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Like a Rolling Stone

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John 11:1-44 The Raising of Lazarus

I.       THE PROBLEM (a heavy stone)

A.      I want to share two stories with you.  One that happened about 2000 years ago, and one that is happening right now.

1.       READ John 11:1-4

a.        Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 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.”

B.      Lazarus is ill. //  You and I have a problem: 

1.       It weighs on us as if it were a heavy stone sitting on our chest, keeping us from breathing easily, slowing us down, crushing our hearts.

a.       An addiction that shames us.  We fear if anyone ever knew, we’d be ruined.

b.      A wayward child

c.       That lump in our body that just won’t go away like we hoped.

d.      An emptiness that we cannot quite fill; something dead and rotting that we will not allow the Lord to deal with.  The stone sits heavy on us even now.

2.       There always seems to be something in OUR lives that is ill.

3.       We can all identify with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus here.

C.      So those of us who know Jesus, as Mary, Martha, and Lazarus did go to him and say “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” (Jn 11:3)

1.       The word translated “love” here is more of an appeal to emotion.  The statement would seem to be used to persuade Jesus to help because of an emotional tie He has with the family.

D.      The sisters request assistance from Jesus. //  We do the same thing.

1.       v. 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.”

2.       So based on His reassurance:

a.       Through His Spirit

b.      Through His Word

c.       Through His people

d.      We are comfortable that He is in control and that He is moving to solve our problem and all will be well.

e.      After all, my trials and problems are for the glorification of God.

3.       End result



II.     THE IMMEDIATE RESPONSE (The Lord tarries)

A.      v. 5 Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.  So when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he hot footed it to Bethany to render direct physical assistance exactly as they wanted.

1.       Nope;  he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

B.      What’s up with that?

1.       Ever have this happen to you?

2.       The problem is crushing down on you, the stone has become so heavy that you feel you can no longer bear it the Lord promises deliverance the Bible calls for us to rejoice but. . .

a.       The Lord tarries.

b.      Why does the Lord tarry?

C.      Why did He wait to go to Bethany?

1.       The disciples thought it was because He was afraid of being arrested and stoned.

a.       READ vv. 7-8

i.         Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?”

2.       Jesus’ response

a.       READ vv. 9-10

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

b.      Jesus reminds them that He is the light of the world (as He proclaimed previously in Jerusalem) Expecting that this would help them believe.

After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

c.       Lazarus has died and Jesus is GLAD??

i.        So you may believe!

D.     Why did the Lord wait to go to Bethany?

1.       v. 5 Jesus “loved” Martha and her sister and Lazarus.

a.       The word translated “love” here is different from the one we encountered earlier.

i.         This word expresses an act of the will; a chosen relationship as opposed to an emotional tie.

b.      Jesus’ immediate response here and in our lives is a love that places our eternal well being ahead of our current circumstance.

2.       The Lord loves us so much that He is willing to tarry even when we are hurt by His inaction.

a.       Our eternal condition far outweighs our temporal one.

b.      As finite beings this is often a difficult whale to swallow.

3.       End result:



A.      Jn 11:17 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.

1.       (From Borchert in the New American Commentary):  This notation was extremely important to those familiar with Jewish burial customs. The general belief was that the spirit of the deceased hovered around the body for three days in anticipation of some possible means of reentry into the body. But on the third day it was believed that the body lost its color and the spirit was locked out. Therefore the spirit was obliged to enter the chambers of Sheol (the place of the dead). The passing of the third day, therefore, signaled the conclusion of the last modicum of hope for the mourners.[1]

2.       When Jesus finally shows up it’s obviously too late and all hope is gone.

a.       Have your four days of hope come and gone?

b.      Has your stone been upon you for too long?

i.        Do you think its too late?

ii.      Have ya given up hope?

iii.    Do you feel that even if Jesus did show up it couldn’t make a difference?

B.      Martha comes to Jesus

1.       Jn 11:18-20 Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house.

2.       Martha left the crowd and ran to Jesus and expressed her joy at the arrival of the deliverer?

3.       NO

4.       Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

a.       Martha didn’t get it.  Jesus had come to deliver what they had requested, however, remember that it had been four days and so there was no hope of Lazarus’ imminent return.

5.       Jesus’ statement and Martha’s response would change Martha’s eternal life.

a.       11:25-27

i.        Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

C.      Mary comes to Jesus

1.       11:28-36

a.       v.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.”

i.        After Martha’s confession she shares with Mary that there is something she needs to do.

ii.      “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.”

(A)   The same is true right here in this moment:

(1)   The Teacher is here and is calling for you

(2)   Will you respond like Martha did?

b.      vv.29-32  And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 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. 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.”

i.        This is the SAME thing that Martha said to Jesus.

ii.      The stone that sits heavy on these people that is causing their pain is difficult for Jesus to witness.

(A)   The stone in your life that is crushing you is difficult for Jesus to witness.

iii.    Mary also didn’t have a deep understanding, faith, and trust in who He really was.  The pain and doubt implicit in this statement stings the Lord. 

c.       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. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

2.       The crowd recognized Jesus as Lord, but still failed to realize what this means.  Jesus shares in their pain and is equally affected by the “wrongness” of the situation.

3.       As we weep and lament over the debilitating weight of the dark issues of life, the stones that life heaps upon us, Jesus weeps alongside us.

4.       v. 37   But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”

a.       Can He not put an end to this suffering?

b.      Why does the Lord yet tarry?


A.    Jesus raises Lazarus

1.      Jesus is “deeply moved again” by the expression of unbelief in the crowd and in those who openly acknowledge Him as Lord

2.      His command to take away the stone is met with yet more doubt and questioning as Martha protests that this action will result in an uncomfortable odor.

a.       Jesus points out that the stone would have to be moved before he could rectify the situation.

b.      See much like the stones that smother our vitality, the problem that is presenting itself is not the REAL problem.

c.       Jesus has already beaten death, but He cannot beat unbelief no matter how lightly held onto.

d.      It is the stone of unbelief not a physical stone that blocks the tomb preventing Lazarus from coming out.

3.      Jesus prays out loud to the Father for the benefit of the audience

4.      Jesus cries out

5.      Lazarus comes out

a.       “Unbind him, and let him go.”

B.     The end result

1.      Why did the Lord Tarry?

2.      Why does the Lord Tarry in our lives?

a.       Examples of the Lord not responding as we might think:

i.         Stephen, the first martyr of the church

(A)   Acts 7:58  Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.  And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

(B)   What effect might this have had on Saul?

(C)   What effect might your situation have on those around you?

ii.      Joseph, a prisoner mistreated at every end

(A) Genesis 50:20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

3.      What tombs do you have in your heart that are blocked by the stone of unbelief?

a.       What reasons do you use to justify why you carry these hard burdens?

i.        Lord it stinks in there, it’s best left alone

ii.      Lord you don’t understand, it’s been four days, all hope is gone there’s nothing you can do.

iii.    Lord I can’t move that stone you’ll have to do it first.

4.      11:45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him,

5.      Was the pain of physical death and loss worth what was gained in the end?

C.     Who might be watching you that when they see what you do in your pain will believe in him?


[1]Gerald L. Borchert, vol. 25A, John 1-11, electronic ed., Logos Library System; The New American Commentary, 354 (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001, c1996).

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