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Br Rd - DEATH - John xi (B)

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DEATH

John xi – Phase Two[1]

14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.

49 Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realise that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

51 He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, 52 and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. 53 So from that day on they plotted to take his life.

We have already observed that the eleventh chapter of John is a rich resource from which we may find much about our Lord.   In considering again this SIXTH SIGN in John we focus on the way in which Jesus confronts death.

It is an essential – yet much neglected subject.   Many folks spend all their lives trying to avoid it – and trying to avoid either the discussion of it, or if it were possible any contact with it.  The Christian cannot do that.  For every believer death is a crucial issue.

The believer stands before death in the power of the Lord Jesus and knows that it is:

·        Inevitable

·        Not the end

·        Part of God’s plan

·        Defeated

Consider these two texts:-

he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. Heb 2:14

then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

55 “Where, O death, is your victory?

Where, O death, is your sting?”

 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.   1 Cor 15:51

In chapter eleven of John the evangelist weaves together the realities of Lazarus’ death and the death of Jesus.   If you look at the chapter as a whole you will see how the focus shifts from Jesus and His disciples hearing word of the illness of Lazarus (1-16)  to Bethany where Lazarus has died (17-43) and finally to Calvary in verses (45-53).

In considering this essential subject I want you to look at the passage under those headings:

    A.     Where Jesus was                        20 miles from Bethany

    B.     Where Jesus went              Bethany

    C.     Where Jesus was going       Calvary

(On a subsequent occasion – and I’m presently not sure when that might be – we shall look at the third strand in the chapter – LIFE, and focus on what Jesus said to Martha, and at the tomb.)

A. Where Jesus Was        1-16   FEAR OF DEATH

11 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”

4 When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” 5 Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.

When Jesus is busy with His disciples some distance from Bethany a messenger arrives bearing the sisters’ word that Lazarus is sick.

Jesus’ reply, which must have been taken back to Bethany by the messenger, shows His response:

4 When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” 

Bad news is never welcome – but I suspect that the disciples listening took heart from what Jesus said, and the work of ministry continued.

Surely they would draw the conclusion that, if Jesus didn’t rush back to Bethany everything must be under control.

We all have a reaction to the news of serious illness.  Many folk have a response mechanism for handling these disasters when they concern others.

Lazarus was close to death indeed – by the time the message arrived he was already dead.

Surely Jesus must have advice for this constantly recurring crisis – and He does:

4 When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” 

From the point of view of a bystander the words of Jesus are re-assuring.  I wonder what response they provoked when, a day later at least the message was retold in Bethany?

Jesus reminds them and us that GOD’S PURPOSE WILL BE WORKED OUT IN THESE CIRCUMSTANCES

It is for the glory of God.

This is the over-arching principle that upholds us as we witness the awful suffering and sadness in our world. 

Death fits into the purpose of God – and He will not be diverted from His purpose no matter how fierce the fight may seem.

But the days pass – and Jesus broaches the subject again – and when He does so His disciples misunderstand.

They – like us – and like all have A FEAR OF DEATH

8 “But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?”

And again in v 16

16 Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

For the disciples there is a real danger to Jesus – and they fear the consequences for Him and for themselves.

No matter that He reminds them of His earlier words about being the Light of the World and that whilst He is with them nothing can intervene.  

Jesus speaks to them in a way which faces THE REALITY OF DEATH    14,15

 

“Are there not twelve hours of daylight? A man who walks by day will not stumble, for he sees by this world’s light. 10 It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light.”

11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”

12 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.

14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”



Whether we use euphemisms like “has fallen asleep” or whatever – the reality is the same:   Lazarus is dead…

But Jesus mixes together the OVERARCHING OBJECTIVE of God’s glory being worked out, and the REALITY OF DEATH as faced by the disciples – and by the folk at Bethany to render in those startling words:

15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

SO THAT YOU MAY BELIEVE

Jesus confronts us in our daily lives – and when we hear of the death of a friend, or the final illness of others – HE SPEAKS OF HIMSELF and OUR FAITH. 

B.  Where Jesus came    - Bethany      REALITY OF DEATH

Verses 17-43

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.

In John’s account the scene moves to Bethany where Jesus arrives to find that Lazarus has been dead for four days.

We can only imagine how difficult those days had been for Mary and Martha.

We can only guess how they received Jesus’ response by the messenger

, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”

It would be as difficult for them as it might be for us to face the reality of a loved one’s death in the light of Jesus’ words.

Is this God’s glory?   They might ask.

But – wait – it isn’t finished yet.    And that is our position too.

===

I do not want to deal with the wonderful words of Jesus to Martha at this stage – instead I want to keep them against a third and final word from this chapter – LIFE!

Just now I want to underline some of the things that were said to illustrate THE REALITY OF DEATH:

    IF YOU HAD BEEN HERE    21, 32                         His absence

    I AM the resurrection and the life  25                    His Person

    TAKE AWAY THE STONE   39                               His power

Both Mary and Martha express the heart wrenching reaction of their faith to His not being there.

Once again – as we shall see in our last study – this is all about provoking FAITH IN THE LIVING JESUS

But for them the REALITY OF DEATH is expressed in a familiar phrase  “IF (only) YOU HAD BEEN HERE…”

As Jesus approaches Bethany, and then the tomb of Lazarus itself – all the people involved, and many onlookers and supporters ASK QUESTIONS ABOUT IT.

And so do we

The answer lies in both the PERSON and the POWER of JESUS

I am the resurrection and the life….

How many funerals begin like that?

But not just words – but wonderful power

TAKE AWAY THE STONE                                      CHRIST DEMANDS ANSWER

This is the HEART STOPPING – FAITH PROVOKING – CENTRAL COMMAND

It demands that Jesus be recognised as who He is

And that He demonstrate HIS POWER

But John has not finished:

C.  Where Jesus was going – Calvary  DEFEAT OF DEATH

Verses 45-53   culminating in 49-53

49 Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realise that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

51 He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, 52 and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. 53 So from that day on they plotted to take his life.

Jesus Christ DEMANDS A REACTION

And we see both in John’s narrative:

45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him. 46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.

John makes it very clear that the religious leaders faced a stark choice – and their view represents the ALTERNATIVE TO FAITH  - a self-interested rejection of the Christ.

    Many believed

    Some reported

    Caiaphas prophesied

    His death was planned

And of course it is no accident that that is the sequence.   For the work of Christ culminates in His death on the cross.

And that POLARISES OPINION one way or the other.

Jesus steps down from heaven’s glory to enter our life

He ascends the cross to share our death

But most of all to triumph in it over sin and Satan and the power of death

And His tomb will be opened too with the promise of a much greater life than that given to Lazarus.

What then is the conclusion – the application.

Go back to verse 39     39 “Take away the stone,” he said.

There is a barrier to be removed in us as well:

How to face the INEVITABILITY OF DEATH     …. The glory and purpose of God

How to face the REALITY OF DEATH   ….. the wonder of His person and His power

BY FACING THE DEATH OF JESUS …   one died for all!


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[1] Series on the Signs in John’s Gospel – Sixth Sign – Part two

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