Let us begin in a prayer. Lord, we thank You for our freedom and privilege that we enjoy in Christ, the privilege, as well, of knowing Your Son, of gathering together to discuss the things of His word. We thank you for this revelation which communicates real truth to us about who You are and it is a love letter that You give us, inviting us into intimacy with You. We thank You for these truths. Amen. We are going to look tonight at John chapter 11 and this is a particularly important chapter because it marks a literary divide in this Gospel. The ‘book of signs’, as it is sometimes called, includes chapters one through twelve. In those 12 chapters there were seven signs and this seventh sign is the most powerful sign of all, the raising of Lazarus from the dead.
So, there is a cumulative build-up here.
But, chapters 11 and 12 are different from chapters one through ten. In chapters one through ten what you had was Jesus’ signs and ministry and discourses associated with the various festivals and institutions of Judaism to show that Jesus was the fulfillment of all that was anticipated in those festivals-the festivals of Passover, the Sabbath, tabernacles and even Chanukah. All these things show truths about Jesus and we can speak of those as interpretive vehicles for Jesus’ self-revelation.
So, we see that picture here. Then, at the end of chapter ten, you might call it a closing frame where it kind of ends and goes full cycle because it ends where it began, across the Jordan river, where John had been baptizing. As we saw in the beginning of John’s Gospel, so in chapter ten after this last discourse He now retreats, knowing that the in the following Spring His hour would come; knowing that it would be at the Passover that it would be all fulfilled.
But, the Passover symbolism would be fulfilled in the life of Christ. Christ would be sacrificed on that day when the Passover would take place. Knowing all this then, we have a very different orientation. What you have here is a new and significant step in the work and the life of Jesus. We look here and see, in these two chapters, John 11 and 12, that they deal with the theme of death and life.
There is the theme of Jesus having authority over death and over life and that Lazarus’ death and resurrection, or resuscitation in this case, is really a foretaste, a kind of portrayal of Jesus’ own death, but His resurrection. Lazarus, as you know, was resuscitated, but he died again. It is strange, the idea that he would have a second death. The point is that Jesus, though, once having died, once for all, death never again would dominion over Him because His death was the ‘death of death’.
So, we see in the life of our Lord, then, the One who is in fact not just the One who brings resurrection, or brings life, but He is the resurrection and the life. This is a dramatic claim. The first would be astounding enough, but to claim ‘I-am’, which is the fifth of seven ‘I-am’ statements in John’s Gospel, and we will see it in this chapter. When He makes that claim, “I am the resurrection and the life,” He has a unique claim to an authority that He is the One who bringing life and that He has the power over life and death. Recall, and this is one of themes that you want to keep in mind when you see a film like The Passion, that no one took His life.
You have to understand, Biblically speaking, although everyone was culpable, no one really killed Him in the sense that it was some kind of martyrdom. He said, “I have the authority to lay My life down and the authority to take it up again. This authority I received from My Father.” If it had not been His willingness to do so, no one could have captured Him. No one would have been able to kill Him. It is very important that we keep that in mind. Furthermore, the death of Jesus was not a tragedy, but, in fact, a great victory, because it was the beginning of His Glorification. Now the Son of Man is being lifted up; now He is being glorified. That is associated, as well, to His ascension to the right hand of the Father. All of this, then, His death, His burial, His resurrection, and His ascension to the Father, is all the glory of God being manifested in human history and actually a paradigm in the life of the believer. In Christ, now, in the new covenant, we have a very real identity that is associated with Christ’s death, His resurrection, and ultimately His ascension. All of these, spiritually speaking, are already true of the believer in this life and more fully in the next.
