John 11:1-44.

Jesus, The Resurrection and the Life

         November 17, 2002                       2002, J.W. Carter
     www.biblicaltheology.com              Scripture quotes from KJV


How can I come to terms with death and dying?  Death is a reality, but Jesus promises life beyond death to those who believe in Him.  We can come to terms with death and dying through faith in Jesus, who is the resurrection and the life.

People are fascinated with and dread the experience of death. It rivals only the subject of sex as the most common theme in the entertainment media. Action movies are filled with images, sometimes graphic, of killing. Sometimes the body count in a movie is as large as the attendance in a movie theater. Sometimes we cheer when the bad guy meets the good guy and gets dispatched to his final reward. But, it is a  movie where nothing is real, and we are not forced to consider the consequences of those violent acts had they been played out in the real world instead of on a stage.  Reality strikes people in a profoundly different way.  About 1,500 people died in the sinking of the Titanic, depicted graphically and emotionally by the move of the same name. The only sound that could be heard throughout the theater during the final scenes was that of people expressing grief at the profound tragedy they were witnessing.

When we are touched by the death of someone who is close to us, our response changes significantly. It is no longer an actor who will jump back up after the director calls, "Cut!" One thing we are certain of in this world is that death is final. One may tease death by dangerous acts, or be saved from death by miraculous recovery, but ultimately, all will die. (Hebrews 9:27 "And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment")  How are we, as Christians, to come to terms with death and dying? Some fundamentalists argue that expressing grief at the loss of another Christian demonstrates a weak faith. Most of us are already pretty well-trained in dealing with the death of a loved one, as many have experienced this, and we will continue to experience such loss at an accelerated rate as we age. John, chapter 11, deals with this issue, as well as the hope that we have in Jesus that death is not the end, but merely a period of separation.

John 11:1-2.

Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. 2(It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.) 3Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick. 

Who are Lazarus, Mary and Martha? We know that this is the Mary that poured out perfume on Jesus' feet in the house of Simon. Martha is Mary's sister and Lazarus is their brother.  As adult women living with their brother, they were husbandless, a low state in their culture.  Jesus spent much time in their home and was very close to them. The home of Lazarus was a base of ministry for Jesus. Jesus was preaching in Perea, about 35 - 40 miles northeast of Jerusalem, across the Jordan river; a two-day journey when Lazarus fell sick. Jesus' relationship with Lazarus was evident from the message sent from his sisters, as Lazarus was called, "the one you love," rather than by name.

John 11:3-6.

Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick. 4When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby. 5Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. 6When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was.

What was Jesus' response to the message?  He sent encouraging words back that Lazarus would not die, but rather, God would glorify His Son through it  Why did Jesus delay his return two days? It is evident that Lazarus died very near to the moment the message was received. Jesus knew he was dead. Why did he wait?  Jesus was preparing an illustration of God's power through Himself  to give people confidence in the truth, and confidence in Jesus' return following his own death.

This event takes place at the end of Jesus' final journey to Jerusalem from Samaria. What is the climate in Jerusalem, concerning Jesus? The religious leaders have been plotting to destroy him.  For Jesus to return to Jerusalem at this point in time was very dangerous and Bethany was a small village a short distance from the Jerusalem walls.

John 11:7-10.

Then after that saith he to his disciples, Let us go into Judaea again. 8His disciples say unto him, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou thither again? 9Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world. 10But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him.

What was the first thing that the disciples said when Jesus announced his intention to return to Jerusalem?  They questioned his decision because of the danger.  Jesus responds by an illustration that describes that true danger is present only when we walk under the influence of the world.  He had previously described Himself as the "Light of the World."  The disciples need not have any fear of danger while they are with Him.  However, those who live in the world without Jesus have real reason to fear.

John 11:11-15.

These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. 12Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. 13Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. 14Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. 15And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him. 

