterious ways. In any given Bible reading or sermon we are apt to find something fitting and applicable to our own situation in life. Most of this week I have been sick, laid out in bed, resting to recover. But now am well for Sunday worship and for preaching. And there is no better day to be healthy. It might be too much of a stretch to fit this with today’s text, but I’m glad to be resurrected from my horizontal condition and to be up and alive for worship today.
So we now come to the story of Jesus’ miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead. It is a fairly lengthy account which I’ve decided to keep all in one piece, which explains the rather long reading for the sermon text. Ironically, in this long reading, we have one the shortest verse in the Bible: “Jesus wept.”
Ultimately, the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead is a sign confirming the truth of Jesus’ statement in verses 25 and 26, where he says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”
But before the miracle happens—proving the truth of Jesus’ claim—there are a number of things of interest as the story develops. We’ll look at three of these in particular. And you can follow the outline I’ve included in the bulletin.
I. The Story Developing
We’ll looks at these points:
A. Lazarus’ illness is for the glory of God.
B. Jesus’ time on Earth is definite fixed.
C. Martha is shown to have strong faith.
A. Lazarus’ illness is for the glory of God.
Right in the first two verses we hear of a man who is ill, Lazarus of Bethany. Lazarus would be his nickname, a shortened version of Eleazar, which means “he whom God helped.” And the reason he is called Lazarus “of Bethany” is that there were quite a few men by the name of Lazarus in that time. Saying “of Bethany” was a way to distinguish him from the others of the same name. Bethany itself, however, was a name used for multiples towns. So this is distinguished as Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.
We find out in verse 19 that Lazarus is in fact their brother. So Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are siblings living in Bethany.
Mary and Martha send to Jesus saying of their brother Lazarus “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”
They didn’t make any requests of Jesus. They simply trusted that he would decide correctly what he would do.
This might remind you of Jesus’ healing of the official’s son back in John chapter 4. There the official said to Jesus “come down before my child dies.” The official first has this idea that Jesus needed to be present for the healing to occur. But when Jesus said “Go, your son will live,” then “the man believed the word Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.” This showed us that Jesus can heal even from a distance. And perhaps Mary and Martha understood this. So they tell Jesus just the fact of Lazarus’ illness, with no request for him to hurry there, knowing that he could heal even from a distance. But yet it doesn’t seem that it crossed their minds that Jesus could raise someone from the dead. That would be an almost unthinkable miracle.
Jesus then hears of his friend’s illness and he says, “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.”
While, of course, as we read the story we find that Lazarus does die, this death is not permanent. Jesus’ prophecy should be understood to mean that this illness does not lead to Lazarus’ permanent death.
We say of Jesus that he is prophet, priest, and king. Here then is one of those cases where Jesus is a prophet, where he foretells the future. He declares that Lazarus’ present illness does not lead to his final death. And we’ll see this proven later in the account as he miraculously brings Lazarus back to life.
So much of what happens in Jesus life — one might say EVERYTHING that happens in his life — is for that ultimate purpose of bringing glory to God. We found this point just a few weeks ago also in the story of Jesus’ healing of the man born blind where he says similarly “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
So there is an ultimate purpose in these things. And that is to glorify God. And God even uses situations that appear hopeless to us to bring himself glory.
If the man born blind was in a hopeless situation, then here we’ve upped the playing field and have an even more desperate hopeless situation. Hope is GONE for Lazarus, because he is dead. But yet will be raised by the one who is the Resurrection and the Life.
APPLICATION: The Lord opens up paths that we haven’t even considered
As an application, I want you think about those hopeless situations in your life. If there is something hopeless right now, might it only be hopeless because you are not aware of HOW God is going to work a solution? We pray in error when we say to God “Do this, or do that”, limiting the options, when God has a far greater plan and knows what we do not.
Thus we look back on hopeless situations of the past and can see solutions that God has brought us that we never considered.
This week I’ve been re-reading a book I first read some dozen years ago about L’Abri Christian Fellowship in Switzerland. In that book Edith Schaefer talks about the almost impossibly hopeless situations her family was in in the beginning of their ministry. They had almost no money, one child with polio and another with rheumatic fever, and the Roman Catholic government in the Canton in which they were living told them they must leave because they were “having a religious influence” on the people there.
The Lord, however, found a better place for them, in another Canton. The children in time got well, and money came in for the mission.
But the point I want to make is not so much that the Lord saw them through, but that HE DID SO IN WAYS THEY NEVER CONSIDERED. They thought there ministry would be of a certain type in a certain place, and the Lord closed those doors and opened others of another type in another place.
I’ve found the same to happen in my own life. The Lord often opens up paths that we haven’t even considered. REPEAT: (The Lord opens up paths that we haven’t even considered.) And thus in the most hopeless of situations, when it appears that all options are bad, maybe we just don’t know all the options. But the Lord does.
