Grace For The Journey
Four days late for a funeral! Many pastors have run behind for funerals, but I never met one who took four days to show up. Yet, this is precisely what Jesus does in John 11:1-44.
Jesus knew his friend Lazarus would not ultimately remain dead so He said to the disciples, “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up” (verse 11). And the disciples don’t get it. Not realizing Jesus is using sleep as a metaphor, they replied, “Lord, if he sleeps he will get well” (verse 12). So, Jesus gives it to them straight: “Lazarus is dead” (verse 14).
What follows is one of the most remarkable miracles of the New Testament. Verses 17-19 describe what happens, “So when Jesus came, He found that he 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.” When someone died in those days, it was a community event. There were folks who mourned with the family for at least a week and there were even folks who mourned for others as something of a profession or job. These were likely folks especially gifted in compassion and mercy, setting the scene, and helping others feel comfortable as they grieved.
Verses 20-21 describe further what happens, “Now 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.”
Martha comes across at times like Peter, having a tendency to speak before thinking everything through. Maybe she catches herself, the way we do when we cannot ourselves believe what we hear ourselves saying, as she adds in verses 22-24, “Of course, I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” And Jesus replies: ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to Him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’” Martha knew her theology. She knew, for example, what most orthodox Jews believed, a general resurrection “at the last day,” a general resurrection of all persons at the end of time.
In verse 25, Jesus makes a powerful claim, “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.’”
This is such a wondrous claim to deity!
“I am the resurrection and the life.”
Not, “I will bring about resurrection,”
Or, “I will cause resurrection; though He would,
But, “I am the resurrection and the life!”
When Jesus says, “I AM,” He is equating Himself with God. This is one of seven of the so-called “I am” statements in John’s Gospel. He’s using the words God used to describe Himself to Moses back at the burning bush in Exodus 3. Moses had asked God, “Who shall I say sent me,” i.e., “How shall I refer to You?” And God says, “I AM! Tell them that ‘I Am’ has sent you.”
Jesus uses that same designation of Himself.
This is one of those statements of Jesus
That shows us why we cannot think
Of Him as merely a good moral teacher.
It’s just not an option to speak of Jesus
As merely a good, moral teacher.
A good moral teacher does not go around saying things like, “I am the resurrection and the life.” You’re either a liar, a deceiver, or a crazy person if you go around saying that. There is one other option, of course, and that is, if you go around saying, “I am the resurrection and the life” you can say it because it is true, because you are, in fact, God
Jesus goes on to proclaim in verses 26-27, “’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.’” That’s a strong confession of faith right there! In essence, Martha is saying, “Yes, I believe You are more than a good moral teacher. You are Lord. You are the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior, the Son of God, the very one who is to come into the world.”
Verses 28-31 state, “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, she 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 (with Mary) 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.’” The folks mourning with Mary follow her out, assuming that she is now going out to the tomb to weep there.
God is working behind the events
To get eye-witnesses to the to the tomb,
To witness a forthcoming miracle.
Verses 32-35 says, “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. It is as though everything about this moment – the death of Lazarus, the grief, the mourning, the consequences of sin and the fall of mankind – all of this causes Jesus to groan deeply in His spirit.
The last two words there, “Jesus wept,” comprise the shortest verse in the Bible. As Isaiah prophesied of the Messiah some 700 years earlier in Isaiah 53, He was “a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). Jesus weeps because we weep. Like the mourners who were with Mary and Martha, Jesus is with us – always! He is always with us – and He weeps with us. He loves us and grieves right along with us. The Jews see Jesus weeping and they respond in verse 36, “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?’” Well of course He could have! But He will be doing something far greater than merely keeping a man from dying.
Verses 38-39 state, “Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 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.’”
That’s just the reality of the situation. There is no doubt that Lazarus is dead. It’s been four days. He is not merely unconscious. He had died and everybody knew it. You can wrap up a dead body and put spices throughout the wrapping, but after four days no amount of spices can cover up the stench of death. So Martha essentially says, “Jesus, I don’t think it’s a good idea to remove the stone from the tomb.”
Verses 40-42 say, “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.’”
This prayer to the Father is more like a praise to the Father. Jesus is teaching everyone standing around there that what He is about to do is being done so that all may believe that He had been sent by the Father.
Verses 43-44 tells us, “Someone said that it was good that Jesus specified Lazarus by name otherwise Jesus would have emptied the entire tomb as every dead person would have arose in obedience to the Lord’s command! Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth!’ 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.’” And just like that. The one who was dead came out alive.
Someone said that it was good that Jesus specified Lazarus by name otherwise Jesus would have emptied the entire tomb as every dead person would have arose in obedience to the Lord’s command! Lazarus came out, still all wrapped up in the grave clothes, cloths of wrappings. Jesus says, “Loose him,” or, “Unbind him,” and, “let him go.”