Why, do you suppose, Jesus referred to Lazarus' death by the euphemism, "sleep"?  In our modern culture we have always used gentle ways to refer to the act of death. Recall some words used to describe death:  pass away, pass on, kick the bucket, etc.  People in the first century culture were as fearful of death as people are today, and sought to find ways to avoid the subject and soften its impact.   The disciples were so accustomed to the truth of Jesus' words that they first understood Him literally, so He had to repeat to them that Lazarus was, indeed, dead. How could Jesus know this, considering the messenger only reported that Lazarus was sick?  Jesus' knowledge was infinitely and truly prophetic, and this was an illustration to the disciples of that fact.  Jesus said that He was glad that He was not present with Lazarus at his point of death. Why?  If He were there, He would have been pressured to heal him, disabling Him to do what was God's will for this situation.

John 11:16. 

Then said Thomas, which is called Didymus, unto his fellowdisciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him.

Good ol' Thomas. There was obviously a lot of debate among the disciples concerning the wisdom of returning to Jerusalem amidst the enemies to be found there. This is either a statement of great bravery, or a statement of great satire. From what we know of Thomas, the latter explanation is probably more correct.

John 11:17. 

Then when Jesus came, he found that he had lain in the grave four days already. 

Jesus was preaching in Perea, about a two-day journey from Jerusalem, so if he waited two days before starting out for Jerusalem, again, Lazarus died near the time the message of Lazarus' sickness was delivered to Jesus. Jesus spent four days returning to Bethany. Why did he wait for Lazarus to be in the grave four days? Because of the primitive nature of their medicine, people sometimes would appear dead, only to revive from some grave sickness. They considered a person dead after three days in the tomb, where a fraction of a day is considered a full day. By waiting a fourth day, there would be no doubt in anyone's mind that Lazarus was indeed quite dead.

John 11:18-22. 

Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off: 19And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother. 20Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat still in the house. 21Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. 22But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee. 

Mary and Martha were quite different personalities. Martha is known as a goal-oriented, get the job done - type person. She wouldn't sit around when Jesus was approaching. What were her first words to Jesus?  She stated a mild rebuke that was a natural response to her great grief.  Losing Lazarus was more than losing a brother.  Lazarus' death would not only deprive them of the love and fellowship of their brother, but would also place them among the community of widows who own no land and have no person to care for them.  Remembering the miracles that Jesus had performed, Martha considered the possibility of another.  Jesus had before healed from a distance (Centurion's son.)  Martha expressed a firm faith, stating that Jesus could still raise Lazarus if He chose to do so.

Another important point is illustrated at the beginning of this passage as many Jews of Jerusalem came to Mary and Martha.  These include many of the religious leaders who sought to kill Jesus.  It may be noted that Lazarus was respected among the Jerusalem Jews.  Consequently, the cost of his faith in Jesus and that of Mary and Martha is heightened.  

John 11:23-27.

Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. 24Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. 25Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: 26And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? 27She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world. 

Belief in a final resurrection was a basic tenet of Pharisaic teaching, shared by most Jews. (A distinctive of the Sadducees was their rejection of the resurrection. Consequently they were "sad, you see".)  What was Jesus' response when Martha referred to the resurrection?  Jesus stated that He was the resurrection.  Then Martha presents her statement of faith in Jesus. Though her statement is literally one only of belief (James 2:19), her life demonstrates that she placed her trust totally in that belief.

John 11:28-32.

And when she had so said, she went her way, and called Mary her sister secretly, saying, The Master is come, and calleth for thee. 29As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly, and came unto him. 30Now Jesus was not yet come into the town, but was in that place where Martha met him. 31The Jews then which were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up hastily and went out, followed her, saying, She goeth unto the grave to weep there. 32Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.

Obviously, Mary and Martha had shared each other's grief, and had amongst themselves stated previously that if Jesus had been there, Lazarus would not have died.  When a loved one dies, the first emotion felt by survivors is shock. From the midst of that shock comes a need to rationalize what has happened; what caused it?  What could have prevented it? The result is often to place blame or to feel guilt. Such feelings are normal, and can be damaging when they get out of control.  They both placed some guilt for Lazarus' death on Jesus.

John 11:33-36.

When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled, 34And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see. 35Jesus wept. 36Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him!

