John 11:17-37

Like climbing a mountain, each chapter in John brings us higher than the one before. In chapter 1 John said, “In the beginning was the Word, and Word was with God, and Word was God.” Then he said, “The Word was made flesh.” He supported this by recounting the Lord’s miracles and teaching. Hence, in chapter 2 He turned water into wine at Cana; in chapter 4 He healed the nobleman’s son; in chapter 5 he healed the impotent man at Bethesda; in chapter 6 He fed a multitude; in chapter 9 He restored sight to a blind man.

Now comes the big question: Can He raise the dead? Any religion that leaves a man in his grave, with no hope of a life hereafter, is meaningless. But resurrection is the great hope of the Christian faith. Religions, philosophers, and scientists have all tried to find evidence of what lies beyond death. When you stand at a graveside without hope, you are merely whistling in the dark and singing in the rain.

Many see the Gospel as a message of hope only in the hour of death, a sort of fire escape! Jesus died in order that He might live in us now, govern and control our life. Paul’s ambition was, “… that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection” (Phil 3:10). The resurrection of Jesus is not a message for the dying, but for the living!

A Look at Lazarus
We know little about Lazarus. He is mentioned nowhere else in the NT. What we do know is that Jesus loved him and his two sisters. So when the sisters sent a messenger to tell Him that Lazarus was ill, they expected He would drop everything and help.

Instead He delayed for two days, so he was dead for four days when He arrived. Really dead! The Lord used this event to teach the purpose of His ministry, and bring God glory.

“Marley was dead. There is no doubt whatever about that. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.”

In Palestine, burial followed death immediately, usually on the same day. With the body in the house, it was forbidden to eat meat or to drink wine. Mourning lasted seven days, of which the first three were days of weeping. During this time it was forbidden to anoint oneself, and even to wash.

Poor Martha and Mary! Friends hugged and kissed them and said “Your brother will rise again.” How often she heard that! And now Jesus was saying the same thing, “Your brother will rise again” (11:23). Amidst sobs she replied, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (11:24), but that would be far away, and gave little comfort.

It was then that Jesus made an astounding statement, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” What did He mean?

The sisters both met with the Lord, and both expressed their disappointment. Their reactions were twofold:

a) Frustration (11:20–21)
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Here is one of the most human speeches in all the Bible. She could not help but reproach the Lord for not answering her request. “Why?” Yet it all depends how we ask that one-word question. We can ask rebelliously, or bewilderedly, or prayerfully.

b) Faith (11:22–27)
“I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee.” Jesus said “Thy brother shall rise again” (11:23). Martha answered: “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

But what did Jesus mean when He said, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die”? He was not thinking of physical life, but spiritual life. His greatest miracle was to give spiritual life to those who believe in Him.

To have Jesus is to have life that begins the moment a person trusts Him. hence He twice stated, “He that believeth in me….” Faith is the key. To have Him is to have life, real, eternal life. Not to have Him is real death, spiritual death, with nothing ahead but darkness.

Death in Jesus’ presence is no longer death. It has lost its sting, and has been robbed of its terror. Jesus called it “sleep.” When Jairus’ daughter lay dead, Jesus said, “She’s asleep.” They laughed at him, but He called her back to life. He said the same thing about Lazarus, “He has fallen asleep.” Just as we do not fear sleep, those who trust Him do not need to fear death.

Take a moment to consider what this resurrection means.

a) A Pardoned Life
In Acts 13:36-39 Paul said, “David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep, and was laid among his fathers, and underwent decay; but He whom God raised did not undergo decay. Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.”

In 1830 George Wilson was convicted of robbing the U.S. Mail and was sentenced to be hanged. President Andrew Jackson issued a pardon for Wilson, but he refused to accept it. The matter went to Chief Justice Marshall, who concluded that Wilson would have to be executed. “A pardon is a slip of paper,” wrote Marshall, “the value of which is determined by the acceptance of the person to be pardoned. If it is refused, it is no pardon. George Wilson must be hanged.”