So, this is a very significant chapter, and it begins, “Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany.” By the way, that is a shortened form of a very common name. It is from the name ‘Eleazaros’. It was a common name, and some compare it with the narrative in Luke chapter 16, the parable about Lazarus and the rich man, but there is no reason to think this is a retelling of that parable. It was a specific parable showing the need to respond to the work of God, whereas this particular story is not a parable but a historical reality that demonstrates, in fact, the authority of the Son of Man over life and death. Continuing, “Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.” That is an interesting word because we don’t see that happening until the next chapter. This is an intimation here that John actually assumes people were already familiar with that narrative from the Synoptic Gospels. He assumes that people have already read that. This is really a supplemental Gospel in that regard. We well know stories about Mary. We see Mary in the Gospel of John three times at the feet of Jesus and I will comment on that later.
But, Mary and her sister Martha and Lazarus were, in fact, very, very deeply beloved of Jesus. In fact, Jesus used that location, Bethany, as His point of departure in His Judean ministry, just as He use Capernaum as His point of departure in His Galilean ministry. “So, the sisters sent word to Him, saying, ‘Lord, behold, he whom you love is sick’.” Now, here we have a surprise because in verse four, when Jesus heard this He said, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” By the way, you will see a parallel here with John chapter nine. You recall they asked a question about the man blind from birth and said, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.
We must work the works of Him who sent Me.” It is not the idea here that God is responsible for diseased and death-filled world in which we find ourselves, because we are the ones who change the world in a very real way. We are not as we were created. We were created perfect, but we have distorted that, and that virus of sin has been transmitted generation to generation and it has affected the whole of the created order. Still, we see though, that there is nothing in this world that can separate us from the power of God and His power will not be thwarted by any force, either in heaven or under the earth, neither angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nothing will be able to separate us from that work of God.
So, Jesus says, “This is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it. Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” The same word, by the way, that is used here and only here, the only other place this is used is of the disciple ‘whom Jesus loves’, so it shows the tremendous intimacy that He had with this family. It was probably and extended family.
We don’t know that they were living together in that same house. They may very well have been married. In those days people had extended families much more than we do today. They were often on an intimate basis with first and second cousins and it was a very natural thing. It was very communal in that regard. Our idea about the extended family is rapidly diminishing because of the modern conditions. Furthermore, we are also losing the intergenerational connect as well, and that is a tremendous loss because the wisdom of the elderly is now relegated to nursing homes. We farm them off to retirement city rather than being imbedded within the contest of the family where they can nurture and give wisdom to the children. It is a great pity that we are seeing in our own time.
So, the text goes on to say, “When He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was.” Now, that is quite surprising. The disciples probably didn’t question this at first because if He went up to Jerusalem He would be in big trouble. As you know, Bethany is only about a mile and half east of Jerusalem. He couldn’t go to Bethany without word getting out in Jerusalem. Recall that there had been an awful lot of trouble beforehand. Think about the whole imagery here of the controversies that Jesus had and the growing tensions that He experienced. At the autumn feast of the tabernacles the authorities tried to arrest Him. Recall also that at one point a crowd tried to stone Jesus. A few months later, at Chanukah, they tried to arrest Him again and there was also a threat of stoning.
So, His disciples thought it was good judgment that He went east of the Jordan River. But, they had no clues as to what was going to really happen. So, He stayed two days longer where He was.
Now, from our point of view, such an action would seem to contradict the love of God, wouldn’t you say? Did you ever have an experience where God’s action in your life seems to go against the love that we would expect from God? God’s love, we must remember, is not a pampering love but a perfecting love. God understands, as we need to understand, that love and suffering are not incompatible. That is most clearly illustrated in the life of Christ. This suffering in the present time really is one of the ingredients that God uses to prepare us for our eternal citizenship in heaven. We have to understand, then, that the way it ends really determines whether it is a comedy or tragedy. Of course, the way it ends, it ends well.
So, God uses that as the material to draw us to Himself and that is exactly what each person needs. I have often said we need to be more committed to obeying God than to avoiding pain. That is a very important principle for us to pursue. A pain-avoiding strategy is an end in itself and only leads us away from God and not toward Him. It will cause you avoid obedience and trust. The problem is that we are often more concerned about our comforts than our character.
So, we go to what Larry Crabbe calls the ‘line of linearity’, which supposes that if ‘I do my part, God has to do His part’.
