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‘Soar Like Eagles’ #14 The Great Act – Lazarus John 11

29 May

ThePowerofGod672x378_lg“If Jesus can do nothing about death, then whatever else He can do amounts to nothing”

During a good portion of my lifetime, science has been used to oppose the Bible and the Christian faith. In thousands of classrooms across our country, professors and teachers have asked their students, “Does anyone here believe in the Bible?” or “Is anyone here a Christian?”

For too many years now, unbelieving scholars and teachers have been scoffing at Christians and their faith, hoping to shame us into silence. They wish to convince themselves and others that faith is “believing in what isn’t real or true.”

Is our faith ill-founded? Does our faith hang by an intellectual thread? Is faith required because there is too little evidence to support the claims of the Bible? Not at all!

In this message, I am going to suggest something absolutely amazing, at least in the light of those scholars who are also scoffers. I am going to suggest that faith in Jesus Christ is the only reasonable response to biblical revelation. I will further say that it is unbelief that is unbelievable, and that faith in Jesus Christ is the only “reasonable” response to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In our text, Jesus raises Lazarus from the grave with a prayer and a shout. Providentially, a crowd is present at the grave sight, not only to witness this miracle, but to participate in it.

As a result of this amazing miracle, many of those who are there come to a faith in Jesus and the Messiah. Some do not, and these folks report what has happened to the Jewish religious leaders, who set in motion a plan to arrest and kill Jesus.

By their own words, these leaders of Israel reveal that their unbelief is not due to a lack of evidence, but stems from their desire to protect their own selfish interests.

It is the life-threatening illness of Lazarus which results in a desperate message from Martha and Mary, urging Jesus to come back to the little village of Bethany, just a stone’s throw from Jerusalem.

Jesus deliberately delays His journey to Bethany until Lazarus dies. When He finally arrives near the home of the two sisters He loves, Lazarus has already been buried for four days. Both sisters are perplexed by our Lord’s delay, but both nevertheless reaffirm their faith in Him. By the end of verse 37, Jesus has just arrived at the tomb where Lazarus is buried. It is here that we take up the account.

* THE GREAT ACT (11:38-40)

“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?””

Lazarus is buried in a cave, with a stone covering the opening. This sounds strikingly similar to the burial sight of our Lord (e.g. Matthew 27:60). The raising of Lazarus almost looks like a dress rehearsal for the resurrection of our Lord in the near future. Jesus orders the stone to be rolled away. We can’t be sure who Jesus orders to move the stone, or who actually does move it. It could be the disciples, of course, but it may just as well be others, such as some of those who have come to mourn with Mary.

I am inclined to think that Jesus deliberately employs those other than His disciples to remove the stone. Doing this would seem to require some measure of faith on their part. Today, we must go through a very strict legal process to gain access to a body once it has been buried. In Judaism, contact with a dead body is defiling. Besides that, it is disgusting, especially after four days. I suspect those who removed the stone received a good whiff of the smell of decaying flesh. These witnesses will not easily be persuaded by a “swoon theory” or any attempt to explain away the literal death (and raising) of Lazarus. Such personal involvement in this process makes these participants even better witnesses to the miracle which is about to occur.

It is Martha, however, who objects to our Lord’s instruction to remove the stone. She protests that too much time has passed. The body will certainly smell very bad, she explains. But beyond this, it just seems to reopen a very painful wound.

It seems quite obvious that Martha is not expecting Jesus to perform any miracle here, and certainly not the raising of one who has been dead for several days. Earlier, Jesus assures her that if she believes, she will see the glory of God (verse 40). By calling this to her attention once again, Jesus is seeking to stretch her faith. Martha relents, and the stone is removed.

Our Lord then lifts His eyes to heaven and begins to pray to His heavenly Father. Having prayed in this manner, Jesus now cries out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” (verse 43).

It has quite often been observed that if Jesus had not specified “Lazarus,” every dead body in the region would have arisen from the dead. In shouting with a loud voice, Jesus reveals His confidence that the Father will hear Him, and that Lazarus will rise from the dead.

The witnesses to this resurrection are very much involved in the outworking of the miracle. They see and hear Jesus calling Lazarus out of his tomb. They help roll the stone away from the tomb, and they remove the cloth that has been wrapped around the body of Lazarus.

Of all the “signs” recorded in the Gospel of John, none was greater than what happened at Lazarus’ tomb. Three times in chapter 11 Jesus claimed that these events took place so that people might see “the glory of God” (11:4, 15, 40). Each step of the way we have seen the glory of God in Jesus’ teachings and miracles; but up to this point in the Gospel of John, the raising of Lazarus is where the glory of God–the presence of God in Christ–shines most brilliantly.

* THE JEWS (11:41-57)

   The emphasis from this point on was on the faith of the spectators, the people who had come to comfort Mary and Martha. Jesus paused to pray: “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.”

He thanked the Father that the prayer had already been heard…but when had He prayed? It’s likely that it was when He was told that His friend was sick (11:4). The plan was likely revealed to Him, and He obeyed His Father’s will. His purpose now was clear: He wanted the unbelieving spectators to know that His Father had sent Him.

He called out His name and he came out: “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.”

Everything Jesus did was due to the power of God and designed for the glory of God. 

If this Jesus can do nothing about death, then whatever else He can do amounts to nothing.

The same thought is Biblical in nature: “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” 1 Cor. 15:19. Death is man’s last enemy (1 Cor. 15:26), but Jesus has defeated this horrible enemy totally and permanently.

It  was an unquestioned miracle that even the most hostile spectator could not deny!  “Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him.”

As with previous miracles, the people were divided in their response. “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 and our nation.”

