November 11, 2018
Close Encounters with Jesus – John 11 – 11.11.18
When was the last time you had a sick day? Obviously for all of us-sickness and disease are a regular part of life. We all get sick and it’s no fun. But isn’t there a little excitement when you have a sick day and have to stay home from work or school-or even as a parent when you have to stay home with a sick kid? The whole structure of your day instantly changes. I’ll be honest, there was nothing better than getting sick when you were in school. You woke up with that blessed fever and your mom would take your temperature and confirm the sad truth-101.3-better stay home. And you’d respond with this budding sense of excitement in your weakened state-So, I can’t go to school? Okay, if you say so. Then your mom would call the office to tell them you were staying home. And you’d have to spend the rest of the day on the couch, recovering, trying with all your might to get better. I remember my mother would ask me if I wanted to go back to bed-No, Mom, I’m not tired enough for bed, I better stay here on the couch-I think TV’s really helping. And she’d go refill my glass of juice and bring me more crackers. It was the best way to be nursed back to health. I just always hoped she didn’t see the gleam of pure bliss on my face as I watched cartoons all day, knowing my classmates were doing math and spelling back at school!
So sometimes illnesses work in our favor-but often they don’t. And as we continue our series in John’s gospel-Close Encounters with Jesus-there’s a guy named Lazarus who didn’t just get the flu or catch a cold or have a fever-but got ill-really ill. Open your Bibles to John 11-and I can’t think of a better passage to look at on Nov 11 then John 11! Jesus is going to have a very interesting encounter with two sisters and their dying brother. Look at at how the chapter begins-v. 1-3. This whole event begins with Jesus getting word that a friend of His has become ill. And when an illness gets bad enough-what do you do? Pray. Lord, work in that person’s life, bring healing and relief, stop the illness from getting any worse. Who hasn’t turned to the Lord and prayed for somebody to get better? We all have-it’s one of the most common prayer requests we make-and back in Lazarus’ day, it was no different. Except instead of praying to the Lord in heaven, the sisters sent a messenger to tell Jesus in person-Lazarus is really sick-please come and heal him. Not only is Jesus Lord, but He’s their friend-and they know that if anyone can do anything in this situation, it’s Him-v. 5. And no doubt He’ll come right over to help Lazarus.
So I find the next verse to be so completely surprising-v.6a-gathered the disciples and rushed right over as fast as He could-No-v. 6. What? You have to a double take to make sure you read it right. Lazarus, who Jesus loves is really sick, he’s not getting any better. Time is of the essence-but Jesus decides to wait. Why would He do that? Is this the Jesus you expect? Not at all. We feel convinced that Mary and Martha have a very legitimate prayer request-Jesus, a good friend of yours, a godly man is sick. So hurry up, get over here and heal him. Waiting around doesn’t make any sense at all. Imagine Mary and Martha-pacing back and forth over those two days-wondering where Jesus is. When’s He coming? Did He get distracted? Did something happen? Is He mad at us? Have we upset Him? What’s going on? And as the hours and days began to wear on-maybe they even started to wonder-Does Jesus really care? Maybe He doesn’t love us all that much, maybe we were mistaken. But would any of those thoughts be accurate? Would any of those doubts be true? And the answer is no-because Jesus gives His reason for waiting. Look back at-v.4. Something amazing is going to happen through this situation. That’s what Jesus is telling the disciples. Now they don’t know what it is or what He’s going to do-but they know He has a plan-and yet Mary and Martha don’t know that. All they know is that Jesus hasn’t answered their prayer. He hasn’t shown up when they desperately needed Him to. So Pt1:What Did Jesus Do? Waited on His timing instead of ours. And even 5 verses in this is such a huge point.
