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    Studies in John (Lesson 9: The Resurrection of Lazarus)

    I.Lazarus Dies (John 11:1-16)

    Throughout the gospel of John, Jesus' sign-miracles have been growing ever more extraordinary, and his related teachings have become ever more explicit. Finally, in this last sign, we see the climax of Jesus' sign-revelation, and the last miracle that John would record before Christ's own death on the cross. Previously, we have seen everything necessary for life – eternal life – and we have seen it in Christ alone. He alone can give the water which springs up into everlasting life. He alone can give the true bread – his own body – which sustains eternal life. He alone can give the light which is the life of men – that is, he alone can produce the faith which leads to forgiveness and life in fellowship with the Father. And now, finally and climactically, we see him giving life itself; and so teaching that he alone is “the resurrection and the life” (vs. 25). But just as Jesus' signs and teachings increase, so does the opposition of the Pharisees. And so we find that, at the end of the chapter, they are earnestly seeking to find where he is living, so that they can arrest him and put him to death.

    The first thing that we notice, as we read of Lazarus' sickness, is the love that Jesus has for everyone involved. Mary, the sister of Lazarus, is the one who a few days later anointed Jesus with myrrh, and dried his feet with her hair (see John 12:1-8); an act which indicates the depth of their relationship and love. Lazarus is referred to as “the one whom [Christ] loved” (vs. 3); and later, all the Jews notice how much Jesus loved him (vs. 36). And in verse five, we have another clear statement, to make the point emphatically clear, that Jesus did indeed love all three of them. Nor were these three the only ones to whom Jesus displayed his love by this sign. In verse fifteen, Jesus rejoices that this sickness – indeed, this death – took place, because of his disciples, and because of the faith that he would produce in them by what he was about to do.

    And yet love for his disciples and friends was not the only, and not even the fundamental motivation for what Jesus was about to do. As he tells his disciples in verse four, it is ultimately so that God might be glorified – both the Father and the Son. This sign, in which Christ shows himself to be the resurrection and the life, is first, for the glory of God, and second, out of love for his people.

    So what is the assurance that comes from Jesus' love for the Father and the Father's people? Just this, that sickness, even a sickness this severe, is “not unto death” (vs. 4). How can Jesus say this? Lazarus' sickness truly did lead to death, as we find out later in the narrative; and Jesus knew that it would from the beginning. But death was not the ultimate purpose nor the final outcome of this sickness. Jesus, because of his love for his people, and in order to glorify God, was about to change sickness and death into resurrection and life. And the way in which he was about to do this would make clear why he allowed the death in the first place.

    This leads us to John's astonishing statement in verse six: because Jesus loved Lazarus, therefore he waited until Lazarus died before he came to Bethany. How could his love motivate him to wait until it was too late to heal him of this sickness, before he did anything? It is not until one realizes the nature of Christ's miraculous signs that this could make sense. Physical resurrection of a body that is still imperfect and still able to die again is a good and amazing thing. But what it signifies – resurrection to a body that can never die, but that will enjoy eternal life in God's presence – is far greater. Jesus could have healed Lazarus before he died at all. But because it was a better thing to show to him, as a tiny foretaste, the resurrection life that could be found in Jesus alone, and so produce faith in him and the other disciples around him, by letting him die and raising him again; and, because he loved him, and desired the best for him – indeed, had determined to do the best for him – therefore, he waited two days, until he had died.

    What Jesus was about to do next was a further astonishment to the disciples. It was strange enough that he had waited until Lazarus died, before going to Bethany. But now, after Lazarus was already dead, he was going to go there – even though that would certainly mean death for himself as well, since the Jews of that region were attempting to kill him. How could this make any sense at all? Jesus waited until a man was hopelessly dead before he would heal him – and then, he did so by approaching his own death! And yet, this was a sign, and a marvelous one, that the disciples would not fully understand until later. Jesus can raise the man who is “dead in his trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1-7), and give him eternal life – and he does so by going to his own death on the cross! But those who still think they live, he does not raise – not until they are dead indeed. And so Jesus would not be dissuaded by his disciples' pleas. It was still daylight. It was still the time in which God had planned for him to bring light into the world, by means of his sign-miracles. And so he would go to Bethany.

    Thomas' statement in response to Jesus' strange teaching (vs. 16), was probably occasioned by doubt and gloomy resignation. Jesus was going to die there in Bethany, and all would be lost. But just as later in the chapter the high priest unwittingly gives a prophecy of truth (vss. 49-52), so it seems to be the case here. Certainly, it is only as we die with Jesus that we can be raised again to eternal life. Thomas' statement, then, perfectly illustrates the teaching of Jesus, in relation to this sign miracle. One can only find eternal life by Jesus' going to his own death, when he himself is also dead. If one would live in Christ, he must also die with Christ. The disciples could not yet grasp the full extent of this teaching; but later, when Christ was raised from the dead, they understood and believed.