B. Jesus’s time on earth is definitely fixed.
So, then, continuing with the account, we find in verses 5 through 16 a section that explains that Jesus’ time on earth is definitely fixed.
After waiting a couple days he says to his disciples “Let us go to Judea again.”
And they must be totally befuddled by this!
“Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and you are going there again.”
Judea is the dangerzone, the heart of darkness, behind enemy lines. Why would you want to go back there!?
So Jesus gives this answer,
“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 anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”
William Hendriksen explains that “The time allotted to[Jesus], to accomplish his earthly ministry, is definitely fixed (just like day-time is always exactly twelve hours). It cannot be lengthened by any precautionary measure which the disciples would like to take, nor can it be shortened by any plot which his enemies would like to execute. If we walk in the light of this plan, we shall have nothing to worry about.”
Confident in Jesus’ plan, Thomas says “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” We know that none of the disciples would die with Jesus. This confidence waned in the face of danger. Peter had said he would not deny the Lord, but did so three times. Christ would die alone, despised and rejected by men.
But this is all in the plan of God.
C. Martha is shown to have strong faith.
When Jesus arrives Martha comes out and talks with him. Her faith is strong, for while she says “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” she also says “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”
When Jesus responds “Your brother will rise again” she thinks he is talking about the resurrection at the end of the world. She thinks Jesus is comforting her with that fact. And she says “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
Martha’s faith is displayed again when she says “Yes Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” This is a strong statement, and it matches that goal of John who is writing “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and so believing may have life in his name.”
II. Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life
So we come then to the most important verses of this passage, and the verses on which I have titled the sermon.
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.
This is the fifth I AM statement.
1.I am the bread of life
2. I am the light of the world
3. I am the door of the sheep
4. I am the good shepherd
5. I am the resurrection and the life
6. I am the way, the truth, and the life.
7. I am the true vine.
Note the order: first resurrection then life. You can’t have new life without resurrection.
Those who think they are going to have eternal life in heaven, but do not know the resurrection of Jesus Christ are sorely mistaken. You MUST be born again!
So what does it mean that Jesus IS the resurrection and the life?
It means, for one, that he has the power to resurrection Lazarus and bring him back to life. And he has the power of the Holy Spirit to resurrection people like us from our sinful condition and give us new life. But not only does Jesus have the power of resurrection and life, he IS the resurrection and life. It is He and He alone who is the resurrection and in whom he have life. There is no hope outside of Christ, and no life but in Him. There are not alternative forms of life; there is Christ or death.
Without Christ, Lazarus would continue to rot in the tomb. And without Christ, we would continue to rot in our sins and be destined for eternal punishment. But HE is the resurrection and the life. And He came even when we did not expect him to do so, he came into our lives, and gave us real life.
III. Jesus Raises Lazarus
We come then to the raising of Lazarus from the dead.
38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
To absolutely prove that this is not a man who was merely sick, but truly dead, Jesus comes when Lazarus has been dead four day. Martha says “Lord, but this time there will be an odor.” The King James Version translates this phrase as “By this time, he stinketh.”
And how does the miracle occur? Jesus simply says “Lazarus, come out.” Some have said, jokingly but also with some seriousness, that Jesus said “Lazarus, come out” because if Jesus merely said “come out” then ALL of the dad would have arisen.
There is a song in the move “O Brother Where Art Thou”—one of my favorite movies—that is titled “Po, Lazarus”, short for “Poor Lazarus.” And in the song the Sheriff goes to arrest a man named Lazarus and finally wounds him a bullet (perhaps fatally) in the process. The Sheriff had asked first asked the Deputy to make the arrest, but the Deputy was afraid of the man. In clear allusion to the Biblical passage the Sheriff said “bring him dead or alive.” It didn’t matter to the Sheriff. But in the Biblical story, it does matter. The difference is life or death.
While this resurrection of Lazarus might look like the high point in the story, it actually serves a subservient purpose. Lazarus is raised from the dead to prove that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. This is the central point of the text. That we may know that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. And that we, like Martha can confess:
“Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
Dead in our trespass, we need the resurrection and the life of Jesus Christ.
His raising of Lazarus proves his power over even the grave. And in the next passage in John’s Gospel we’ll find that this miracle even convinces many of the Jews. They could no longer deny that Jesus is the Son of God.
Resurrection might be the best single word to summarize everything of the Scriptures. Think about it. This resurrection of Lazarus is pointing to the power of Christ. And His resurrection is far more crucial. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the proof of all that he said and did. And this all leads to our resurrection at the last day. And we should note that this is a physical resurrection. Any thought of us floating in the clouds for eternity is not a Bible thought. The Bible teaches that as the Lord Jesus Christ was raised from the grave, so also shall our bodies be raised from the grave. And we shall be renewed and glorified bodies. And it is a physical existence.
How then does this resurrection and life come upon man? Jesus explains “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet he shall live, and everyone who lives and believe in me shall never die.”
Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.
Let us indeed confess with Martha saying,
“Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
[2Co 13:14 ESV] 14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.