John 11:38-44 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
What would you consider the greatest accomplishment of your life? Or, to come at the same thing from another angle, what have you done that you’re most likely to be remembered for? Or, one more time, what do you still hope to accomplish that will continue on after you die?
Prior to the event described in this passage, Jesus’ teaching and miracles set Him apart in awesome, unmistakable, and unparalleled ways. In this passage, however, He was able to demonstrate and display the glory of God in a greater way than ever before! He caused a four-day-dead man to come alive. Even if the story of Jesus’ life ended after the events of this passage (which, of course, it doesn’t!!!), it would be the most spectacular story of all time. I’m not sure how you answered my questions, but I’m confident that none of them would have come close to what we have here. Jesus is glorious beyond measure!
One of the keys to seeing the fullness of the glory displayed in this passage is in recognizing that Lazarus’s resurrection didn’t come out of nowhere. As we’ll see, God repeatedly promised that the dead would rise. We’ll even see a few examples of this in both the OT and NT. At the same time, we will also see that the resurrection of Lazarus is different. Jesus did this to provide the strongest piece of evidence yet that He was who He said He was, to provide a small picture of what awaits all who join Martha in believing that Jesus is the Christ, and to usher in His time.
The big idea of this passage is that if you believe in the resurrected and resurrecting Jesus, you will see the glory of God in even greater ways than this. And the big takeaway is that we would live like those who will be raised from the dead into everlasting joy and fellowship with God.
RESURRECTION IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
This is our third week in John 11 (with one more to go). It is the story of three siblings whom Jesus dearly loved. One of them, Lazarus, was deathly ill. The other two, his sisters Mary and Martha, called for Jesus that He might heal their brother before he succumbed to his sickness. Before Jesus got there, however, Lazarus died. Upon His arrival, the sisters were, understandably, distraught. But Jesus quickly reassured them that something remarkable was about to take place. In fact, Jesus promised Martha that Lazarus would rise from the dead. Rather than provide the comfort it should have, Martha misunderstood Jesus and sort of brushed the promise aside. She said to Jesus, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (11:24), but what she really wanted was Lazarus back now. Jesus corrected her, but in her misunderstanding, Martha subtly revealed something significant. She revealed her foundational belief that there would be some type of eschatological resurrection for the people of God. She had no doubt that one day Lazarus would rise along with all believers. But where did that belief come from?
Jesus’ words in Matthew 22 and John 20 both indicate that Martha’s resurrection conviction was rooted in the OT Scriptures. In Matthew 22, as a part of an answer He gave to the Sadducees (who didn’t believe in a resurrection), Jesus said (in v.31) “And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” With these words, Jesus taught that the Sadducees were mistaken in denying the resurrection. If God is (not was) the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, then although they died they must still be alive, having experienced some type of resurrection.
Likewise, in John 20:8-9 John explained that the resurrection was promised in the Scripture, “8 Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” John taught that the Scripture taught resurrection.
That Jesus and John believed the Scriptures taught a general resurrection for God’s people and specifically that Jesus would rise from the dead is clear. What might not be as clear is where in the Scriptures that’s taught. Where in the OT do we find teaching on the resurrection?
The beginning of the answer to that question is found almost all the way back in the beginning. In Genesis 22, we’re told in that Abraham believed in God’s power to raise the dead. We’re not sure how Abraham knew this, but Hebrews 11:17-19 makes it clear that he did. “[Abraham] considered that God was able even to raise [his son, Isaac] from the dead…” (v.19).
Similarly, in Job 19:25-26 we read that Job believed that he would rise as well, “25 For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. 26 And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.”
David believed this too. In Psalm 16:9-10 (and several others like it) he wrote, “9 … my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. 10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.” While it is clear from this passage that David believed in his own resurrection, what’s more, we know from Acts 13:35 that this is ultimately a promise of Jesus’ resurrection.
Isaiah prophesied (in 26:19; see also, 49:10, 49:15, 71), “Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead.”
