Encounters With Christ – Unbound and Free

Grace For The Journey

Jesus knows that Lazarus will not ultimately remain dead, but that something far greater is going on.  We are told that Jesus stays right where he is for two more days. Interesting, isn’t it?  In fact, as we read on, we will see that Jesus shows up four days late for a funeral – not the kind of pastoral etiquette taught in seminary.  But Jesus is God in the flesh.  He knows what He is doing.  And this becomes increasingly clear as we heard in the following verses.  Jesus said to the disciples in verse 11, “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.” And the disciples do not get it.  They do not realize Jesus is speaking euphemistically, using sleep as a metaphor.  They say in verse 12, “Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.”  Jesus gives it to them straight in verse 14, “Then Jesus said to them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead.’”

Jesus is on His way now to Bethany to see Lazarus and we all know at this point that Lazarus has died.  We begin in verses 17-19 which say, “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.”  The mourners who have come to be with Mary and Martha, to comfort them.  I have noted before in our study of the funeral of the woman of Nain’s son, that when someone died in those days, it was a community event.  There were folks who mourned with the family in a mourning that would last at least a week and there were even folks who mourned for others as something of a profession or job.  That may sound kind of fake, but maybe we should see them as folks who were especially gifted in compassion and mercy; sympathizers who genuinely mourned and were the ones who sort of set the scene there, helping others feel comfortable as they grieved with them.

Verses 20-21 say, “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.’”   The more you read in the Bible about these two sisters you gain an understanding of their differing personalities. Martha seems to be the kind of brash, go-getter, and leader out in front doing the talking first sister.  Mary is the quieter, pensive thinker, and introspective type.  Both personalities are good.  God made them that way.  But Martha comes across at times like Peter – having a tendency to speak before thinking everything out.

So, Martha blurts out to the Lord in verse 21, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  Sounds like an accusation, doesn’t it?!  But it is like she catches herself in verse 22, “But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.”  It is like when we say out loud what we are thinking and as the words come out of our mouths, we are trying to stop them or change course or something.  She adds, “Of course, I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” Good save!

Jesus responds in verse 23, “Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’”  And Martha responds in verse 24, “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 – and more recently she knew the teachings of Jesus such as back in John 5:28-29 where Jesus said, “. . . The hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth – those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.”

Here is as good a place as any to pause and consider the truth of a final resurrection. The day will come, sometime in the future, this day will come when every single soul is raised from the graves.  The Christian’s body is raised up and the soul of that Christian inhabits that new body, a glorified body like the Lord’s resurrection body, and remains in that body forever.  And the unbeliever’s body is also raised from the grave, but not changed into a glorified body.  It remains a corrupted body for the unbelieving soul to inhabit forever as he remains separated from God in hell.  That is another lesson altogether.  For now, know that when Jesus speaks of the resurrection here, He is not talking about what Martha is talking about – that future day, “the last day” of resurrection.  He says in verse 25, “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!”

This is one of the “I am” statements in John’s Gospel.  When Jesus says, “I am,” He is equating Himself with God.  He is using the words God used to describe Himself to Moses back at the burning bush in Exodus 3.  Moses asks God, “Who shall I say sent me,” and God says, “I AM!  Tell them that ‘I am’ has sent you.”  Jesus uses that same designation of Himself.  Like back in John 8 at the end when Jesus said to the Jews who were arguing with Him, “Before Abraham was, I AM.”  The next verse says the Jews then picked up stones to stone Him.  They believed He had committed blasphemy.

This is one of those statements of Jesus that shows us why we cannot think of Him as merely a good moral teacher.  It is 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 are 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.  Verses 25-29 continue the conversation between Jesus and Martha, “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.’”  That is a strong confession of faith!  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.’  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.” 

Mary goes out to see Jesus in verse 30, “Now Jesus had not yet come into the town, but was in the place where Martha met Him.”  This encounter of Jesus with the sisters, with Martha and Mary, is occurring somewhere just outside Bethany.

Verse 31 states, “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.’”  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 graveyard, to the tomb, to witness a miracle.  The way the mourners follow Mary is just another example of their compassion and mercy. They see her go so they go, too.  They do not want her to be alone in her grief.