    II.Jesus Meets Martha (John 11:17-27)

    When Jesus finally came to Bethany, the house was filled with many friends who were comforting Mary and Martha. This circumstance had the profitable effect of providing a large audience for Jesus' great miracle; although, being so close to Jerusalem, where the Jews were trying to kill Jesus, such a crowd would certainly have put him in danger from the Pharisees. Of course, this is exactly what happened; even though Jesus did not then die, the series of events which ultimately led to his death were put into play. And so, Thomas' prediction that Jesus was going to his death (as well as the meaning signified by the miracle) was, in a certain sense, true.

    Martha seems to be somewhat more active than her sister, as we learn from Luke's account of their time with Jesus (Luke 10:38-42); so it is not surprising that she runs ahead to meet Jesus alone. Her faith in Jesus is truly commendable: she believes that he could have prevented this death, and even though it has happened, she is not bitter or angry with him, but recognizes that he is still able to perform any miracle, simply by asking the Father. However, the miracle of raising her brother from the dead seems completely out of her thoughts (see vs. 39).

    In fact, even when Jesus tells her that her brother will rise again, she thinks that he is talking about the final resurrection in the end times. It is commendable that she believed in this resurrection; but she does not give any evidence that she has realized that this end-time resurrection is possible only through Jesus. But that is exactly what Jesus is going to tell her: “I am the resurrection and the life.” In other words, the final resurrection, and the eternal life of fellowship with God that follows it, is to be found in no one else. When Jesus asks her if she believes this, she responds with a claim as staggering as Peter's famous confession – Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God who has come into the world. She believes in him, and therefore, as Jesus has just told her, she will never die, neither will her brother Lazarus. To the one who believes in Jesus, death is not death, but simply a passing into eternal life. Although Martha believes these things, she does not yet realize how Jesus will illustrate their truth, by raising her brother from the grave. But soon she would see; and her faith would be vindicated, and the faith of others would be brought to life, just as Lazarus was brought to life – by the authoritative word of Jesus!

    III.Jesus Meets Mary (John 11:28-37)

    Jesus now travels the rest of the way to the sisters' house – and meanwhile, Martha runs ahead to give Mary the good news, that Jesus is here. The deep, vibrant faith that Martha had already displayed must have been a faith which her sister shared; for they both respond in precisely the same way. As soon as they hear of Jesus' coming, they leave everything, run to him, and confess that he could have healed Lazarus, if only he had been there.

    Perhaps Jesus would have talked with Mary just as he had with Martha, and told her that he alone is the resurrection and the life, and that he would raise Lazarus from his grave; but the comforters who were with Mary, when they saw her leaving the house in such haste, assumed that she was going to the grave to cry, so they followed her, to continue comforting her there. Therefore, they have no opportunity for privacy, as Jesus had with Martha a few minutes before.

    When Jesus saw Mary and the rest of the mourners weeping, he was, according to John, both angry, or indignant in his spirit; and deeply troubled. Why would he have been angry? Perhaps he was angry because of the deep sorrow and despair that sin had brought into the world, with its bitter fruits, sickness and death. Perhaps he was angry because of the lack of faith that now confronted him in the presence of all these mourners. But whatever the reason for his anger, it is far more amazing that he was deeply troubled and sorrowful. Jesus, holy God and perfect man, has every reason to be angry with us sinners – but what amazing love he displays towards us, that he sorrows over our condition, and is willing to give of himself to make us right again!

    And it certainly is love for his people, and for Lazarus in particular, that causes him to sorrow and even to weep. The people recognize this, and make a note of how much Jesus loved him. Some of them even wonder why he did not prevent his death – if he could give sight to the man born blind, surely he could have healed Lazarus. Sadly, their faith was constantly requiring more miracles, and had not yet progressed to faith in Jesus himself. They believed, with Mary and Martha, that Jesus could have healed Lazarus; but they do not yet believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.

    IV.Jesus Raises Lazarus (John 11:38-44)

    As he comes to the grave site, Jesus is still indignant in his spirit; but without further teaching or admonishing, he commands that the stone sealing the mouth of the grave be taken away. Martha's astonishment at this command, and her observation that Lazarus must stink by now, having been dead for four days, indicates that she had not understood Jesus' promise that he would raise Lazarus, but still thought that he was referring to the resurrection of the last day. But Jesus reminds her that, if she believes, she will see God's glory. This is just what he had already told his disciples: raising Lazarus would be to display the glory of God. What an amazing plan! In the work of redemption, God is glorified when we are given new and eternal life. God is glorified, and we are enabled to see his glory – which is the essence of eternal life and the foundation of everlasting joy (see John 17:3).

