John 11:17-44 – Life for Lazarus, death for Jesus
John leaves us in no doubt that death is a great and evil thing, the ‘the last enemy’ as Paul describes it in 1 Cor 15:26. Death’s evil emerges in this story in its effects on family and friends. Nothing in this life is important as the bonds of relationship between people, especially between husbands and wives, parents and children, between siblings and between close friends. Accordingly nothing inspires so much emotion as the final loss of someone close. Heart brokenness and grief can be seen at many points in John’s narrative. The sense of loss is evident in the sister’s tears and even the display of emotion by Jesus himself.
The fact is people fear death. Society may pretend that death isn’t as bad as it appears by having classy looking funeral homes, large displays of flowers and fancy caskets but there’s still a dead body to deal with. When the chinese hold a funeral it may occur over a few days and in that process they give burnt offerings at the cemetery in the hope that their loved ones will experience some sort of heaven only to have empty hope.
And as we look at that body, particularly if it’s a non-Christian, we are reminded that everything they lived and worked for is left behind. This story here about Laz (who isn’t a well known guy) reminds us that there is more than this life or even more than heaven & hell & that Jesus would have something to do with it all. There is more to Jesus than meets the eye.
Jesus is the resurrection and the Life – v17-37
Jesus speaks to Martha
17 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.”
Jesus’ answer to Mary was “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.
The “I am” statement here is already significant because Jesus again here claiming that he is none other than God himself in the person of the Christ – and his mission on earth is to show that he is the resurrection and the life.
Jesus is ‘God with us’ the one who saves us from ultimate death, that is to say, hell. He is God’s appointed means of resurrection (which means being raised from the dead) right now, as he will soon demonstrate in the temporary raising of Laz and more particularly in his own absolute resurrection (raising from the dead on the third day) The risen Laz will die again but the risen Christ is alive for evermore (Rev 1:18)
See the raising of Laz was the sign of the security of the resurrection to eternal life for those who ‘believe in’ Christ. Eternal life is the consequence or end result of the resurrection. Resurrection through Christ on the last day is the means to entering eternal life in the kingdom of God. Only in Christ alone can we be assured of resurrection and life and resurrection to eternal life. It is the only way into heaven despite what other beliefs or religions say none of them can really make this claim.
This gift of eternal life is the greatest blessing imaginable. The idea of being united with loved ones – not sure how that will look like but is something to look forward to giving you a sense of urgency when praying for or sharing Jesus with friends or family who do not yet believe in Christ.
Although Martha did not grasp the full significance of his words, ‘I am the resurrection and the life’ we are sometimes like this even though we have the whole bible in front of us where as she had to rely on the Old Testament.
Now this is very important, not just for Martha and Mary and the disciples, but for us as well.
We can concentrate so much on the miracle itself that we miss the full significance of it. The raising of Lazarus is about learning to believe in Jesus as the resurrection and the life.
Martha’s response, of course, is quite right: "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world." What are we meant to discover from this last sign in John’s gospel? That Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ; he’s the one who has come into the world. But there’s more to it than just that. We’re also meant to learn that the reason he’s come into the world is to bring the gift of resurrection and eternal life to all people who will receive this gift.
Jesus is human like us
Jesus speaks to Mary
Mary is found three times in the Gospel record, and each time she is at the feet of Jesus (Luke 10:39; John 11:32; 12:3). She sat at His feet and listened to His word; she fell at His feet and poured out her sorrow; and she came to His feet to give Him her praise and worship. Mary’s only recorded words in the Gospels are given in John 11:32, and they echo what Martha had already said (John 11:21).
Mary did not say much because she was overcome with sorrow and began to weep. Her friends joined in the weeping, as Jewish people are accustomed to do. The word used means “a loud weeping, a lamentation.” Our Lord’s response was to groan within and “be moved with indignation.” So it was a different weeping to the Jews but it showed that he was very involved emotionally with the death of the Laz.
Likely because of seeing the effects of sin on the worlds that he created and that death is the last enemy that causes much pain & grief whenever it strikes.
“Jesus wept” is the shortest and yet the deepest verse in Scripture. But why did He weep at all? After all, He knew that He would raise Laz from the dead.
Our Lord’s weeping reveals the humanity of the Saviour. He has entered into all of our experiences and knows how we feel. In fact, being the perfect God-Man, Jesus experienced these things in a deeper way than we do. His tears also assures us of His sympathy; He is indeed “a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3). Today, He is our merciful and faithful High Priest, and we may come to the throne of grace and find all the gracious help that we need
We see in His tears the tragedy of sin but also the glory of heaven. Perhaps Jesus was weeping for Lazarus, as well as with the sisters, because He knew He was calling His friend from heaven and back into a wicked world where he would one day have to die again. Jesus had come down from heaven; He knew what Laz was leaving behind.
Bring me to my last point
Jesus is all about life – but more than that in fact
Jesus is life and apart from Him there is no life
Read John 11:38-43
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.”
And so we come to the Tomb. Jesus orders the stone to be taken away, much to the distress of Martha who can imagine the smell, the stench of a decaying body after 4 days that’ll come out when the stone is removed. But again, Jesus reminds them of the need to believe.
Jesus prays a prayer, for the benefit of his hearers, so they’ll believe that it’s God who has sent him; that it’s God by whose power he’s about to do this incredible thing. Then it’s done. Jesus calls, and Lazarus comes out, wrapped in the burial cloths but alive and well.
And what is the result? "Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him." How could you not? Here was a man who’d been dead for four days. According to Jewish understanding, after 3 days the spirit had left the body and the body itself had begun to decompose.
Yet here was Lazarus standing before them whole and well again. Who but God could do such a thing? Any doubts they may have had about the things Jesus claimed for himself were suddenly blown away.
And so as we look back to the beginning of this account we discover that the things Jesus said were true. Laz’s sickness didn’t end in death, it resulted in God’s glory; it ended in God’s Son being glorified through it. The result of Laz dying while Jesus delayed was that the disciples, along with Martha and Mary and their friends, came to believe in Jesus, not just as a great teacher or a miracle worker, not even as the promised Messiah, but as the Resurrection and the Life.
We too can read this story and take away from it an assurance that Jesus has the power to give us eternal life, to raise us up at the last day. We can be reassured that when God seems to be delayed in answering our prayers, it isn’t a sign of failure on his part; his assurance is that he is in control of everything including life and death and beyond.
And we can be encouraged to continue to walk in the light, even when darkness seems to surround us, to continue to believe, in those dark moments, what we know to be true when we were in the light.
But not only that knowing that when you were not a Christian you once lived in darkness, dead in sin but now through Jesus’ own death resurrection we too can experience life to the full now. I once lived in darkness; I was spiritually dead, as dead as can be, my sin preventing me from having a relationship with God. I tried everything to make up for the darkness in my life but that didn’t change anything. It wasn’t until I came to faith in Christ that came from God Spirit that enabled me to receive forgiveness and accept the gift of eternal life. Jesus conquered sin on the cross, and conquered death in the resurrection we to are raised to life not just on the last day but in a sense now spiritually. We are a new creation, the old has gone and the new has come. We can experience a slice of eternal life now even though living in this world doesn’t really feel that way; it can be a dark horrible place. Let me leave this with you:
Read John 10:10
10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
Let’s live life to the full now and look forward to the eternal life that Jesus has already assured us of when he returns in the last day.