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Lazarus – Hope in the Midst of Grief

This morning as we continue our journey from Christmas to Easter – following the life and ministry of Jesus – we now find ourselves much closer to Easter than we are to Christmas. Although we aren’t given a precise timeline in the Scriptures, all the of the events that we will look at from this point on are likely to have taken place within the final 2-3 weeks before Jesus’ death and resurrection.

That being said, there is still a lot of stuff that happens during those 2-3 weeks. In fact, if you read through the Gospel of John, pretty much the last half of the book all happens within those last two or three weeks. So that’s probably helpful for us to remember as we go through our story this morning.

This morning we’ll be reading primarily in John chapter 11 – so if you’d like to follow along in your Bible, you can turn there with me now.

John chapter 11 – starting at verse 1 – reads like this:

A man named Lazarus was sick. He lived in Bethany with his sisters, Mary and Martha. 2 This is the Mary who later poured the expensive perfume on the Lord’s feet and wiped them with her hair. Her brother, Lazarus, was sick. 3 So the two sisters sent a message to Jesus telling him, “Lord, your dear friend is very sick.” 

John 11:1-3

So here we are introduced to three significant characters in the life of Jesus – three siblings – Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. And we quickly see that these three seem to hold a special place in Jesus’ heart. Specifically, in verse 3, we read that the two sisters refer to Lazarus as “Jesus’ dear friend.”

This tells me that this plea for help is not like the many other pleas for help that came to Jesus on nearly a daily basis. These sisters are not random strangers that have sent word to Jesus, hoping for a miracle – kinda like what we saw a few weeks ago with Jairus or the bleeding woman. But rather, these are some of Jesus’ closest friends. In fact, as we read through the Gospels, more than once do we we see Jesus hanging out at their house for dinner parties and spending time with them. It seems that Jesus is actually pretty close with this family – they are some of his closest and dearest friends!

But now one of these friends, Lazarus, was sick. Very sick according to the message sent to Jesus in verse 3.

Now if you’ve been with us over these last several weeks as we’ve been following the life and ministry of Jesus, you’ll recall how Jesus always seems to have compassion on those in need. When the wine ran out at the wedding, Jesus turned water into wine. When the crowds who were listening to Jesus teach became hungry at the end of the day, Jesus multiplied bread and fish for them to eat. When Jairus’ daughter was sick and dying, Jesus immediately stopped what he was doing and went to heal her!

Jesus always seems to have compassion on those in need! And so if Jesus showed such great compassion on people he didn’t even know, certainly, he will have compassion on his dear friend Lazarus! So let’s read what he does!

4 But when Jesus heard about it he said, “Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.” 5 So although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, 6 he stayed where he was for the next two days. John 11:4-5

Now this seems kinda out of character for Jesus. His dear friend Lazarus is very sick – sick enough that his sisters send word to Jesus in hopes that Jesus would come heal him! But what does Jesus do? Nothing! He did not go and heal Lazarus – he stayed right where he was for the next two days. Why would he do that? Why would he not immediately head out to Bethany to heal Lazarus?

Well, there are two clues in this passage. The first clue is in what Jesus says in verse 4. He said, “Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.”

Now that all sounds a little bit cryptic, but the bottom line seems to be, Lazarus was sick so that God would be glorified. Now of course, Jesus didn’t say how God would be glorified – that will all become clear later on in the story – but what we need to know at this point is that God was going to be glorified through this sickness.

And we might think – well, wouldn’t God be glorified if Jesus healed Lazarus right now? Yes, He would – but God had something much bigger in mind. By not healing Lazarus, God preparing to do something later that would be much more impactful and bring much more glory to God! But if Jesus were to intervene now and heal Lazarus at this point, then those more glorious things wouldn’t ever happen.

That, I think, can be a great encouragement to us in our struggles today!

Sometimes we struggle understand why God doesn’t heal our sicknesses or intervene in our situations – whatever those situations may be. We may feel like God is ignoring our cries for help or is withholding his goodness from us! But that’s simply not the case! Sometimes God allows us to go though really difficult things in life so that ultimately, He will be glorified. And if He were to intervene now, God wouldn’t get the glory for what He would eventually do through our situation!

And I know that can be difficult to accept! We would much rather be rescued from our situation now rather than enduring it for weeks, months, or even years.

