Signs of Jesus from the Gospel of John

Raising a Man from the Dead

John 11:1-46

Teaching t09867


We come this morning to the final miracle in our miniseries. This is the climactic miracle in Jesus' ministry, in which he raises a man from the dead.

Why didn’t the other synoptic writers include this event? Probably because Lazarus was still alive when they wrote their gospels (50 -70 AD), and they knew Lazarus was still a marked man (see 12:10). John, writing after Lazarus has died, includes this event which explains the Triumphal Entry.

The setting

The controversy over Jesus' claims at the Feast of Booths (to be Messiah and God) came to a head (10:39), so Jesus went into hiding in the Judean wilderness (10:40 - MAP).

Read 11:1-6. 11:4 (like 9:3) means that Lazarus' sickness will not ultimately end with his physical death, but rather with a tremendous manifestation of God's power and love (through his raising). Jesus stayed where he was for two more days (11:6), not because he didn’t care about this family (11:5), not to wait for Lazarus to die (he evidently died shortly after the messengers left to find Jesus), but to set the stage for an indisputable raising from the dead.

APPLICATION: Sometimes it seems like God isn't listening/doesn't care--but this is not true. He is delaying, because doing so provides opportunity for a greater disclosure of his glory (for yours and others' good).

Read 11:7-16. The disciples are probably more concerned about their own safety than Jesus' in 11:8. Notice how relieved they are to hear that since Lazarus is not dead, there is no need to return to Jerusalem (11:12). When they realize that Jesus cannot be persuaded to stay away from Jerusalem, Thomas bravely resigns them all to their fates (11:16). So off they go to Lazarus' funeral, and to Jesus' funeral--and to their own funerals . . . 

Read 11:17-24. 11:17 suggests that Lazarus died shortly after his sisters sent a messenger to find Jesus. Martha is overwhelmed by the untimely death of her brother. In 11:21,22, she isn't rebuking Jesus, but expressing her faith in his authority to heal sickness and her regret at his absence. She interprets Jesus' statement in 11:23 as orthodox Jewish condolences reflecting their belief in the resurrection of the dead at the end of the age (11:24; see Dan. 12:2). This sets the stage for another titanic claim by Jesus . . . 

Jesus claim

Read 11:25,26. She believed he had the authority to heal sickness, but he claims to have the authority to defeat death! Jesus claims to be the sole source ("I and I alone") of a life that overcomes all death. No one has ever made such a claim as this!

These verses sound contradictory at first glance (" . . . even if he dies . . . shall never die . . . "), but they are not. The key is understanding that Jesus refers to two kinds of death.

" . . . will live even if he dies . . . " "Die" here refers to physical death. Jesus does not promise that believing in him will prevent physical death. As implied here, physical death is the norm until Christ returns. But because he is "the resurrection," he can promise that he will raise from the (physically) dead those who believe in him and give them new bodies.

" . . . shall never die . . . " "Die" here (literally: "die unto the ages") refers to eternal separation from God. The Bible teaches that we come into this life separated from God and headed for eternal, conscious separation from him (2 Thess. 1:9). But because Jesus is "the life"--the sole source of spiritual, eternal life--those who believe in him immediately receive reconciliation with God (Col. 2:13) and are guaranteed deliverance from eternal death (Jn. 5:24).

This life is a gift available to every one of us, regardless of our sins. But this gift is available only through Jesus Christ, and there is a condition: "Do you believe this?"

Read 11:27 for the correct response. The content of Martha's reply is very important. She doesn't just believe in some abstract sense that there will be a final resurrection, and she does not believe that Jesus is some generic spiritual guru or her guardian angel. She believes in him personally as God's unique Messiah and sole Savior of humanity.

Jesus asks you this question: "Do you believe this?" According to the Bible, your present reconciliation with God and your eternal destiny depend on your response. If you have never done so before now, tell him that you entrust yourself to him in the same way Martha did.

Having made this unequaled claim, Jesus will now perform an unequaled miracle designed to validate his claim--a "sign." Just as he validated his claim to be the bread of life by feeding the multitude, and just as he validated his claim to be the light of the world by healing the man born blind, so he now validates his claim to have authority over all forms of death by physically raising Lazarus. But before Jesus performs this sign, he displays something else that is just as important . . . 

Jesus' emotional reaction

Read 11:28-31. Read 11:32-37. John, as an eye-witness, records Jesus' emotional reaction to this situation. He describes two distinct emotions.