Mary rises quickly and goes out and the mourners go along to follow her.  Verse 32 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.’”  It is interesting that she says the very thing her sister had said earlier.  She is weeping.  She is grieving.  And for this reason we read that Jesus responds differently in verse 33, “Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled.”  This phrase, “He groaned in the spirit and was troubled” describes what happens to us emotionally when we are so struck by a thing that goes right to the core of our being.  The phrase suggests a feeling of great consternation and agitation.  Greek scholars often point out that the phrase is used to describe the actions of a horse when you see and hear a horse do that kind of stomping and snorting thing horses do.  There is this energy and a sense of disturbance that rises from the deepest level of one is being.  That is how Jesus reacted when he saw Mary weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping.  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.

Verses 34 and 35 say, “And He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’  They said to Him, ‘Lord, come and see.’  Jesus wept.”  Jesus cried.  As Isaiah prophesied of the Messiah some 700 years earlier in Isaiah 53:3, He was “a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”   Hebrews 4:15 reminds us, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses.”  As a man of sorrows, Jesus is well acquainted with grief and can sympathize with us in all of our struggles and weaknesses.  He is at once both God and Man.  I think that is the main point here in the actions of Jesus.  Jesus wept.  He knew what He was going to do in just a few moments.  He had known days earlier when He told His disciples that Lazarus’ illness was an illness that would not lead ultimately to final death.  Rather, Jesus weeps because we weep.  Like the mourners who were with Mary and Martha, Jesus is with us – always!  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 verses 36-37, “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 do more than that.  The suspense builds in verse 38, “Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb.  It was a cave, and a stone lay against it.”  This tomb is a cave which would have kept several bodies inside and a stone that was rolled up against the entrance.  It was a typical cave-like tomb in those days.  Verse 39 states, “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.’”  Now that is just the reality of the situation.  There is no doubt that Lazarus is dead.  It has been four days.  The point is that Lazarus is not just 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.

Jesus responds in verse 40, “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.

Verse 43 says, “Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth!’”  Verse 44 states, “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, He who had died came out alive.  I believe it was St. Augustine who said that it was good that Jesus called out Lazarus by name otherwise Jesus would have emptied the entire tomb as every dead person would have obeyed.  Lazarus came out, still all wrapped up in the grave clothes, cloths of wrappings.  Lazarus leaves the graveyard a new man – he leaves the graveyard alive, unbound, and free!

What are we to take from this passage?  We are interested in more than just studying the narrative here.  What is there for us today in terms of application of the Bible to our everyday lives? I want to share with you a few things we can learn about the nature of God.

It is important that we remember an important principle . . .

In every text in the Bible

We can learn something

About God and something

About the Gospel.  

And we really should deal

With those two things

In every passage of the Bible.

J. I. Packer, the British theologian said about this: “Whatever else in the Bible catches your eye, do not let it distract you from Him.”

That is just a great statement, isn’t it?  So important to remember as we read our Bibles: “Whatever else in the Bible catches your eye, do not let it distract you from Him.”  So here are a couple things we learn about God from this passage.  They are not necessarily profound nor are they exhaustive.  First . . .

I. God Works His Perfect Purposes through our Sickness.

This is the first thing about God should have gotten our attention as we began our study.  Jesus 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.”  I have mentioned previously how some sicknesses may be the result of personal sin in our lives and some sickness are not the result of personal sin in our lives.  Some sicknesses are the direct result of sin in our lives and God will work through that.  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.

The greater point is that God works His perfect purposes through our sickness, and He works through our sufferings, too.  That 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 in a way the we can only say, “God did that!”  And there may be other reasons, perhaps not even known to us at the time.  It is not always God’s will to heal our sicknesses.  We must always remember that anyone who is healed of sickness will get sick again.  Eventually every single person dies of some kind of sickness or sudden health crisis.  It is not always God’s will to heal.

