If you have been with us through this Lent series, I should not have to remind you by now that all of these stories we have been looking at in the gospel of John point forward. Not to steal the punchline from this story today, but I think the immediate application is rather obvious. Today we are looking at the seventh—and final—miracle story in John’s gospel, and it is a resurrection story involving Jesus’ friend Lazarus, and today is Easter. You don’t need a PHD in theology to see where this story is going.
Lazarus lives in the village of Bethany, about two miles from Jerusalem
The miracle of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead covers almost all of John 11. I am only going to be reading a few verses out from this chapter, so let’s glance over the other events that take place in chapter 11. Lazarus lives in the village of Bethany. This village is only about two miles from Jerusalem. In today’s city landscapes, we would consider the village of Bethany to be a suburb of Jerusalem. Even without cars in those days, a person could easily walk the distance from Bethany to Jerusalem in under an hour.
Mary and Martha send word to Jesus that their brother Lazarus is critically ill
Jesus is not in the village at the start of this story in John 11. We read in the opening verses that Lazarus is seriously ill in his home. This is the kind of sickness which people at that time knew was fatal and would end in death. So the sisters of Lazarus, Mary and Martha, send word to Jesus that their brother Lazarus is critically ill.
Jesus and his disciples were on the east side of the Jordan River, We see at the end of chapter 10 that they were near the place where John the Baptist would baptize people in the Jordan. This places Jesus somewhere past the city of Jericho, a considerable distance from Jerusalem. When word reaches Jesus about Lazarus, he stays where he is for two more days. And then Jesus announces to his disciples that he will be going to Bethany. The reaction of the disciples is notable. They remind Jesus that Bethany is close to Jerusalem, and Jesus is a wanted man in Jerusalem. In fact, there were several stories in the previous chapters during the Feast of Tabernacles in which the Jewish leaders tried unsuccessfully to have Jesus arrested or killed on the spot. The disciples want to make sure they heard Jesus correctly here; do you really want to go back over there where powerful people are trying to kill us?
when Jesus arrives, Lazarus has been inside the grave for four days
Upon hearing the news that Jesus was on the way, Martha goes out to meet Jesus before he arrives. At first glance it would appear that Jesus is too late. Lazarus has already died. In fact, the Bible tells us that Lazarus has been inside the grave for four days already. Martha’s words with Jesus seem somewhat resentful, but at the same time show faith in Jesus. She tells Jesus, “if only you would have been here sooner, then my brother would not have died.” Her words are a testimony to her belief in the power of Jesus to heal those who are sick. But she also communicates her disappointment that Jesus waited too long to do anything about it before it was too late.
Next, it is Mary who comes out to greet Jesus, and she says the exact same thing to Jesus, “if only you had been here sooner, then my brother would not have died.” At this time, all of them together go to the tomb where the body of Lazarus has been placed. This brings us up to the part of the passage that I want us to read today.
38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” 40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
water into wine & healing royal official’s child — faith/belief in Jesus
Resurrection. All of the miracles and all of the signs that Jesus has been providing for the people lead up to this one. Everything is pointing towards resurrection. Take a moment with me and consider how the apostle John weaves all of this together in his gospel writing. We started out by seeing the first two miracles which took place in the village of Cana. Jesus turned water into wine and he healed the royal official’s child. John uses both of these stories to highlight the way in which people believe in Jesus and come to faith in Jesus.
healing paralyzed man — Jesus takes the place of those who are guilty
The third miracle takes place in Jerusalem where Jesus heals a paralyzed man at the pool of Bethesda outside of the temple. The healed man is accused of breaking the sabbath law. John uses this story to highlight the way in which Jesus steps in and takes the place of those who are guilty under the law by taking their place.
feeding the multitude & walking on water — re-enacting manna and Red Sea
The next two miracles are back in the northern region of Galilee again near the hometown of Jesus. This is where Jesus feeds 5000 people with only five loaves of bread and two fish. This is also where Jesus walks on water to meet the boat in which his disciples are struggling to row against the storm. These two miracles walk through a reenactment of Old Testament Jewish history by making close associations with manna in the wilderness, and the parting of the Red Sea.
healing blind man — Jesus gives light/sight
And finally the sixth miracle we saw last week was the healing of the blind man in Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles. From the very beginning of John’s gospel all the way back in chapter 1, John uses the theme of light and calls Jesus the “light of the world.” John uses this miracle story to highlight the way in which Jesus provides light by opening the eyes of the blind.