So, we use God as kind of a cosmic slot machine. When you go to a vending machine, what do you do? You don’t embrace the machine, you put your money in and you pull the knob and you get whatever and you go off and enjoy it. You only go back when you need some more. He is not a vending machine to be used in that way. The contrast is between the pursuit of the life of blessing rather than pursuing a life of hope. The path of blessing, we suppose, is better than the path of hope and intimacy.
So, there is a tremendous contrast between the two.
But, God’s desire is for us to pursue intimacy and in doing so cause us to be broken enough so that we pursue Him for Himself and not for His gifts. That is a process that we go through again and again.
So, when we are confronted by disappointment, disease and death, as we will be, we have to put our hope in the character of God and not in the promises of this world, but rather in His promises that flow out of His character. I think it is in those trying times that we have to embrace and walk by faith and not simply by sight. In any case, Jesus stayed two days longer, but there was purpose for that. “Then after this He said to his disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again’.” I figure that it probably took about a day for the messenger to go and find Him. Mary and Martha, somehow, knew where He was. Then He waited two days after receiving the message and it would another day to travel back. By that time Lazarus would have been in the tomb. In fact, it would have been at least four days. It means, then, that Lazarus actually died soon after the messenger was sent out.
So, going back earlier would not have made a difference. In fact, His waiting longer does make a difference. By waiting longer He will demonstrate that this is not just some mere resuscitation. The Jews, you see, had this notion that it was possible for a person to go back into the corpse. Only on the fourth day, when there was decomposition beginning would they conclude that the soul was not returning.
So, He waited until the fourth day so that no one could claim this was only a near-death experience. That is why there is that famous sentence from Mary, in the King James Version, “Lord, by this time he stinketh.” I love that line; “he stinketh.”
So, when Jesus said, “Let us go to Judea gain,” it was a big shock to the disciples. They probably wondered why He waited for two days and they said to Him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone You, and are You going there again?” We saw that in the previous chapter and in the chapters before that. “Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours in a day? If any one walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of the world’.” He is making it very, very clear here that He is, in fact, the Light of the world as He claimed in chapter eight verse 12 and also in chapter nine verse five and that in fact the ones who walk with Me will not stumble because “I am the Light of the world.” And, “If anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the Light is not in him.” He then said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep but I go, so that I may waken him out of sleep.” Again, John is giving us a double meaning. The word ‘sleep’ is often used as a euphemism of death. The point here is that there is imagery that Lazarus was dead, Jesus delays because He is living on a fine timetable and the things that He has in mind are of a very different orientation than the things that we would normally suppose. Because of the delay there would be a greater authenticity to the miracle. In verse 15, in fact, He says, “I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him.”
So then, The disciples were alarmed about this and said to Him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” They thought he might just wake up. “Now, Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought He was speaking of literal sleep.
So, Jesus then said plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. I am glad for your sakes we were not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him’.” Death of the believer, in Scripture, is compared to sleep. Look at Acts 7:60, concerning the martyrdom of Stephen. “Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this against them’. Having said this, he fell asleep.” This tells us something. In Corinthians 15:51, it also uses this image. Corinthians chapter 15 is a great chapter on the resurrection of the dead and we learn more from this one chapter about the resurrected body than from anywhere else in Scripture. In verse 51 Paul adds this thought, “Behold, I tell you a mystery.” Now, ‘musterion’ is something that was formerly not known, but is now made manifest. It is now revealed.
So, mystery, in that sense, is something that has never been revealed but is now made known. Here is the mystery; “We will not all sleep.” Up to that time only two people escaped physical death. You know their names. Elijah was one and Enoch was the other. Those are the only two people who have not died, in the whole history of the world. And so, when we think about death we think of that awful reality, if we have no hope without Christ, of the certainty of the grave that is coming up. Then Paul gives us this word, that actually we are not all going to die. He goes on to say, in fact, that we will all be changed, “In a moment, in a twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound.”