But lest we think that God is willing to make us suffer just so that He will be glorified, that’s not quite true either. God is always working not only for His glory – but also for our good.

I read a great quote this week from a guy named Jerry Bridges. He said:

“God never pursues His glory at the expense of the good of His people, nor does He ever seek our good at the expense of His glory. He has designed His eternal purpose so that His glory and our good are inextricably bound together.” ~ Jerry Bridges. Trusting God

Isn’t that good? God’s glory and our good are inextricably bound together! God never choses one over the other. God’s glory and our good are one and the same! So if we are going through suffering or other difficulties in life – we can know that through that, God will bring about His glory and our good! What a comfort and encouragement for us!

And that’s exactly what we see in our passage. In verses 5-6 we see the second clue for why Jesus didn’t immediately go and heal Lazarus – although we might not catch it in the NLT. So let me read that for you in the NIV…

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. John 11:5-6 NIV

Now this might seem counter-intuitive but the reason Jesus stayed where he was for two days longer, was because he loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. It says He loved them, SO he stayed where he was for two days longer. His love for them was the reason why he did not go immediately to heal Lazarus!

That seems counter-intuitive, but Jesus knew that his delay in going was for their benefit! Healing Lazarus now would rob them of the good that Jesus had in mind for them. And again, I’m sure that didn’t make any sense to them in the moment – but as we’re going to see, in time, it would make perfect sense!

So therefore, Jesus stayed where he was for two more days and then in verse 7 we read:

7 Finally, he said to his disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.”

8 But his disciples objected. “Rabbi,” they said, “only a few days ago the people in Judea were trying to stone you. Are you going there again?”

John 11:7-8

Just to give you the context for the disciple’s objections here: at the end of the last chapter, Jesus was in Jerusalem (which was right next to Mary & Martha’s town of Bethany) – and He was nearly stoned to death by the crowds for claiming that He was the Son of God. He escaped from them and came to the Jordan River – where he received the message about Lazarus. And so the disciples are not convinced that it’s a good idea to go back to where they had just come from days before – back to the crowds who were ready to stone him! However, we read in verse 9…

9 Jesus replied, “There are twelve hours of daylight every day. During the day people can walk safely. They can see because they have the light of this world. 10 But at night there is danger of stumbling because they have no light.” 11 Then he said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but now I will go and wake him up.”

12 The disciples said, “Lord, if he is sleeping, he will soon get better!” 13 They thought Jesus meant Lazarus was simply sleeping, but Jesus meant Lazarus had died.

14 So he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 And for your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there, for now you will really believe. Come, let’s go see him.”

16 Thomas, nicknamed the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let’s go, too—and die with Jesus.” John 11:7-16

Just as a little side note, Thomas is such an interesting fellow! We always think of him as “Doubting Thomas” – and to be honest, he does seem a little pessimistic – He’s pretty sure they’re all gonna die! But one thing’s for sure – he’s certainly committed to Jesus. He’s willing to go with Jesus anywhere – even if it means certain death!

And that’s probably a good little poke for our conscience – what are we willing to do to follow Jesus?  How far would we go in our commitment to him? Do we have the boldness of Thomas – not just to die for Jesus – but to live for Jesus in our workplace or in our schools or in our neighbourhoods? I imagine in some ways it might be easier to die for Jesus than to live for him!  Living for him certainly takes a lot more time and effort than dying anyway… It’s a much harder process – but are we willing to go through that for Jesus?

Well, that’s probably another sermon for another day. I’ll leave that with you to think about this week, but for now, let’s get back to Lazarus! Verse 17.

17 When Jesus arrived at Bethany, he was told that Lazarus had already been in his grave for four days. 18 Bethany was only a few miles down the road from Jerusalem, 19 and many of the people had come to console Martha and Mary in their loss. 20 When Martha got word that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him. But Mary stayed in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”

John 11:17-22

Now there’s two ways that we might read Martha’s statement to Jesus. Some might says she’s upset with Jesus – angry that Jesus didn’t come when they sent him the message. She says to him, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died!”

