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?” My daughter was in such a class in a secular university, and one of a very few (if, indeed, there were any others) who raised her hand, acknowledging her belief in the Bible and her faith in Jesus Christ. The professor responded by sneering at her as though she was ill-informed and ignorant, or, at best, naive.
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. Let us look carefully at this amazing event and its aftermath to learn the lessons God has for us in this text.
Serious opposition to Jesus in Jerusalem begins in chapter 5, when Jesus heals the paralytic on a Sabbath, instructing him to take up his bed and walk, and defending His actions by claiming to be God. Jesus retreats to Galilee in chapter 6, where He feeds the 5,000 and teaches that He is the “bread of life.” In chapter 7, Jesus returns to Jerusalem once again for the Feast of Tabernacles. The issue of the healing of the paralytic on the Sabbath is once again raised (see 7:23), and soon the Pharisees and chief priests send out the temple police to arrest Jesus. They return, but without the Master. These men explain that they did not arrest Jesus because they have never heard anyone teach as He does (7:45-46). In chapter 8, Jesus claims to be the “light of the world” (8:12), and then in chapter 9, He undergirds His claim by giving sight to a man born blind. When Jesus claims to be the good Shepherd in chapter 10, He clearly implies that the Jewish religious leaders are “thieves and robbers,” who abuse the sheep. The Jewish religious leaders react by seeking to kill Him, but they fail, once again. Jesus therefore leaves Judea once again, establishing His base of operations at the Jordan River, where John the Baptist formerly carried on his ministry (10:40-42). 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.
38 Jesus, intensely moved again, came to the tomb. (Now it was a cave, and a stone was placed across it.) 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, replied, “Lord, by this time the body will have a bad smell, because he has been buried four days.” 40 Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you that you have listened to me. 42 I knew that you always listen to me, but I said this for the sake of the crowd standing around here, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, he shouted in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The one who had died came out, his feet and hands tied up with strips of cloth, and a cloth wrapped around his face. Jesus said to them, “Unwrap him and let him go.”
Twice already, John has written of our Lord’s deep emotional response to the death of Lazarus, and more specifically, in response to the sorrow of Mary and those gathered there with her at the tomb of Lazarus. A sob erupts from Jesus, trembling as He continues to sob inwardly (verse 33). As He draws near the tomb where the body of His friend lies, Jesus bursts out in tears (verse 35). Now, in verse 38, John tells us that Jesus is “intensely moved again.” Jesus is truly touched with compassion as He enters into the grief of those gathered there to mourn the death of Lazarus.
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. This is one of the few times in the Gospels that a public prayer of our Lord is recorded. Earlier He warned about the misuse of public prayers, which are only for show (Matthew 6:5). But Jesus consistently claims that He does His Father’s work, and that He works with God (see John 5:17, 19-23, 30, 37, 43). Martha has just testified that she believes whatever Jesus asks of the Father, He will give to Him (11:22). Our Lord’s prayer is intended to demonstrate that the miraculous raising of Lazarus is something that the Father does through the Son. It is a public testimony to the fact that the Father hears the Son, demonstrating His power and glory through Him. Jesus does not pray this prayer for His own benefit, but for the benefit of the crowd looking on (11:41-42). His prayer does not specifically petition the Father to raise Lazarus. Jesus does thank His Father because He hears His prayers. Our Lord’s petition here is that men might believe that He has been sent from the Father, and we know that this prayer was answered (see verse 45).
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. He does not mumble these words under His breath, so that no one will hear what He is saying. No one comes away from this burial place wondering if there is a connection between that shout and Lazarus’ coming forth. It is a clear case of cause and effect. Jesus is the cause of Lazarus’ rising from the dead.
Lazarus emerges, still wrapped up in his burial attire. Some think his coming forth, bound with these restrictive wrappings, is a miracle in itself. Jesus instructs those standing nearby to release Lazarus from his bindings, and so they do. 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. I am inclined to wonder how some of the more scrupulous Jews dealt with this. The Old Testament clearly forbids touching a dead body. When they touch the body of Lazarus, who used to be dead, are they still defiling themselves? Here is a legal question the Jews have not dealt with before.
45 Then many of the Jewish people from Jerusalem who had come with Mary and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in him. 46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and reported to them what Jesus had done.
As usual, those who witness this amazing sign reach two dramatically different conclusions. Many find the evidence compelling, believing in Jesus as the promised Messiah; but some do not. Notice here that the response of the people to this miracle is quite different from the response of the Jews to our Lord’s healing of the man born blind in chapter 9. In the case of the blind man’s healing, the Jews sought to convince themselves that there was no miracle, because the man was not really blind. In chapter 11, no one disputes that it is indeed Lazarus who has been raised from the dead. No one even attempts to challenge the claim of those present that he has really died and been dead for four days, after which he is raised. No one challenges the fact that it is Jesus who raises him. The facts are clear and unquestioned; the conclusions reached are dramatically different. Those who refuse to believe in Jesus do not remain silent or passive. While the believers go about proclaiming this great miracle (see 11:48, 55-56; 12:9-11), attracting others to Christ, the unbelievers go their way and tell the Pharisees what has happened.
