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Lazarus, Come Forth

John 11:33-57

We must remember that we are very close to the week of our Lord’s Passion. He is teaching some final lessons to his disciples; this one concerns death – and therefore concerns us all.

33When 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.

35Jesus wept.

36Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

38Jesus, 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.”

40Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

41So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42I 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.”

43When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44The 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.”

45Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him. 46But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47Then 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. 48If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place£ and our nation.”

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

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

54Therefore 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.

55When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover. 56They 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?” 57But 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.

The Humanity of Christ

The favorite verse of children in Vacation Bible School – famed for having children memorize Bible verses – is verse 35. It is the shortest verse in the Bible, and therefore the easiest to memorize. It also shows us the humanity of Jesus, the Christ.

Jesus wept

Why did he weep? It seems somehow undignified for God in the flesh to weep. But we must remember that he is fully human:

  • He wept because he is human. The natural, human reaction to losing a friend to death is to weep. He is like us.
  • He wept because his friends wept. He shared in their sorrows as well as their joys. Indeed, the definition of a true friend might just be someone who has wept with you. Jesus is the true friend of sinners.
  • He wept because his enemy – the enemy of anyone who is human – is death, and death had claimed another victim. He mourned his enemy’s triumph.
Care for the witnesses

Jesus is fully human; he knows how suspicious we are. It is easy to say, “Have faith, believe.” It is hard to believe. So Jesus moves so that the witnesses to this event might be convincing.

  • The God who called Lazarus back to life could surely remove those grave clothes. But he didn’t. He had the witnesses do that, so that their testimony might be all the more certain.
  • The Christ of power might have commanded the stone to be removed. But he didn’t. He had witnesses do that, so that they might know how difficult it would be.
  • He could have moved the stone physically by himself. But his way gave the witnesses the assurance that Jesus himself was at a distance as all was done.
  • Indeed, even as he asks for the location of the grave, he makes it clear that he could not have been involved in a fraud.

This may sound overly cautious. But do you remember the man born blind? They debated over his true identity. Lazarus seems easier to identify.

The humanity of our High Priest

It is a matter of great worth that our intermediary with God – our High Priest – is human just as we are. We see here his power over death; we also see that he knows how we fear it. Indeed, our High Priest knows what it is like to die – and to live again.

“Lazarus, come forth”

It is perhaps the most impressive of commands – because it shows that Jesus of Nazareth has power over death itself. All others perform their works in the name of God. Jesus performs his in his oneness with God. He is fully human – and also fully God. Thus he stands in the gap between us and our maker, pleading for us – and with us.

The Wrong Reaction

Some of us fit our theories to the facts, others fit the facts to the theories. We see here also some of the wrong reactions to Jesus.

Testing God

We love to do this. You can see it here in the Monday morning quarterbacks – the ones who say, “You know, this guy could probably have kept old Lazarus from dying – if he got up and moved soon enough.” Isn’t that just like us? No set of miracles is ever sufficient; we need to give God just one more test to see if he is real.

Do you not see that to be a “realist” of this type is to deny God? You say you believe him; but do you act upon it, or do you test him? Is it really fitting that you should decide what God must do to prove himself to you?

How do we do this? We do this when we calculate without God. The Pharisees give us a good example here. “If we let this fellow keep on, the whole place will go into revolt. Then the Romans will crush and destroy us. Therefore, he must die.” This comes from the people who supposedly worship God! It is arrogant for us to say that we know how things will turn out – and ignore God in our plans and calculations.


The usual excuse goes like this: “If I only saw one miracle, my faith would be so strong that I…” Look at the people who saw miracles, and see what human beings really do:

  • For some, it doesn’t matter how many miracles Jesus performs. He does not fuel the dominant emotion in their lives – bitter hate – and therefore they cannot believe. If he would only lead them in revolt, they would be such ardent followers. Leading them beside still waters provides no opportunity for hatred.
  • Others of us are simply too taken with the cares of this world. We call the meeting; we berate ourselves with our small accomplishments and decide to buckle down and get realistic with ourselves. In so doing we throw away the precious grace of God and rely on the things of this world.
Ceremonial Cleansing

In verse 55 you see a reference to ceremonial cleansing. This is a great need for human beings; we long to be free of sin and know ourselves to be righteous. We can deny this need, or satisfy it. We cannot ignore it.

Christ Leading Us

It is a great thing to note that our Lord used much of his life as an example to us. He is one who leads, not one who directs.


If there is a thread running through this story, it is this: Christ’s concern is for our salvation. His prayers explicitly tell us that he and the Father are one – that he comes in the power of the Father. It is the characteristic of true power that it is clothed in humility. The strong father need not impress his infant son. So it is with us. In his words, Christ condescends to our level, for we cannot rise to his. In his actions, we see the power of God.

Often you hear Christ speak of the glory of God. His own glory is not his concern, but the glory of God the Father. Yet he is equal to the Father; therefore his glory must be equal. Who is concerned with proclaiming the glory of Christ? Must this not be his church? He lets go the glory of God, becoming a servant in human form, so that we might be saved – and proclaim his glory.

Exemplary life

We see that in his prayer. He gives glory to God – but it is for our benefit he does so. By praying in this way, he makes it clear that he and the Father are one.

In that oneness we see that the glory of Christ is like that of God. This is why men construct great cathedrals for his name’s sake. Taken correctly, it is not a monument to human pride, but a visible sign of the glory of God – as displayed by those who love him.

Reactions in us

All this is well and good – but what should we do about it? We can at least learn by example:

  • First, we should believe. We long for our own righteousness, our ceremonial cleansing. It is found only in Christ. Abraham believed, and it was credited to him as righteousness.
  • As we believe, we should act. He commands that the stone be taken away. In faith we should believe that he knows what he’s doing; in faith therefore we should act as if we do believe it. Even if it means rolling away the stone.
  • We should love one another. Jesus shared the sorrow of Mary and Martha; we should do likewise with each other. We may not be able to work the miracles, but the world should see that we love one another – so that they might believe, too.
  • We should expect, as happened here, that the powers of this world will rise up against the church. Those who calculate without God cannot tolerate his interference – or his people.
  • He has called Lazarus out of the grave. One day he will call us all out of the grave. Until then, let us watch for his return, and be faithful until he does.

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