Our sin can be forgiven and its record cancelled, pardoned, and erased clean. That is what Jesus’ death resurrection means. Do you have a pardoned life?

b) A Peaceful Life
We all have problems in our lives that threaten our daily peace. That’s true, but know this, the Resurrected Lord can bring peace.

Take Thomas, for example (John 20:21,26). His heart was filled with doubt, disappointment. His world had come crashing down around him.

Then came the resurrected Lord and appeared to Him. Three times in this passage He said, “Peace be unto you.” It is so great to have that kind of a peace when you walk through those kinds of extreme situations. He still promises His peace in every situation.

In 1555, Nicholas Ridley was burned at the stake because of his witness for Christ. The night before his execution, his brother offered to stay with him in prison. Nicholas declined and replied he meant to go to sleep as quietly as ever he did in his life. He knew the peace of God and could rest in the arms of his Lord.

c) A Powerful Life
Paul in Eph 1:19 refers to surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. This is in accordance with the working of His mighty power which He brought about in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at the right hand in heavenly places.

We all want that power in our lives. There’s power in the Word. There’s power in the blood.

One New Year’s Day, in the Tournament of Roses parade, a beautiful float suddenly stopped. It was out of fuel. The whole parade was held up until someone could get a can of gas. This float represented the Standard Oil Company. With its vast resources, its truck was out of gas.

d) A Purposeful Life
Col 3:1-2 says, “If then you have been raised up with Christ . . . set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.”

You want to know how to get depressed? Think about things of this world. You want to know how to get on praise land? Think about the things of Heaven and God.

“I want the whole Christ for my Savior, the whole Bible for my book, the whole Church for my fellowship, and the whole world for my mission field” – John Wesley

Here is a delightful window into the Saviour’s heart. As Hebrews says, “We have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities” (Heb 4:15).

a) The Weeping Saviour (11:33-35)
John’s picture of the weeping Saviour expresses His love and sympathy.

(i) What He Saw (11:33). “When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her…” The Lord had come from a land where there is no sin and no sorrow; no tombs and no tears. Now all around Him were passionate expressions of grief. His friend Lazarus was dead and the two sisters desolate.

(ii) What He Suffered (11:33). “He groaned in his spirit and was troubled.” The Lord felt outrage at what death had done. He was “troubled.” His reaction was one of anger with death.

(iii) What He Said (11:34). “Where have ye laid him?” Nowhere in the Bible is His humanity more evident. He was going to a tomb; so was everyone else. All were on the way to their own tomb because of their sins. He was on the way to the tomb for the same reason – their sins. He had no sin, so the tomb had no claim on Him. But He was on the way to open forever the door to life for all who believe in Him.

(iv) What He Showed (11:35). “Jesus wept.” Why did Jesus weep? The Scriptures record at least three occasions on which He wept:

– Over Jerusalem. In Luke 19:41 He wept over Jerusalem, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!”
– In Gethsemane. Hebrews 5:7 tells us He wept “with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death.”
– At The Grave Of Lazarus in John 11:35. Jesus’ heart was broken as He surveyed the effects of sin and death.

b) The Watching Crowd (11:36-37)
As the onlookers watched, John noted:

(i) Their Comment (11:36). “Then said the Jews, behold how he loved him!” They did not realise it, but He loved them just as much as He loved Lazarus. He loved Herod and Pilate, and those who would nail Him to the cross as much as He loved Lazarus.

(ii) Their Criticism (11:37). “And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died?” That is the question of the atheist and the agnostic.

“If God is all-powerful, why does He allow suffering, injustice, pain, and death?” They argue that if He is all-powerful, then He cannot be good. If He is good, then He is not all-powerful. Otherwise He would intervene. That is the position adopted by the Jews. Surely He could have prevented this death, so why didn’t He?

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