47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called the council together and said, “What are we doing? For this man is performing many miraculous signs. 48 If we allow him to go on in this way, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away our sanctuary and our nation.” 49 Then one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said, “You know nothing at all! 50 You do not consider that it is more to your advantage to have one man die for the people than for the whole nation to perish.” 51 (Now he did not say this on his own, but because he was high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the Jewish nation, 52 and not for the Jewish nation only, but to gather together into one the children of God who are scattered.) 53 So from that day they planned together to kill him.
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.
These words of the High Priest and the decision of the Sanhedrin are amazing. They are almost beyond belief. Jesus has just raised a man from the dead, and so they decide the best way to counteract our Lord’s ministry is to kill Him, the One who is life. Teenagers today would say, in response to these words, “H e l l o …” Others would suggest that these Jews might do well to “wake up and smell the coffee.” These people are so threatened, so much in a state of panic, that they are not thinking clearly at all. The best way to be rid of one who can raise the dead is to put Him to death? Hmmm … Am I missing something? Are they missing something?
Thus Jesus no longer walked about publicly among the Jewish people of Jerusalem, but went away from there to the region near the desert, to a town called Ephraim, and stayed there with his disciples.
Jesus is well aware of His “time.” He must die as the Passover Lamb. He could not die beforehand. And so, having succeeded at prompting the opposition to unify in their rejection of Him, and having crystallized their plans to bring about His death, Jesus retreats from Judea for a time, until He comes to Jerusalem for the final time, as recorded in chapter 12. Jesus goes into seclusion far from Jerusalem. He returns to the desert, to a town called Ephraim, and there He remains with His disciples. There are many things He needs to do, but a public ministry that attracts crowds and provokes the Jewish religious leaders is not our Lord’s focus during this time as He awaits His final Passover in Jerusalem.
55 Now the Jewish feast of Passover was near, and many people went up to Jerusalem from the rural areas before the Passover to cleanse themselves ritually. 56 Thus they were looking for Jesus, and saying to one another as they stood in the temple courts, “What do you think? That he won’t come to the feast?” 57 (Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who knew where Jesus was should report it, so that they could arrest him.)
Mary and Martha cannot comprehend why Jesus did not come to them—and to Lazarus—immediately, so that his death could be prevented. The further away we get from this miracle, the more we can see how much it accomplishes. (1) It demonstrates our Lord’s great power. (2) It strengthens the faith of those who believe in Jesus, especially the disciples, Martha and Mary. (3) It brings many to faith in Jesus as the Messiah. (4) It provokes greater and more intense opposition to Jesus, and a unified Sanhedrin, intent now on bringing about the death of Jesus.
The timing of this great sign is perfect. Passover is but a few months away. During this interval, Jesus is ministering in a more private and secluded spot. But much is happening in Jerusalem that paves the way for our Lord’s final visit. Those who witness the raising of Lazarus are telling others about this miracle. Lazarus is walking about, very much alive. As more and more pilgrims begin to arrive in Jerusalem from afar, they hear about what has happened to Lazarus. One question is on the lips and in the minds of everyone in Jerusalem: “Will Jesus make an appearance during Passover?” The excitement and sense of expectation is at an all-time high. It sets the stage for the triumphal entry of our Lord, which is tied very closely to the raising of Lazarus and its impact on the city of Jerusalem.
The last verse (57) of chapter 11 may be parenthetical, and thus it may seem somewhat incidental, but it is very significant indeed: “(Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who knew where Jesus was should report it, so that they could arrest him.)” Up till now, the Jewish leaders have kept their intention to kill Jesus secret. They fear the masses and know Jesus has great popularity. The people know that the Jews oppose Jesus, and that they want to know His whereabouts so they can arrest Him. They also know that one can be put out of the synagogue for even talking about Him. But now in verse 57, the Jews declare Jesus to be an outlaw, a wanted man. Anyone who knows His whereabouts is to turn this information over to them. No doubt this word reaches the ears of Judas, and when he approaches these leaders in chapter 12, it is in response to this official order. This order also explains the secrecy of our Lord in making preparations for the Passover, for example. He will not give Judas an opportunity to betray Him until it is His “time.”
