John 11:38-46 - Jesus and Lazarus: Power Over Death
Jesus Christ confronted death and demonstrated His great power over death. In confronting and conquering the tomb of Lazarus, He demonstrated that the believer’s hope is not in vain. The believer will be raised from the dead, resurrected by the great shout of the Lord’s power.
1. Jesus confronted the dead (v.38-39).
2. The great promise of unlimited, resting faith (v.40).
3. The great prayer of purpose (v.41-42).
4. The great shout of power over death (v.43-44).
5. Conclusion: the reaction to Jesus’ great power (v.45-46).
A. The Raising of lazarus
1. Jesus Confronted The Dead (v.38-39)
a) He groaned (v.38)
· He saw the pain of Mary and Martha and their dear friends.
· He sensed the terrible dread and bondage that death held over His dear friend Lazarus, and over the whole human race.
· He was keenly conscious of His own terrible death that lay only a few days away.
He felt the emotions of both compassion and anger, sympathy and indignation. He groaned from deep within, sensing an intense love for all who suffer and a holy anger and displeasure against death .
b) He was confronted with an objection from a believer (v.39)
(1) An Unbeliever Might Question If Lazarus Was Truly Dead. Note the emphasis upon the fact that Lazarus was truly dead.
(a) Lazarus was in a real tomb, a tomb of the wealthy. Martha’s wealth was indicated by her having owned a house large enough to lodge Jesus and His disciples. If by any stretch of the imagination Lazarus had been mistaken for dead, he was certainly dead now, for it had been four days since he was buried. He would have been placed in an enclosed tomb, being critically ill and very weak. Four days without food or water in such circumstances would kill any weak and critically ill person.
(b) There was Martha’s shock at Jesus’ request. The body would have started to decompose after four days.
(2) It Was A Believer Who Objected To Jesus Confronting The Situation. Martha was not sure that Jesus’ action was wise and for the best. She was uneasy about what Jesus was doing and asking. She was satisfied with things as they were, with Lazarus laid to rest as he was. What she wanted was to be comforted, not disturbed.
(3) Many Believers Want Things Left Alone, Being Happy With Things As They Are. They want only enough of Christ to give them comfort and security and ease. They want little if anything to do with His demands and confrontation with the sin and death of the world (Luke 9:23).
(a) People in Jesus’ day knew what it meant to “take up” a cross. They saw many criminals bearing the cross to the place where they were to be executed, and they witnessed many of crucifixions, some even by the side of the roads that led in and out of the cities.
· The cross does not mean merely bearing one’s particular hardship in life. The cross is always an instrument of death, not just an object to carry or bear.
· The Christian is to die mentally and actively and daily. He is to let the mind of Christ, the mind of humbling himself to the point of death, be in him and fill his thoughts every day (Phil. 2:5-8; 2 Cor. 10:3-5).
· He is to put his will, his desires, his wants, his ambitions to death. In their stead, he is to follow Jesus and to do His will all day long.
· It takes positive, active behavior to will, to deny self, to take up one’s cross, to follow Christ.
2. The Great Promise Of Unlimited, Resting Faith (v.40)
Jesus challenged Martha to take leap of faith. He wanted her to trust Him, to quit questioning what He did. He wanted her to trust...
· His judgment and will.
· His knowledge and understanding.
· His Word and instructions.
Very simply, He wanted her to rest in Him, to place an unlimited, resting faith in Him.
a) There is a rest for the believer.
(1) It is called the believer’s rest or God’s rest. The believer enters God’s rest by what may be called a resting faith or an unlimited faith. An unlimited, resting faith is the highest level or stage of faith. It is the level of faith God desires for every believer. A resting (unlimited) faith is a faith that rests in at least four things.
(a) A resting faith is a rest of deliverance and salvation. It is to rest in God’s Word, to know beyond all question...
(i) that one is truly saved and delivered from sin and shame, death and hell.
(ii) that one is freed from the guilt and nagging of conscience.
(iii) that one has open access into God’s presence through prayer.
"Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28, NKJV)
"Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ," (Romans 5:1, NKJV)
"For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said: “So I swore in My wrath,‘They shall not enter My rest,’ ”although the works were finished from the foundation of the world." (Hebrews 4:3, NKJV)
(b) A resting faith is a rest of service and ministry. It is not a life that does nothing for God. It is a rest that comes from committing one’s life to the call and purpose of Jesus Christ, a rest that is...
(i) filled with purpose, meaning, and significance.
(ii) committed to sharing Christ with a world lost and full of desperate needs.
(iii) surrendered to God’s call for personal involvement and service.
