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John 11 – Rising from the Dead

Stonebrook Community Church https://www.stonebrook.org

Gospel of John: Life in Jesus’ Name
John 11 Rising from the Dead

I was ten years old when my 35-year old father went to the University of Iowa hospital with cancer. Melanoma. About a month later, my older sister Kathy and I were staying with my grandparents since Mom was with Dad in Iowa City. And one evening they sat us down in their den, and Grandpa John said with a sober voice, “Your dad might die.”
I think I cried, but I don’t remember anything else he said or I said.

Then a few weeks later on Wednesday morning, February 25th, while still staying with my grandparents I was getting ready for school. I remember I was buttoning my shirt in my grandparents’ den, when my Aunt Bev walked into the room and told me with her kind, quiet voice: “Your dad died this morning.” She hugged me tenderly, and I cried and cried.

Is there any worse news in life than death?

Death is so final. There is no coming back. When those we love die, it’s over. Final. They are gone. Their bodies are still there, but there soul is gone. And they are not coming back. They are not coming back.

Death is a ferocious enemy. Who can defeat it?

We are in a sermon series this Fall reading through the Gospel story of Jesus Christ, written by his close disciple and friend, John. The title of our series is, “Life in Jesus’ Name.” This book of John’s is about life. Real life. Eternal life. Life after death. Rising from the dead to never die again.

In today’s passage, Chapter 11, we are going to read a story where Jesus Christ, by his mighty power, actually brought a dead man back to life.

If you are a skeptic about Christianity, you may be tempted to scoff at such a miracle. Would you read with me this morning with an open mind? To simply consider the possibility that this story is true?

If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, your faith can be strengthened by this story. Your hope for a better life—a life beyond the grave—can be increased. Your fear of death can diminish.

John 11

While you’re turning there, I’ll mention that my name is Brad, one of the pastors here. I’ve been a member of Stonebrook for nearly 40 years, since my sophomore year at Iowa State.
And about 15 years later I was ordained as a pastor here. We train our pastors within the church for ministry.
After ordination, I continued to work as a civil engineer, working part time as a pastor along with two other full time pastors. Then after 5 years, I was able to go on staff full time. That was 19 years ago.
That’s a very brief bio. If you’re curious about any of that, ask me more after the service.

Let’s begin reading John 11.
What we are about to read is a remarkable story.

John 11 (ESV)
Vs. 1-6
LOVE AND SUFFERING
1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.
2 It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill.

Three siblings: Lazarus, the brother who was quite ill. And two sisters: Martha and Mary.

3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”
4 But when Jesus heard it 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.”

Though the sisters actually make no request of Jesus, such as, “Come quickly and heal him,” the request seems implied. They send a simple message: “the one you love is ill.”

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.

Wait. Did you catch this? Jesus loves these three siblings. It’s important to note how John points this out. That is quite touching. But then we might be shocked by vs. 6: “When he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed where he was two more days.”

What?
These sisters know that Jesus, the Son of God, has the power to heal to their brother. And he loves them. So of course, the only loving thing to do would be to go immediately… immediately… to Bethany to heal Lazarus. In fact, Jesus had the power to heal Lazarus from a distance by merely speaking a word. But he stays two more days and apparently takes no action to relieve the suffering of the family.

How could this be? Doesn’t that seem UN-loving? Uncaring? Even calloused?

As an aside for a minute: It is normal human response, in the face of suffering to wonder, “Where is God? Where is he? Is he good? Does he love me?” Those are normal human responses that at some point in our lives, every one of us will ask.
While the topic of Pain and Suffering and the Goodness of God is not the main point of the passage today, let me say this:

In the years to come, as each of us wrestles with the topic of Pain and Suffering and the Love of God, we have to read the rest of this story. And I don’t mean just Chapter 11, but the rest of John. The story of Jesus’ suffering in death and his resurrection. For it is this story that SHOUTS to us—that demonstrates to us– the love of God, even as we are suffering. Jesus’ story will help re-orient us.

But back to our story today, Jesus indeed loves these people. The short answer is that he has a higher purpose for staying two days longer.

Let’s continue reading.
Vs. 7-10
THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD
7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.”
8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?”

In Chapter 10 that we looked at last week, the Jews were so angry with Jesus that they tried to kill him. So understandably, from their limited point of view, they are rather concerned about going into that place of great danger.
But the disciples don’t yet understand what Jesus’ purpose was on the earth. To offer himself up in death as a substitute for all mankind. “The Lamb of God,” as in Chapter 1. And then to be raised from the dead in power to a glorious new life as Savior, Lord, and King over all the earth.

They never understood this until after it was all over.

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 anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”

Jesus is speaking in metaphorical terms. Just as people need the light of this world to work, i.e., the SUN in the sky, so they need him, the light of the world.

Vs. 11-16
ASLEEP?
11 After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.”
12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.”

He is not speaking about “sleep” as we know it. He is speaking in language of ancient prophecy about the resurrection from the dead.
Daniel 12:2 ESV “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.”
This is common language in both OT and NT.
It is fascinating language: to call physical death “sleep.” When we die, our bodies are sleeping, but in the final resurrection someday, Jesus Christ will awaken our bodies into immortality.