Likewise, in one of the clearest passages yet, in Daniel 12:1-2 we read, “But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. 2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Jesus affirmed this in John 5:29. We see it in Acts 24:15 as well).
And Ezekiel was told by God (37:12), “12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people…’”
In addition, there are at least two places in the OT where a type of resurrection actually took place. Both Elijah and Elisha are said to have been the means through which God raised an individual from the dead.
In 1 Kings 17:17–22 we read of a woman whose son became ill and died. Elijah said to her, “’Give me your son.’ And he took him from her arms and carried him up into the upper chamber where he lodged, and laid him on his own bed…21 Then he stretched himself upon the child three times and cried to the LORD, ‘O LORD my God, let this child’s life come into him again.’ 22 And the LORD listened to the voice of Elijah. And the life of the child came into him again, and he revived.”
And Elijah’s protégé, Elisha, experienced something similar according to the resurrecting power of God. This story is found in 2 Kings 4:18–35.
There are other OT passages that teach similar things, but I hope to have shown you enough to convince you that the Scriptures repeatedly and consistently taught a resurrection from the dead for the people of God. That is, I hope it’s easy for you to see that Jesus’ words ring true (Matthew 22 and John 20) and Martha’s conviction was well founded (John 11:24).
What’s more, I hope this brief look at these passages helps you to grow in confidence that the Scripture always holds true. It has been the fool’s and the devil’s errand since the beginning to try to poke holes in the promises of God. May you find fresh encouragement this morning in the complete trustworthiness of God’s Word and therein fresh motivation to read your Bibles thoughtfully, prayerfully, corporately, consistently, and practically.
Again, while it’s clear that Mary and Martha were not expecting Jesus to do what He did, it is also clear that God had promised and displayed His power over death and promised a future, eternal resurrection for all His people. Their belief in their brother’s resurrection was well founded.
RESURRECTION IN JOHN’S GOSPEL
Far from merely an OT concept, though, we find resurrection to be a significant teaching of the NT as well. 1 Corinthians 15, 1 Peter 1:3, Romans 8:38-39, 2 Corinthians 5:15-17, Romans 6:4, and Revelation 20 are among the many NT passages that speak to the resurrection of Jesus and those who trust in Him.
More still, as is the case in the OT, there are other examples of resurrection in the NT too. Jesus caused Jairus’s daughter to rise (Matthew 9:25), though unlike with Lazarus, He told those present to tell no one (Mark 5:43). And in Acts 20:9-10 we read of Paul raising a man named Eutychus from the dead as well.
While all of that is beyond the scope of this sermon, John’s Gospel is not. And in John’s Gospel we find three key resurrection categories: Lazarus, Jesus, and Christians. Let’s consider each and their significance for our lives.
Everything we’ve considered so far was meant to set the proper backdrop for our passage this morning. In it we’re shown the resurrection of Jesus’ beloved friend. And in that, once again, Jesus accomplished three main things: He provided the strongest piece of evidence yet that He was who He said He was, He provided a small picture of what awaits all Christians, and He ushered in His time.
At the end of our passage from last week, we read that Jesus “was deeply moved in His spirit and greatly troubled.” Our passage for this morning opens by telling us that this was the case once again. “38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it.” Jesus was both deeply sad and indignant. He grieved death and the unbelief of the children of God (v.40, “Did I not tell you…”). These things cause Him to make His way to Lazarus’s tomb.
Standing before the cave, the significance of the fact that Lazarus had been dead for four days was recharged. It was significant in that according to Jewish tradition the fourth day meant there was simply no hope left that he might be healed/raised. This is one of the things that set this resurrection apart from anything and everything that had come before.
It was also significant in that it meant that certain biological/physiological aspects of death had kicked in. For that reason, Jesus’ command to take away the stone away from the tomb was shocking and distasteful. That’s the heart of the exchange between Jesus and Martha in v.39, “Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.'” It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to get our minds around Martha’s concern. After that long, the body would start to decay to the point that it would have ordinarily been very unpleasant to open the tomb.
