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12 January 2020
Believe in Me and You Will Never Die
I don’t know how often you find this to be the case … but I often find that just when you think you have Jesus worked out, he goes and says or does the very opposite of what you think should happen.
I think we have found that during this series of sermons. The things Jesus says and does can often be … well just shocking.
So often it’s a rebuke to me, or a correction to me, because it shows that the things that Jesus knows are important and also says are important. These are not so often the things that I think are important.
So there are good things to learn in the shocking nature of Jesus, and that is true in this passage today.
Lets have a look at it.
I think that when the ordinary person gets the news that a loved one is about to die, they drop everything and go. If the news is reliable, and they have the ability … they will drop everything and go.
Well Lazarus, Mary and Martha are very close friends of Jesus.
When the message comes to Jesus: “We don’t think your good friend Lazarus is going to last the week. You had better come now.” It is strange, because we are told, not that he goes … but rather he stays.
Now that it strange isn’t it?
It gets even stranger. Look at the way John puts it.
5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
In other words, it is because he loved them, he stays, two more days.
In fact it is only when he says to his disciples, “Lazarus has died” (v14), that he actual starts the journey to Bethany, the village where Lazarus and his two sisters lived.
11:17 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days
If Jesus had left straight away then Lazarus would have been dead two days when Jesus arrived.
By waiting two days, by the time Jesus arrives Lazarus has been dead four days.
Now why did Jesus want Lazarus to be dead four days before he arrived?
Well (can I say Don Carson’s commentary on John is very helpful at this point).
Four days is a significant number of days to be dead for the Jew.
The Jews of Jesus’ day had the idea that when someone died, the spirit of that person hung around for 3 days, in case there was a chance of re-entering the body. Only after that, on the forth day, when the body started to show outward signs of decay, did the spirit really depart.
Lazarus is way past the three day point. It is the fourth day, he is decaying … Not only is Lazarus dead … but he is doubly dead … the Jews believed, with no chance of the spirit coming back. No chance of him coming back again.
Now Mary and Martha know something about the power of Jesus. They know the things that he has done already.
And that is why Martha says in vs 21
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died”
(She has a big view of Jesus … not big enough … but she has a big view)
That is true isn’t it? Jesus has healed so many to this point, and he doesn’t even has to be close, he can heal over a distance if the need arises.
So why didn’t he do something? Why did he wait? After all he has healed people who aren’t his friends … why not this man who is his friend?
(By the way, what a lovely thing to be called. Once in this passage Lazarus is described as Jesus friend and three times they are described as those whom Jesus loves. I hope you know that is the way Jesus considers all those who follow him … friends of sinners is one of his most wonderful names … and I hope you know something of the wonder and delight of Jesus’ friendship and love)
Coming back to the story … if he loves them and they are his friends … has he treated them well?
They have seen their brother die … they have gone through all the sadness and pain that comes with the death of a loved one, and the funeral … and Jesus didn’t even come.
Do you find that strange?
Well, now Jesus is here … late … he asks them to take him to the tomb.
Jesus wants to go there … why? To pay his respects? To mourn with the others there? No – something else.
When he gets there, he says “Take away the stone”.
Now, it is not going to be pretty is it?
In a hot climate, a body that is four days old is not going to be in a good state. Everyone around him knows that.
In fact Martha says “17 [He has] already been in the tomb four days”
It is because it is Jesus who says it, the sisters give the orders to unseal the tomb.
Jesus prays to his Father, and then calls our “with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.”
Now some have said that if Jesus hadn’t specified Lazarus then all the dead would have come out … such is the power of the words of Jesus.
Then we are told.
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.” (11:43,44)
It really is astounding, isn’t it?
The man who was doubly dead, now lives.
His heart had not beaten for four days … and suddenly it starts to beat again,
His body was starting to decay, and smell … and suddenly it is made whole again.
The arms and legs that should have been cold and stiff are now warm with life.
This was not a resuscitation.
I’ve been on the beach when they have brought a man out of the ocean close to death after finding him face down in the sea.
That man they resuscitated … but this was no resuscitation.
Lazarus was dead and buried and gone – he is resurrected.
How astounded and ecstatic do you reckon the two sisters, and the friends of Lazarus are? They’d hardly be able to believe their eyes.
Still … the question remains. Don’t you think it’s strange that he’s put them through the agony of watching their brother die, and of the funeral, and of the four days of grief since? Why didn’t he stop it all in the first place? Especially when Lazarus was such a close friend?
Have you ever asked that question?
Why has Jesus brought this situation into my life?
Why doesn’t Jesus take away the pain in my life?
He can do it if he wants … why doesn’t he?
Ever asked that question?
I think the clue to this passage is given in vs 4 and in vs 15
4 But when Jesus heard [Lazarus is sick] he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
It was going to be better for them for Lazarus to die and be fully dead than for it not to happen.
Why? Because, by raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus is going to show them his glory in a way they might never have understood otherwise.
Healing a sick person … that’s amazing.
Resurrecting a one- day dead … that is doubly amazing
Resurrecting a four- day decaying dead Lazarus … how wonderfully glorious must Jesus’ be?
There is something bigger happening than just having a comfortable life.
Vs 15, Jesus is praying and he says …
Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe.
What is going to happen this day will be the means by which they will trust Jesus like they never have before.
What happened with this whole event meant that it would never have happened any other way … they are going to see the glory of Jesus and trust him in ways they would never have trusted him otherwise.
There is something bigger than life you know. You know that don’t you.
