Sermons of David Chadwell

The Resurrection of Lazarus

The gospels provide us very few views of Jesus' personal life. We are often told of him when is among the multitudes, when he had private discourse with individuals, when he is teaching his disciples, or when he is taking an initiative. Rarely do we see Jesus when he is "just being himself" as he rests from his rigorous work, or successfully escapes from the demands of the multitude, or is left along to his own thoughts.

We see Jesus in many different roles: a teacher to his disciples; a spiritual informer of the ignorant; a hope giver to the disillusioned; a defender of God and the Old Testament scriptures; a man of compassion; a man of opportunity; a patient guide to those who have lost direction. But . . . what of Jesus' personal friends? What of the relationships that blessed and ministered to him? What of the situations when those who loved him ministered to him?

To me there is no doubt that Jesus maintained deep, personal, loving relationships as a friend to a friend to a number of individuals who loved and respected him. I imagine that in most areas that he ministered frequently there was some home, some family that forever kept the door of friendship and hospitality open to Jesus--a home that offered a refuge from the public eye and public expectations. These were the people who loved to minister to his need rather than expecting him to provide something for them. Such people wanted Jesus to rest, to relax, and to enjoy the fruits of friendship.

That at least one such home was available to Jesus is beyond doubt. The gospel of John identifies the home of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha as the kind of place. In a most unusual happening recorded in a gospel, the gospel of John provides us a unique insight into Jesus' relationship with his friends. In narrative form, examine this incident recorded in John 11. Note the impressive lessons we should gain.

  1. The narrative:
    1. Lazarus became sick in his Bethany home.
      1. Lazarus, Mary, and Martha had been close, personal friends of Jesus who always kept their home open to him.
      2. John indicated the closeness Jesus shared with these people by stating this was the same Mary who anointed Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair.
        1. While that means little to most of us, it would have meant much then.
        2. This was outrageous, unacceptable behavior. No self-respecting Jewish man would allow that to happen to him!
        3. Yet, Jesus allowed it.
      3. Simply put, they loved Jesus and Jesus loved them in a love of mutual respect.
        1. The impression to me is that their relationship expected and demanded nothing from Jesus.
        2. This home was located about two miles Southeast of Jerusalem on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives.
      4. It was conveniently located when Jesus visited Jerusalem.
        1. The last week of Jesus' life as he presented intensive lessons in Jerusalem's temple area, he spent each evening outside the city (Mark 11:19).
        2. Matthew in 21:17 states he spent at least some of those evenings in Bethany.
        3. It is possible that he stayed in Lazarus' home and was strengthened by these friendships in the last days of his life.
      5. When Lazarus became sick, Mary and Martha sent word to the Jesus in hiding (they knew where he was) saying simply, "Lord, behold, the one you love is sick."
        1. They did not say, "Jesus, come quickly!"
        2. They did not say, "We helped you; it is time for you to help us!"
        3. They did not say, "Lord, we are counting on you--do not let us down!"
        4. The friendship was so real all they needed to do was to let Jesus know the situation.
        5. Personally, I find that a beautiful tribute to their relationship.
    2. Jesus' reaction:
      1. Jesus' reaction is unique in all the gospels.
      2. First, he told the disciples, “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” (John 11:4).
        1. In a distressing situation in which a friend he loved was seriously sick, Jesus saw opportunity rather than reacting with concern.
        2. He was fully aware of what was about to happen.
          1. Certainly, God would be glorified.
          2. However, Jesus (according to John's use of "glorify") was referring to his crucifixion (see John 7:39; 12:16; and 12:23.)
          3. What Jesus would do in raising Lazarus would be "the final straw" or "the straw that broke the camel's back."
          4. He knew Lazarus' resurrection would precipitate his death, and he was ready to glorify God through his death.
          5. That is precisely what happened--verse 46 said some of the witnesses went directly to the Pharisees; verses 47, 48 state the counsel said they could not ignore the situation; verses 49, 50 records Cephas' statement that it was good for one man to die for the nation's sake; and verse 53 stated they immediately began planning Jesus' death.
        3. John stated Jesus loved those three people--he was not indifferent to their need!
      3. Jesus delayed his departure for two days.
        1. I doubt that time was easy for Jesus.
        2. He knew Lazarus was suffering.
        3. He knew Mary and Martha were anxious.
        4. He knew all of them were anxiously awaiting his arrival.
        5. He knew their disappointment would increase with each passing hour.
        6. He likely knew some of their friends would come ask, "Where is your friend, Jesus? Why is he not here?"
        7. Knowing those things were happening in the lives of people he loved would not have been easy for Jesus.
    3. Jesus' return:
      1. Jesus knew when Lazarus was died.
      2. He told his disciples it was time to go back to Judea.
        1. The disciples probably assumed Jesus did not return immediately upon receiving the message about Lazarus' sickness due to the fact it was too dangerous to go to the Jerusalem vicinity.
        2. They agreed with that assessment--they knew how much the Jewish leaders wanted Jesus dead.
        3. They had no doubt about what the Jewish leaders would do if they were presented an opportunity.
        4. To them it made no sense to return after his friend was sick for two additional days.
        5. So they tried to discourage him from returning by reminding him of the danger.
        6. Jesus said, "You need to walk while it is daylight."
          1. Most travel then was done in the daylight (they had no forms of artificial lighting).
          2. Jesus likely meant his day was not ended and there was no need to fear.
          3. It also probably meant he had to do this before his day ended.
      3. He then informed the disciples that Lazarus was asleep, and he was going to awaken him.
        1. The disciples were relieved; sleeping was to them a sign of recovery.
        2. Then Jesus informed them that Lazarus was dead.
        3. He then made an unusual statement.
          1. "For your sakes, I am glad I was not there."
          2. "Because I was not there, you will have greater faith."
      4. Still, the disciples are reluctant to return.
        1. Thomas settled the matter.
        2. He thought it was inviting trouble to return.
        3. Yet, in resignation, he said, "Let us go die with him."
    4. Jesus arrived:
      1. When Jesus arrived, Lazarus has been dead for four days.
        1. At that time, in that climate, with no embalming, burial almost always occurred the day of death.
        2. A Jewish funeral was not a time of quiet meditation.
        3. It was a time of public weeping and mourning best described as a time of continual wailing.
        4. To us it would be a time of noise, confusion, and near hysteria.
        5. It typically lasted seven days and involved the community and friends.
          1. Commonly the home was filled with those in sympathy.
          2. Since they were near Jerusalem and evidently well know, sympathizers were still present four days after the death.
          3. Ordinarily, the sounds of mourning could be heard long before one reached the village.
      2. News reached Martha that Jesus was coming, and she immediately left to meet him.
        1. Perhaps she wanted to talk to him privately, which could not happen at the house.
        2. What followed was a beautiful declaration of friendship.
        3. Martha expressed the depth of her anguish which must have caused Jesus anguish: "Had you been here, Lazarus would not have died"--an affirmation of confidence and expression of regret.
          1. Some look at her remark as one of censor, bitterness, and chastisement.
          2. I do not--I think it was and expression of sorrow and disappointment that Lazarus was dead.
          3. It was an expression of confidence: "If you could have been here, this would not have happened."
        4. Her next statement reflects the depth of their friendship: "Even now I know God will do anything you ask."
          1. She clearly had not lost confidence in her friend.
          2. He was no less the Lord because he was not there when she wanted him.
          3. To me, she is not trying to censor Jesus, but to say it was all right even though she was disappointed.
          4. From the next events, it is obvious that she did not expect Jesus to raise Lazarus.
        5. Jesus told her that her brother would rise again.
          1. She was confident he would rise in the last day.
          2. When Jesus said he was the resurrection and the life, she had no doubt that was true.
          3. The resurrection was not merely an event; it also was a power and authority--Jesus declared he was that power and authority.
        6. Martha returned to the house and secretly told Mary that Jesus had come and asked for her.
          1. Mary quickly left and went to Jesus.
          2. Her quick departure caught the mourners' attention.
          3. It was customary to make frequent trips to the tomb to mourn.
          4. They assumed this is what she did, and they accompanied her.
          5. When Mary saw Jesus, she fell at his feet crying, "If you had been here, Lazarus would not have died."
    5. The resurrection:
      1. The whole scene and situation was too much for Jesus to keep his composure.
        1. Two sisters he loved in deep grief saying our brother would be alive if you had been here.
        2. One wailing before him in genuine sorrow and loss.
        3. Mourners wailing.
        4. John says he groaned in spirit--the words used indicate he was deeply distressed.
        5. John also says he was troubled.
        6. Jesus asked, "Where did you lay him?"
          1. As they went to the place, he cried.
          2. Some said, "How he loved him!"
          3. Others asked, "Could not this healer help this man?"
        7. When they reached the tomb, it (as usual) had a stone covering the opening (to protect the body from animals and grave robbers).
          1. Jesus told them to remove the stone.
          2. Martha tried to discourage him because enough time had passed for the body to begin to decay and release an odor.
          3. Jesus said, "I told you that you would see God's glory!"
          4. When the stone was removed, Jesus prayed a prayer of gratitude, and asked God to respond to his request for the witnesses' sake.
        8. With a loud voice, he ordered Lazarus to come out of the cave.
          1. Lazarus came out bound in his grave wrappings.
          2. Jesus told them to cut Lazarus free.
          3. Jesus raised him (did what they could not do); they loosed him (did what they could do).
        9. With that Jesus ended the grief of his friends and set in motion the events that would lead to his own death.
        10. After this event, Jesus avoided those who wished to kill him.