Even 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 is a greater purpose, a more perfect purpose God was working in and through his sickness.  Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12:9 that God told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

Never think that God has forgotten you in your sickness whether it is the flu, or Alzheimer’s, or Cancer.  God is in control and He is working through your sickness and suffering to accomplish His perfect purposes.  God is often working out something far greater than we may even be able to see at the moment.  

  • Maybe He is strengthening your faith through your sickness,
  • Maybe He is drawing someone else to faith in Christ through your suffering.  
  • Maybe He intends to heal though the gift of modern medicine.
  • Maybe He intends to heal in a way no one can ever have imagined.

What God intends to accomplish through our sickness and suffering – the possibilities seem endless.  God works His perfect purposes through our sickness.  Here is another thing we can learn about God . . .

II. God’s Timing is Perfect.

Jesus shows up four days late for a funeral!  How can that possibly be perfect timing!   Jesus knows all things, so He knows what is coming up and what He is going to do about it.  Mary and Martha had no doubt prayed much to God while Lazarus was sick. They had prayed.  They sent word to Jesus.  Jesus gets word, but then He stays put.  He stays there for 2 more days.

Sometimes Jesus does not act as quickly as you think He should.  You pray to Him and you are like, “Lord Jesus, please do this or please do that.”  And you are praying for something to happen according to your clock, according to your sense of time, right? We all do that, don’t we?  When you find yourself praying like that and Jesus does not seem to be acting as quickly as you’d like, go back to John 11 and remember that Jesus was working according to a perfect time-table.

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.  These first two application points are interconnected and interdependent.  They go together. God works His perfect purposes through our suffering and sickness which necessarily implies that God’s timing is perfect.  God’s timing is perfect.  Rest in that!

This 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 here and not here it would have been too soon.  Had he acted here and not here it would have been too late.

Many of you know that, unlike the English language, Hebrew is read not left to right, but right to left.  I read this quote of John Flavel, one of the great Puritans . . .

“Providence is best read

Like Hebrew: backwards.”

And that is so true!  There are things that do not make sense in our simple every day, left to right existence.  God’s hand of providence moves not just left to right, but right to left.  God works both ways!  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,’”

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 do not 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, and your marriage.  God not only knows what He is doing, but exactly when to do it, when to move.  Like Mary and Martha, you may be tempted to think Jesus act sooner, but Jesus knows what you do not.  He knows the future exhaustively, including all the possible contingencies, all the possible paths.  He will act accordingly to the information that He has and you do not have!

God’s timing is perfect

So trust Him.

Finally, and most importantly . . .

III. God Offers Life through Jesus Christ.

This is the most important takeaway for every single one of us today.  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.”  Isn’t that wonderful?!
In fact the Greek preposition used there in verse 25, translated into English, “He who believes in Me,” is more literally, “He who believes into Me.”

When we believe in Christ,

We believe into Him.  

Therefore, 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.

We have noted in these encounters with Christ . . .

How what Jesus says and does

Is all predicated upon

His upcoming work

Upon the cross

For each person.

So, again here, Jesus knows what is coming in the future.  He is not surprised by what happens after He raises Lazarus from the dead.  This final public miracle becomes the impetus for the desire upon the unbelieving Jews to have Him killed.  You will see that if you read on.

In the words of Tim Keller, “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 way to put it?  

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.”  Do you believe in Christ?  Have you believed into Him?

The Bible teaches that without Christ we are without hope.  We are separated from God by our sin.  He is separated from us by His holiness.  The only way to be safe in the presence of God is to be into Christ.  We must believe that Jesus is not merely a good moral teacher, but we must believe He is our only Savior and that we are safe when we are into Him.  Trust in Him today.  Let me invite you to pray this to the Lord. Say to Jesus this morning, say, “Lord Jesus Christ, I admit that I am weaker and more sinful than I ever before believed, but, through you, I am more loved and accepted than I ever dared hope.  I thank you for paying my debt, bearing my punishment and offering forgiveness.  I turn from my sin and receive you as Savior.”  If you have accepted Christ as your Savior and Lord you have cause to rejoice … If you have not accepted Christ as your Savior and Lord you can and you will find great cause for rejoicing!

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

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.”

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