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Life of Christ (2007-2009)

Resurrection and the Life

John 11

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Prologue

To place this correctly in sequence, we must need to know that we are very close to the final week of Christ’s life. As can be seen by the ending section, the Pharisees will make the decision that Christ must die “for the good of the people.” So he did, but not quite in the sense they imagined.

Jesus has raised two others from the dead.[1] Those accounts, in Luke, are very brief compared to this – from which we may conclude that Jesus had some lessons in mind here that would have been premature before this. Martha is the one here who makes the first Great Confession, for example.

It is worth noting that this event occurs only in John’s Gospel, a fact which has led liberal scholars to expunge this passage as being a later addition. Grotius, a late medieval scholar, provides the logical explanation. When Matthew, Mark and Luke were writing their Gospels, Lazarus and his sisters were still alive – and subject to persecution. John wrote much later, after all were dead.

The Disciples

Joh 11:1-16 NIV

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. (7) Then he said to his disciples, "Let us go back to Judea." (8) "But Rabbi," they said, "a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?" (9) Jesus answered, "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." (16) Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him."

Purpose

This entire chapter has but one original purpose: to glorify God. Just what does “glorify God” mean?

  • In another context, it is an injunction to tell the truth.
  • Here, however, it means to praise God because praise is due Him.
  • It is also an expression of our adoration of God.

We may note that glorifying any member of the Trinity glorifies them all. So to glorify the Son is to glorify the Father. It’s a phrase no longer in common use, which is a pity. If you wish to walk with God, you should begin with praise and adoration – which are merely a form of recognizing who He is.

Purpose conquers fear

It’s a curious remark by Thomas – the doubting Thomas, that is. It shows us, however, two possible ways in which we can use the purpose of God to conquer our fears:

  • If that purpose is strongly rooted in us, we might ignore the fear of mortal things to accomplish that purpose. (Type A personalities take note.)
  • For the rest of us, that purpose of God allows us to overcome fear. Fear him who can kill the body and condemn the soul.

Either way you take it, this is a good example of the maxim that those who have nothing worth dying for have nothing worth living for. Thomas shows us that he is willing to die with his Master.

The true disciple

Most of us would quite naturally say that this is what we would have done, too. But it seems a little strange to say, “let us die with Him.” We may see how Thomas achieved this:

  • The disciple who doesn’t understand, asks. It seems like a change in policy, and a rather dangerous one. Please explain! Jesus tells the disciples that time is a-wasting, and we’d best get on with the work. It’s an answer – but not necessarily a complete one.
  • The disciples don’t get it. But the issue is not one of intellectual clarity; it’s one of obedience. Results, not excuses.
  • Thomas makes clear the risk – in the process of accepting it.

It is a curious thing. This is the first time in the New Testament at which Jesus gives his disciples a destination. Perhaps this is a measure of how much Jesus wants his disciples with him.

The sisters

Joh 11:17-37 NIV On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. (18) Bethany was less than two miles[1] 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,[2] the Son of God, who was to come into the world." (28) 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." (29) When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. (30) Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. (31) 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. (32) 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." (33) When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. (34) "Where have you laid him?" he asked.

"Come and see, Lord," they replied. (35) Jesus wept. (36) Then the Jews said, "See how he loved him!" (37) But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?"

Mary and Martha

We are already familiar with the character of Mary and Martha.[2] Mary is the rather emotional sort, impulse driven – which is good with the right impulses. Martha is the one who is both constrained by and liberated by facts. In a curious reversal of roles, Martha is the one who comes out to meet Jesus. Mary only comes after Martha tells her that Jesus wants her. It appears that Jesus will reveal the most thundering of thoughts only to those who think. Hence, Martha.

The Great Confession

We must set the stage with Martha’s combination of reproach (“if you had been here”) and confidence (“yet even now…”). This is a serious underestimate of Christ – it treats him like some virtuous prayer warrior - but he knows the Martha within. He need only bring it out.

