Saturday, November 10, 2007

John 11:1-45

(this was my script from thursday night at Surrey's mostly what i said, although if memory serves, the ending was very different)

In my third year at uni I lived with a guy named Dave, a great guy who was very Godly and a lot of fun. On a Tuesday we used to have our nine am lecture together on American history. After that I’d go home, and he’d have lectures un till about 4pm. I remember one time leaving him with the words ‘Dave I believe in you’ as I went home and he trudged to some politics seminar. And that sentence has been troubling me ever since. I love words, I love how they sound and what they mean, I think English is the best language in the world for that. But what did I mean? Dave I believe in you? Did it mean that I gave mental assent to the fact I thought Dave existed? That’s a pretty stupid way of encouraging someone. Or did I mean something else?

Belief is a big topic at universities today, but in some ways the idea to believe something has been robbed of it’s meaning. Exclusive beliefs, like the Gospel, are considered outdated and stupid, and open mindedness to believe anything, no matter how those things contradict each other, is lauded.

Belief is a big issue for John. He even tells us that he wrote his account of Jesus’ life and death so that we would belief. He recorded this account of the death and raising of Lazarus so that we would believe in Jesus. But does that mean giving mere assent to the fact that Jesus is the Son of God? Does it just mean signing up to these things and going on with life as normal? Well, lets turn to the Bible and have a look at the last miracle that John records before Jesus’ arrest..


Mary and Lazarus and Martha all knew Jesus. It was the Mary who had anointed His feet, so they already had something of a relationship. When we read verse four Jesus doesn’t seem that concerned does He? You can see the ‘but’ at the start of verse four contrasts Jesus reaction with the concern of Lazarus’s sisters. Or is it just that Jesus doesn’t think that this illness will lead to death, as we see later in verse four? He says this illness will not lead to death, it will be for the glory of God, so that the Son of God will be glorified though it. It’s interesting to note two things here. How the glory of God is manifested and illustrated though the Son of God being glorified, and how Jesus wants to do all things for His Father. He’s just heard His friend is ill, but His first thought is how His Father will be glorified by it. And that His Father will be glorified by it. This part of the story ends on a strange note though doesn’t it? It seems that John is suggesting that Jesus’ lack of action in coming to see Lazarus is a product of His love for Martha and her sister and Lazarus. The first word of the verse six in the ESV is ‘so’, which links Jesus love for the three, and His decision to not come straight away. The NIV translation really lets us down here, choosing to use ‘yet’ at the start of verse six rather than ‘so’. Yet of course makes it sound like it was in spite of his love for them that He did not come, whereas the ESV makes it sound like it was because of His love for the three that He did not come, which, as we’ll see as the story moves on is far closer to the truth. Jesus reaction makes us think that there must be something bigger going on in the illness and eventual death of Lazarus than we realise, and also that, as far as Jesus is concerned there is something much more important, than health, or even, since Jesus knew in His omniscience that Lazarus was to die, life.


Two days pass, then Jesus decides it’s time to go to Judea. The disciples are aghast at this. The reason they are in the north is because the last time they ventured south Jesus was nearly killed. The time away clearly hasn’t dimmed the situation, as the disciples are clearly worried for their and Jesus’ life in they venture south again. As often happens, Jesus answers their question not entirely in the way you might expect. Verses 9-10 have a two level application or meaning, one to the disciples, and one to Jesus Himself. Jesus is safe as long as He walks in the daylight of obeying His Father’s will. As long as He is doing what His Father requires of Him, no part of the plan will fail. It’s only if He ignores the Father’s plan that He’ll stumble. And the same applies to the disciples as well. Jesus will only be with them a little while longer, they must walk in the light, with Him, while they can, because night time is coming. The time has come and the decision made, they must go to Judea. Still the disciples aren’t altogether on board. Look at verses 11-12 with me. Notice the switch from ‘our’ friend to ‘I’ go to awaken Him. Jesus is clear in His own mind that only He will have any impact on the situation. The disciples misunderstand, however, thinking that when Jesus says ‘asleep’ He means it literally, as John notes to us. The Jesus speaks to them plainly in verse 14: Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad I was not there so that you may believe. But let us go to Him. Again we see the slightly odd point that Jesus is making that it is somehow good that Lazarus has died, and that Jesus wasn’t there to stop it happening. He seems quite confident that if He had been there He would have stopped it, and yet He seems glad that He wasn’t. the clue we get from verse 15 is that it’s so the disciples may believe. Jesus knows that He’s entered the last few days of His earthly ministry, so His disciples must have their faith in Him strengthened, they must know who He is. Verse 16 could just be doubting Thomas again, but His words, even if fed by misunderstanding come across more bold and courageous than doubting.