Why did Jesus weep? (He had compassion and grief for those who were hurting.  So much for those critics who say weeping at a death demonstrates a lack of faith. Grief is necessary. It takes anywhere from a year or more to grieve the loss of a loved one, and for a spouse or child, sometimes the impact of the loss lasts a lifetime. This time of grief should not be short circuited, and those who grieve do not need those who are not sharing that grief to instruct them not to.  Grief is a demonstration of love, and it was noted as Jesus wept, that the love in their small community was great.

John 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? 

The response of the people is curious.  Similarly to Mary and Martha, they mildly blamed Lazarus' death on Jesus.  To do so implies that they had some faith in Jesus to heal.  They had either seen or heard of the healing of the blind man, and felt that if Jesus would heal a blind stranger, why did he not intervene in the sickness that brought on Lazarus' death?  Some of those feeling this way could have been the very religious leaders that wanted Jesus dead.

John 11:38-44.

Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it. 39Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days. 40Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God? 41Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. 42And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. 43And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. 44And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.

Since his creation, mankind has done everything in his power and intelligence to defeat death, to have power over death. We are now learning that our DNA has a compound at its end that controls division, and that compound donates part of itself to every division until the cell can no longer divide, and the cell dies. There are chemicals that can rebuild this compound, extending the life of the cell. Laboratory experiments have extended the life of their test subjects, single and multiple-celled animals drastically, from four to ten times. To date there has been only one entity that has shown power over death, and that is the Holy Spirit, from the Creator who created life in the first place.

By his demonstration of power over death, Jesus was also giving an image of his own crucifixion and resurrection. He knew that those around him would soon see his own death and if they could remember Lazarus, they would believe He would return in three days as He said He would. As a result of Jesus' raising Lazarus, the religious leaders made their final commitment to kill him. Caiaphas had prophesied that one man would die for die for the Jewish nation and for the scattered children of God, to bring them together as one, and this man was Jesus. He misinterpreted his own prophesy, thinking that Jesus would bring the people together against Rome, causing the Jewish leadership to the authority that the Roman government allowed. On that day they plotted to kill Jesus.

Lazarus was resurrected, resuscitated from death, only to die again. When Jesus died, He was resurrected, resuscitated from death, demonstrating that there is life everlasting through Him for all that will trust Him.  When we experience the loss of a Christian to death, we grieve, but we also rejoice that that individual will spend eternity with God. When one dies who does not have faith in Christ, we grieve, and we have no hope. Why do so many people die without accepting the gift of grace from God? It is as if those who have received the gift do not love the lost enough to save them from the pit. Many get saved and spend the rest of their days living out their faith as a warm fuzzy feeling, but fail in their walk with Jesus to mature in that faith. They go to the grave as spiritual babies, having been of little use to God's kingdom while on earth. They miss out on the abundant life that God has promised us. The death of a lost soul should always stir our heart, and motivate us to love people as Jesus did, looking for ways to demonstrate our love for them so that opportunities to communicate the gospel can develop. We cannot save people from the ultimate separation from this world that death brings, but we can be used of the Holy Spirit to save them from an eternity separated from the love of God.


References.

George R. (1999). John, 2ed. Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 36.  Dallas, TX:  Word Books.  Pages 180-195.

Hull, William. (1970).  John, Broadman Bible Commentary, Vol. 9.  Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.  Page 312-316.

Martin, Mike. (2002).  Have Assurance of Life After Death, Explore the Bible: Adult Commentary, Fall 2002.  Nashville, TN:  Lifeway Church Resources.  Pages 120-129.

Simmons, Bob (2002). Have Assurance of Life After Death, Explore the Bible: Adult Leader Guide, Fall 2002.  Nashville, TN:  Lifeway Church Resources.  Pages 129-138.

Tenney, Merrill C. (1981).  John, The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Volume 9.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan Publishing House.  Pages 114-121.

Tolar, William B.. (Fall, 2002).  Bethany.  Biblical Illustrator 16(1).  Nashville, TN:  Lifeway Christian Resources of the S.B.C.  Pages 77-80.