Lazarus leaves the graveyard a new man
– He leaves the graveyard alive!
Unbound and free.
There’s a lot going on in this passage, but let’s consider what it teaches us about the nature of God.
As J.I. Packer wrote: “Whatever else in the Bible catches your eye, do not let it distract you from Him.”
1) God Works His Perfect Purposes through our Sickness.
Jesus had said in verse 4, “This sickness is not unto death but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Some sicknesses are the direct result of sin in our lives and other sicknesses are more directly tied to something else that God is doing through the illness, like His bringing glory to Himself by miraculously healing a person. In either case, God works His perfect purposes through our sickness. And we could add that He works through our sufferings, too.
This is so important to remember when you are dealing with a temporary sickness or a more prolonged sickness. Remember that God is always in control and that He always does what is right. Sickness and suffering are part of God’s permissive will. God allows sickness in our lives to accomplish much greater purposes, things that bring Him great glory. It may be He intends to heal so miraculously that our only response is: “God did that!”
But it is not always God’s will to heal our sicknesses. The Apostle Paul had some kind of malady he described as a “thorn in the flesh” and he prayed several times for God to remove it, but God didn’t. In fact, Paul seems to understand that there was a greater purpose God was working in and through his sickness. He heard the Lord say, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Paul essentially replied, “Okay, if this is all about my becoming strong through my weakness, then it must be good.”
God is often working out something
Far greater than we may be able
To see at the moment.
Never think that God has forgotten you in your sickness whether it is the flu, COVID-19, alzheimer’s, or cancer. God is in control and He is working through your sickness and suffering to accomplish His perfect purposes.
- Maybe He is strengthening your faith through your sickness, or maybe He is drawing someone else to faith in Christ through your suffering.
- Maybe He intends to heal though the gift of modern medicine or in some other way no one could have ever imagined.
2) God’s Timing is Perfect .
Jesus shows up four days late for a funeral, how can that possibly be perfect timing?! Well again, Jesus knows all things so He knows what is coming up and what He’s going to do about it.
Mary and Martha had no doubt prayed much to God while Lazarus was sick. They had prayed and also sent word for Jesus to come. Jesus gets their message, but chooses to stay put for two more days.
Sometimes Jesus doesn’t act
As quickly as we think He should.
Maybe you pray to Him and you’re like, “Lord Jesus, please do this” and you are praying for something to happen according to your clock. We pray, “Lord, give me this job, grant us a child, change my husband’s heart, save my friend, heal my disease, give favor to my son or daughter.” And the sense is: “Do it now!” When you find yourself praying like that and Jesus doesn’t seem to be acting as quickly as you’d like, go back to this passage in John 11 and remember that Jesus was working according to a perfect timetable.
Our Lord knows all future events exhaustively.
He knows all the intricate details
And is working through every single one of them
To accomplish His perfect purposes.
And at just the right time.
This truth is often more obvious to us after the fact. We look back over recent events and we can see God’s hand at work. Had he acted sooner or later, the timing would have been off.
God says through the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 46:9-10, “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, And I will do all My pleasure,’”
And because God’s counsel and
Pleasure are good and right,
God always acts in good
And right ways.
The point is you can trust Him!
When things don’t go like you hoped they would, trust Him. He knows what He is doing in your life and in the life of your family, your job, your career, your sickness, your friendships, your marriage. God not only knows what He is doing, but exactly when to do it, when to move.
3) God Offers Life through Jesus Christ.
This is the most important takeaway. The resurrection of Lazarus anticipates Christ’s resurrection. Jesus says in verse 25, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me shall never die.” The preposition used in verse 25 may be better translated “He who believes into Me shall never die.” When we believe in Christ, there is a sense in which we believe into Him. And so we are “in Christ.” We are safe and secure. We are in Him. All of our sin is forgiven and covered by Him and He covers us with His righteousness. All because we have believed into Him.
This final public miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead strengthens the resolve of the unbelieving Jews to do away with Christ. It drives their final push for Christ’s arrest and leads to His death upon a cross. All of this was surely upon the mind of the all-knowing Savior. He knew that if He raised Lazarus from the dead, the religious establishment would try to kill Him. And so He knew the only way to bring Lazarus out of the grave was to put Himself into the grave.”
Isn’t that a great truth?
The only way to bring Lazarus out of the grave
Was for Jesus to put Himself into the grave.
Jesus put Himself into the grave for us. He took upon Himself our penalty, the punishment for our sin. He bore our punishment. And He rose from the dead to show that our debt has been paid in full. Our penalty has been taken and God approves of the perfect sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ.
It is on this basis Jesus can say, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me shall never die.” What that should lead us to do is . . . Believe in Christ and become unbound and free!
This is God’s Word …
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”