What it is saying here that there will some who will be alive when Christ comes from for His own and they will never see physical death and that is actually explained further in 1st Thessalonians chapter four. Paul is writing to believers who are concerned because their loved ones have died and they weren’t sure when, or if, they would ever see them. Paul writes, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are,” and what is the word he uses? “Asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.” I want to interject here that grief is natural and there is good grief and there is also bad grief. He is not talking about not grieving; he is talking about the kind of grieving that still has hope. Do you see the difference? I have been to funerals and seen both kinds. I have been to funerals where there has been a hopeless grieving and I have been to funerals where the grief was only because of our missing the person, but the reality was that it was actually a celebration. It was their coronation day and that was understood. Do you see the concept there? That is a grief, but a grief that is, really, animated by a hope that there is a life after this that goes on and on and on. “If we believe,” Paul writes, “that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.
For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.” What he is saying there is that those who have gone on before us, they will receive resurrected bodies and then he goes on to say, “We who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” I connect this with Paul’s statement earlier, that we will not all sleep and not all be changed. You see the idea? Those who are alive, and frankly I think it perfectly legitimate to pray, ‘come quickly, Lord Jesus’, it would be a better way to go. Frankly, if you had your choice, wouldn’t you like to go out the way Elijah did? He died with real panache, with those fiery chariots and so forth. Enoch walked with God for 365 years and all of a sudden God took him. He was just a kid. The average age then was around 900. The point here is that there is this tremendous hope that we have that is associated with the promises of God that are manifested in the work of His Son, Jesus Christ. It gives context to our lives.
So, returning to the text, Jesus goes on to say that, “We are going to go to Him.” But, “Thomas, who was called the twin, said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let us also go, so that we may die with Him.” Now, there are two ways of looking at this. Is he just being a ‘doubting’ Thomas, as we see later on, in which case he would have said, ‘we’re all going to die’. That is one way of interpreting it. Others might say that it actually shows his commitment to Christ, but his lack of understanding as well.
But, there is a sense that he is saying more than he really means. He is anticipating something, just like Caiaphas, later on at the end of this chapter, will say something but it will have more meaning than he himself understood.
Sometimes God will do that. He surely did that with the Prophets. Many times the Prophets had no clue as to what they were writing. Daniel, for example, in chapter ten, wants to know, ‘what on earth does this mean’? It says, “Go your way, Daniel, the book has been closed for those in the end times.” You will not understand it.
So, the Prophets who came earlier were seeking to understand what these things really were.
So, sometimes God will speak with a word and sometimes we will say something more than we knew. In any case, Thomas was willing to die with Him.
Now, in verse 17, “When Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days.
Now, Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off; and many of the Jews had come to Mary and Martha, to console them concerning their brother.” Again, we have this image of the extended family here. “Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him but Mary stayed in the house.”
So, after His encounter with the disciples, now He has an encounter with the two sisters, first with Martha. It seems evident that Martha was the older of the two because we see in the parallel passage in Luke chapter 10 that she seemed to have authority over the house. She comes to Him and says, Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” Now, she is not chiding Him, but she is just saying that He could have healed him if He had been there.
But, she says, “Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” However, I don’t think she is expecting Him to raise him from the dead.
But, “Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again’.” That would make her think of the general Jewish understanding of a resurrection, which the Pharisees affirmed, but the Sagistees denied. You had this notion of some kind of vague understanding that there would be a general resurrection from the dead at the end of days. That is what she thought He meant when He said, “Your brother will rise again.” But, “Martha said to Him, ‘I know he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day’.” Then Jesus hones in more closely and makes her think about something new that she has not see. He says to her, and here is the fifth ‘I-am’ statement, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” There are different interpretations of this, but it seem to me that the phrase, “everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die,” may again refer to that mystery Paul would later talk about. No matter how you understand it, we do know this, the power of Christ has the authority over life and death; an authority over the grave; an authority over disease and sickness and sorrow and suffering.
Now, Martha’s response was, “Yes, Lord, I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.” This is a very strong affirmation. She had a good understanding of who He was in that regard.
