“Unbound and Free”
Series: Encounters with Christ (Lazarus)
Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD
Henderson’s First Baptist Church, Henderson
Take your Bibles and join me this morning in John’s Gospel, chapter 11, (page 723; YouVersion).
We are in a special series of messages entitled, “Encounters with Christ,” discovering how an encounter with Jesus changes everything. This morning we are looking at a well-known miracle of Christ’s, arguably the greatest miracle, certainly His last public miracle as recorded by John in his Gospel, John chapter 11.
Let me invite you to hear the background of this miracle as I read beginning right there at verse 1 and following. John chapter 11 and verse 1.
Please stand in honor of the Word of God.
1 Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.
2 It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.
3 Therefore the sisters sent to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.”
4 When Jesus heard that, He said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.
6 So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was.
7 Then after this He said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.”
8 The disciples said to Him, “Rabbi, lately the Jews sought to stone You, and are You going there again?”
9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world.
10 But if one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”
11 These things He said, and after that He said to them, “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.”
12 Then His disciples said, “Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.”
13 However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep.
14 Then Jesus said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead.
15 And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him.”
16 Then Thomas, who is called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.”
So we read in the opening verses that Lazarus was sick and that his sisters Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus about him. And Jesus makes this statement in verse 4, He says, “This sickness is not unto death but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
Jesus knows that Lazarus will not ultimately remain dead, but that something far greater is going on. So we are told that Jesus stays right where he is for two more days. Interesting, isn’t it? In fact as we read on, we’ll see that Jesus shows up four days late for a funeral—not the kind of pastoral etiquette taught in seminary! I’ve been late to a funeral, but not four days!
But Jesus is God in the flesh. He knows what He is doing. And this becomes increasingly clear as we heard in the following verses. Jesus said to the disciples in verse 11, “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.” And the disciples don’t get it. They don’t realize Jesus is speaking euphemistically, using sleep as a metaphor. They say in verse 12, “Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.” So He gives it to them straight in verse 14, Then Jesus said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead.”
Now I’ll come back to some of this later, but for now let’s read on. We’ve got Jesus on His way now to Bethany to see Lazarus and we all know at this point that Lazarus has died. We pick up at verse 17:
17 So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days.
18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles away.
19 And many of the Jews (from Jerusalem) had joined the women around Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother.
So you have these mourners who have come to be with Mary and Martha, to comfort them. We’ve noted before in our study of the funeral of the woman of Nain’s son, if you’ll remember that study a few weeks back, we talked about the fact that when someone died in those days, it was a community event. There were folks who mourned with the family in a mourning that would last at least a week and there were even folks who mourned for others as something of a profession or job. And that may sound kind of fake, but maybe we should see them as folks who were especially gifted in compassion and mercy, sympathizers who genuinely mourned and were the ones who sort of set the scene there, helping others feel comfortable as they grieved with them.
20 Now Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house.
21 Now Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.
Martha cracks me up. Some of you may remember the first sermon I ever preached—remember that 14 years ago?!—but I preached on Mary and Martha from Luke chapter 10. I just love that little passage about Jesus’ visiting the home of Mary and Martha. And the more you read about these two sisters you gain an understanding of their differing personalities. Martha seems to be the kind of brash, go-getter, leader out in front doing the talking first, sister. Mary is the quieter, pensive thinker, introspective, type. Both personalities are good. God made them that way. But Martha comes across at times like Peter, having a tendency to speak before thinking everything out.
Somebody said to me last week, “I’m glad you are who you are and not like this other pastor.” And he mentioned some pastor who said something kind of caustic and scolding to the congregation. And I said to him, “Well, the truth is. Maybe I haven’t said what that pastor said, but I’ve thought it in my heart.”