Think about your life for a moment. What’s it like when you’re in the middle of a situation and you don’t see any immediate results from the Lord, or when He tells you to wait and it seems that nothing’s getting better. How do you respond? Are you completely panicked and stressed out-or are you at peace, trusting the Lord? What are you like in Mary and Martha’s situation? Do you say-Okay Lord, even though I can’t see the answers right now, I know You’ve got a glorious plan underway and I’ll just wait and watch it unfold. Or do you question His love and get consumed by doubt, saying-Lord, what are you doing? Why have You let me down? When will you hear me and answer me and do something about this? When the storms of life are raging around you, it can be challenging to trust that He’s doing something or that there’s a plan in motion. But the essence of this great chapter declares that the Lord is always in control; that He always has a plan-and it’s glorious. That’s what Jesus is saying-and it’s the paradigm shift our minds have to make. We have to remember that the Lord’s goal isn’t to simply answer our prayers like a genie granting wishes-What do you need done? Great-got it-what’s next on your list? His goal is to display the glory of the gospel through the trials we face. Consider Mary and Martha-if Jesus just granted their request then Lazarus would have been healed, problem fixed, story over. We’ve read countless times that Jesus healed the sick, nothing out of the ordinary. But on this occasion, by waiting and allowing time to pass, the gospel will be declared more vividly than in any other miracle yet. As Jesus says, The purpose is…-v.4b. And what’s He going to do?-v.11-13. As we’ve seen multiple times in John-people keep missing the deeper truth Jesus is saying. The disciples think Lazarus is taking a nap-they’re a bit slow to catch on! v. 14-15.
And now the journey begins in Jesus’s perfect timing-knowing that Lazarus isn’t sick-but dead. It begs the question-is Jesus showing up for a miracle or a funeral? Everything so far indicates funeral-v. 17. Talk about bad timing-at least from our perspective, because when Jesus arrives, Lazarus has breathed his last and they’ve got him buried in the tomb. It’s a done deal. Do doctors usually come by to try a few more options once the funeral’s finished? No-because at that point, it’s over. Dead is dead. It makes me think of the Princess Bride-Miracle Max. But that’s not the care for Lazarus. He’s fully dead-and by day 4 no one is holding out any hope for a miracle.
Among some of the rabbinic teachings of Jesus’ day was the idea that after a person died their spirit hovered over the body for 3 days in case the body was resuscitated. That way the spirit could return and life could continue, but after the 3rd day all hope of resuscitation was gone and they believed the spirit departed for good. Obviously this was just primitive thinking, an old-wives tale really, but even if people were holding on to that thought that maybe Lazarus could come back to life, by day 4 that hope was completely gone. And yet that’s when Jesus shows up. That’s a point well worth remembering-when all earthly hope is gone Jesus arrives! He shows up when there are no other options. Back to Pt1. Look at-v.19-21. Jesus-what took You so long? Now it’s too late-Lazarus is dead. You can’t help but hear the pain and sadness in her voice. If only You’d been here on time…If only you would have answered me like I prayed… Haven’t we all said similar things to the Lord. But v. 22-and that doesn’t mean she’s thinking that Jesus will raise Lazarus from the dead, she’s already resigned herself to the fact that he is dead, rather it’s likely that she thinks Jesus’ prayers will be heard by God and can hopefully bring some peace and comfort to the family during this sad time. Jump ahead to v. 32. Mary makes the exact same statement as her sister. They’re both thinking the same thing-If only you’d been here earlier, Jesus, then you could have done something-but instead you waited. And Mary is really shook up-v.33-36. So there’s no question that Jesus didn’t care for Lazarus, He cared for him a great deal. Here’s Jesus truly weeping with the family-mourning over this thing called death-even though He knows He’s going to reverse it. That’s what fascinates me-instead of standing there like a magician with a good trick up his sleeve and a glimmer in his eyes, saying wait until you see what I can do. Instead of that, Jesus is genuinely moved and grieves for Lazarus. So it’s not a question of His love for people. The question is why He waited to come? Why the delay? Shouldn’t Jesus do what we ask Him to do when we want Him to do it? v. 37. And of course the answer is yes. Everybody knows that Jesus could have done something to help. That’s a no-brainer which is why they initially turned to Jesus-but now at this moment they’re letdown by Jesus. Because He stayed two more days where He was-Lazarus-whom Jesus loved-is dead-and from their perspective nothing else can be done now but to mourn and weep.