He does this in steps:

  • He begins with what she knows clearly: her brother will rise from the dead. The orthodox Jew believes in the resurrection of the dead. Martha confirms her belief in the resurrection.
  • He then startles her with, “I am the resurrection and the life.” In any other mouth this would be startlingly absurd. But Christ is the one who created the universe and all its life; his personal authority and power are well beyond this little problem.

So Martha spits out what has since been called the Great Confession. If you want a relationship with Christ, you must first know who he is. Martha gives us three primary points:

  • He is the promised Messiah. As the prophets of the Old Testament foretold, one day the Messiah would appear; she knows that Jesus is that Messiah. (There are hundreds of prophecies specifically concerning this.)
  • He is the Son of God, or God “in the flesh.”

What more remains to be said?

Raising Lazarus

Joh 11:38-44 NIV 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."

Action in faith

There is a certain economy to God’s miracles. Jesus turns water into wine – but only after the servants fill the water jars. The same idea is here: Jesus knows what will happen – but sees no reason to move the stone himself. That little bit of faith is better in the hearer than in the Christ.

Of course, the amount of faith here in those who knew Lazarus is rather small. Martha, ever practical, points out that there will be the odor of death and decay – and a lot of it. She would know; it was the special duty of women in this age to handle the dead bodies – which would make the men ceremonially unclean, of course. Hence, the women do the dirty work.

Instructed or reminded?

Christ’s reply shows us that he has already told her the answer – but he reminds her again. Martha and Mary remember, but the crowd doesn’t, of course.

Hence Jesus announces his oneness with the Father in public prayer. His object in doing this, of course, is so that the crowd will believe. You would think that raising someone from the dead would be utterly convincing. But remember last week’s Lazarus? Even a man back from the dead won’t convince everyone.

Christ has another memory lesson for these witness. He has them take off the grave clothes, in particular the long thin linen strips (like an Ace bandage) around the hands and feet. That which you do and touch stays in memory longer than that which you have seen only.

Lazarus, come out

There is a divine style to miracles. He who spoke and the worlds began now commands Lazarus out of the tomb. He is not just creator but also sovereign. By his very word he commands death to release its grip – and Lazarus comes out.

It is possible that Lazarus is actually getting the short end of the deal. He has spent the last four days in Paradise; just how eager do you think he was to go back to a world of pain and suffering?

Reactions

Joh 11:45-57 NIV 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. (47) Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.

"What are we accomplishing?" they asked. "Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. (48) If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place[3] and our nation." (49) Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, "You know nothing at all! (50) You do not realize 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. (54) Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the Jews. Instead he withdrew to a region near the desert, to a village called Ephraim, where he stayed with his disciples. (55) When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover. (56) They kept looking for Jesus, and as they stood in the temple area they asked one another, "What do you think? Isn't he coming to the Feast at all?" (57) But the chief priests and Pharisees had given orders that if anyone found out where Jesus was, he should report it so that they might arrest him.

Pharisees

Politicians. We continue to have them and we continue to curse them – it seems like some things never change. The Pharisees acknowledge the miracles of Christ – Lazarus must have been difficult to ignore – but they are unaffected. The reason is that they are politicians – power hungry politicians – and they see in Jesus of Nazareth a threat to that power.

But God allows no evil out of which he cannot make a greater good. One of those politicians is the High Priest for that year. As corrupt as he is, God uses him to make the prophecy that will bring the Cross. For the good of the people this Jesus must die. Indeed, for the good of all people, Jesus died.

The many

May I point out just one thing about “the many” who believed in Jesus? They got no press; they are anonymous. Just like most of those who work in the church today. Just as it should be.

Jesus withdraws

Jesus, at the end of this scene, understands that the Pharisees will cease him if they can. It must not happen before the time prepared for it. So he withdraws to the village of Ephraim:

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Why?

  • He frequently used the desert wilderness areas as a place for prayer.
  • He shows us that under persecution even our Lord withdraws to another place.
  • So that he might have time alone with his disciples – to prepare them.

“I am the resurrection and the life” – do you believe this?


[1] Luke 7:12-15, 8:49-55, the widow’s son and Jairus’ daughter, respectively.

[2] Luke 10:38-42

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