By way of application, several things come to mind from our text. The first is related to evangelism. In this incident, the first thing that strikes those who witness this great miracle is the love which Jesus has for Lazarus. John also stresses the love which Jesus has for Mary and Martha as well. It is after this that our Lord’s power becomes very evident, through the raising of Lazarus. You will remember that Jesus tells His disciples later that men will know them by their love for one another. This combination of God’s love and power—evident in the lives of His people—is a powerful testimony to the lost.
The repetition of these words (or their equivalent), “If you had only been here …,” appearing three times in John 11 (verses 21, 32, 37), is significant. How many times have you raised the same question? I read an article in Moody Monthly years ago entitled, “Things I’ve Learned in the Night,” written by Vance Havner. It was the essence of a message he had given to Moody Bible Institute students, the outgrowth of his own loss of his wife through a very terrible form of cancer. Havner pointed out how unprofitable the question, “If I had only …” This question usually betrays a functional unbelief in the sovereignty of God. It assumes that our destiny is in our hands. We heap guilt upon ourselves because of what we think we should have done, supposing that in so doing, we might have prevented something painful from taking place.
The question, “If you had only …” in our text second-guesses God. It is a question that both Martha and Mary would not have asked, had they known the outcome of their situation. I have had several occasions in my own life when I have second-guessed my actions in the past. One was when my mother was seriously injured by a hit-and- run driver. I agonized because I might have done something differently, so that my mother would not have been where she was when the accident occurred. Such agony is unprofitable, and it fails to grasp the fact that God is in control of everything that happens in our lives. When we can see our sufferings from afar, we can also see that God uses everything which happens to us for our good, if we are His children. Beware of second-guessing the past, and thereby second-guessing Him who is in control of our lives.
Speaking of the sovereignty of God, notice how He is able to accomplish a variety of things at the same time, through one event. The event in our text is our Lord’s delay, and the resulting death and raising of Lazarus. Through this one apparent tragedy, God (1) strengthens the faith of the disciples, (2) brings many to salvation, (3) produces an active unbelief in those who go straight to the Pharisees, (4) provokes the Jewish religious leaders to a serious course of putting Jesus to death, which is God’s will, and (5) produces a statement from the chief priests and Pharisees that will soon pave the way for the betrayal of our Lord by Judas (verse 57). God is able to achieve His purposes with ease, using the same event to harden some and soften others.
As I read our text, I notice the relationship between two very different “if” statements. The first comes from Martha and Mary; the second comes from our Lord. The two sisters say, “If you had only … (verses 21, 32).” Jesus says, “If you believe …” (verse 40). We would do far better to ponder the second “if” statement than the first.
I am struck by the repeated statements made by John in this chapter regarding our Lord’s deep emotional response to the death of Lazarus. I have heard a number of attempts to explain these statements, and somehow they do not quite satisfy my own heart and mind. They just don’t seem to fully explain John’s emphasis on our Lord’s emotions here. I do not believe that John wishes us to think that Jesus is angry at sin, or death, or unbelief. Even though this may be true, I don’t sense that this is what John is trying to get across to the reader. I believe the text means what it appears to say, namely, that Jesus is deeply touched by the death of Lazarus, and by the sorrow and grief it causes those whom He loves.
I have heard it said that this text shows the “humanity” of our Lord. The inference is that it does not reveal His deity. First, after our Lord’s incarnation—when undiminished deity took on perfect humanity—I am not sure we should speak of our Lord’s human side or of His divine side. He is the perfect union of deity and humanity. Second, I am somewhat troubled by the inference (or so it seems to me) that our Lord’s humanity has feelings, but His deity does not. All through the Bible, we read of God as a person, who has emotions like anger, (righteous) jealousy, and love. Why do we restrict these emotions of our Lord outside the tomb of Lazarus to His human side? God is deeply touched by human sorrow and grief.
As I read Isaiah 53 and Hebrews 5, I believe I find a link between our Lord’s agony outside the tomb of Lazarus and His incarnation. Look at these texts with me for a moment:
3 He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. 4 Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted (Isaiah 53:3-4, NKJV).
5 So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming high priest; but the one who glorified him was God who said to him “You are my Son! Today I have fathered you,” 6 as also in another place God says, “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” 7 During his earthly life he offered both requests and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death and he was heard because of his devotion. 8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through the things he suffered. 9 And by being perfected in this way, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, 10 and he was designated by God as “high priest in the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 5:5-10).