He "wept" with sadness. Why did he weep? Not because he was despairing about losing Lazarus (like the rest of the people)--he knew he would raise him in just a few moments.

He wept because of his empathy for our tragic state. Death is not "the final stage of growth" (KUBLER-ROSS). It is not nature's beautiful way of recycling people so they go on as flowers and trees (UNITARIAN MINISTER). It is an obscenity, a terrible abnormality that God never designed for human beings. God created humans as personal, spiritual beings who were designed to live forever. Physical death is the horrible and unnatural result of humanity's revolt against God. The tragedy of physical death itself, and the painful separation from loved ones caused by it--all of this broke in upon Jesus and he wept.

" . . . We follow the One who stood and wept at the grave of Lazarus--not surely, because he was grieved that Mary and Martha wept, and sorrowed for their lack of faith (though some thus interpret) but because death, the punishment of sin, is even more horrible in his eyes than in ours. The nature which he had created as God, the nature which he had assumed as Man, lay there before him in its ignominy; a foul smell, food for worms. Though he was to revive it a moment later, he wept at the shame . . . "

But what if he had not wept? What if God was unmoved by our condition? What if God is an all-powerful Being who made the universe--but doesn't personally care about what we experience? Because of Jesus, and because he wept, we know that God does care (read Heb. 4:15).

What if he had only wept--and then gone home? God would be like Rabbi Harold Kushner's God in his book When Bad Things Happen To Good People: sad for us, but impotent to do anything about our situation.

"'If God can't make my sickness go away, what good is he? Who needs him?' God does not want you to be sick or crippled. He didn't make you have this problem, and he doesn't want you to go on having it, but he can't make it go away. That is something which is too hard even for God."

"Are you capable of forgiving and loving God even when you have found out that he is not perfect, even when he has let you down and disappointed you . . . Can you learn to love and forgive him despite his limitations, as Job does . . . ?"

But Jesus not only wept because he empathizes with our condition; he also expressed another, very different emotion. He was "deeply moved in spirit." This word (embrimaomai) means to be "outraged" or "enraged" (see LXX Lam. 2:6; Dan. 11:30). One Greek author uses this word to describe "Greek stallions before battle, rearing up on their hind legs, pawing the air and snorting before they charged." It is the same word John uses in vs 38 to describe Jesus as he "charged" Lazarus' tomb. Jesus is outraged by death, and he has the power to do something about it! He will do this for all his people when he returns. He authenticates his claim of 11:26 by providing a foretaste of it here . . . 

The "sign"

Read 11:38. Lazarus' tomb was evidently like Jesus'--hewn out of a cave and covered with a huge slab that sealed the entrance.

Read 11:39,40. Martha still doesn't understand what Jesus is about to do. Since Jews did not embalm corpses, Lazarus' body would have a horrible stench by this time.

Read 11:41,42. Jesus prays aloud so that the crowd, when they see this miracle, will recognize that Jesus had been sent by God and believe in him.

Read 11:43. "Lazarus, come forth!" echoes Jn. 5:28,29 and is a foretaste of what it predicts. D. L. Moody said that if Jesus hadn't used the name of Lazarus, he would have emptied out the graveyard that day.

Read 11:44. Jewish corpses had their legs bound together at the ankles, so Lazarus would have been able to shuffle and hop, but not walk. This is why Jesus ordered them to take off the grave clothes.

As tremendous as this miracle is, it is only a picture of the resurrection. Lazarus was merely resuscitated; he got sick again eventually, and had to die again. Resurrection involves receiving a new body that is immune to sickness and immortal.

Before anyone could be truly resurrected, Jesus had to first die for our sins and be resurrected himself. 

The results (vs 45,46)

Read vs 45. "Duh!! Of course they believed! Who wouldn't believe after seeing something like that? If I had evidence like that, I'd believe too." As we saw last week, God wants you to base your faith in Jesus on evidence, and that's why he provides you with plenty of it. But it's not true that enough evidence will make you believe. Even this evidence didn't make everyone there believe . . . 

Read vs 46. Others who saw the same miracle ran off to tell his enemies! Once again we see that saving faith is not caused by miracles (read also 12:37). Miracles and other kinds of evidence provide a basis for saving faith, they make unbelief more inexcusable--but saving faith is a choice we make. It is the choice to humble yourself before God, to admit that you are lost, to acknowledge that you have rebelled against God and need his forgiveness, to personally entrust yourself to the Person of Jesus.