So, she makes a statement not unlike the one Peter makes in Matthew chapter 16, where he says, “You are the Christ.” By the way, one thing I want to point out about Mary and Martha is that Jesus was their Rabbi and teacher and that was unique because in those days no Rabbi would instruct women.
So, it transcends those boundaries. “When she said this she went away and called Mary, her sister, saying secretly, ‘The teacher is here and is calling for you’.” He wanted to meet the sisters before He got into the town and before all the din of confusion and turmoil would take place. “When she heard it she got up quickly and was coming to Him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met Him.”
So, He is waiting for her to arrive before He will go and accomplish what He knows He will do. “Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and consoling her, when they saw that Mary got up quickly and went out, they followed her supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. Therefore, when Mary came to where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet.” It is interesting to me that each of the three times she is mentioned in all four Gospels, she is at the feet of Jesus. In Luke chapter ten, she is at the feet of Jesus, and what is she doing? She is learning from Him. She is receiving truth from Him.
Then, in John chapter 12, in verse 3, that is where she washes His feet. It is interesting that she sat at His feet to listen to His word, she fell at His feet to pour out her pain and sorrow, and then she washes and anoints His feet. That is the idea. We now see this same question here, this same comment that Martha makes, as well, “Lord, if You had been here my brother would not have died.” It is the exact same statement. “When Jesus, therefore, saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping,” and the word for weeping there is ‘klaio’, and it is a word for loud lamentations. In the culture of the times, grief would be expressed very loudly and openly. There would be flutes as well, and it was quite an emotional event.
So, she was actually wailing in this regard. The Jews who came with her were also weeping. You had quite a din of confusion. It says He was “Deeply moved in spirit and was troubled.” But, this particular word is more than simply ‘troubled’. ‘Tarasso’ is a word that actually means ‘angry’. It means, in fact, that He was outraged. It is the image, then of fury and anger. What is this anger about? In part, I think, it is because of the disbelief of the people. He is not angry with Mary and Martha, but there is the idea, that He is “the resurrection and the life,” and He is right before them and they do not see Him, and He sees His enemy, death, and He sees the affect it has on Him and He also sees that which He has come to overcome. And so, Jesus is angry, or troubled, in His spirit, and He says, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” The mystery of the incarnation is great. On the one hand, He knew right away that Lazarus was dead.
But, then He has to ask where they laid him. He has knowledge which is really and intimation of omniscience, and yet there are times He has to be told. Then comes the shortest verse in the Bible. In verse 35, “Jesus wept.” Now, it is significant in that verse to note that He was actually stirred and the idea of His being grieved here, of His weeping, is that it was a different kind of weeping than we have with Mary and Martha. It was a more quiet weeping, where he was more deeply stirred in His spirit. It could be that the Spirit of God was stirred in this context, but we see also, and I have to stress this, Jesus’ solidarity with the human condition. He understands what it is like to suffer and have loss and pain and grief. That is why He is a faithful high priest who can minister to us because it is not that He is simply on high, but that He became one of us. He understands.
So, “The Jews were saying, ‘See how He loved him’.
But some of them said, ‘Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man from dying’?” Once again, even here, we see the different reactions. On the one hand, some would wonder why He didn’t keep this man from dying? He could have if He had wished to do so. When we think about this, the fact that he accomplished a miracle from a distance before, in chapter four, why didn’t He do that here? You see the point? He could have healed him from a distance, just as He did the nobleman’s son in chapter four. Why didn’t He do this? So, they were wrestling with this.
So, “Jesus being deeply moved from within, came to the tomb.
Now, it was a cave and a stone was lying against it.” Now, just so we know something about that idea, in those days you had tombs that were actually cut out of the rock. The formal mourning in Israel lasted for seven days. It commenced immediately on the day of burial. The Jews would quickly bury the dead. They would usually bury them on the day they died. One of the differences we have in our own lives is that we have taken death and made it something that is sanitized and we no longer have an immediacy with that. People a hundred years ago, it was very rare to find someone who hadn’t seen someone die. They would typically die at home and then they would prepare the body.