Even though there was misunderstanding and even some measure of doubt among the sisters (and certainly among their fellow mourners), their faith was stronger than their disbelief. Therefore, despite her best judgment, when “40 Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?,'” Martha who was evidently in charge, relented and called for Jesus’ command to be obeyed, “41 So they took away the stone.”
At that point, as John records Him doing increasingly, Jesus turned to the Father in prayer.
41 And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.”
The heart of Jesus’ prayer was twofold. First, He thanked the Father for their perfect fellowship and unity. This is an echo of Jesus’ words in 5:19 and 10:30. He and the Father are one and are, therefore, eternally of one mind.
In this is a sweet picture of the fellowship that is ours with the Father, through Jesus, as well. Because of Jesus, God hears us whenever we pray. He is eager to hear from you; not to receive new information from you (He, of course, already knows everything perfectly), but as an expression of your faith and as a part of your growing fellowship with Him. Take everything to God in prayer, Grace, He delights to hear you every time.
The second key aspect of Jesus’ prayer was a desire for those present to hear His prayer, witness the miracle that was about to take place, and therein know that Jesus was truly from God. While many still doubted, Jesus prayed and acted in such a way as to remove all earthly obstacles of disbelief.
Grace, it is good and right of us to follow Jesus’ example in doing what we can to answer the questions and objections of skeptics. Peter said it this way, “always [be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…” (1 Peter 3:15). Apologetics matters. We ought to be able to help people who struggle with the claims of Christianity to understand them better. Likewise, as Peter went on to say in the next verse, we also ought to live in a manner consistent with the gospel. Our lives ought to testify to the truthfulness and transforming power of the gospel. Let us know if you’d like help in knowing where to start.
And yet, as we’ll see next week, removing every earthly obstacle is never enough. We can prove the reasonableness of Christianity beyond a shadow of doubt, but apart from heavenly grace, it will still not be enough. If Jesus’ teaching, prayer, and miracle were not enough to convince the unbelievers who were “standing around,” then we should not be surprised to find out that there’s nothing we can do finally allow people to see God’s glory. It doesn’t change our charge, but it does properly ground our hope.
With that, “43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out.’ [and] 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
This is simple, but profound. Let’s not miss this. Listen to me carefully as I tell you what you already know. Lazarus was dead. He had been dead for four days. He was all dead. Jesus prayed to His Father and then Lazarus came back to life. That’s not normal. It doesn’t usually work like that. This is a miracle of the most remarkable kind. Praise God for this, Grace Church. Don’t be content being unmoved by the power of God over death.
What’s more, what we have here is a picture of every conversion that has ever happened. If you are a Christian, this is what has happened to you. Because Jesus rose from the dead, defeating sin and death (more on that in a minute), at some point, when you were dead in your trespasses and sin, God said to YOU, “____, come out!” Come out of your spiritual death and darkness into my light and life.
1 Peter 1:3 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
And as you did, Jesus said to the world, your flesh, and the devil, “Unbind him, and let him go!” Come out of your sin and rebellion into my righteousness and freedom. Come out of your blindness and confusion into my truth and sight. Be made alive and be made holy!
Romans 6:4 “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”
Lazarus’s physical resurrection is a picture of true conversion, of the spiritual resurrection (regeneration) that takes place whenever someone comes to faith in Jesus. This is glorious indeed!
Jesus called Lazarus back from the dead, but unlike when He caused Jairus’s daughter to rise, Jesus gave no instructions for the witnesses not to tell others. In fact, as we saw last week, Jesus waited long enough to allow a crowd to gather so that they would tell others for His time had finally come.
I told you there were three main resurrection categories in John’s Gospel. We just saw the first in Lazarus. The second, but by far the most significant, is the resurrection of Jesus. Of this, I simply want to point out two aspects of it for now.
First, two weeks ago, in John 11:25-26 we saw Jesus’ claim to be the means by which God’s resurrection power comes into the world. “Jesus said to Martha, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.’” We simply cannot miss this or be unaffected by this. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. He is the means by which we are saved. And we gain access to that not by performing well enough to earn it, but by believing that Jesus already did. Believe in Jesus today, Grace Church and you shall never die!