You can feel their disappointment, maybe you felt it yourself. You’ve hoped and trusted that the Lord would do something in your life-maybe you earnestly prayed and pleaded about something-maybe something very important-and yet He hasn’t answered or done anything. Maybe from your perspective it seems like Jesus has waited too long and now you’re wondering if you were wrong to trust Him in the first place. Maybe a sense of hopelessness has begun to take over as you’ve felt letdown or disappointed. I think we’ve all been there before-feeling letdown by Jesus because He didn’t do what we thought or hoped He would do. And Martha confirms that thinking-v.38-39a. Here’s the beginning of His solution yet Martha interrupts Him-v.39b. Why would you open the tomb? He’s totally dead. He’ll smell terrible in there! I love the KJV-John 11:39 KJV. “He stinketh!”-but Martha’s revealing her heart of unbelief that no remedy can be found because Lazarus is a stinking, rotting corpse! Keep him sealed up! It’s sort of like when you have some leftovers that have stayed in the refrigerator too long-don’t open it because it will stink! That’s Lazarus. Don’t open the tomb now-he’ll smell nasty. But Martha’s point is very crucial to understand because Lazarus has gone from illness to death to a corpse. That’s how she’s viewing him. Not a sick man needing to be healed, not someone who’s just died possibly waiting to be revived, but an empty, hollow corpse of four days. That’s Jesus starting point-that’s His ingredients for this miracle-a corpse. It’s not much, and yet He rebukes Martha-v.40.
And turn back to-v.23-24. Martha believed that there would be a future resurrection at the end of the world for God’s people. And that’s true-there will be-what she didn’t understand is that this resurrection is possible because of the person standing right in front of her. This resurrection at the world’s end is all based on Jesus-and He makes the connection for her-v. 25a This is one of Jesus’ greatest statements in all the gospels because He’s saying that life-all life and all resurrection-every ounce of life comes from Him. Remember John 1:3-4-and now Jesus is saying that about Himself. The word the is really important-the definite article means that Jesus isn’t one of many sources of life-as so many people tend to think-that Jesus is one way to life amidst lots of ways, lots of religions, lots of paths. No-He’s THE life, the only one who creates life-and He’s THE resurrection, the only one who brings us back to life-v.25-26. It reads like a riddle-but Jesus is saying that even though physical life might end-though he die-which is speaking of when our earthly lives end-true spiritual life doesn’t end-because all who believe in Him are resurrected to eternal life. One day we will be raised up and live forever. It’s the hope of the gospel-but it begins with the spiritual resurrection of the soul.
As it’s been the case in all the miracles Jesus performs, He gives us an earthly picture of spiritual truth-water for living water, bread for the bread of life. Now this earthly picture is painted in 4K HD color here in John 11 because Jesus is going to show that resurrection isn’t wishful thinking or the stuff of fiction, but a reality. That He is the Author of Life-v.41-43. Have you ever shouted at anything dead? I wish I could shout at the grass or the flowers in the spring-Grow!-and watch it happen-or the Christmas tree when it’s wilting. But my words don’t carry that power-not at all. But look at what Jesus’ words can do-v.43b-44a. Let that sink in. This is not a fairy tale or a science fiction novel-but actual history. Lazarus left the tomb-and we assume stink free! The dead man was walking! Have you ever heard of that happening? How would CNN or Fox report that today? “Breaking News: A dead body got up and exited its grave.” Nobody would believe it-sounds like a zombie movie or a book by Stephen King. Dead people don’t come back to life! Sick people can be restored to health, people on the edge can be revived, CPR can be administered, but buried corpses don’t get up and live again. Yet, Jesus does it by the very words He speaks. So Lazarus literally goes from corpse to fully alive. And the proof was there, it wasn’t a staged gimmick-v.44. This isn’t his Halloween costume, these are his grave clothes and Jesus is saying-Let Lazarus live. He’s no longer one of the dead, he’s been resurrected. Look at 12:2. I bet Lazarus is saying-After being dead food has never tasted so good! And the story spreads like wildfire-12:9-11. You could shake his hand and see him for yourself. This was an incredible event. Nothing like it had ever happened before. So What Did the crowds see? In His perfect timing Jesus resurrected a dead man to life. And as we’ve been saying-that’s a vivid picture of the gospel-because that’s what happens to you and me.