(iv) filled with God’s Spirit and equipped with His gifts for service.
(v) pleased with God’s call and gifts, with one’s lot in life and place of service.
"Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." (Matthew 11:29, NKJV)
"Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God." (2 Corinthians 5:18-20, NKJV)
(c) A resting faith is a rest of assurance and confidence in the future. It is a rest of peace about the future. It is...
(i) the knowledge that all the enslavements and bondages of this life have been conquered in Christ, even death.
(ii) the knowledge and experience that God will take care of us no matter what may come or fall.
(iii) the knowledge and very real presence of hope: the hope of eternal life, of heaven, of the eternal and perfect rest for the people of God.
(iv) Passages for Peace (John 14:27; 16:33; Isaiah 26:3)
(d) A resting faith is a rest of courage and knowledge. It is a faith that does not question or complain. It is a faith that truly believes, trusts, and rests in God, that actually...
(i) takes God at His Word and does what He says.
(ii) knows that God’s presence and blessing are upon one’s life.
(iii) knows that what happens is under God’s control (Romans 8:28).
(iv) experiences God’s presence and care day by day, being taken care of and looked after.
(v) knows victory over all: being filled with all confidence, assurance, hope, and peace (Philippians 4:6-7).
b) If you would believe you would see (v.40)
(1) Man Demands That He First See, Then He Will Believe. This is totally contrary to true faith. It is not the way faith works. In spiritual matters, a person must first believe God, then he sees. Faith must precede, come before sight.
(2) The writer of Hebrews says, “By faith we understand” (Heb.11:3)…The Apostle John wrote, “I have written to you who believe…that you may know (1Jn.5:13).
(3) God is not pleased with the kind of faith that demands a prior miracle. He wants us to believe simply because He is God.
(a) Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:27-31)
(b) Lazarus, Martha’s Brother (John 12:9-11)
(c) Thomas (John 20:29)—we have never seen Jesus we love Him (1 Pet.1:8)
(d) Those who want to see signs (John 6:28-30; Matt.27:35-44)
(e) The Two Blind Men (Matthew 9:27-31)
(f) The Nobleman Believed Jesus’ Word Before He Seen the Miracle (John 4:46-53)
c) The Glory of God (v.40)
(1) Old Testament. God’s glory took the physical form of light:
(a) lightening (Ps.29:3)
(b) the brightness of theophany (Ezek.1:27-29)
(c) the bright cloud that led the Israel though the wilderness (Ex.40:34-38)
(d) the annunciation to the shepherds & Paul’s conversion (Lk.2:9; Acts 7:55)
(e) The Essence of God’s glory is His holiness & goodness.
(f) Ex.33:18-34:8 cf. Is.6:1-5; Jn.12:41
(2) New Testament. God’s glory is linked with His display of power. So how was Martha going to see the “glory of God?”
(a) Jesus said in 11:4 that this his death was for the Glory of God, (v.23) Jesus said “your brother will rise again. Therefore the glory is the power of God to raise from the dead.
3. The Great Prayer Of Purpose (v.41-42)
The emphasis from this point on was on the faith of the spectators, the people who had come to comfort Mary and Martha, Jesus’ prayer was that they might know that God had sent Him.
Jesus was praying for a specific purpose, and in so doing He demonstrated the purpose and the power of prayer. When a man truly prays with purpose, he receives the answer to his prayer and witnesses to the power of prayer. Note Jesus’ prayer.
a) Addressed God as “Father” (v.41a)
(1) Jesus had an intimate and continuous relationship with God: a Father-Son relationship. He knew God as His “Father,” and God knew Jesus as His Son ( John 10:14-16).
(2) Thought 1. Believers are hereby taught to call upon God as “Father” and to approach God as a child would: intimately and boldly, yet respectfully and reverently (Romans 8:15-16; Gal.4:4-6).
b) Made a request (v.41b)
(1) Jesus requested that His Father do something: “You have heard me.” What Jesus asked was not stated, but the reader knows from the context that it has to do with...
(a) the power to conquer death.
(b) the strengthening of believers standing around and watching Him.
(c) the stirring of others to believe and trust Him.
c) Offered thanksgiving (v.41b)
(1) Jesus offered thanksgiving to the Father, praising the Father for the glorious privilege of prayer and of being heard and having His prayers answered. God is to be praised for prayer, for the open access He allows into His presence and for the glorious fact that He hears and answers us (John 16:23-24, 26-27).
d) Expressed perfect confidence (v.42a)
(1) Jesus expressed a perfect and confident knowledge in God: “I know that you always hear me.”