Second, Jesus’ claim (to be the resurrection and the life) was ultimately proven true and accomplished in His own resurrection, which we will come to in the beginning of chapter 20. It was in His own resurrection from the dead that all His teaching was vindicated and His power was unleashed.
Obviously, we’ll unpack this in much greater detail as we move to the resurrection in John. For now, though, know that Jesus could raise Lazarus and you from the dead because He rose from the dead.
Finally, in John’s Gospel we are taught that because of Jesus’ resurrection, at Jesus’ return, all who hope in Him will have our bodies raised and reunited with our souls to live forever with Jesus and all the saints in the new heavens and earth. Jesus explicitly taught that all Christians will be raised from the dead to the Father’s heavenly home where we will dwell forever as His beloved sons and daughters.
John 14:1–3 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”
We will rise, Grace. We too will be resurrected. A significant portion of the glory Jesus promised Martha she would see is that by believing in Him, she would (and we will) be glorified like Him!
The question this puts before us is whether or not we are living like we will be raised from the dead. How is your life any different from those who don’t believe in the resurrection? Can you name any practical differences that your belief in your resurrection makes in the way you live?
Let me suggest a few things…
Obey Jesus this week in some area you have been too afraid to. Since you will rise from the dead, we need not fear anything but God alone; including death. So share the gospel with that person you’ve been avoiding. Have that conversation that’s seemed too hard. Act on that promise that will leave you in deep trouble if it turns out not to be true.
Find some way to artistically communicate the reality and glory of the resurrection. Find a way to help people to see and appreciate the contrast between those who will rise with Christ and those who will arise apart from Christ. Help people to feel the beauty and terror of the resurrection.
One more. Change one of your life’s goals or come up with a new one. If there is no resurrection it makes sense to give yourself to eating, drinking, and being merry, for tomorrow we die. If there is no resurrection it makes sense that we pursue as much comfort and ease as possible in this life. But living differently in light of the resurrection means aiming at different things than those who don’t. Make it your ambition to share the gospel with everyone who lives within a half mile of you so that they too might rise from the dead. Aim to give 25 or 50% of your money away to gospel causes. Make it your goal to pray every day for your kids and the kids in your DG, that they might believe in Jesus and share in His resurrection. Because the resurrection is true, determine in the Spirit’s power to engage your civil authorities in a manner that is unashamed of the gospel and the resurrection hope it brings. Determine not to miss Church (here or elsewhere if you are on vacation) once in 2024 since it is the greatest practice for the resurrection.
Again, Lazarus is a picture of this and a preparation for Jesus’ imminent resurrection and ours. Awesome.
In conclusion, I want to bring you back to something I’ve mentioned twice. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead in a unique way primarily in order to accomplish three things: to provide the strongest piece of evidence yet that He was who He said He was, to provide a small picture of what awaits all Christians, and to usher in His time.
To the first, we’ll see next week that “Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him” (11:45) and that the Pharisees worried that ” If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him” (11:48). Jesus, once again, continued to remove every earthly obstacle to belief in Him that all the Father had given to Him might believe.
To the second, we saw this morning that if our hope is in Jesus, we’ve already experienced something very similar to Lazarus’s resurrection on a spiritual level and will one day experience it in fullness, body and spirit. Lazarus provides a picture of our regeneration and future resurrection.
And to the third, Jesus rose Lazarus at this time because His time had finally come. Again, we’ll see next week that ” Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews” (11:54) and “from that day on they made plans to put him to death” (11:53). With the Passover at hand, then, Jesus would return to Jerusalem and usher in the New Covenant in His blood.
Everything is coming quickly to a head in Jesus’ life and ministry. May the Spirit continue to open our eyes to the truth and glory of who Jesus is and what He’s done to rescue us from sin and death and bring us into the Kingdom of God. And may we live increasingly in light of these glorious things for the glory of God.