Passage: John 11:1-48
Thinking back to the end of last year and the reports of a virus in the Wuhan province of China, who’d have thought that within a year Britain would pass the sad milestone figure of 50,000 deaths due to the same virus. Death has come much closer to us all in 2020. Steve Jobs the late founder of Apple, after being diagnosed with terminal cancer said this about death- “I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept. No one wants to die. Even people who want to go heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet, death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it.” We can try to ease the pain of death by sentimental thoughts like, the person hasn’t really gone but is in the next room. Or, as a lady I talked to one day was convinced of, that her deceased husband had returned as the robin on the garden wall, who always chirped when she cut the grass wrongly. People look for hope in all sorts of places in the face of death. This week we’re looking at an incident that offers real hope in the face of death.
The Purpose (v1-16)
Lazarus, a good friend of Jesus, is very sick, and his sisters Martha and Mary, send word to Jesus in the hope that he’d come and heal him. Jesus responds- “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.” (v4) Lazarus’ sickness would glorify God and glorify His Son. Jesus however doesn’t go to Lazarus straight away, as you might expect, but remains where he was for two more days. Jesus then informs the disciples of an important development- “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” (v14) In all the miracles so far recorded by John, it has resulted in people putting their faith in Jesus, and that is what he says is in store for his disciples. Towards the end of His Gospel John writes this- “But these (miracles) are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (20:31) The purpose of the miracles is that we would have our eyes opened as to the true identity of Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God, and as a result we’d turn and put our trust in Him.
The Promise (v17-37)
When Jesus and the disciples arrive in Bethany; Lazarus had been dead for four days. There are three things to grasp about the scene. Firstly, there is very limited faith in Jesus. Martha says- “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (v21); Mary says- “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”(v32); the crowd say- “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”(v37). They all believed that Jesus could’ve healed a sick Lazarus but no-one believed he could raise a dead Lazarus. Secondly, look at Jesus’ reaction to death. When Jesus saw Mary and all the other mourners weeping he was “deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” (v33) We read that “Jesus wept” (v35) and when he approached the tomb he was again “deeply moved” (v38). Jesus is joining them in their grief. He’s showing that it is right to grieve in the face of death. Thirdly, Jesus was angry. When it says that Jesus was “deeply moved in spirit and troubled” it literally means that he was “angry”. Why was this? It was because death was not a part of God’s creation but came as a consequence for man’s rebellion against God. It is into this gloomy, faithless scene that Jesus delivers his great promise. “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (v25-26) Jesus is not simply teaching people about the resurrection and the life, nor is he merely pointing them to it, but telling them that He is it!! One of the marks of God’s Messiah when he comes can be seen in Isaiah- “On this mountain he (LORD) will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death for ever.” (25v7) The Christ will defeat the curse of death for good.
The Proof (v38-48)
In v39 Jesus says “Take away the stone”. Martha raises a problem- “But Lord by this time there is a bad odour, for he has been there four days.” I know that our food waste is pretty pongy after a few days. Imagine what a dead body in a hot climate would smell like after four days! They removed the stone and Jesus prayed- “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 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.” This prayer is audible to those waiting outside the tomb and underlines the truth that the Father and the Son don’t act independently but are always one. Jesus cries out in a loud voice- “Lazarus, come out!”. Immediately the dead man emerges, “his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.” Jesus commands- “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”. This is only something God could do and as Jesus said would happen, many of the mourners- “put their faith in him” (v45). Amazing that the raising to life of Lazarus was, it was the warm-up act for a greater death to life miracle to come. As Jesus said many times to his followers about himself- “and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.” (Mark 8:31) So Jesus’ Purpose in the miracle was that we’d put our faith in Him; His Promise to all who do so is resurrection life; and the Proof is that Jesus’ himself defeated death for us. His resurrection guarantees our resurrection. That’s great news! The question we have to answer is the one posed by Jesus to a grieving Martha- “Do you believe this?”(v26)
Dear Lord God. Whilst we may never embrace death may we not fear it because you Lord Jesus have defeated it. In these days of uncertainty and fear when death comes close to many, please help us to trust you and to hold out the hope of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ our Lord to others. In His name we pray. Amen