Do you see the meshing together of these themes? People are coming to Jesus in faith, believing in him as the one sent from God. Jesus is showing himself to be the fulfillment of all the Old Testament Jewish law and requirement. And those who believe in Jesus are given the sight to see the light of Jesus, while those who reject Jesus are blind in darkness.
Lazarus — resurrection
And the final scene John wants his readers to pick up is the resurrection of Lazarus. From this point in John’s gospel the story turns to the triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and events of betrayal and arrest on Maundy Thursday, the crucifixion on Good Friday, and the mysterious story on Sunday morning that the body of Jesus is gone; the tomb is opened and the body of Jesus is no longer there. And along with this empty tomb on Easter morning comes this crazy story about resurrection.
But hold up, this resurrection story is not so crazy at all because Jesus has given us a glimpse of it already in the events with Lazarus which have already happened. Jesus provides a miracle that reminds us that death is not the winner. God holds the power of resurrection. All of these miracle stories point us forward to Jesus. They point us to this day. Easter. Resurrection day.
death and resurrection of Lazarus is directly tied to the death and resurrection of Jesus
event that brought life back to Lazarus would be the event that brought death to Jesus
But these resurrection stories are connected in another way as well. The death and resurrection of Lazarus is directly tied to the death and resurrection of Jesus. If you continue to read past verse 44, you discover that it is the resurrection of Lazarus which finally prompts the official decision of the Jewish leaders to have Jesus executed. The event that brought life back to Lazarus would be the event that brought death to Jesus. Jesus would have to die because Lazarus is now alive.
dying and rising of Jesus is the event which points to the dying and rising of those who believe in him
We should not lose sight of this connection. Jesus giving himself over to death is the thing which delivers each of us from death. The dying and rising of Jesus is the event which points to the dying and rising of those who believe in him. Because Jesus came and died as one of us, those who believe in Jesus also die in Jesus. And because Jesus lives, those who believe in Jesus will also live.
resurrection is the most profound part of the Christian faith
Resurrection is the most profound part of the Christian faith. It is the most inexplicable feature. In the book of Acts when the apostle Paul gained an audience with the Greek philosophers on Mars Hill, Paul grabbed their attention by pointing them towards the alter set up there and marked as the alter to the unknown god. Paul revealed to them the gospel message. He explained the life of Jesus. He told them about the way in which Jesus took the place of all sinners who come to God by sacrificing himself on the cross. He told them that after three days the tomb was opened and Jesus rose from the grave. And it was at that point which the Greek philosophers laughed and told Paul to get lost. He rose from the grave? Resurrection? Are we really supposed to believe that?
all of the biblical evidence points towards resurrection — eyewitness accounts | spread of the gospel | solidarity of scripture
It remains today that resurrection is one of the hardest doctrines of the Christian faith for people to grasp. Yet at the same time, all of the biblical evidence points towards resurrection. The gospels include eyewitness accounts of Jesus. The news of Jesus’ resurrection spread and a whole new church was born. The gospel of Jesus made its way far beyond Israel and took root in the hearts of people all around the world. Every effort to eradicate and destroy the church of Jesus only made it stronger. Those who faced imprisonment, torture, or death because of their Christian testimony remained faithful. Would so many people hold onto a resurrection story under those circumstances if it wasn’t actually true?