Think about it for just a minute. Where does the gospel begin? Does it start with sick sinners? Is it the idea that sin affects our hearts and our minds but thankfully there’s still some good buried in us that can overcome the sin? If only God can wash off the bad parts then we’re good. That sounds logical-it’s what a lot of people think-but it’s not what the Bible says-Jer 17:9 NIV. That doesn’t describe a sickness-it describes a terminal disease. Look at Eph 2:1-2. What do people say about sin? I’m just doing what everyone else does, I’m not worse than anybody else. That’s right-“following the course of this world,” but where does it lead? Death-not just sickness. Our problem isn’t trying our hardest to overcome sin’s sickness by living as best we can, our problem is that we’re dead in our sin. That’s powerful language-and it’s humbling to admit. But sin isn’t just a few mistakes or some bad choices you’ve made along the way-it permeates your heart and destroys it, bringing death to your soul. Now you might try to argue the point saying-I’m not dead-I’m living and breathing. Sure I’ve made some bad choices, who hasn’t, but how am I dead? And this is where it’s much easier to see dead Lazarus then the death of our own souls because he’s not breathing, he’s buried in a tomb, he’s a rotten corpse that stinks. But the fact that we’re dead spiritually doesn’t make it any less real. Rom 6:23 says the wages of sin is death. That you and me in our sin are stuck, we can’t do anything, we can’t fix ourselves or turn over a new leaf. We can’t try living a good life or make amends and please God-we’re dead. And what do dead people do? Not much! What could Lazarus do? Could he walk back out of the tomb on his own? Could he say-Okay, I don’t need to be dead anymore-this is kind of boring. I’ll just take a few more slow, deep breaths than death can’t get me. Of course not. We know dead is dead-but too many people don’t think that way about being dead in sin. They think they can still do something about it. I’ll just turn my life around, make some changes, go to church more and God will be happy. That might be a noble idea-but it isn’t salvation.
I like how RC Sproul describes it-Too often we think that as sinners, we’re drowning in the ocean, unable to swim-soon to sink unless help arrives and then Jesus comes and throws out a life preserver. All we have to do to be saved is grab on to the life preserver then He will tow us in-but if we refuse the life preserver then we will die. But he says that isn’t salvation because it doesn’t explain the depth of our probelm. Can a dead man grab a life preserver? Can a dead man accept help? No-he’s floating there dead-Sproul quote. I love the visual that Jesus drags our lifeless body onto the shore and breathes new life into our dead lips. He brings us resurrection-just like Lazarus-Eph 2:4-5; 8-9. What did the sinner do there? Nothing-it’s all of Him. What Do We Learn? Jesus doesn’t rescue us when we’re in trouble, He resurrects us when we’re dead. He changes our hearts; in Him they’re regenerated and born again. As sinners we were on the road to destruction, we rejected God and turned our own way, trying to live life without God and it lead to death. But because of His grace we’re given a new heart and made alive with Christ. So salvation is no longer trusting in the good works we do, or the life we’ve lived, but trusting in the work Christ did to save us-and there’s nothing of self in it, hence no need to boast, as Eph says. Do you think Lazarus boasted to all his friends afterward? Did you see what I did? I came back to life. I’m really something, aren’t I? I saw the light and I turned around. People would see right through that. They’d say, “You didn’t do anything, Lazarus, you just laid there dead and decayed. Jesus made you alive.” And that’s what you and I must understand. That’s what this miracle is laboring to show us. We’re just like Lazarus. Dead as dead can be, helpless as he was, having no ability to save ourselves until Jesus shows up bringing us new life and resurrecting our hearts, through His death and resurrection on our behalf. He said to Martha, “I am the Resurrection and the Life,” and He proved it beyond any shadow of a doubt by raising Lazarus. Yet Jesus asked her in v. 26b-and that’s the question that comes to each of us.