The disciples had no clue about this. They thought he meant sleeping as we think of it: Lying in bed and sleeping for 8 hours, then waking up.

13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep.
14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died,
15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

Jesus does not say that he is glad his friend Lazarus has died. He is glad for their sake—the disciples’ sake—that he was not there. Why was he glad? What was going to happen would strengthen the faith of the disciples: “So that you may believe.”
To believe in Jesus is a beautiful thing. There may be nothing more beautiful.
This miracle—this sign—that Jesus was going to produce in a couple of days would strengthen the faith of all who would see it.
That is my prayer for us even today, that as we read this story, our faith in Jesus Christ would be strengthened.

16 So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

From vs. 8, the disciples thought Jesus might be killed if he went back to Judea.
So apparently this is what Thomas is referring to, that if the Lord dies, the disciples were willing to die alongside him.
Thomas misunderstood all that Jesus intended on this day, but Thomas’s courage is admirable.

Vs. 17-27
RESURRECTION

17 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.

Jesus travels to Bethany, and Lazarus has been dead and buried for four days. The man is dead. Hope for healing is long gone. Many tears have been shed. Weeping and wailing.

18 Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off,
19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother.
20 So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house.
21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.
22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”

I love Martha’s words. They could be a complaint, or even an accusation, against Jesus. Or even a rebuke, like, “Why didn’t you come, Lord? You could have healed him.”
But we see her faith in vs. 22. She acknowledges Jesus’ ability and power and connection with God the Father in heaven.

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

For sure, Jesus is speaking from an eternal perspective….that someday at the end of the age, the bodies of believers in the God of heaven will rise from the dead—those who are sleeping will be awakened— with immortal, imperishable, glorious bodies.
But Jesus may also be hinting at the miracle— the SIGN— that he will perform that very day by raising Martha’s brother from the dead.

24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

Martha knows about the final resurrection. And believes this. I believe at this point, she still has no clue what Jesus is about to do.

Now here is what may be the most important two verses in the chapter:

25 Jesus said to her, “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?”

I love these words from Jesus.
Note what Jesus didn’t say: He didn’t say, “I know about life after death.” Or, “I wrote a self-help book that will give you a better life.” Or, “If you perfectly follow my rules, you will have life.”
No, He said, “I am the resurrection. I am the life.”
Jesus’ claim here is phenomenal. He says, “In Me is life. I contain life. Life is found in Me. I am resurrection hope.” In a way, Jesus is saying, “I am the author of existence. I am the source of life itself.”

Jesus is the power which opens every grave. He is the power that gives life to the dead, and calls them forth to a new existence. He said, “Everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”
He is not saying that you won’t die physically. He is saying that you will never die in the eternal sense. He is saying that in him, you are given life everlasting. In him, your dead, sleeping body will someday rise into everlasting glory.

Jesus’ claim here is astonishing.
Either He is a completely crazy…… Or He really is God Incarnate. The Creator. The source of Life.
He is one or the other. He gives us no middle ground.

What is fascinating in this Gospel of John, fundamentally, Jesus’ message was Himself.
He did not come merely to preach a Gospel; He himself is that Gospel.
He did not come merely to shed light; He said, “I am the light.”
He did not come merely to point the way to some resurrected type of life. He said, “I am the resurrection and the life.”

This is crucial for our understanding of what Christianity really is.
Christianity at its core is about a Person. Jesus points people—not simply to a moral code, nor to a system of religious activity. No, he points people to himself.

So when Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life,” his words are HOPE to us. True, biblical, heaven-sent hope of Life beyond the grave. Hope of a dead, sleeping body that will someday rise into immortality and glory and power in the presence of the glory of God forever and ever and ever.

So Jesus then asks Martha a very simple question: “Do you believe this?”
Martha’s response is beautiful.

27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

In an earlier event in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 10, Martha was rebuked by the Lord for her anxiety and misplaced priorities. But now we see her as a woman of faith, proclaiming this beautiful, succinct confession of faith.
To her, Jesus’ words were not mere philosophical ponderings to be debated. His words were truth— “saving truth”—that were meant to be received in faith and acted on. Martha acted on them with clarity. She proclaimed her faith in the Son of God with sound doctrine.

Now the story moves on to Martha’s sister, Mary.
Vs. 28-37
WEEPING
28 When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.”
29 And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him.
30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him.
31 When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there.
32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

These are the precise words that Martha had said to the Lord a short time earlier.

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.

First, the word used in Greek for “weeping” can also mean “loud wailing.” The mourning was intense and deep. Perhaps for some it was even weeping from a sense of hopelessness in the face of death.

Second, what was Jesus feeling and experiencing right now?
There is some debate about Jesus’ emotions here. My Bible says, Jesus was “deeply moved.” That can also be translated from the original Greek language to say, “Jesus was angry. He was indignant.”