But I’m not sure that’s the tone here. It seems this is more of a statement of regret and grief – part of the natural process of grieving the death of a loved one. It’s going through all those “what if” questions that we all ask when something tragic happens. What if that person hadn’t driven to work that day? What if we had done something different? If only we could have changed that one little decision, things would be different! And I think that’s the tone of Martha here… She’s just working though the natural process of grief…

“Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.” She’s not accusing Jesus, but actually stating her confidence and faith in him. If Jesus had been here – He surely would have healed her brother! We can see that in verse 22 as well when she adds, “But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”

She’s reaffirming her trust and faith in Jesus – even as she struggles through the grief and the loss of her brother. And so Jesus replies to Martha in verse 23…

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

24 “Yes,” Martha said, “he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day.”

25 Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. 26 Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?”

27 “Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.” 

John 11:23-27

When Jesus stated that Lazarus would rise again, Martha readily affirms that. She believed as all other Jews did – that at the end of time, all the righteous would be raised to life again to spend eternity with God.

But it seems that what she didn’t fully understand was that the one who would raise them to life again was the very man standing there before her.

And so Jesus says in verse 25 – “I am the resurrection and the life.” I am the one who brings the dead back to life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?”

And Martha affirms that she did believe! She says she has always believed that Jesus was the Messiah – the Son of God. But you know, I still don’t think she fully got it…

If she had, don’t you think she would have asked Jesus to raise her brother back to life immediately? If Jesus was the Son of God and had the power to raise the dead – then why not raise Lazarus right here and now!

But that thought doesn’t even seem to cross her mind. I’m sure she would readily affirm that Jesus could heal the sick – but raise the dead? That doesn’t even seem to be on her radar.

Well, hold that thought for now, because from here the scene shifts from Martha to Mary. It says in verse 28…

28 Then she [Martha] returned to Mary. She called Mary aside from the mourners and told her, “The Teacher is here and wants to see you.” 29 So Mary immediately went to him.

30 Jesus had stayed outside the village, at the place where Martha met him. 31 When the people who were at the house consoling Mary saw her leave so hastily, they assumed she was going to Lazarus’s grave to weep. So they followed her there. 32 When Mary arrived and saw Jesus, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

John 11:28-32

It’s interesting that Mary greets Jesus with the exact same statement as her sister did. “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.” But this time, instead of responding to Mary with the same encouragement that He was the resurrection and the life, something very different happens. Look at verse 33…

33 When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled. 34 “Where have you put him?” he asked them.

They told him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Then Jesus wept.

John 11:33-35

Now this is pretty interesting. First of all, why did Jesus get angry when he saw Mary and the others weeping? And then secondly, why does Jesus express his anger with his own weeping?

Now of course, for those who were nearby, it didn’t seem too surprising to see Jesus weep. After all, Lazarus was his dear friend – it would be quite normal for someone to weep in that situation. Actually, in verse 36, we see that people just thought Jesus was weeping because of how much he cared for Lazarus.

36 The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much he loved him!” 37 But some said, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?” John 11:36-37

It’s almost comes across as if the people were expressing sympathy for Jesus because – even though he had the power to do these great miracles, he seemed powerless to save the life of his dear friend. But of course we know, that wasn’t the case! Jesus certainly had the power to keep Lazarus from dying – God just had other plans!

So exactly is going on here? It doesn’t seem too likely that Jesus was weeping simply over the loss of his dear friend Lazarus. He just finished telling Martha that He Himself was the one who had the power over life and death. What’s more, Jesus already knew what He was going to change this situation. He knew how He would bring glory to God through this whole situation – even back two days before he left for Bethany!

So why is he weeping now? Well, this is one of those situations in the Bible where the Scriptures don’t offer us any specific explanations. But we can piece together the clues to make some good, educated guesses. And one of our big clues is the fact that, as Jesus saw Mary and the others weeping and wailing over the loss of Lazarus, Jesus had a deep anger well up within him.

The NET says he was “intensely moved in spirit and greatly distressed.” So what would cause Jesus to feel such a deep feeling of anger or distress in this moment?

After carefully study of different commentaries and different word studies to understand what these verses are actually saying, I would conclude that Jesus was angry about the pain and anguish inflicted upon people he loved. He was angry about the devastation and suffering brought into the world by death.

As Jesus looked around at the grief of Mary – one of his dear friends – and the grief of the crowds of friends and family – it broke his heart to see their suffering because of sin’s harshest consequence – death.

Even though Jesus already knows how he will change this situation and turn their mourning into joy – in the moment, he feels their grief. He shares their pain.