Do you believe that Jesus can resurrect your life? Do you even believe you need to be resurrected? That’s where it begins-understanding the need-because the evil one doesn’t want you to see it. He wants you to think you’re fine, doing okay, happily living life. You’re not that bad. He doesn’t want you to look in the mirror and see the truth about yourself. He wants you believing the lie that you’re okay-which is why you need the truth of God’s Word telling you to be resurrected in Christ. That’s what you have to believe. If you think your sin isn’t a big deal-realize that it is. God wants you to see your problem-and be alarmed-that you’re no different than Lazarus dead in the tomb. But He also wants you to be amazed that Jesus has come to resurrect you to new life. Maybe you’ve never considered how dire your situation is or the extent of Jesus’ ability to save you. So let the power of this miracle work in your heart because that’s why He did it. Back to v. 4-Jesus said that He-the Son of God- would be glorified through what happened to Lazarus. He was glorified then, but He’s still glorified by it today-as people like you and me read what happened-and say-Lord, I’m like Lazarus-and I need You to breathe new life into me. Jesus is glorified every time a dead sinner is born again and trusts in Him. So I simply ask the crucial question: Which Lazarus are you? Dead Lazarus or Resurrected Lazarus? You’re one or the other. Are you still a dead sinner stuck in the tomb or a resurrected follower of Christ? Have you trusted in Him, the Savior who brings you from death to life? Don’t read this miracle and miss the truth because it’s a huge neon sign pointing to the heart of the gospel-that our souls need to be resurrected. And think about it, if Jesus would have come right away and healed sick Lazarus-we wouldn’t see the gospel. If Jesus didn’t make Mary and Martha wait until Lazarus was good and dead-the truth would have been hidden. Remember v. 14b-15-and look at how it ended-v.45.
He didn’t abandon these sisters, his didn’t disappoint the onlookers. Instead in His sovereign wisdom, Jesus used the pain and tragedy of a dead brother to declare His power and glory. And He’ll do the same with the pain and tragedy in your life. You don’t need to fret or worry or wonder if Jesus has abandoned you-He hasn’t. He never abandons His people, instead He transforms them. His goal is that each of His followers, you and me, would be a living portrait of the gospel just as Mary and Martha and Lazarus were. That when you face trials, your life will point to Jesus and glorify Him. That the difficulties you go through become the very opportunities to speak of His goodness and trust in His timing. Ask yourself-Am I always seeking the quick fix to my problems or am I asking that God would be glorified in them? That’s such a profound difference. Are you saying-Lord, remove this pain now-take it away. I can’t stand it anymore-or are you saying-Lord, accomplish your will through this and teach me to trust You. Way too often we speak like Mary and Martha. “Lord, if only you would have acted sooner-then it wouldn’t have turned out like this! If only you would have answered me right away this tragedy could have been avoided.” But what kind of trust does that thinking reveal-because what we’re really saying is-Lord, I know what’s best-why didn’t You listen to my prayers. I spelled it out but You waited too long to respond. Why didn’t you do something right away like I asked? We somehow believe that our short-sighted vision can see it all-and we foolishly forget that the Lord is sovereign and He sees all things and all purposes, knowing the beginning from the end. Sometimes it may look bleak-it did here. It may be hard and painful, but in the end the Lord’s will is always glorious. So the last thing we learn, and maybe the thing you need to hear today, is that Jesus is never too late.
You and I now know how this story ends in John 11 and we would say to Mary and Martha, Don’t worry, Jesus has it all figured out-His plan is incredible. This turns out far better than you’ve ever imagined-as if we could whisper to them through the pages. Lazarus is coming back to life! Just watch! Our bird’s eye perspective gives us the ability to see that-but it would be the very same if you could see your own life rolled out with a bird’s eye perspective-So that’s what you were trying to teach me, Jesus. That’s what you wanted to accomplish, that’s remarkable! If you could see it all now you would see that His plan in your life is just as glorious as Lazarus-but you don’t see it rolled out-not yet. Now you have to trust, you have to wait and watch and believe that you have a Savior who makes all things glorious in His timing and His way. Mary and Martha needed to trust Jesus-will you? Even though you might not see all His plans unfolded for you now-will you trust in a Jesus who says, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. I can take your pain, your brokenness, your death and turn it into new life.” Isn’t that a promise to believe in! Do you think after this incident that Lazarus ever doubted in Jesus’ power again? I don’t think so-what reason would he have to doubt? Jesus saved him from the grave! And you and I don’t need to doubt Jesus either-because if we’ve trusted in Him, He’s saved us from the very same thing. No longer stuck in the stinking tomb-but resurrected to eternal life!