Mary and Martha obviously come from a well known family given there were many Jews who had come to console her. This was not a regular occurrence. Martha’s words in verse 21 are not those of rebuke but those of grief and faith. She knows ths power and the uniqueness of Jesus would have had a bearing on the death of her brother. She knows that He is somehow more powerful than death. Look at verse 22 with me. Even now she knows that Jesus and God, His Father have a unique relationship, and that, as she says, ‘anything you ask from God, He will give it’. The death of her brother, whom Jesus loved, has not cost her her faith in Jesus. Look at Jesus question in verse 23. This verse has been described as a ‘masterpiece of ambiguity’. Martha would have believed in the resurrection on the last day. She would have had no problem assenting to the fact that Lazarus would rise then, as she demonstrates if you look at verse 24. But Jesus means more than this. We’ve seen already that His motivation and goal here to for God to be glorified through the Son of God being glorified. God would of course be glorified by the resurrection on the last day, but by then it will be too late to believe in Jesus. So what does Jesus mean? He wants to move Martha from an abstract faith in the last day event to a personal faith in Him. We move to verse 25, the centrepiece of this story, the thing that John wants us to believe, probably the reason why he records that incident. How does Jesus start moving Martha from an abstract faith to a personal faith. He tells her: I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me, though he shall die, yet he shall live. And everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Jesus makes an outrageous claim. Not only will it be He who raises people on the last day, but there is no life, is no resurrection outside Him. None. Jesus is it. There is no life, and no eternal life after death outside of Him. He doesn’t just bring resurrection, as Martha may now suspect He’s about to, but He is the resurrection. But does that actually mean in a practical sense? Do they mean they mean the same thing? Well Jesus explains what He means in the second half of verse 25 and the first half of verse 26. Jesus is the resurrection, therefore ‘whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall He live’. That’s the resurrection, although we will die, we will live. We will live forever worshipping Jesus in unimaginable joy and pleasure. And that’s not available outside Jesus. And what does Jesus being the life mean? It means that, verse 26 ‘everyone who lives and believes in me, shall never die’. People who believe in Jesus, who embrace Jesus as all they have that is good, will never die. And often in the Bible, including here, death means more than decomposition. If Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would surely die as Genesis 2:17 tells us. But they didn’t die straight away did they? They lived for hundreds of year after. Was it just a slow acting curse, or did ‘die’ mean something else. Where were Adam and Eve? Outside the garden, away from the presence of the Lord. And that’s what death means here. Those who have the life that Jesus offers will be with Him forever. They shall never die, but shall live eternally in Heaven. Jesus is the resurrection and the life, there is no life, there is no chance of heaven without Him. This is a controversial statement and will probably be illegal to say in a few years, so I’ll repeat again Jesus words while I have the chance: Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Jesus, though He dies, yet he shall live, and everyone who lives and believes in Jesus shall never die. Do you believe this, Jesus asks Mary. Do you embrace this truth and want to make it your all? Mary dies believe. She does believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God who is coming into the world.


This section starts with mary repeating the same faithful statement as her sister. Look with me at verse 33: when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping He was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. Deeply moved is a poor translation here in both the ESV and the NIV. A closer translation to the original Greek would be ‘outraged’. Jesus was outraged at the unbelief of the people and their mourning as if there was no hope. And yet as we see in verse 35, which says simply ‘Jesus wept’. Jesus also felt great empathy with these people. That mix of pure anger and pure empathy would be impossible in a normal person, but not in Jesus. Look with me at verses 36 and 37: so the Jews said, ‘see how he loved him!’ But some of them said ‘could not he who opened the eyes of the blind also have kept this man from dying?’ Even Jesus, perhaps especially Jesus, had doubters around Him and following Him. We shouldn’t expect it to be any different for us.

Then Jesus moves in front of the tomb, and asks for the stone to be taken away, but Martha is still struggling to catch up with what’s going in. she says: Lord by this time there would have been an odour, for he has been dead four days’. Jesus responds by taking her to the point of the illness and death of Lazarus: he says, ‘did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God’. This is not an explicit claim to divinity by Jesus but a no less shocking claim that what he is about to do will bring glory to God. Jesus ramps this up again in verses 40 and 41 when he prays to the Father saying ‘I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they would believe you sent me’. There are two things to notice here I think. One that as already suggested in this story, the death and resurrection of Lazarus had been planned long ago, because as we see in verse 4 it was for the glory of God so that the Son of God may be glorified through it’ and the second that Jesus and the Father have this unique relationship. Jesus said ‘I knew’. He’s talking past tense. This was arranged and agreed. All we need now is the action. Jesus is trying to lift His listeners eyes to the Father with these comments. He’s not playing to an audience.

And then the event in verses 43 and 44. The dead hearing the voice of Jesus. That’s why He had to call Lazarus by name, otherwise all the dead within earshot would be up out of their graves. See His absolute authority over death here. Lazarus was dead, but he came out of the tomb. See the comparison with Jesus resurrection here. Lazarus had to stumble out of the grave still wrapped in his grave clothes, Jesus’ clothes were neatly folded. Lazarus was stumbling, Jesus was walking. Jesus resurrection was different, He would never die again, but Lazarus would. The resurrection of Lazarus was a pale imitation of what was to come, on the third day after Calvary, and on the last day. But it was a sign, and rightly, as Jesus was mere days away from arrest now, a climactic sign.


So what are we to make of this story today. The point is clear. There is no life, there is no resurrection to life after death other than through faith, through belief, in Jesus Christ. It’s trendy now, especially among our generation to focus on Jesus and His Kingdom, or Jesus teaching or Jesus example. But Jesus did not come to just teach, or to politically lobby, or to bring some sort of earthly kingdom to fruit. He came to save us from the unbearable wrath of God directed towards us because of our sins, He came to bring life. If you spend time looking at the Gospels, particularly John’s Gospel and miss this, you miss the point. And the point could not be clearer from this passage. If we are to hope in, or expect life and resurrection, we must have faith in Jesus, in His death and His resurrection. In His taking our punishment on the cross. Taking Lazarus’ punishment was the only way He could raise Him, and taking our punishment on the cross is the only way He can raise us. We need to believe this. We should rejoice in the truth that Jesus is the resurrection, that in Him we are secure…

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