So Martha blurts out to the Lord in verse 21, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Sounds like an accusation, doesn’t it?! But it’s like she catches herself in verse 22:
22 But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.”
It’s like when we say out loud what we’re thinking and as the words come out of our mouths, we’re trying to stop them or change course or something. So she adds, “Of course (smiling now!), I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” Good save! Verse 23:
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
Martha knew her theology. She knew, for example, what most orthodox Jews believed, a general resurrection “at the last day,” a general resurrection of all persons at the end of time—and more recently she knew the teachings of Jesus such as back in John 5 where Jesus said:
28 …the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice
29 and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.
And by the way, here is as good a place as any to pause and consider the truth of a final resurrection. The day will come, sometime in the future, this day will come when every single soul is raised from the graves. The Christian’s body is raised up and the soul of that Christian inhabits that new body, a glorified body like the Lord’s resurrection body, and remains in that body forever. And the unbeliever’s body is also raised from the grave, but not changed into a glorified body. It remains a corrupted body for the unbelieving soul to inhabit forever as he remains separated from God in hell.
That’s another lesson altogether. For now, know that when Jesus speaks of the resurrection here, He is not talking about what Martha is talking about—that future day, “the last day” of resurrection. He says, verse 25:
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.
This is such a wondrous claim to deity. “I am the resurrection and the life.”—Not, “I will bring about resurrection,” or, “I will cause resurrection; though He would, but, “I am the resurrection and the life!”
This is one of seven of these so-called “I am” statements in John’s Gospel. When Jesus says, “I am,” He is equating Himself with God. He’s using the words God used to describe Himself to Moses back at the burning bush in Exodus 3. Moses asks God, “Who shall I say sent me,” i.e., “How shall I refer to You?” And God says, “I AM! Tell them that ‘I am’ has sent you.” Jesus uses that same designation of Himself.
Like back in John 8 at the end when Jesus said to the Jews who were arguing with Him, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” And the next verse says the Jews then picked up stones to stone Him. They believed He had committed blasphemy.
This is one of those statements of Jesus that shows us why we cannot think of Him as merely a good moral teacher. It’s just not an option to speak of Jesus as merely a good moral teacher. A good moral teacher does not go around saying things like, “I am the resurrection and the life.” You’re either a liar, a deceiver, or a crazy person if you go around saying that. There is one other option, of course, and that is, if you go around saying, “I am the resurrection and the life” you can say it because it is true, because you are, in fact, God. So again, verse 25:
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.
26 And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
That’s a strong confession of faith right there! In essence, Martha is saying, “Yes, I believe You are more than a good moral teacher. You are Lord. You are the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior, the “Son of God,” the very one “who is to come into the world.”
28 And when she had said these things, she went her way and secretly called Mary her sister, saying, “The Teacher has come and is calling for you.”
29 As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly and came to Him.
So now Mary goes out to see Jesus. Verse 30:
30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the town, but was in the place where Martha met Him.
So this exchange, this encounter of Jesus with the sisters, with Martha and Mary, is occurring somewhere just outside Bethany.
31 Then the Jews who were with her (with Mary) in the house, and comforting her, when they saw that Mary rose up quickly and went out, followed her, saying, “She is going to the tomb to weep there.”
The folks mourning with Mary follow her out, assuming that she is now going out to the tomb to weep there. So God is working behind the events to get eye-witnesses to the graveyard, to the tomb, to witness a forthcoming miracle.
The way the mourners follow Mary is just another example of their compassion and mercy. They see her go so they go, too. They don’t want her to be alone in her grief.
It’s funny how men and women are different. At a restaurant a woman will get up to go to the restroom and it’s just assumed another woman will go with her. Happens all the time. She gets up and says to another woman, “I’m going to freshen up, want to go with me?” And most of the time she doesn’t need to ask. The other woman or women, get up and go along. Can you imagine a man, can you imagine Bill gets up and says, “Hey Frank, I’m going to the restroom. Want to go with?!” That’s just not right, is it?!
