Read John 11:1-18
Jesus was a friend to Mary, her sister Martha and their brother Lazarus. They were small town people in Bethany, a village not far from a big city called Jerusalem. Jesus was a great figure of popularity, but he was friend and familiar to the small. He still is.
“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” (John 11:5, NKJV)
When Lazarus falls sick, his sisters send a messenger to Jesus. “Lord, behold, he whom you love is sick.” He was a great way off beyond the Jordan. Though the news is urgent, He doesn’t drop everything and come running. Jesus stays two more days in the place where He was. He sends word back to them that the sickness will not end in death and that God will be glorified through the circumstance.
In his delay, Lazarus dies.
This outcome certainly seems to run contrary to what Jesus had just predicted. When Jesus does finally arrive, he will find him, not just dead, but four days dead! Jesus was not wrong in what he said. His sickness would not end in death, his sickness will end in life.
We often see divine delay in scripture. Just recently we saw the delay of Christ to come to the disciples as they struggled for several miles upon their oars in a storm.
“So when they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near the boat; and they were afraid.” (John 6:19, NKJV)
We are often slow travelers because we are slow learners. There is great testing of faith in such delays. Great lessons are learned in such moments of seeming divine absence. God would teach us the vanity of relying upon our own strength or human reasoning. Three miles of rowing in a storm will exhaust you of self and leave you with a lesson well-taught:
You need the Lord. Jesus said, “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.”
When Jesus does arrive walking on the water, they get Him in the boat, and it is then, the scriptures say, that they immediately arrive to the shore.
Mary, Martha will soon find a wonderful lesson in the delay of Christ coming to their dying brother. They will learn that God’s delays are not refusals. Rather, they are intended to test our faith and dedication. These delays and temporary disappointments are occasions for God to show His glory and reinforce His love for us.
Read John 9:18-21
See how different the sisters are. Busy Martha had complained to Jesus once, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has let me serve alone?” At that same time, Mary was quietly sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to Him. Here in the wake of their brother’s death, Martha came out to meet Jesus on the outskirts of the city. Mary, on the other hand, stayed behind at the house.
Personality-wise, Martha was clearly more outward and immediately direct with how she felt, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:21) Mary, it would seem was more inward and quiet. In her dark hour, did she withdraw into her own solitude refusing to be comforted? It wasn’t until Jesus called for her that she finally evoked what Martha didn’t hold back from saying, “If you had been here…”
Here in their greatest sorrow, there is disparity. Grief affects different people differently. Jesus will minister to both in the inevitable hour of death.
Every person needs resurrection hope.
This pastor has performed many funerals. I’ve done funerals for church people, non-church people, people I have known and people I’ve never met. Though different in personality, they all need the gospel.
“It is the pastor’s job to prepare his people for death” Richard Baxter
Jesus prepared people for death. In Luke 13:1-5, Jesus was given some news about a massacre where several people were killed while they were worshipping at the Temple. It is implied that they died because it involved God’s judgment upon them. Christ brings up yet another tragedy where a tower fell on eighteen people killing them. He reminds his listeners that death comes to one and all and all must repent.
“Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”” (Luke 13:4–5, NKJV)
None of us is sinless. We must be prepared in advance, getting right with God before our time comes. Everyone must be prepared, in advance, for the inevitable. Jesus gives Martha and Mary, and us, a vital truth for our greatest dilemma: He is the resurrection and the life. Belief in him saves us from the king of terrors-death.
The Lazarus event underlines the is the reason Jesus came:
“And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth.” (John 17:3, NLT)
Read: John 11:33-44
Any of us who went to Sunday School knew the shortest path to rewards for scripture memory work was John 11:35. Here is the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept.”
Now that we are older, we may run past it with a “hurry up and read my Bible” mentality. But there in that little verse is a concentrated and power-packed truth. There is something that lies beneath it and life, very literally, comes from it. Jesus wasn’t shedding a silent tear. The Greek word means He wept aloud.
Jesus was not a man occasionally acquainted with a tear. Isaiah 53 says that he was “a man familiar with sorrows and familiar with suffering. The verse before it tells us what precedes his weeping:
“He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. ‘Where have you laid him?”
He was deeply moved. It has been rightly said, “Before you can move others, you yourself must be moved.” Would we be like Jesus? Then let us be moved and troubled for the things that break God’s heart.
It was T. Austin Sparks that said, “When you ask God to feel what he feels, you will feel pain.”
Look at Paul’s tears:
- Paul had tears for the lost of his brethren. Romans 9:2
- Paul had tears that so many lived as enemies of the cross. Philippians 3:18
- Paul warned with tears for three years, day and night, of apostacy. Acts 20:31
- Paul had tears and distress until Christ was formed in his new converts. Galatians 2:19.