Now, we have removed that from our own experience. Now we put them in oversized jewel boxes. This amazes me. In fact, a lot of people look better dressed in death than they ever looked in life. It is a strange, strange thing that we do because we don’t know what to do with them. All throughout human history there has been mystery associated with human death because people just don’t have a clue as to how to handle it. Without the hope of the resurrection, it is just a mystery that they want to be with; a lot of mumbo-jumbo and a lot of avoidance. The only window of vulnerability is at the funeral service where we finally have to acknowledge the reality of what is before us. That window, typically, doesn’t last long.
But, during that window our defenses are overcome and we well recognize that life is, in fact, short. Ultimately, it is an intimation of our own destiny. (Q) (A): My own view is that I am against cremation. I have my own reasons for that. I can’t go into it here, it is really a whole subject in itself. Cremation has to do, symbolically, I think, with an avoidance, or a failure to recognize, the imagery of the resurrection from the dead.
Now, I am not saying that it is wrong to do it. I am just saying I personally lean against it. It is convenient and sanitary but there is also a hint of secularization. In any event, let’s return to the text. Regarding the burial cave, they had these horizontally cut burial slabs and there was an open area inside the tomb. It was around 10 feet by 15 feet, and that is where they would prepare the body. The body was prepared using various linens and spices.
It was a very elaborate procedure and then they would put the body in a ‘kochim’, which was about six feet deep. They would leave it there for about a year. At the end of the year they go and collect the bones and they would put the bones in a bone box, called an ostuary. That is how the Jews did it then. In fact, Caiaphas, who we will see in a moment, his ostuary has been found and we know this because of the markings that were on it. It is in the Israel Museum. In any event, they had these caves in this manner and then you would have this circular stone that was rolled into a trench in front of the opening. Once it was locked into that trench you could not push it over. It would take several men if you wanted to roll it back out.
Some of these caves, with the actual stones are still around.
So, Lazarus had been wrapped up and placed inside the tomb and he had been there for four days.
So, “Jesus said, ‘Remove the stone’. Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, ‘Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days’.” She was right. He was now decomposing. “Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not say to that if you believe, you will see the glory of God’?” Go back to verse 27, and she says, “I believe You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.” Now, she believed, but she surely didn’t believe He was going to do what He did, or she would not have made this objection. It is important for us to realize that Jesus was glorified by waiting those two extra days, so there would be no question that the glory of God made this possible. “So, the removed the stone.
Then Jesus raised His eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me’.” He has already made His prayer and knew what He was going to do, but He says this publicly so that His disciples would hear it. “When He said these things, He cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth’.” Now, the word, ‘kraugazo’, that is used there, is used six times in John’s Gospel. It is also used for the crowds on Palm Sunday in chapter 12, verse 13, and four times again from the crowd calling for Jesus’ crucifixion. It indicates a very loud noise. The idea is that He raised His voice with the voice of authority and power and said, “Lazarus come forth!”
Some people have quipped that if He hadn’t of said ‘Lazarus’, the whole place would have emptied out. We know, though, that something surprising happens because it says, “The man who had died came forth,” but then it goes on to say, “bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him at let him go’.” Do you ever wonder how he got out of the tomb? They rolled the stone away, of course, but it says, “he was bound hand and foot.” How did he come out? Did he roll out? Did he hop out? No one knows and I find it to be exceedingly strange. I’ll let you mull it over.
But, it is one of those understatements of the Gospel that makes you wonder what was going on. Moving on, “Therefore, many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and saw what He had done, believed in Him.
But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them the things that Jesus had done.” Here is the point. John emphasizes again and again in his Gospel that the issue comes down, not to the evidence, but to attitude. It depends upon a man’s willingness. If a person is willing to know the truth, he will know the truth.