(2) God always hears Jesus as well as Jesus always pleasing the Father (John 8:29)
(3) Our Application (1 John 5:14; 1 John 3:22)
e) Bore testimony (v.42b)
Jesus bore testimony through the prayer. He prayed...
(1) to show the close personal relationship between Himself and God.
(2) to stir belief in those who hear his prayer (John 12:29-30; 17:21) & that He was the Sent One of God (John 3:34; John 4:31-35).
(3) Think About This: Jesus always prayed with purpose; therefore, He always received the answer to His prayer and bore testimony to the power of prayer. So it is with every true believer. When we pray with purpose, God answers our prayer, and by so doing He proclaims...
· that Christ is the Son of the living God.
· that Christ is the One sent into the world to open the door (secure access) into God’s presence.
· that Christ is the One who has the power over death.
4. The great shout of power over death (v.43-44)
a) Was by Christ alone (v.43a)
(1) The Power Over Death Comes From Jesus Alone. Few prophets have ever raised a dead person except Jesus. Jesus alone has the power to raise the dead. Note that He simply spoke three words, “Lazarus, come forth”.
“For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself” (John 5:26).
“Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2:14-15).
b) Was personal: By name (v.43b)
(1) The Shout Of Jesus Is Personal. Jesus shouted the name of Lazarus. He did not just shout, “Come forth”; He shouted “Lazarus, come forth.” Jesus knows every believer by name, and He is personally concerned over the death of everyone. The day is coming when He will shout “Come forth,” and only the ones personally known by Him will come forth (John 14:2-3).
c) The result (v.44)
(1) Lazarus Received Jesus’ Personal Attention. The person who was resurrected received the personal attention of Jesus. Note the attention and the thoughtfulness of Jesus: “Loose him, and let him go.”
(2) Lazarus Who Was Dead Came Forth.
(a) Lazarus’s experience is a good illustration of what happens to a sinner when he trusts the Savior (Eph. 2:1–10).
(b) Lazarus was raised from the dead by the power of God, and all who trust Christ have been given new life and lifted out of the graveyard of sin (John 5:24-26).
(3) Lazarus Was Set Free From The Graveclothes (Col.3:1-14). In Scripture, clothing carries a spiritual meaning. We have been given “garments of new life”
(a) God’s children have taken off the filthy garments of sin and have put on the garments of God’s grace, the righteousness of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 5:21; Isa. 61:10; 64:6).
(b) We have “put off the old man with his deeds; and have put on the new man which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him” (Col. 3:9-10).
(c) Just as Jesus commanded the grave clothes to be removed from Lazarus (John 11:44), so should we put off by faith the grave clothes of the old life. After all, we share God’s life—and nobody will believe we are alive if we don’t dress like it!
(d) When a lost sinner is raised from the dead, you can tell it by his speech, his walk, his appetite, and his “change of clothes” . You cannot hide life!
(e) After Adam & Eve had sinned against God, they tried to cover themselves; but only the Lord could forgive them and clothe them acceptably, and He had to shed blood to do it (Gen. 3:1–8, 21).
(f) The Jewish priests wore special garments that nobody else was permitted to (Ex. 28).
(g) Salvation is pictured as a change of clothes (Luke 15:22; Isa. 61:10), and Christian living means taking off the “graveclothes” of the old life and putting on the “grace clothes” of the new life (Col. 3:1–17; John 11:44).
(h) You find him seated with Christ at the table (John 12:2), and all believers are “seated with Christ” in heavenly places (Eph. 2:6), enjoying spiritual food and fellowship.
(4) The Living Witness! Because of the great change in Lazarus, many people desired to see him; and his “living witness” was used by God to bring people to salvation (John 12:9–11). There are no recorded words of Lazarus in the Gospels, but his daily walk is enough to convince people that Jesus is the Son of God.
(5) Lazarus’ Life Is Emblematic Of New Life In Christ (2 Cor.5:17).
(a) Every believer’s life has been so changed that the only way it can be accounted for is the power of Christ (Romans 1:16; Acts 3:1-16).
(b) If we have new life and are fellowshipping with Christ, we are great arguments for the Gospel of Jesus (2 Cor.3:2).
(6) All Believers Have Risen To Walk In The Newness Of Life (Rom.6:4-6).
(a) That does not mean our sinful tendencies are annihilated. The Greek word translated “done away with” literally means “to render inoperative, invalidate.” Sin has lost its dominating control over us. Obviously we all struggle with sinful propensities. Death to the sinful self does not mean death to the flesh and its corrupted inclinations. Because of the pleasures of sin and the weakness of our remaining flesh, we often yield to sin.