Let me put it this way…
… IT IS BETTER TO BE MADE ALIVE THAN TO STAY ALIVE
We pull out all the stops to stay alive, and to keep people alive. The best doctors, the best hospitals, the best medicines, the best life-saving equipment in ambulances … no matter what the cost, what the effort, what the inconvenience, we mostly operate on the basis that staying alive and keeping people alive is what matters most.
Of course there can be good things about staying alive … and we are thankful for so many who work hard to serve and help us when death creeps close.
Staying alive isn’t what matters most because: If Jesus just keeps people alive like this … it is not the best.
firstly, you are only postponing the inevitable.
The ultimate statistic is still that one out of one dies.
Though Lazarus is wonderfully resurrected, it is not to immortality. Jesus has brought him back to a life in this world, and he died again. He had the privilege of dying twice
Here is the thing … there is a much more important life that you need.
What Lazarus needs – what you need and what I need, is what Jesus calls “eternal life”. We need to be made new and alive in here (heart and head). That’s a lot more than a resuscitation – and even more than a bodily resurrection back into this world.
Jesus is telling Martha, and us, about a life that is so different, that it never dies in the first place. Do you see it in what he said to her: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (v25)
There is a life you can have which never dies. It is what Jesus often calls “eternal life”. That is a lot more than life that simply goes on forever … or life that is only for some other world.
“Eternal Life” is a different kind of life, and that is why it goes on forever:
Sadly, we think that what we see and feel and do here, in this life in this world, is what life is all about. Work, play, sex, eating, sleeping, learning.
In our heart of hearts we know that it isn’t enough even to touch the “Who am I”, “Why am I here?”, or to answer the big questions and the deep longings of our hearts.
Sadly, it is often not until life like that starts to fall apart – the kids go off the rails, your wife is diagnosed with terminal cancer, you lose your job – that we see that life here and now, does not have the answers for people in whose lives God has set eternity.
In our blindness we struggle with aches and longings, and sins and failures, guilts and regrets, anxieties and fears, and nothing here answers them. We grow rich and fat and famous and popular – and the eternity that God has set in our hearts remains unanswered by it all.
All because we keep looking past Jesus, for eternal life which Jesus alone can give.
Did you notice that Jesus does not say “I give life”, or “I do resurrections”, both of which are true. Instead he says “I am” the resurrection, and “I am” the life. He is telling us that you won’t find life in this life, or in any other life, apart from him.
He is saying there is nothing more important than knowing me.
And in the depth of all the sadness that is there for Martha …
Jesus talks to her about his glory.
He comforts her by speaking to her about himself.
He is the resurrection and the life.
Jesus comes up against devastating loss and brings comfort by speaking about himself.
It is because he is the resurrection and the life and you will find comfort nowhere else.
This week I read the story of a young man who was converted out of a really rotten back ground by the words of a pastor from a small church. Within a really short time, months at most he was diagnosed with a vicious melanoma and only had months to live. His family had written him off, he was an ex druggy and he really had no friends … except this small group of Christians.
As the Christians went to see him in the hospital they were nervous.nThey thought, how is this young man’s faith going to stand up now? He no sooner becomes a Christian and he is struck down with cancer.
As his body began to bloat, and his face started to waste away with the cancer they would go and visit him with more and more fear and trepidation, until it became clear that what he wanted from them when they came in was for them to read John 11, 1 Cor 15 and pray with him and speak to him about the love of Christ … and the life of Christ.
In our deepest lost we need more than friendship and a listening ear, as wonderful as they are.
We need the reality of Jesus himself. He in his power is trustworthy, and that he in his power is the resurrection and the life.
You see … Jesus is certain that putting his glory on display is more important than you being comfortable.
Jesus is certain that growing your trust in him is better than taking away your cancer.
Friends … this is one of the ways Jesus works … he delays … that in the struggle you will see his glory better and trust him more.
Friends, if you believe the best Jesus can give you is comfort and ease and no sadness … you will always be demanding of him, and you will miss out on better things.
There is something much bigger than us being happy in this world, and life being easy.
Let me finish on this.
Have a look on vs 33
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved[e] in his spirit and greatly troubled.
Vs 35 “Jesus wept”
Vs 38 “38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb.
What is this deeply moved and troubled?
What are the tears for?
They can’t be for Lazarus can they, given that Jesus knows he will be raised to life again in 5 minutes.
It can’t be he is troubled in spirit because he is wondering what to do, or confused about the situation.
The ESV says they could also mean indignant … but the word that is used here means outrage.
It is like when someone you love is beaten or violated in some way and the violate get away with it… and this feeling of “How dare someone do this” wells up inside you … it is outrage.
That is what Jesus is feeling.
Why was it like this? It was not because he was powerless or frustration in front of death.
He sees death, the result of sin and the way in which is spoils all that God made. It destroys and makes ugly what God made good, and he is outraged.
Death is always ugly, it is always the ultimate result of sin. It is so destructive, so is the sin that lies behind it and at the unbelief that is the response to it
Jesus is outraged and weeps.
Jesus ACTS to destroy death.
Friends don’t you just love Jesus?
He never pretends, he never acts as if it’s not ugly.
He is full of compassion and weeps at the outworking of sin.
I tell you something better
Here is the one who is not only outrages, not only weeps over it, but has the power to act.
Death is the last enemy but it doesn’t have the last word.
Charles Surgeon once said … One day you will read that Mr Spurgeon is dead … don’t believe it … I’ll be more alive than ever.
“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”