Anyway, Mary rises quickly and goes out and the mourners go along to follow her. Verse 32:
32 Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”
It’s interesting that she says the very thing her sister had said earlier: “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” I don’t know whether Martha had influenced her in her thinking. Like she had heard Martha say this so she parroted what she had heard, but it seems that she says it differently. She is weeping. She is grieving. And for this reason we read that Jesus responds differently, verse 33:
33 Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled.
This phrase, “He groaned in the spirit and was troubled” is an interesting phrase that describes what happens to us emotionally when we are so struck by a thing that goes right to the core of our being. It suggests a feeling of great consternation and agitation. Greek scholars often point out that the phrase is used to describe the actions of a horse when you see and hear a horse do that kind of stomping and snorting thing horses do. There’s this energy and a sense of disturbance that rises from the deepest level of one’s being. That’s how Jesus reacted when he saw Mary weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping.
It is as though everything about this moment—the death of Lazarus, the grief, the mourning, the consequences of sin and the fall of mankind—all of this causes Jesus to groan deeply in His spirit.
34 And He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.”
35 Jesus wept.
Shortest verse in the Bible, the two words in verse 35, “Jesus wept.” He cried. As Isaiah prophesied of the Messiah some 700 years earlier in Isaiah 53, He was “a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3).”
Hebrews 4:15, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses,”
As a man of sorrows, Jesus is well acquainted with grief and can sympathize with us in all of our struggles and weaknesses. He is at once both God and Man. I think that’s the main point here in the actions of Jesus. Jesus wept. He knew what He was going to do in just a few moments. He had known days earlier when He told His disciples that Lazarus’ illness was an illness that would not lead ultimately to final death. Rather, Jesus weeps because we weep. Like the mourners who were with Mary and Martha, Jesus is with us—always! Always with us—and He weeps with us. He loves us and grieves right along with us. The Jews see Jesus weeping and they respond in verse 36:
36 Then the Jews said, “See how He loved him!”
37 And some of them said, “Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?”
Well of course He could have. But He will do more than that. So the suspense builds, verse 38:
38 Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it.
So we picture this tomb. It is a cave which would have kept several bodies inside and a stone that was rolled up against the entrance. Typical cave-like tomb in those days.
39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.”
Now that’s just the reality of the situation. There is no doubt that Lazarus is dead. It’s been four days. Not to gross out anyone here, but the point is that Lazarus is not just unconscious. He had died and everybody knew it. You can wrap up a dead body and put spices throughout the wrapping, but after four days no amount of spices can cover up the stench of death. So Martha is like, “Jesus, I don’t think it’s a good idea to remove the stone from the tomb.” Jesus responds in verse 40:
40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?”
41 Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me.
42 And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.”
So this prayer to the Father is more like a praise to the Father. Jesus is teaching everyone standing around there that what He is about to do is being done so that all may believe that He had been sent by the Father. Verse 43:
43 Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!”
So Jesus speaks into that cave-like tomb and says, “Lazarus, come forth!” And verse 44:
44 And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with grave clothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go.”
And just like that. He who had died came out alive. I believe it was St. Augustine who said it first, Augustine, one of the early church fathers, said that it was good that Jesus called out Lazarus by name otherwise Jesus would have emptied the entire tomb as every dead person would have obeyed—you know like, “Me? You want me to come out, okay!” No, just one for now—Lazarus.
Lazarus came out, still all wrapped up in the grave clothes, cloths of wrappings. Jesus says, “Loose him,” or, “Unbind him,” and, “let him go.” Lazarus leaves the graveyard a new man—he leaves the graveyard alive! Unbound and free.
**Now, what are we to take from this passage? I mean we are interested in more than just studying the narrative here, right? What is there for us today in terms of application of the Bible to our everyday lives? I want to share with you a few things we can learn about the nature of God.
In our evening studies through 2 Kings we have been noting how in every text—even in Old Testament texts—we can learn something about God and something about the Gospel. And we really should deal with those two things in every passage of the Bible.