Those kinds of tears are rare in the prayer closet today and they are absent in the pulpits of today. Jesus wept. Paul wept. Jeremiah wept. Nehemiah wept.
But if a pastor should weep, he would be an embarrassment to the modern congregation
Years ago, some missionaries wrote to the general of the Salvation Army that they were having little success in the foreign field though they had “tried everything.” General Booth wasted no money on the wired telegram he sent back. Charged by the word, he gave two words only: “Try tears.”
They did and breakthroughs happened.
It is Nehemiah’s weeping put him in a position to do something. Jeremiah’s tear-soaked prophesies of return and rebuilding echoed to the man Nehemiah and his generation. “Nehemiah wept for some days,” concerning Jerusalem. He came to the joy of deep satisfaction because he saw real results. He would later say, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” You will never end with joy unless you begin with tears.
“Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.
He who goes out weeping carrying seed to sow—will return with songs of joy carrying sheaves with him.” Psalm 126
Read John 11:44-57
Lazarus wasn’t Jesus’ first resurrection. He raised a little girl, Jairus’ daughter. He raised a young man, the son of the widow of Nain. Lazarus wasn’t a child or a teen. He was a grown man. There are stages to decay. We are told there is active decay, advanced decay and dry remains. “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1, ESV)
Children are sinners, but they are just beginning. They lie, they might take something they shouldn’t. They will express their anger or displeasure at not getting what they want. Yet they can be so cute and precocious. Their corruption has not matured.
Teenagers are sinners whose corruption is more advanced. Habits are being formed and the clay is starting to harden. The scripture warns us from the sins of youth because it is a seedtime for the harvest of adult years. You will reap in adulthood what you start in your teen years.
Adults are sinners who are long past advanced decay and into dry remains. Wherever you see a man or a woman come to such a low place in life, truth be told, you will always find that it started with wrong choices made much further back. Back then, those choices didn’t seem like that big of a deal. When those lines were crossed, there were no peals of thunder. His world didn’t come immediately apart. In fact, he may have even sensed a certain freedom in doing what he wanted to do without the restriction of conscience. The devil likes it that way. It helps the sinner to gain confidence that he or she can continue on down that road. He knows that at some point, he will be too far gone to come back.
Unless there is a miracle resurrection.
None are too far gone if the Lord wills life.
The Lord schooled Ezekiel on dry remains by
making an army from them.
Physically, Lazarus was long gone. “Lord, by this time there is a stench…” But Christ did for him what He has done for many of us. Christ bellowed the life-giving word into the bowels of the deepest, darkest grave and brought forth Lazarus. All counted him lost but a weeping Jesus who commanded his life as a trophy for the father.
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:4–7, ESV)
Read John 11
Lazarus represents the salvation of the lost:
Sinners are dead. “So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead,” (John 11:14, TNIV) He was allowed to completely expire. Jesus wasn’t using colorful or spiritual language to describe Lazarus’ condition. He was beyond human help and past hope. He was some once put it: morally, ethically, spiritually, physically, positively, absolutely, undeniably and reliably DEAD.
Dead people, on their own, can’t respond to God, hear God, understand the Bible, or have an interest in the things of God. Ephesians 2:1-3, Colossians 2:13
He was decayed. He had a life that stunk. Whether in active decay, advanced decay or dry remains, the sinner has a stench. We sometimes view lost people differently. The prodigal son was obviously too long gone. But wasn’t His stay at home brother a dead soul too? “Why should we have a feast for this guy?” He is a picture of the church man who hasn’t lived in years.
He was raised and given life. His relatives could only weep. It took Christ to give him life. How did he do it? By the power of His Word. How can the dead hear His Word in the grave? By God’s power: ““Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” (John 5:25, ESV)
He was loosed. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed;” (Luke 4:18, NKJV) He not only raises the dead. He liberates him from his sin.
He Fellowshipped with Christ. “There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him.” (John 12:2, NKJV) Not only does the Christian have fellowship with Christ, but also with others in Him. Some there are that say one can “be a Christian without going to church”. A Christian without fellowship with other believers isn’t known in the Bible. “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7, NKJV)
He witnessed to others and was persecuted. He had such an impact upon would-be believers that many turned out to see him later. This made him a lightning rod for persecution from the enemies of Christ. As crazy as it seems, the Chief priests plotted his death. What irony to kill a man that didn’t stay dead the first time.
“But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also, because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus.” (John 12:10–11, NKJV)