That raises another set of questions. Was he really angry? If so, why?
It is possible that “angry” or “indignant” is the correct translation. It’s possible that he saw more than simply tears of sadness, but weeping and wailing in hopelessness. And he could be angry that they are feeling hopeless and simply don’t believe that he is the Resurrection and the Life. And it is also possible he is angry that sin and death has created so much pain in the world.

34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”
35 Jesus wept.

Jesus apparently weeps before going or on the way to the tomb, for notice he does not arrive at the tomb until vs. 38.
Why did he weep, for he knew he would raise Lazarus from the dead in just a few minutes.
We can’t be 100% sure. But it’s possible he wept for several reasons:
1. He had compassion towards those who were weeping and wailing.
2. He was grieved over the consequences of the curse on mankind.

36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man [back in Chapter 9 from two weeks ago] also have kept this man from dying?”

Both this question and the statement of vs. 36 are true: Jesus did love him and he does have the power to prevent an illness turning to death.
Their question in vs. 37 may smack of unbelief: they are angry and aghast that Jesus didn’t come to save Lazarus. Or perhaps they in grief think that if Jesus had simply come earlier, he could have prevented this (like the sisters said).
But still we have no indication they anyone here believed that Jesus could now perform his greatest sign: raising a dead man from the grave.

Vs. 38-44
GLORY OF GOD
38 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.”

From her earlier conversation with Jesus, Martha believed in the future and final resurrection of the body into immortal, imperishable life. But here she apparently had no expectation that Jesus would bring her brother back to life.

40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”

Jesus is gently correcting her. He has promised the glory of God. And he is about to shock them all.

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.”

This is astonishing. Jesus simply utters a command, and a miracle happens.
Who is this man, who with just the power of his word commands the dead to rise?

No less power is this than calming the storm with his word (Mark 4:35-41). There he said simply, “Peace! Be still!”

Here he says simply, “Lazarus, come out!” No hocus pocus. No mystical incantations. Just a command from him who has been granted all authority in heaven and on earth.

In this Gospel, this is the 7th of 7 signs recorded to help us believe that Jesus Christ truly is the Son of God, sent from heaven to bring salvation….not only to the Jewish people but to people all over the world.
He had told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life.” He proved it now by bringing her brother back to life after 4 days in the grave.

Remarkably, John gives us no more details of that day. He doesn’t tell us of the reunion of these two sisters with their brother. He doesn’t tell us if there were shouts or screams or tears or laughter.

Vs. 45-46
BELIEF and UNBELIEF

45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him,
46 but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.

The rest of the chapter is an important part of the story, but Pastor Dave will cover that next week.
It leads us into the last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry, pointing us to his death and resurrection.

What Now?

We’ve read this important and glorious and amazing story. Now what do we do with it? How can it….how should it….shape our thinking about God and life and eternity?

Let me offer two things.

First, this story can strengthen us to….
Believe in the Resurrection.
When I say, “Believe in the Resurrection,” I mean more than the event of the resurrection, but believe in Jesus….. the Resurrection.
Today and tomorrow….. Re-read this story. 3 or 4 times. Each time pray. Pray, “Lord, help me to understand from this story just who you are. And strengthen my faith in you.”
Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life.

This world is broken. It is dark. According to the Scriptures, it is under the curse of God, Death dominates this world.
Whether it’s the death of a 35-year father of 3 young children, like my dad. Or a 20-year college woman who is brutally murdered in small town Iowa last month. Or my son-in-law’s 91-year old grandmother, whose funeral is this afternoon at 3:00.

Whoever it is, and whenever it happens, death dominates our world.

You and I feel the pain of that death and brokenness and darkness every day. And some days the brokenness is so great, we feel we might be crushed under its weight. Some of us may even feel at times our lives have been shattered into tiny little pieces, like a shattered mirror. And we have lost hope we can ever be whole again.

With all the death and pain and shattered lives around us, we can doubt God. We can doubt that he cares. Doubt that he loves us. We can doubt his power and strength to fix it.

But Jesus Christ, the Resurrection and the Life…. is the Restorer of all things broken.
He takes what is dead and breathes life into it.
He takes what is dark and shines light into it.
He takes what is shattered into tiny pieces and puts them back together better than they ever have been.

Through this story of Lazarus we can begin to have our confidence restored that God is indeed good. And that he is powerful.

But there is better news than Chapter 11. Much, much better news. The story doesn’t end here. Actually the best is yet to come. The remainder of John’s Gospel ends with Jesus’ own death and his resurrection.
And the end of that story is really the beginning of OUR stories.

Read and re-read this story to get a taste of the best that is yet to come.
So first, this story can strengthen our Faith in the Resurrection.

Second, this story can give us courage and diminish our fears. Specifically, our fear of death.

Do not fear death
With this sure hope in Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life, we need not fear death.
I have to admit, I can worry about the future. I can worry about getting cancer or dying suddenly. I can worry about my wife’s health.
Concern is understandable, but fear is not needed.
Looking into the future, at the very end of the Bible and the end of the story, which is really the beginning of the story for the believer in Jesus, here are John’s words:
Revelation 21:3–5 ESV And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.
He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
Fear not. Only believe. Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life has conquered death.