(b) The tyranny and penalty of sin have been nullified, but sin’s potential for expression has not yet been fully removed. Our human weaknesses and instincts make us capable of succumbing to temptation. We are, in short, new creations—holy and redeemed but wrapped in grave clothes of unredeemed flesh. We are like Lazarus, who came forth from the grave still wrapped from head to foot in his burial garments. Jesus instructed those standing nearby to “unbind him, and let him go” (John 11:44).
5. Conclusion: The reaction to Jesus’ great power (v.45-46)
a) Some believed (v.45)
b) Some caused trouble (v.46)
As with the previous miracles, the people were divided in their response. Some did believe and on “Palm Sunday” gave witness of the miracle Jesus had performed (John 12:17–18). But others immediately went to the religious leaders and reported what had happened in Bethany.
(1) Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:27-31)
(2) Lazarus, Martha’s Brother (John 12:9-11)
These “informers” were so near the kingdom, yet there is no evidence that they believed. If the heart will not yield to truth, then the grace of God cannot bring salvation. These people could have experienced a spiritual resurrection in their own lives!
He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.”
Take off the graveclothes! Lazarus no longer belonged to the old dominion of death, for he was now alive. Why go about wearing graveclothes? Take off the old and put on the new!
This was Paul’s argument—you no longer belong to the old corruption of sin; you belong to the new creation in Christ. Take off the graveclothes!
The picture here is that of a person changing clothes: “Put off... put on” (Col. 3:9–10). This relates to the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Col. 3:1); for when He arose from the dead, Jesus Christ left the graveclothes behind (John 20:1–10). He had entered into a glorious resurrection life and had no need for the graveclothes. Likewise, when Lazarus was raised from the dead, Jesus instructed the people to “loose him, and let him go” (John 11:44).
The graveclothes represent the old life with its sinful deeds. Now that we have new life in Christ, we must walk “in newness of life” by putting off the old deeds and desires (Rom. 6:4). We do this by practicing our position in Christ, by reckoning ourselves to be dead to the old and alive to the new.
When you are born into the family of God by faith in Christ, you are born complete. God gives you everything you will ever need “for life and godliness.” Nothing has to be added! “And ye are complete in Him” (Col. 2:10).
That does not mean our sinful tendencies are annihilated. The Greek word translated “done away with” literally means “to render inoperative, invalidate.” Sin has lost its dominating control over us. Obviously we all struggle with sinful propensities. Death to the sinful self does not mean death to the flesh and its corrupted inclinations. Because of the pleasures of sin and the weakness of our remaining flesh, we often yield to sin.
The tyranny and penalty of sin have been nullified, but sin’s potential for expression has not yet been fully removed. Our human weaknesses and instincts make us capable of succumbing to temptation (as we shall see in chapter 8 when we study Romans 7:14–25). We are, in short, new creations—holy and redeemed but wrapped in grave clothes of unredeemed flesh. We are like Lazarus, who came forth from the grave still wrapped from head to foot in his burial garments. Jesus instructed those standing nearby to “unbind him, and let him go” (John 11:44).
After Lazarus had been dead for four days, Jesus called him forth from the grave. When he came out he was still wrapped from head to foot in his grave clothes, and Jesus instructed those standing nearby to “unbind him, and let him go” (John 11:44).
That story is a vivid picture of a believer’s condition at the time of his conversion. He becomes fully alive spiritually when he trusts in Christ as Savior and Lord, but he is still bound, as it were, in some of the grave clothes of his old sinful life. The difference, of course, is that all of a believer’s sinful old clothes do not come off immediately, as did those of Lazarus. Not only that, but believers are continually tempted to put the old clothes back on. It is that continuing battle with sin and Satan that Paul recognizes in Romans 6:11–14.
After reminding his readers that they have died to sin and been raised to new life with Christ, the apostle now turns their attention to taking off the old grave clothes and living the new life to the fullness of Christ’s righteousness and to His glory.
In chapter 7, using himself as the example, Paul deals more fully with the believer’s battle with the old sinful habits and inclinations. He confesses that, even as an apostle, he did not fully understand why, since he had died to sin, the battle against sin still raged within him. “For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate” (Rom. 7:15). He does, however, know where the trouble lies, declaring a few verses later, “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not” (v. 18).
In the present passage Paul again answers questions he knew his readers would wonder about: “If we have really been freed from sin by Christ (v.7), why does it still give us so much trouble? If we are now holy before God, why are our lives so often unholy? If we are righteous, how can our lives better manifest that righteousness?” Three key words summarize the answers presented in 6:11–14: know, consider, and yield.