    The mourners do then take away the stone; but instead of performing the miracle immediately, as he had done so many times before, he prays audibly, and acknowledges that the Father always hears his prayers. He did this, not for himself, but so that we might know that the Father has sent him. Jesus did not do anything of his own accord, as he told the Pharisees so long ago (John 5:30); what the Father plans, Jesus does, and there is always perfect agreement between the two of them. This is a comforting truth, when we remember what Jesus prays for us just before his death on the cross (John 17); and when we remember that, after his ascension, he is always interceding for us as our great high priest (Hebrews 4:14-16). Jesus is ever pleading our cause, on the basis of his sacrificial blood; and the Father always hears his pleas! In fact, the Father is perfectly united with Jesus in his desire to forgive and sanctify us. His forgiveness is not grudging, but wholehearted. He does not just endure us, he delights in us. This truth, then, cannot fail to comfort those of us who, weak and sinful though we be, have fled to Jesus for refuge.

    Now, having prayed to the Father, Jesus raises Lazarus with an authoritative word. At the beginning of his gospel, John made the connection between creation and redemption – just as God, through the agency of his eternal Son, created the world by speaking it into existence; so, when he determined to redeem mankind, he would do so through Jesus, his Son, by an authoritative word.

    In fact, the goal of redemption is nothing but a new creation (II Corinthians 5:17). And just as God created man originally, by the word of his mouth, so he creates him anew – creates in him a new and living heart of belief – by his own powerful word. A dead man cannot create life in himself. No more can we, who are “dead in our trespasses and sins,” produce in ourselves the faith which leads to eternal life. But praise be to God, who, according to his mercy and in fulfillment of his promises, raised us up to new life, when we were dead and without hope! Remember, the raising of Lazarus was a sign-miracle. Unless we learn from this event about how Jesus raises men who are spiritually dead to true and eternal life, we are missing its real intent and purpose.

    V.The Jews Oppose Jesus (John 11:45-57)

    After the miracle, we see the same response that we have seen so many times before: some of the Jews believe in him (although many of them likely had a shallow and inadequate faith); and some of them oppose him, and report him to the Pharisees. At this point, the Jewish leaders have had enough. They do not even care any more whether or not the miracle was done on the Sabbath. They just know that, if Jesus continues doing these signs, more and more people will believe on him, and, consequently, fewer and fewer will still be in subjection to them. It is time to stop threatening, and to start plotting how they might actually kill Jesus.

    At this time, the high priest is a man named Caiaphas. What he is about to say is remarkable, for God is using him to give a true prophecy that is completely foreign to what he actually meant. This in itself is an amazing example of how God uses the wicked designs of evil men to accomplish his own holy purposes. We see this truth displayed very clearly in the example of Joseph's brothers (Genesis 50:20); but the most outstanding example of all is the case of Jesus' crucifixion (see Acts 2:22-24); it is fitting, therefore, that even in the events leading up to Christ's death, God is using the wicked instruments of crucifixion as true prophets.

    So what is this remarkable prophecy: that it is better for the people that one man die than that they all perish. Caiaphas was thinking that Jesus should die before he stirred up all the people so that the Romans came to destroy the nation. But God meant that Jesus would die to bring the people to God – and not just the Jewish people, but his people from every nation. Jesus has sheep from the Jewish fold and sheep from the Gentiles; and he must bring all of them together, by his death, so that there is one fold and one shepherd.

    The construction of verses fifty-one through fifty-two is quite similar to the construction of I John 2:2; so we may be better able to understand the one passage by comparing it with the other. In John 11 it is clear that Jesus death is not just for the Jews, but for his people from every nation – not every person in the world indiscriminately, but those whom the Father has given to Jesus out of every nation under heaven. This helps us answer a difficult question about I John 2:2. If Jesus really is the propitiation for the sins of every person without exception, then there can be no such thing as hell, or as a person who is eternally lost. Propitiation means that God's wrath has been satisfied; but if God's wrath has been satisfied for everyone, he cannot pour it out upon sinners in hell. If sinners in hell do experience God's wrath (which they do), then God's wrath has not been propitiated for their sins. And if God's wrath was not propitiated for their sins, then Jesus was not the propitiation for the sins of every single person in the world – just for God's people who are scattered throughout every nation of the world. This is a good example of how comparing scriptures with scriptures – especially the different writings of the same human author of scriptures – can help us understand the true meaning of difficult passages.

    The chapter concludes with a brief description of the situation. Jesus is not showing himself in public, because the Jews are trying to kill him; and even commanding that anyone who knows where he is must report to them, so that they can arrest him. But the passover is coming – and this passover will be the final passover that Jesus celebrates in his life on earth. Soon, he will offer himself up as the sacrificial Lamb of the world, which is the very reason that he came to earth.

    Posted by Nathan on February 26, 2007 04:06 AM

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