Lazarus! Part Two — John 11:17-44
By Pastor Lee Hemen
July 7, 2015
The death of a loved one affects folks differently. No one’s grief is the same nor is their emotional healing. I know my mother’s death affected me as has the death of my father. I still have a tough time going into hospitals and often have to fight panic attacks, especially since my mother’s death. However, one thing that helps me is when I remember that this life is but momentary. Death holds no fear for those who know the giver of life, Jesus Christ.
Here in John’s gospel we find a wonderful account of Lazarus and his two sisters Mary and Martha. Lazarus had gotten ill and died. Sadly, this was often more common than it is nowadays and what occurs when Jesus finally arrives teaches us in graphic detail exactly what eternal life is all about and exactly why Jesus came. Let’s discover what this means for us today…
It is sad when we hear that someone we love is dying and especially so when we are unable to say our last “good-byes”, except here we discover that Jesus had no such intentions. Instead we find…
I. Jesus is the resurrection and the life! (Vv. 17-27)
On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha answered, “I know 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 will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”
1. John tells us that “On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.” We learn Jesus was far too late to help his friend, or so it seemed. Lazarus was a well-known person that a lot of folks liked. “Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother.” Things like births, marriages, and even deaths were something that was commemorated by folks and we see that many came to mourn with Mary and Martha. And now they hear Jesus had finally arrived. In fact, “When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.” Perhaps Mary was disgusted or disappointed in Jesus’ late arrival, but whatever the reason Martha tells Jesus that “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” She isn’t sure why Jesus shows up late, but now that he has, she is confident in him being able to do whatever he needs to do. Was she asking that Jesus bring Lazarus back from the grave? If Jesus had been there sooner, Lazarus would not have died, of that Martha was sure. So Jesus makes certain of what Martha means by telling her, “Your brother will rise again.” Now Martha was confident that Lazarus would “rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” The Jews were divided about the doctrine of the resurrection, the Sadducees denied it, the Pharisees asserted it; and on this latter side was Martha. Jesus makes a bold statement and asks her a pointed question: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” This is the question every man, woman, and child must answer in the affirmative in order to experience eternal life that God promises. “Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” Jesus is the resurrection and the life!
EXAMPLE: The resurrection is something we often cannot grasp because we are so overwhelmed by our lives and death. In the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians Paul addresses this issue head on. There were those who were trying to subvert early Christianity by telling believers there was no resurrection, Paul bluntly tells them, “For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:16-20 NIV) When Jesus comforted Martha with the fact of the resurrection it was not some mystical concept, it was and is a reality. Jesus proved it to be so because Jesus is the resurrection and the life!
Something wonderful and totally unexpected was going to happen. Perhaps Martha thought so as well, especially after Jesus’ affirmation. Here we see that Jesus does not always do what we desire when we want him to. In fact, we discover that…
II. Jesus did the unexpected! (Vv. 28-37)
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.” When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 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. 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.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
1. Right after Martha confesses her belief that Jesus is the Messiah, God’s Son, who has come in human flesh into the world she heads back to their home to find her sister Mary. She tells her, “The Teacher is here and is asking for you.” While some try to make excuses for Martha’s words, it gives us insight to her personality. She was often blunt and exasperated with her sister Mary. If she went out to meet Jesus, then Mary should as well, even if it meant she stretched the truth. Jesus had not asked for her, but “When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him.” The crowd seeing Mary hurry away follow her thinking she was headed back to mourn at her brother’s tomb. However, Mary went to where Martha had greeted Jesus. These weren’t bad folks; they were just misguided folks. John relates so many intimate details and here we find that “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.'” Mary had perhaps seen Jesus do his miracles of healing the blind and such. Weeping she cries out to Jesus in her distress over her lost brother whom she loved. Jesus displays his compassion, “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” The wording can mean that Jesus snorted in contempt over the crowd’s forced weeping or that it was misplaced because of his presence! The NIV says Jesus was “deeply moved in spirit and troubled”, others try to infer his heart was touched. I believe this is the case when he asks the sisters, “Where have you laid him?” With their simple response of “Come and see, Lord,” Jesus weeps. Even with this display of compassion over a friend the Jews were divided over Jesus’ motives. Some say, “See how he loved him!” While others derided Jesus’ tardiness by complaining, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” Yet this is who Jesus is, he often does the unexpected!
EXAMPLE: Life is full of surprises, some of which take us on emotional upheavals that are unwelcome. I was fifteen when my father passed away. It left our family with a giant vacuum that instantly made my mother a single mom and the rest of us having to work to meet the family’s bills. James, the brother of Jesus, wrote about this, “Now listen to me, you that say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will travel to a certain city, where we will stay a year and go into business and make a lot of money.’ You don’t even know what your life tomorrow will be! You are like a puff of smoke, which appears for a moment and then disappears. What you should say is this: ‘If the Lord is willing, we will live and do this or that.'” (James 4:13-15 GNB) Martha and Mary did not expect life to take them where it did, but then Jesus did the unexpected. He often does.
It is one thing to say you believe something but quite another thing to actually experience it and watch it firsthand come true. We can say we think Jesus is the resurrection and the life but quite another thing to see it occur. Here we discover that…
III. Jesus has power over death! (Vv. 38-44)
Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “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.” Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 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.” When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 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.”
1. John writes that “Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance.” The Jews would lay the bodies of their dead in carved out tombs from rock or a hillside or completely manmade ones until the flesh rotted off the bones, then they placed the bones in a stone ossuary. This is why when Jesus tells them to “Take away the stone” that covered the entrance, they protested. “‘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.'” We often see with our human eyes and not with the eyes of God. Jesus reminds them, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone! I am sure those who had come to mourn were shocked because no one would ever have asked to remove a stone of a person dead for four days! Yet, Jesus does what we often read him doing, he looks to heaven and prays, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 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.” Jesus knew, being God and knowing how God works, that God is always intimately aware of our needs but in our nearsightedness and our myopic spirituality we often cannot see past our emotional needs of the moment. Jesus prayed out loud for the benefit of those listening so they would have no doubt who and why this miracle would be performed! When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” I do not know what the crowd or the sisters expected to happen when the stone was moved but what occurred next was awesome! John simply states, “The dead man came out.” In fact, “His hands and feet” were still “wrapped with strips of linen” with “a cloth around his face.” Alive and completely whole, Lazarus walked out of the dark tomb of his burial and into the light of life! Wow! With common sense, “Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go.'” Jesus has power over death!
EXAMPLE: When I was younger I owned an old 1932 Model “A” Ford I had bought. It was a restoration in progress and with a lot of love and care I was able to get it running again. It took hard work and a lot of elbow grease to get the engine to finally turn over and fire up. While we can restore old cars, furniture, houses, or other things; we cannot resurrect someone who has been dead four days! Here at the tomb of Lazarus we discover Jesus has power over death!
Jesus is the resurrection and the life! Jesus did the unexpected! Jesus has power over death!
This article is copyrighted © 2015 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.