The story of Jesus’ resurrection has been written and copied and shared. In those first centuries of the church those gospel stories made their way along with those early letters to the churches to become part of the biblical literature. And for thousands of years now this gospel story has been preserved and passed along from one generation to the next. The most remarkable and complete archaeological discoveries of biblical texts have only been found in the last 100 years. And isn’t it remarkable that these oldest and most complete manuscripts which have been unearthed just in the last century hold incredibly accurate solidarity with the biblical text we have which for over 1500 years was hand copied over and over by scribes and monks throughout the world. The gospel witness about the resurrection of Jesus has been amazingly accurate, consistent, and preserved for 2000 years. How could that possibly be the case if it were not actually true?
The last few years here in America has seen our share of outlandish conspiracy theories. But recent conspiracy theories like QAnon have no consistency. Those conspiracy theories twist and turn in different versions that end up completely unraveling. Those conspiracy theories have been completely debunked and shown as false because sooner or later that’s what happens to conspiracy theories. So if this resurrection story of Jesus which happened 2000 years ago were just a conspiracy theory, then why is it still around? Unless, of course, it is not a conspiracy theory, but it actually happened.
Christian faith is not just a philosophy, or a teaching, or a way of seeing the world around you | Christianity is an event! Christianity happened
resurrection is not an idea, teaching, or philosophy — resurrection is an event
Here is what I am getting at. Christianity is not just a collection of ideas. The Christian faith is not just a set of beliefs. Christian faith is not just a philosophy, or a teaching, or a way of seeing the world around you. Christianity is an event! Christianity happened. Resurrection is not an idea. Resurrection happened. We are here in this place today because resurrection happened. You and I who are part of the church do not just believe in it; we live in it. We not only believe in resurrection. We live as resurrection people.
we not only believe in resurrection — we live as resurrection people
The example of Lazarus is held up before us today as testimony that we are all resurrection people. So live today as part of God’s resurrection people. We not only believe in the grace of God; we live as people who demonstrate the grace of God. We not only believe in the love of our heavenly Father; we live as people who demonstrate the love of our heavenly Father. Do you see? Demonstrating a resurrection life begins now. We demonstrate resurrection when we demonstrate Jesus. Sure, in passages like 1 Corinthians 15 Paul speaks about our own resurrection as something in the future—yet to be experienced.
51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
Paul speaks about the salvation we have received through Christ as something which has already happened “for it is by grace that you have been saved”
we are already granted the status of resurrection people right now | and called to the glorious ministry of living as resurrection people right now
But this does not mean our salvation is on hold, waiting for that glorious resurrection to happen. Because Paul also speaks about the salvation we have received through Christ as something which has already happened. Paul does NOT say in Ephesians 2, “for it is by grace you will be saved.” No; the New Testament very consistently frames our salvation as an event which has already happened. Paul says in Ephesians 2, “for it is by grace that you have been saved.” Salvation has already happened. The door to paradise with God is already opened, and nothing can ever close it. Because of what we celebrate today on Easter, resurrection is a sure thing; it is locked in; it cannot be stopped from happening. You and I are already granted the status of resurrection people right now, even though we wait for its culmination to arrive. That means you and I are called to the glorious ministry of living as resurrection people right now.
This is exactly what the words of Jesus show us in the prayer he gave right before his betrayal and arrest. In John 17 we see Jesus giving us a picture of what living a resurrection life looks like right here and now for us today.
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. 25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
love, grace, unity | we do these things as believers in Jesus not because they are obligations, we do these things because we embrace the resurrection as part of who we are
Love, unity; those things that Jesus is praying for are not just teachings or doctrines or commands. Jesus lived those things. Jesus brought those things to life. Jesus sows the seeds of resurrection into his church. And Jesus makes very clear in this prayer that the beginning sprouts of those seeds will show up in his church right now through our actions of love and grace and unity. We do these things as believers in Jesus not because they are obligations, we do these things because we embrace the resurrection as part of who we are, and we—in gratitude—live out that resurrection even now today.
Jesus called Lazarus by name. Jesus called Lazarus to get up and get out of that tomb. Jesus is calling you by name as well. We have new life in Jesus, just as Lazarus did. We remember today that we are called to be resurrection people.