  2. Some brief observations:
    1. The purpose and objective of Jesus was not always clearly discernible even to his closest friends.
      1. His disciples knew him better than anyone, but they saw no purpose in his return.
      2. Mary and Martha loved him dearly, but they did no understand why he took so long to come.
      3. Though his actions were misunderstood by all who believed in him, those actions were still full of purpose and blessing.
      4. We do not have to see the purpose beforehand to enable our Lord to accomplish a good purpose.
      5. All we need to do is not lose faith in him.
    2. We are related to Mary and Martha: they had great faith in what Jesus could have done, but no understanding of what he could do right then in those circumstances.
      1. They had absolute confidence that Jesus could have healed Lazarus if he has come while Lazarus was alive.
      2. They had no confidence that Jesus could do anything after Lazarus died.
      3. Often we make the same mistake.
        1. We say, "If only the Lord had done such and such in the past."
        2. Rarely do we say, "I have every confidence the Lord can use what is happening right now."
        3. Instead we say, "I just cannot see how anything will work out in this mess."
    3. We should take consolation in the fact that we have a compassionate Lord who can weep.
      1. Jesus knew what he could do.
        1. He knew all would be okay regarding Lazarus' death.
        2. Yet, Jesus could not be indifferent to the sorrow, disappointment, and concern for those he loved.
        3. Our Savior is not aloof, arrogant, unfeeling, unemotional, and untouched when he sees those who believe in him in pain.
      2. Jesus knows, cares, and feels.
      3. It is of enormous comfort to me to know he is touched by the feeling of our infirmities.

Of all things to be remembered in this unusual incident, the foremost is that he is the resurrection and the life. Just as he had the power to raise Lazarus, he will resurrect us. There is one big difference. He raised Lazarus to die physically again. He will raise us to never die again.

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