But, if a person is unwilling to know the truth, then, in fact, instead of finding the truth they will find their own ways of explaining it away. And so, we always have this dual motif of people reacting in one way and some in the other way. Although, we have a reverse motif in the other sense. In the first six signs you have this pattern. You had sign, discourse, sign, discourse.
But, here you have discourse, sign. It is reversing the pattern. Jesus gave His discourse and then He performed the sign. The thing I want you to notice, though, is that His words and His works authenticate each other. You see Him say, “I am the Light of the world,” and then you see Him give sight to a man born blind. He says, “I am the resurrection and the life,” and then He raised a man from the dead.
So, His words and His work are authenticated. You see a miracle not just done as a raw miracle, but contexturalized in revelation. That is a very important thing for us to understand. The experience must also be understood, from a theological stance, so that we can contexturalize how they work. Explanation and sign go hand in hand. I must stress, again and again, that propositional revelation, which Scripture is, is exceedingly important. Having said that, I also want to stress that proposition itself does not lead to personal revelation.
So, the propositional truth, which is true, and is warranted historically, must lead to personal truth. It must lead to a relational truth. It is not a matter of having it in the head, it must also respond in our heart. It comes down to the issue of will I believe, or will I choose not to believe? You can not ignore this One. If you were there, I promise you that you would have to either believe Him or reject Him. You can’t be neutral about a man who just raised someone from the dead like that. You see the point here? The same is true with a man born blind. He caused the division that we see, and one of the things that always bothers me when others accuse Christians of being anti-Semitic is a failure to grasp that Jesus actually divided His own people.
The fact is that some of the Jews embrace Him and others did not. The issue was not anti-Semitism. How can you be anti-Semitic when Jesus was a Jew? All the disciples were Jewish and the entire New Testament was written by Jews, except for Luke, so how can you possibly be consistently anti-Semitic when your Lord was a Jew? I don’t understand that. The whole New Testament is a Jewish document written in the context of 2nd century temple Judaism. It amazes me. In any event, many of the Gentiles rejected Him as well. He divides, He does not unite. “I came to bring a sword.” That sword divides and there will be those who embrace Him and those who do not. That is really the final point of departure. The person who seeks will find, but the person who is a skeptic and chooses not to seek will, of course, find ways of rationalizing it away, just as they managed to rationalize this obvious miracle.
Now, in verse 47, we see, “Therefore, the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council.” They are terrified. Whether they believed it or not is not the point. They understood the implications and the implications were frightening. They were saying, “What are we doing? This man is performing many signs.” There were other Messianic claimants who would come and it put them in a dangerous political situation. “If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” Now, again, they saying more than they knew. This would, in fact, happen. From the years 66 to 70 AD, the Romans would put Jerusalem under siege. For just a short time, only two months, the siege was removed and that gave the believers who listened to the Olivet discourse the opportunity to leave. Those who believed Him fled. Then the siege continued and the ultimately destroyed the holy temple, the palaces and the walls. Everything was destroyed.
So, they were terrified about this situation because there was an uneasy political alliance. “But one of them, Caiaphas, who was a high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing at all, nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish’.” Those were amazing words, because, “He did not say this on his own initiative, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation.” And John goes on to add, “And not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one the Children of God who are scattered abroad.” Remember when He says, “I have other sheep who are not of this fold”? It is an intimation of the Gentiles as well. I might point out that Caiaphas ruled the Sanhedrins from the year 18 to the year 36 and Pilate was the ruler of that area from the years 26 to 36.
So, the last ten years of Caiaphas’ rule was associated with Pilate and they had sort of an uneasy truce for political expediency.
Now, when Pilate was forcibly removed from office, Caiaphas immediately lost his control on the high priesthood and both of them were out in the same year. (Q) (A): Certainly the idea here is that he is prophesying and in that position it is something that would not normally be done. The high idea of human sacrifice was anathema and yet now we have this whole idea that it points to a voluntary sacrifice. He had to be God for His sacrifice to really be efficacious. Otherwise it would merely just be the death of a man.