The Pharisees are informed about the miracle at Bethany and quickly call for a meeting of the Sanhedrin. Up to this point, they have not been able to come to a united stand (see 7:45-53), but all that ends here. Up till now, they have been eager to arrest and kill Jesus, but have been unable to do so (see 5:18; 7:11, 30; 8:40, 59; 10:31, 39). They now resolve to change that, and very soon.

John’s account allows the reader to be a “fly on the wall,” overhearing the private conversation that takes place in this emergency meeting of the Sanhedrin. The words that they speak are incredible, almost beyond belief. They express no doubt about the power of our Lord, or the legitimacy of the signs He has performed. They do not deny that the evidence in support of His claims is piling up. In fact, they virtually admit that it is all true.

But in spite of all this evidence, they refuse to bow the knee to Jesus as the Son of God. They refuse to repent of their sins and seek His forgiveness and salvation. They refuse to give up their positions and power.

They acknowledge that if Jesus is not put to death, the entire nation will believe in Him. This may be hyperbole, but they know they are rapidly losing ground. They must act decisively, and they must act soon. If not, they can kiss life as they have known it goodbye. They fear that if the entire nation acknowledges Jesus as the King of Israel, this will precipitate a strong reaction from Rome, which will end the “good times” for them. Ironically, it is not the nation’s acceptance of Jesus as their Messiah which brings about the downfall of the nation, but their rejection of Jesus as God’s Messiah. In but a few years, Rome will march on this nation, capture Jerusalem, destroy the temple, and kill countless Jews. And all this is because Israel rejects her Messiah.

Caiaphas is the High Priest this year, and as the High Priest, he now lays out the course of action which seems necessary: Jesus must die. Far better to sacrifice one person than the entire nation, he reasons. Our Lord’s death seems to spell life (as it is presently) for the rest. What Caiaphas doesn’t realize is that at the very moment he is proposing the death of our Lord, He is being used of God to utter (as the High Priest) a profound prophetic truth. It was God’s plan and purpose that one man—Jesus Christ—should die for the entire nation, and that out of His death many will find eternal life. Caiaphas is speaking for God in spite of his unbelief and rejection of Jesus. Note the arrogance of this man, even as he speaks prophetically. You don’t have to be a believer to be used as God’s mouthpiece. Ask Balaam (or his beast of burden—see Numbers 22–24). And so it is that from this day forward, this very diverse group of Jews is united in its one common purpose of killing Jesus.

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.”

The official decision that day was that Jesus must die (see Matt.12:14; Luke 19:47; John 5:18; 7:1, 19-20, 25). The leaders thought that they were in control of the situation, but it was God who was working out His predetermined plan. Originally, they wanted to wait until after the Passover, but God had decreed otherwise.

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.”

Now the Passover Feast of the Jews was near; and many from the country areas went up to Jerusalem before the Passover Feast to purify themselves.  So they were looking for Jesus; and, as they stood in the Temple precincts, they were talking with each other and saying:  “What do you think?  Surely it is impossible that he should come to the Feast?” Now the chief priests and Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where Jesus was, he should lodge information with them, that they might seize him.

Jesus did not unnecessarily court danger.  He was willing to lay down his life, but not so foolishly reckless as to throw it away before his work was done.  So he retired to a town called Ephraim, which was near Bethel in the mountainous country north of Jerusalem (cp. 2 Chronicles 13:19).

By this time Jerusalem was beginning to fill up with people.  Before the Jew could attend any feast he had to be ceremonially clean; and uncleanness could be contracted by touching a vast number of things and people.  Many of the Jews, therefore, came up to the city early to make the necessary offerings and go through the necessary washings in order to ensure ceremonial cleanness.  The law had it:  “Every man is bound to purify himself before the Feast.”

These purifications were carried out in the Temple.  They took time, and in the time of waiting the Jews gathered in excited little groups.  They knew what was going on.  They knew about this mortal contest of wills between Jesus and the authorities; and people are always interested in the man who gallantly faces fearful odds.  They wondered if he would appear at the feast; and concluded that he could not possible come.  This Galilean carpenter could not take on the whole might of Jewish ecclesiastical and political officialdom.

A point we need to make here: the rich man in hades had argued that “if one went to them  from the dead, they will repent.” (Luke 16:30). Lazarus came back from the dead, and the officials wanted  to kill Him!

   And what about today? Jesus, too, has come back from the dead! The stage has been set for the greatest drama in history, during which man would do his worst and God would give His best!

————————————————

   While this passage contains some wonderfully good news, it requires that we first face something we may not want to face.

   The painful truth is that we will all die! Life is fatal. However young, strong, and healthy we may be at this moment, someday we will die! It may be today or tomorrow or eighty years from now, but we all will die.

   We try in many ways to avoid having to face this terrible truth. We try to convince ourselves that if we exercise enough, eat the right foods, wear our seat belts, drink purified water, and put on sunscreen when we go outside, then we will be protected from death. In the end, nothing can protect us from the fact that the death rate in this world is 100 percent!

   You are probably thinking, “I do not want to hear this today! I have had a hard week, and now I am being reminded that I will die!” I would not bring up such a painful, distressing subject if the gospel did not provide the answer to it. Jesus, in the marvelous story in John 11, proclaims to people of all time, “I am the resurrection and the life.” It is wonderful news, but we had to be reminded of the bad news first in order to appreciate it.

  The story of Jesus at Lazarus’ tomb helps us to confront our own fears of death. Because of what Jesus did then and still does today, we do not have to deny the reality of death in order to be happy in this life.

   As Christians, we do not run from death; we face it. We do not pretend that it will not happen to us; we proclaim to the world that we have an answer to it. This new attitude is seen in the following two examples from the writings of Paul:  (Rom. 8:38-39)  “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, {39} neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

(1 Cor. 15:54-55)  “When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, 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?””

 
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Posted by on May 29, 2017 in Gospel of John

 

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