It was never God’s intention for humanity to suffer the way we do because of sin and death. That was not part of God’s design for us! And so it pains Him to see us suffer! It makes him angry to see us get hurt – much like how we as parents get angry when someone hurts our children.

God loves each on of us dearly and he weeps when we are hurting! God is not some stoic, unfeeling God who just coldly watches the events of earth… No, he weeps over us. He longs to rescue us from our suffering.

He longs for the day, even more than we do, when He will do away with all sin and suffering – and we, his children, can live in joy and peace for all eternity.

And even though that day is still yet to come, Jesus was about to give Mary and Martha sneak peek of what that day will be like! It says in verse 38…

38 Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance. 39 “Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them.

But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.”

40 Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” 41 So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” 43 Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!”

45 Many of the people who were with Mary believed in Jesus when they saw this happen. 

John 11:38-45

What an incredible event! In the midst of all the grief and sorrow that comes with the death of a loved one, Jesus intervenes and completely puts and end to that sorrow and grief! He brings the dead back to life! He restores the joy and sense of wholeness to that family! The pain and loss of death were completely reversed! What a miracle!

And this miracle is just a snapshot of what Jesus has been working to accomplish since the fall of man. Even since Satan introduced sin and death into the world, Jesus has been at work, setting things into motion to reverse it’s devastating effects. To restore our joy and wholeness. To bring the dead back to life! To put an end to all sorrow and grief forever.

And as we get closer to Easter, we’ll see exactly how he did that through his own death and resurrection. Like I said, Lazarus’ resurrection was just a sneak peek.

But for today, I just want to close with three little reminders from our passage today and hopefully, these will give you the encouragement you need to get you through your week!

#1. God is always working for your good and His glory.

There are many times when we simply do not understand why God allows us to go through such difficult and painful things in our life. We don’t understand why he doesn’t intervene and change our situation. Like Mary and Martha, we plead with him to come – bring healing and restoration. To make things right before it’s too late! But sometimes, God chooses not to act in that moment. He waits two more days. Or two more weeks. Or two more years. And many times, we may never know why. 

But God knows why. He has a purpose in everything he does or doesn’t do. Like we read back in verse 4…

4 But when Jesus heard about it he said, “Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.” 5 So although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, 6 he stayed where he was for the next two days. John 11:4-6

Can I just encourage you, if Jesus seems to be delaying his intervention – if it seems that he’s ignoring your cries for help, please know that He hears you and He loves you! And whatever He is doing, he is doing it for your good and His glory. You might not see it now, but you can trust that He’s going to do something amazing through this.

And that leads into our second reminder and that is:

#2. Jesus shares your grief.

It’s important to remember that although Jesus does allow some really hard things in life, it has never been his desire to see us suffer. He didn’t create us for that. He created us to experience joy and peace and life – and it pains him to see us suffer. He shares our grief. He shares our sorrow.

He understands and he weeps with us. 

That’s why I love Revelation 21:4… And I know I share this verse with you often, but I think it just sums up the heart of God! As John describes the new heaven and the new earth at the end of time, he writes

God himself will be with them. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” Revelation 21:3b-4

You know, I think God is looking forward to that day even more than we are! He can’t wait to put an end to all of our suffering and pain – and to instead fill us with joy and peace and life!

And that takes us to our 3rd reminder for today.

#3. Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life.

The hope that we have for the future – and even the comfort that we need now in our current suffering – is found only through faith in Jesus Christ. It is through Him that we have the hope of Resurrection and Life. And of course, as I said, we’ll talk more about this as we get closer to Easter.

But this is a greater miracle than even what Lazarus experienced. Technically, Lazarus experienced a resuscitation – not a resurrection. That is, he got back his old life in his old body. And unfortunately for him, he would have to experience death all over again some years later.

But for us, God promises – not just resuscitation – but resurrection! We have the hope of a new sin-free life in a new sin-free body that will live forever! We will never again suffer the consequences of sin! But that hope is only found through faith in Jesus. As Jesus said to Martha…

25 Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Do you believe this, Martha?” John 11:25

And that question is the same for us today. Do you believe this, Dave? Do you believe this?

This is perhaps the most important question that Jesus ever asked. Because it’s our belief in him that gives us this hope of Resurrection and Life.

And it is my hope and prayer that you would be able to whole-heartedly affirm with me your hope in Jesus – the Resurrection and the Life.

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