The text in Isaiah certainly speaks of our Lord’s death on the cross of Calvary as the “Lamb of God.” But when Isaiah writes that He was, “A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (verse 3), and that “He has borne our griefs” (verse 4), is he speaking only of our Lord’s work on Calvary? I have always been inclined to think so, but look again at Hebrews chapter 5. Is the writer not saying that our Lord “offered both requests and supplications, with loud cries and tears” “during his earthly life” (verse 7)? Do you not think that leaving the glories of heaven behind and coming to a sinful, fallen earth involved suffering for our Lord all His life? I think that John 11 is describing the suffering of our Lord, as He chose to identify Himself with fallen humanity, so that He might not only bear the sins of men, but so that He also might become a sympathetic high priest:
14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in the same as well, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil), 15 and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death. 16 For surely his concern is not for angels, but he is concerned for Abraham’s descendants. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest in things relating to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 For since he suffered and was tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted (Hebrews 2:14-18).
If our Lord came to be tempted in all ways, as we are, why would He not also come to suffer in all ways, as we do? As fallen beings, we do not and cannot suffer to the degree that God does. But when God came to the earth in human flesh in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, He suffered the full extent of man’s agony and grief, not just on the cross of Calvary, but all of His life. Do you remember when our Lord was on the cross, suffering that terrible, agonizing death? They offered Him a sponge filled with sour wine (John 19:29). This was to deaden His pain, and He declined it because He had to suffer the full force of the pain He was to bear. If this was true in His death, I believe it was also true in His life.
Standing outside the tomb of Lazarus, is our Lord not also setting the example for what we are instructed to do? “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).
Consider this text in the Book of Romans:
18 For I consider that our present sufferings cannot even be compared to the glory that will be revealed to us. 19 For the creation eagerly waits for the revelation of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility—not willingly but because of God who subjected it—in hope 21 that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers together until now. 23 Not only this, but also we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, inwardly groan as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with endurance. 26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how we should pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with inexpressible groanings. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes on behalf of the saints according to God’s will. 28 And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 Because those whom God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those God predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified. 31 What then shall we say about these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 Indeed, he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies; 34 Who is the one who will condemn? Christ is the one who died (and more than that he was raised), who is at the right hand of God, and who also is interceding for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will trouble, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or death? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we encounter death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we have complete victory through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:18-39).
If all creation (including the saints) groans and suffers due to this present world of sin, is it not reasonable that our Lord would suffer and groan as well? Is that not what He is doing in our text?
As I reflect on John chapter 11, it occurs to me that I must understand, interpret, and apply chapter 11 in context. This sets me to thinking about the relationship between chapter 10 and chapter 11. Is there not a serious tension here? Jesus has claimed to be the “Good Shepherd” in chapter 10. But in chapter 11, just when some of His “sheep” need Him, He is not there. How is Jesus a “Good Shepherd” in chapter 11? I think this is the question Martha and Mary are asking, somewhat less specifically. I believe the answer to this question is found in the ultimate “Good Shepherd” chapter in the Old Testament, Psalm 23. Look at it with me, please:
1 A Psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. 3 He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever.
I have broken the text into two halves: verses 1-3 and 4-6. We can surely see how our Lord is the “Good Shepherd” in the first three verses. After all, He leads His sheep so that they have no unmet needs at all. He leads His sheep to rich pastures and cool, clear waters. He leads them in paths of righteousness. This is the John 10 portion of the “Good Shepherd” psalm. But verses 4-6 are a part of the “Good Shepherd” psalm, too. When one of His sheep passes through “the valley of the shadow of death,” what gives him comfort? He is comforted by the fact that the “Good Shepherd” is there too, leading the way, giving him comfort and protection. And, more than this, He is preparing an eternal dwelling place for His sheep.
John chapter 11 is but a prelude to the last chapters of John, which record the death, burial, and resurrection of the “Good Shepherd.” But the account of the raising of Lazarus does inform us that the “Good Shepherd” is not hindered by death. Death provides but one more occasion for the “Good Shepherd” to shepherd His flock, in a way that is for their greatest blessing and security. John 11 does not contradict chapter 10; it compliments it!
Those who sow in tears Shall reap in joy (Psalm 126:5, NKJV).
“Blessed are those who mourn, because they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).
I have one last thing to call to your attention from this magnificent text of Scripture in John chapter 11: UNBELIEF IS UNBELIEVABLE. Some Christians have bought one of Satan’s most popular lies, and that is the assumption that faith is believing the unbelievable, or as the little boy is said to have expressed it, “Faith is believing what isn’t true.” Not so! The entire Gospel of John was written so that men could believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, the Savior of lost sinners. If John chapter 11 tells us anything, it is that these Jews do not fail to come to faith due to a lack of evidence. They refuse to believe in spite of a mountain of evidence. No one disputes that Lazarus died, or that Jesus raised him from the dead. Yet, while this raising brings some to faith, it is a “problem” which must be reported to the Pharisees for others. It is the unbelief of these Jews which is unbelievable, not the faith of those who do believe. Think about this. Perhaps we should come up with a better label for our proclamation and defense of the gospel than the word “apologetics.”