Last Sunday evening I quoted the British born theologian J.I. Packer who has written a number of books including classics like, Knowing God and Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. Packer makes this wonderful statement and some of you shared that you liked it. Packer said this: “Whatever else in the Bible catches your eye, do not let it distract you from Him.”
That’s just a great statement, isn’t it? So important to remember as we read our Bibles: “Whatever else in the Bible catches your eye, do not let it distract you from Him.”
So here are a couple things we learn about God from this passage. They are not necessarily profound nor are they exhaustive. In other words, there’s a lot more here that we don’t have time for, but let me give you at least these three things. First:
I. God Works His Perfect Purposes through our Sickness
In my study this week this was the first thing about God that got my attention.
Jesus had said in verse 4, He says, “This sickness is not unto death but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
It’s a bit like the reference we made last week to John 9 where the disciples shared their assumption with Jesus, their assumption that the blind man, the fella who had been blind since birth, they wrongly assumed the man was blind either because of some sin in his life or because of the sin of his parents. And Jesus said, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him (John 9:3).”
So we talked about how some sicknesses may be the result of personal sin in our lives and some sickness are not the result of personal sin in our lives.
Some sicknesses are the direct result of sin in our lives and God will work through that—and other sicknesses are more directly tied to something else that God is doing through the illness, like His bringing glory to Himself by miraculously healing a person.
The greater point is that God works His perfect purposes through our sickness. And we could add that He works through our sufferings, too.
That is so important to remember when you are dealing with a temporary sickness or a more prolonged sickness. Remember that God is always in control and that He always does what is right.
Sickness and suffering are part of God’s permissive will. God allows sickness in our lives to accomplish much greater purposes, things that bring Him great glory. It may be He intends to heal in a way the we can only say, “God did that!”
And there may be other reasons, perhaps not even known to us at the time. It is not, as we have noted previously, it is not always God’s will to heal our sicknesses. Remember that anyone who is healed of sickness will get sick again. And eventually every single person dies of some kind of sickness or sudden health crisis. It is not always God’s will to heal.
Remember Paul had some kind of malady he described as a “thorn in the flesh” and he prayed several times for God to remove it, but God didn’t. In fact, Paul seems to understand that there is a greater purpose, a more perfect purpose God was working in and through his sickness. Remember that? Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12 that God told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).” So Paul is like, “Okay, if this is all about my becoming strong through my weakness, then okay!”
So never think that God has forgotten you in your sickness whether it is the flu, or Alzheimer’s, or Cancer. God is in control and He is working through your sickness and suffering to accomplish His perfect purposes.
God is often working out something far greater than we may even be able to see at the moment. Maybe He is strengthening your faith through your sickness, or maybe He is drawing someone else to faith in Christ through your suffering. Maybe He intends to heal though the gift of modern medicine. Maybe He intends to heal in a way no one can ever have imagined. What God intends to accomplish through our sickness and suffering—the possibilities seem endless.
God works His perfect purposes through our sickness. Secondly, here’s another thing we can learn about God, number two:
II. God’s Timing is Perfect
Jesus shows up four days late for a funeral! How can that possibly be perfect timing! Well again, Jesus knows all things so He knows what is coming up and what He’s going to do about it.
Mary and Martha had no doubt prayed much to God while Lazarus was sick. They had prayed. They sent word to Jesus. Jesus gets word, but then He stays put. He stays there for 2 more days.
Sometimes Jesus doesn’t act as quickly as you think He should. You pray to Him and you’re like, “Lord Jesus, please do this or please do that.” And you are praying for something to happen according to your clock, according to your sense of time, right? We all do that, don’t we?
So pray, “Lord, I can’t stand this. Please give me this job, grant us a child, change my husband’s heart, save my friend, heal my disease, give favor to my son or daughter.” And we’re like, “And do this now! Or do this by such and such.”
Well, when you find yourself praying like that and Jesus doesn’t seem to be acting as quickly as you’d like, go back to John 11 and remember that Jesus was working according to a perfect time table.