But, He had to be a man in order for it to be a real sacrifice. That is the emphasis. The Eastern Church emphsizes more the resurrection and the Catholic Church emphasizes more the crucifixion. That is just the nature of it.
So, as we look at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, actually, the Orthodox don’t call it that; they think of it as the Church associated with the resurrection.
So, there is little bit of a different theology there. The early theology was more of a ‘Christ’s victor’, the idea of the victory of Christ. He was called the ‘Ponto Chroctor’, the ‘ruler of all’. When you visit the earliest Basilicas and see the mosaics, that are the emphasis you have. The emphasis of the crucifixion, as almost an end in itself, became more and more characteristic in the Western Church.
(Q)(A): Yes, Caiaphas was the ruler of the Sanhedrin from the year 18 to the year 36. Pilate was in office in Judea from 26 to 36, so that lasted 10 and when Pilate was forcibly removed, that was when Caiaphas lost his connection and he was no longer high priest.
(Q)(A): Here is the thing. Nobody understood when Christ came that that would be His agenda. Remember earlier in the Gospels you see Him saying, “I have not come for the Gentiles, but for the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Now, as rejection begins to mount and rejection by His own people is certain, and when I say His own people I am particularly referring to the leadership. When that becomes certain He then makes the Gospel available for all because that is why the great commission says, “Go into all the world.”
So, because of the rejection by His own people, and if you want to study this, Romans 11 is a good place, it is possible for us to be in a position to receive God’s favor. No one knew it in advance, but God knew it well before hand. Here is the point that Paul makes, in Romans 11:25, “For I do not want you to be uninformed of this mystery,” and there is that word again, mystery, something that has not been known before, “so that you will not be wise in your own estimation-that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be save.” This hardening, by the way, is partial and it is temporary.
But he goes on to say, “For just as once you were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, so these also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. For God has shut up all is disobedience so that He my show mercy to all.” He is saying that in the wisdom of God, He had a plan that nobody could have guessed or anticipated in advance. Indeed, the Jews had to struggle with these two images of the Messiah, one a suffering servant and the other a reigning king. How could it possibly be that the two could be one and the same?
So, they looked for the reigning king, just as we would have, too. The natural bent of human nature being what it is, if you had a choice between being healed of cancer or Jesus saying your sins are forgiven, most people would choose the former. The visible takes precedence over the invisible. Yet, being healed of cancer is nothing compared to being healed of your sins. The greatest miracle is not the physical resurrection, but the spiritual resurrection of a new birth in Christ.
That is an amazing understanding. As we conclude I want to make a quick comment about ho we are to handle this rich teaching, and I must say that our graveside experience is not to ever be trivialized. We do have a very real and present tense experience of the power of Christ because we can understand that death is not a terminus, it is a passageway. If we understand it that way then we realize that this life, compared to eternity, is as a moment in time. I am fond of using this analogy: My firm belief is that if you could spend an hour in the presence of the living God, and the pleasure that would be, and then He tells you to go back to earth and suffer loss and pain for another 80 years to spend another hour with Him, would you do it? You see where I am with that? Actually, you would do it. Because once you have experienced that glory, the 80 years would seem as nothing compared to an hour in His presence. I want to tell you though, the obvious difference is that the 80 years is as nothing and the hour is as everything. It is not an hour, it is eternity.
So, the point here is that God does not overwhelm us yet. We are in the kindergarten of life. We might get into first grade before we die, but we sure won’t understand His higher math. In this life the best we are going to get is just a hint. The real life and the real joy is in the life to come.
Let me just close in a prayer and if you have any questions you can see me afterwards. Father we that You for this glorious passage that you have manifested your glory in Christ Jesus and He, the resurrection and the life, then, is our hope. At the end of the day it is a person that we want to see and not just a principle and that it is a person at the end of our journey that we wish to see. You have given us that hope. Here is the person that in fact dwells within us and we entrust our lives to Him. I pray that if there is anyone here who has not transferred his or her trust to you that they would do so, knowing that only the things we entrust to You are truly safe. We pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.