Our Lord knows all future events exhaustively. He knows all the intricate details and is working through every single one of them to accomplish His perfect purposes. See, these first two application points are interconnected and interdependent. They go together.
God works His perfect purposes through our suffering and sickness which necessarily implies that God’s timing is perfect. God’s timing is perfect. Rest in that!
This is often more obvious to us after the fact. We look back over recent events and we can see God’s hand at work. Had he acted here and not here it would have been too soon. Had he acted here and not here it would have been too late.
I thought of this I had read sometime back. Many of you know that, unlike the English language, Hebrew is read not left to right, but right to left. Not forwards from left to right, but rather from right to left. So I read this quote of John Flavel, one of the great Puritans. He said: “Providence is best read like Hebrew: backwards.”
And that is so true! There are things that don’t make sense in our simple everyday, left to right existence. God’s hand of providence moves not just left to right, but right to left. God works both ways!
God says through the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 46:9-10:
I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things that are not yet done, Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, And I will do all My pleasure,’
And because God’s counsel and pleasure are good and right, God always acts in good and right ways. The point is you can trust Him!
So when things don’t go like you hoped they would, trust Him. He knows what He is doing in your life and in the life of your family, your job, your career, your sickness, your friendships, your marriage. God not only knows what He is doing, but exactly when to do it, when to move. Like Mary and Martha you may be tempted to think Jesus should move now or now, but Jesus knows what you don’t. He knows the future exhaustively, including all the possible contingencies, all the possible paths. He knows that, too. He will act accordingly to the information that He has and you don’t have!
God’s timing is perfect so trust Him. Finally, and most importantly, number three:
III. God Offers Life through Jesus Christ
This is the most important takeaway for every single one of us this morning. The resurrection of Lazarus anticipates Christ’s resurrection. Jesus says in verse 25, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me shall never die.” Isn’t that wonderful?!
In fact the Greek preposition used there in verse 25, translated into English, “He who believes in Me,” is more literally, “He who believes into Me.”
When we believe in Christ, we believe into Him. And so we are “in Christ.” We are safe and secure. We are in Him. All of our sin is forgiven and covered by Him and He covers us with His righteousness. All because we have believed into Him.
We have noted in these encounters with Christ how what Jesus says and does is all predicated upon His upcoming work upon the cross for each person.
So again here. Jesus knows what’s coming in the future. He is not surprised, for example, by what happens after He raises Lazarus from the dead. This final public miracle becomes the impetus for the desire upon the unbelieving Jews to have Him killed. You’ll see that if you read on.
And so, in the words of Tim Keller, “He knew that if he raised Lazarus from the dead, the religious establishment would try to kill him. And so he knew the only way to bring Lazarus out of the grave was to put Himself into the grave.” Isn’t that a great way to put it? The only way to bring Lazarus out of the grave was for Jesus to put Himself into the grave.
And so Jesus put Himself into the grave for us. He took upon Himself our penalty, the punishment for our sin. He bore our punishment. And He rose from the dead to show that our debt has been paid in full. Our penalty has been taken and God approves of the perfect sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ.
It is on this basis Jesus can say, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me shall never die.”
Do you believe in Christ? Have you believed into Him?
• Stand for prayer.
Heads bowed and eyes closed. The Bible teaches that without Christ we are without hope. We are separated from God by our sin. He is separated from us by His holiness. The only way to be safe in the presence of God is to be into Christ. We must believe that Jesus is not merely a good moral teacher, but we must believe He is our only Savior and that we are safe when we are into Him.
Trust in Him this morning. Let me invite you to pray this to the Lord. Say to Jesus this morning, say:
“Lord Jesus Christ, I admit that I am weaker and more sinful than I ever before believed, but, through you, I am more loved and accepted than I ever dared hope. I thank you for paying my debt, bearing my punishment and offering forgiveness. I turn from my sin and receive you as Savior.”
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